Editorial: New American ambassador faces a testing time.
EDITORIAL: Scott Brown, the likely new American ambassador to New Zealand, will arrive at a tricky time for relations between the two countries. Wellington and Washington have been friends and often allies since the mid 19th century. There is an immense reservoir of warmth between the two peoples.
But the advent of Donald Trump brings a cooler note into that relationship. Trump has already canned the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the proposed 12-nation free trade agreement that would have given greater New Zealand access to the rich and huge United States market. New Zealand has been forced to look for a second-best deal with Japan and the other survivors of the TPP.
Trump's erratic and sometimes frankly bizarre performance as president has left many New Zealanders bemused and even aghast. The New Zealand electorate is well to the left of the US, being socially more liberal and economically far more sympathetic to government intervention. Polls suggested many New Zealanders were pleased when Barack Obama became the first black US president.
It's a fair bet that many think Trump is unqualified to be president of the United States and that he is not a reliable leader of the Western world which has always included New Zealand. So far, Trump has not hit out at this old ally in the way that he attacked Australia. Trump's assault on Malcolm Turnbull was all the more extraordinary given Australia's self-appointed role as Washington's deputy sheriff, a role which the more independently-minded New Zealand has not taken.
But New Zealand can never know when this erratic president might take offence at something we have done.
Scott Brown, in other words, will have his work cut out as Trump's appointed representative. He has already shown his diplomatic finesse, however, in his testimony to the US Foreign Relations Committee.
Would-be diplomats have to praise the country where they are to be posted, of course, and Brown has laid it on fairly thick. New Zealand is "fiercely independent", he says, which is rather overstating the case.
The New Zealand Government is very careful about how it treats both its patrons, China and the United States. The thaw between Wellington and Washington reflected American self-interest rather than Kiwi ferocity. Brown New Zealand is not afraid to stand up to its major trading partner, but New Zealand 's criticisms of China have been extremely cautious.
Scott Brown is a minor celebrity in the US and is unusual as an ambassador here in that quite a few Kiwis will already know about him. He gained a burst of publicity in 2010 as the surprise Republican winner of Ted Kennedy's old Senate seat, but was soon replaced by Democrat liberal icon Elizabeth Warren. And he was also nominated Cosmopolitan magazine's America's Sexiest Man in 1982.
Brown will be welcomed here because New Zealanders generally like Americans and America, even while many will remain sceptical about the man who sent him.
Good luck down under, Mr Ambassador.