Listen up journos. Obama didn’t happen to meet Key before dinner on a big stage in front of the media because it was just practical. The leaders didn’t stand with awkward grins for the group photo because it was a crucial step in the diplomatic process.
This is being done for you. Only you. It is meaningless apart from the fact they know the media will lap it up. You’ll run it. They’ll get votes thanks to you. They think you’re saps. And you keep proving them right.
Journos mindlessly count up ‘pull asides’ and ‘state dinners’ and ‘official visits’ as if they are actual achievements. That’s not diplomacy. That’s the monkey show put on for you while the real diplomacy goes on behind closed doors. Journos don’t get to see actual diplomacy. The sad thing is when they take the monkey show seriously.
Anyone who thinks modern diplomacy has jack to do with how the leaders get on is a drop-kick.
So, Obama says Key is nice. Was he going to say he hates him? Come on.
Key’s visit does nothing to change the hard facts that underpin the logic of the US’s position on trade. Do you think that because they shook hands Obama will ring his trade rep to tell him make an FTA with NZ? How do you think that conversation goes?
Trade Rep: Mr President! How unexpected. We don’t talk often.
Obama: No. We don’t. I pretty much let you run trade negotiations yourself under Congress’s authority. I’m usually more concerned with domestic policy, fighting two wars, and superpower stuff. But I met this guy. I want you to make a free trade deal with his country.
Trade Rep: Mr President. When we make trade deals it’s usually based on a cold analysis. What we stand to gain economically and the political repercussions – domestic and international.
Obama: Sure. Sure. But this guy, you know? His manner was quite attractive.
Trade Rep: Well, what country is this guy from?
Obama: Um. New something? They have some policy about not letting our nuclear ships visit them but that’s cool because I don’t like nukes either.
Trade Rep: New Zealand. OK Mr President. Here’s the nuts of it. New Zealand has virtually no trade protections. So our exporters stand to gain little from a free trade deal. Effectively, they gave us their side of the deal for free 20 years ago. What they want is free access to the US market for their dairy products.
Obama: Uh huh.
Trade Rep: Mr President. Our dairymen are heavily subsidised. It’s the only thing that keeps them going. Opening up dairy to competition will ruin them so you can bet they won’t take it lying down.
Right now, we’re beginning negotiations for a Trans-Pacific Partnership. A kind of limited free trade deal, and the kiwis are in it too. Already, the dairymen have 30 senators on board opposing including Kiwi dairy products in the deal.
Obama: Wait, what’s this ‘kiwi’? The fruit?
Trade Rep: Yeah. For some reason the New Zealanders call themselves after the fruit.
Trade Rep: Anyway, Mr President. Diplomacy is about the big stuff. Do we gain anything from dealing with the Kiwis? If we let their dairy in, imagine the political cost in the dairying states. Any Democrat who doesn’t oppose the deal will be in danger of losing their seat. Mid-terms are only half a year away. Imagine the fuel you’ll be giving to the tea-party nutbars – ‘socialist Obama attacks honest American farmers to do favour for pacificist foreigners’. Any trade deal we do make including New Zealand dairy will probably be shot down in the Senate.
Mr President, the guy might have a nice smile. It might have been fun talking to him. But is that the basis to conduct realpolitick on?
Obama: I hear you but..
Trade Rep: You still want to make the deal.
Obama: Listen. It, it was a hell of a smile.