Trump’s travel ban and Kiwis?
Diplomacy, as Winston Churchill once said, is the art of telling people to go to hell in such a way that they ask for directions.
Last week, New Zealand was on the receiving end of exactly that kind of treatment.
Within 24 hours of President Donald Trump’s issuing his infamous travel ban, our other allies - Canada, the UK and Australia – were able to ascertain that none of their citizens who share dual nationality with the seven Muslimmajority countries on the Trump target list would be affected.
More than 72 hours later though, New Zealand was still none the wiser.
Evidently, no one thought of ringing up Peter Thiel (our billionaire pal and Trump insider) to ask him if he could shed light on the situation.
Ultimately, we were reliant on the US Embassy in Wellington getting around to providing a clarification.
Benign neglect, rather than malice, seems to have been driving the delay.
For the record, dual nationals from the seven targeted nations can travel to the US on their Kiwi passports – assuming, that is, New Zealand has dual nationality deals with the countries in question.
For several days, Prime Minister Bill English was left to claim that there wasn’t really a problem, or at least not one he knew about, and everything seemed fine.
Meanwhile, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully was carpeting his officials at MFAT and demanding (a) an explanation for how this entirely unsatisfactory outcome came about, and (b) concrete assurances it wouldn’t happen again.
Essentially, MFAT officials were being flogged in private for what thePM was saying publicly wasn’t a problem at all.
The whole sorry episode had been avoidable. After all, the US Embassy is at one end of Molesworth St and Parliament is at the other.
How hard would it have been for the Americans to put us out of our misery a lot sooner?
Yet on balance, being treated with benign neglect by the Americans may have been preferable to the rough treatment meted out by Trump to strong US allies like Australia, over the refugee resettlement deal hammered out between Barack Obama and Malcolm Turnbull.
Still, trying to remain invisible to the Americans isn’t a sustainable policy.
If the Beehive was looking for a scapegoat for its travel ban mishap, this seemed to be our ambassador to the US, Tim Groser.
After all, Groser is supposed to have Washington contacts that can enable him to prevent such situations becoming public embarrassments for the government.
Arguably, McCully was dead right. MFAT and Groser do need to learn how to operate more effectively within the new climate in Washington.