Thursday, December 23, 2010

The ugly American

One of the things emerging from the Wikileaks cables is what an awful, pathetic and useless waste of space ex-US Ambassador to New Zealand Charles Swindells really was. His cables show that he was someone who was either completely detached from reality, a liar or deluded.

Here’s one example of Swindell’s lunacy: In 2004, New Zealand found that three agents from Israel’s Mosad spy agency had attempted to fraudulently obtain New Zealand passports. New Zealand suspended top-level diplomatic contact until Israel finally apologised in 2005.

But to Swindells, New Zealand was really just trying to boost the sale of lamb to Arab countries. I was here then, and I remember how many ordinary New Zealanders—me included—wanted the country to break off diplomatic relations with Israel until they apologised and pledged to never do that again. The government got as close to that as they could without actually breaking off diplomatic relations. If anything, their response to Israel was too mild, not too harsh, as Swindells implied.

The Leader of the Opposition, Phil Goff (who was a senior minister in the Labour-led Government when Swindells was Ambassador), thinks Swindells didn’t know what he was doing because he saw everything through the eyes of a businessman, not understanding that in diplomacy, not everything is about trade: Countries also act based on principles. But Goff also correctly noted:
"It's the norm for the Americans to appoint ambassadors that aren't professionals... Charles I think really suffered from a lack of knowledge and a lack of understanding of how countries work and what they do. He had his job because he's obviously a big contributor to the Republican Party, he made the assumption because he thought about the world in a particular way other people might as well."
So, Swindells was clearly detached from reality. Was he also lying? It’s impossible to know, but while he certainly could’ve ignored reality to try to suck up to the Bush-Cheney regime, I doubt that dishonesty was behind his bizarre cables. Instead, I’d say that as a member of the same privileged ruling class as that regime, it’s far more likely that he simply couldn’t even imagine any other reality. Put more simply, he was deluded, having been blinded by his class and political biases.

Charles Swindells was without a doubt the worst Ambassador the US has sent to New Zealand in the years I’ve lived here. I remember him being quoted frequently by the New Zealand newsmedia saying all sorts of unflattering things about the then Labour Government. I was not sorry to see him go.

And I think the US owes New Zealand an apology for ever having sent that awful, pathetic and useless waste of space to this country.

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