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.

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