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Fair Criticism of US

Criticisms by New Zealand foreign affairs minister, Winston Peters, of the United States' level of understanding of New Zealand's role in Pacific affairs is fully justified and indicates a shift in thinking from that of an opposition MP to ministerial responsibility.

Since the New Year recess, Peters has displayed a course of presenting tightly scripted speeches, pushing a steady Ministry of Foreign Affairs line, accentuating the conservative nature of the diplomatic tradition. His has been, as it ought to be while he comes to terms with his portfolio, a carefully considered course.

This is no surprise.

This transition of opposition politics to ministerial politics has its history.

As Treasurer in the National/New Zealand First coalition government, Winston Peters was loyal to his advisers, he respected the thinking of those who provided him information without a motive of entrapment, and, it could be argued, displayed this respect by walking incognito - albeit publicly - with the policy boffins of whom he governed. Afterall, Peters' version of conservatism is one of convention and tradition.

But, as can be expected from the Peters we know, once relieved of his speech-notes he can freely offer comments distilled from his interpretation of policy, or, in this case, from perceptions of how New Zealand is regarded abroad. This is Peters at his best and will always attract controversy. Such is the nature of this politician.

Take this unscripted line: "Our connection to the Pacific in dealing with the United States is important. We should remind them of what we have done and why we are doing it, so they might better understand how 4.2 million people do matter in this world," Peters said.

Winston Peters then turned his attention to the United Kingdom and added: "You once had dominion over these people. You can't exit it and leave for somebody else to pay for and help build... We're (New Zealand) taking these responsibilities on board."

The comments caused the United States' ambassador to New Zealand, William McCormick, to issue a statement saying the United States "deeply appreciated" the work New Zealand did in the Pacific. In typical 'Bush-Speak' Ambassador McCormick indicated a preference for sorting the affair out "face-to-face" with Mr Peters. The British in-turn said it had not abandoned the Pacific, but contributed to its ongoing development via the European Union's aid programme.

Thanks chaps.

In time, one can imagine this foreign minister, armed with a case of facts, determining a view and aggrieved that recent history has relegated New Zealand's national identity, and indeed its international identity, down to that of third-way insignificance.

Seldom does this nation stand up and recite a strongly held position on the United States' use of depleted uranium, white phosphorous, daisy-cutters, bunker-busting-bombs (used in Tora Bora and likely, if United States military-mouths can be taken literally, to be used against Iranian defences on a moonless night some time during the year ahead).

Perhaps it is time for a national shift back to a time of international rhetorical significance.

Rather than be criticised for this week's 'soft-criticisms', Peters ought to be encouraged. If criticism can be gleaned from his 'unscripted' comments it could be that he didn't go far enough. Arrhh, but the consequences!

New Zealand has - as the United States and the United Nations has insisted - worked extensively to insert New Zealand-designed governance and legislative policy into the Pacific Islands mix of nations. The Pacific Plan is another example of New Zealand innovation front-footing a regionalised policy identity within the wider Pacific

New Zealand has acted on United States interests to tighten up the flow of dodgy money that once flowed with ease through the Pacific. It has upped the ante in operating its security and intelligence watch from north of New Zealand and eastward, and it has front-footed its willingness to appease the Bush administration's desire to export its version of democracy about the globe.

If one takes heart from Peters' comments, one could almost imagine, as confidence grows, this foreign minister standing up, armed with righteous indignation and a box full of good-old New Zealand values, to point to the superpower from a podium atop some lofty arena and state: 'Enough is enough, you cannot export peace and democracy by abusing, torturing, and, murdering people in a theatre of illegal warfare!'

But then, perhaps the internal battle between conservatism and diplomatic convention will win over values, honesty, and the New Zealand way.

A pity.

Selwyn Manning is co-editor of Scoop.


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