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Greg Boyed interviews Mike Moore and Jon Johansson

Sunday 19 August, 2012

Greg Boyed interviews Mike Moore and Jon Johansson

Q+A, 9-10am Sundays on TV ONE.

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For the past two years Mike Moore has been our man in Washington DC. The former prime minister is trying to get the Trans-Pacific trade deal done whilst leveraging a new commitment to the Pacific. Interesting days made more interesting by the presidential race now in full swing. Republican candidate Mitt Romney has chosen right-wing budget wonk Paul Ryan as his vice president while Barack Obama presides over a comatose economy.

Q+A’s former political analyst Jon Johansson has been driving across the US, seeing what this means for election day, come November.

So on Friday I caught up with both men, Mike Moore here in Auckland, Jon Johansson in Washington DC, and began by asking the ambassador whether, given the Eurozone crisis and violence in the Middle East, America is serious when it claims Asia-Pacific is now its number one foreign policy priority.

MIKE MOORE, New Zealand Ambassador to United States
Well, they’re talking of rebalancing into the region, and they are in terms of military, commerce, etc, because the areas of greatest growth and jobs for Americans are gonna come out of Asia-Pacific. Everyone knows that. Just as New Zealand’s rebalancing out of its old interests in Europe and into its new interests in Asia-Pacific, so are they. That is not to say that there aren’t enormous challenges in other parts of the world. New Zealand welcomes this Successive governments welcome this.

GREG You’ve used the word, and the word has been used quite widely of a reset of, you know, the recent history. Having said that, we saw just recently in the exercise in Hawaii and Pearl Harbour, and ships weren’t allowed in. You wonder how real that reset is.

MIKE Well, it’s the first time in 30 years the New Zealand Navy has been exercising in a RIMPAC situation. A year earlier, the first time in many many years, we’re doing humanitarian work with the US Navy, dentistry, helping kids in the Pacific, doing joint ventures. A New Zealand naval commander commanded the fleet in the Red Sea and further south against the pirates. These are real things. And the fact that we are parked outside a Hooters bar and not in Pearl Harbour itself, I don’t think offended our Navy that much. There are still differences, and I accept that. There will be differences. So what? When our interests, our values and our limitations coincide, we should do business and work together. There’s all sorts of joint ventures coming through, and I think the minister will be in a good position at the Pacific Forum, and our prime minister announced some more joint ventures, just not with America.

GREG Trade-wise, how do we benefit from this? How do we leverage this into something good for us - trade?

MIKE Well, firstly, we’re not doing this for trade. We do this because these are civilizational values at work. We have an independent view of the world. Where these values coincide we go in together. In the main we do. You’re not gonna get a deal because of this, and you shouldn’t. This is not a quid pro quo. We’re not going to Afghanistan because you might sell some mutton. That’s just not on, never on. No government could accept that. However, we have trading ambitions with the United States. We still have problems of access in dairy. A deal now has Canada and Mexico in it. We have no deals with them. This will help New Zealanders. And, of course, we can add to the deals we’ve already got with the Vietnamese, Laotians, Singaporeans, and all their friends in Brunei.

GREG You would like to think, though, looking at our FTA, it’s not going to stay parked outside a Hooters, figuratively speaking, and we can get a deal for or farmers. Is that naïve? Are we dreaming?

MIKE We’ll get there, I suspect. I don’t know. It’s not on the agenda. No one’s pushing it. No one’s saying, ‘The test of our friendship is whether or not a vessel turns up where it turns up.’ 20 navies are in operation at RIMPAC. This is serious stuff. We’re testing our capacities. Everybody agrees with it. Let’s get into it. I find it a bit embarrassing. Those freedom-loving people of certain places whose navies are there. But maybe a bit of tension’s good. It keeps people talking to us.

GREG It keeps them interested.

MIKE It keeps them interested. But this is not a measurement or a test of our friendship.

GREG But you are confident you can get a free trade deal. This isn’t gonna harm that, of course.

MIKE Oh, no. You’ve gotta shift that security stuff to a side and focus on what everyone’s self-interest is. It’s very much in America’s interest that they do this deal. They know they have to set the standard in the Asia-Pacific. They know that Japan, Korea, Taiwan, South-East Asia, Australia, New Zealand soon, are doing more business with China than the United States. The US has to have a stronger economic presence in the region. And none of this in any way is against the China deal and the good relationship we have there. You can do both.

GREG You did touch on Afghanistan briefly before. Of course, we sadly had two troops killed there just a week or so ago. Were New Zealand to decide, ‘Right, this is too much. The cost is too high for us. We’re gonna pull our troops out early.’ What sort of an impact, if at all, would that have on the relationship between us and the US?

MIKE Oh, firstly, we’re not going to do it. The Prime Minister’s being totally staunch that we’re going to see this thing through. Our word is good. We are predictable. We’re not going to bunker down because we’ve had this awful, awful tragedy. We’re going to see the mission out. And we’re coming out next year anyway.

GREG Were it to come to that, though, and were the Prime Minister to say, ‘This is getting a bit high,’ is it likely you’d get tapped on the shoulder in Washington to say, ‘Hang on, this isn’t a good look. You need to have a word with Wellington.’

MIKE Well, it hasn’t happened, and I don’t believe it would. I think the important thing with the America situation is that your word is good and that you’re predictable, and you say, ‘We’re here. We’re coming out next year or the year after. We have this joint venture Our word is good.’ It would raise eyebrows, because, ‘Six months ago, your prime minister said this.’ The SAS are out, as you know. There was no pressure on New Zealand to keep them there. Banyan province is one of the better ones, more benign. It is a top province for transition. The allies will want to transition out. Our lads did a good job, by the way. We should all be very proud of them. It’s a terrible thing that happened.

GREG All right, Mike, we will leave that part of it here. We’re crossing now to the US, to Washington. Friend of the show and political scientist Jon Johansson, he is in Washington right now. You’ve been in 26 states in the last month. Aside from incurring, I imagine, an awful lot of speeding tickets, Jon, what can you tell us? What’s the mood on the ground there heading into this year’s presidential election?

Dr JON JOHANSSON, Political Scientist
Well, it was actually my penchant for driving in an extravagant fashion, Greg, that actually gave me the central epiphany I’ve had about this election, which was travelling about 85 miles per hour when you’re tired, all your neurons are firing at the same time, so while everything is going very fast, your brain is also- it’s like frame by frame, and I thought actually what was taking place was just akin to Obama’s situation. It’s just a matter of holding on. The other epiphany I’ve had from travelling extensively as I have, is that we’ve gotta remember, and this is a good tip for Kiwis back home, is that essentially there’s 50 separate elections in November, plus, of course, the good people of the District of Columbia. And as we get closer to November, it’s actually how that electoral college map is defined and who’s leading in the electoral college votes that is going to be the best pointer as to success. Now, Obama has had command of the map all through summer, and in fact, you know, Romney’s had a pretty dreadful summer, and I think that’s what’s propelled Romney to this very very interesting and quite probably out of character pick of Wisconsin congressman Paul Ryan as his VP.

MIKE The point Jon made is a key one. This is state by state, and the unemployment figures in the key states of Iowa, Colorado, is lower. Most embassies are reporting back that they think President Obama has the edge, but they’re hedging their bets a bit. There’s, I think, two more unemployment figures come out. If things turn to custard in Europe, which means China gets a hit, means US gets a hit. If those figures move above nine, he’s in real trouble. He’s fighting for it. But you can’t go through what we’ve called the biggest economic crisis since the 1920s without there being consequences.

GREG Jon, if I can bring this back to you. Touching also on Paul Ryan, 42 years old. Not a lot in the way of track record in terms of the whole world scene. As far as Mitt Romney goes, from this end of the world, he’s seen as almost sort of a comical sort of figure when you hold him up against Barack Obama. How is he seen on the ground there? I imagine it’s very very different.

JON Well, starting with Mitt. Well, God, like, two hours before I came down, Greg, ten negative ads against Obama played on my hotel television. So that is shielding a candidate I describe as Mitt 5.0. If he was a piece of software, that’s what version we’re up to. I mean, my view is that Romney is historically vacuous. He’s willing to be whatever he needs to be. I’ve long seen a parallel in one respect with Richard Nixon They used to say about Nixon that his fundamental problem was he never really knew which Nixon to be. And I think that’s Romney’s problem. So I think he’s drawn himself ultimately to Ryan to redefine himself yet again. And it’s also a signal that the previous campaign narrative, which was just holding on this referendum on Obama, wasn’t actually working. So I think the Ryan pick, he’s so doctrinaire anti-abortion. He is the only Republican with any ideas at all, except that those ideas are going to repel women and they’re going to scare seniors, and they do nothing for minorities. He’s very inexperienced on foreign policy. I was thinking that, you know, Palin, remember Sarah Palin saying that she could see Russia from her house in Alaska. Well, Ryan is so inexperienced that he hasn’t even looked out the window I just think the fundamentals are going to return to Obama. I wouldn’t be surprised after the debate, depending on the wider economic news, that Obama will break through. I think Romney is that bad.

GREG Mike, I see you’re nodding in agreement. Historically vacuous-

MIKE Oh, no, I can’t agree with that. I’m far too- Look, one of the problems we have in New Zealand is that the only time Governor Romney’s in the paper is when he’s made a gaff. He makes gaffs, as we all make them. The other thing, that he’s a flip-flopper. There is evidence that the middle voter, the non-party vote, quite dislikes the idea that he might change his mind and he might not have these extreme views that he had to put out there at the time of the primaries.

GREG Jon, if we could just bring you back one final time. The flip-floppers. A New York Times article this week has said it’s only 5% of voters that aren’t died-in-the-wool red, died-in-the-wool blue. Those are the real swing votes. That’s not a lot of people when you extrapolate that vote down to the amount of people who actually turn up to vote. Is that what you’re thinking there - that most people really have already made up their minds?

JON Absolutely. And if you have a really close look at those battle-ground states, Greg, they - on average - are doing better economically than America is in the aggregate. And I just think if you look at the map, he has to sweep the table of all the key battleground stakes like Ohio, like Florida. Now, the seniors in Florida and, you know, Obama’s actually had a pretty safe 4 to 6 point lead all through in the state of Ohio. Now, that might change, of course. Don’t underestimate, you know, unforeseen events, but I just think the key dynamic, as Mike and I are pretty much agreeing about here, does favour the incumbent.

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