US politics are in turmoil with the election of a new President who is capricious and unpredictable.
Who is a US friend or foe depends on his mood on the day, as the Australian prime minister found out this week.
Or perhaps it depends on the weird world view of his special counsel Steven Brannon, a Svengali-type character who has key first-touch influence over the President.
But the US system is one of checks and balances. The courts, and the Congress share power with the President. Real power.
That system is valuable in times like this when an unstable situation exists in the White House.
The public trashing of the Australians has shaken many people in Canberra, and Washington. It will have been a concern in Wellington as well.
So where do we now stand on the ‘friendship scale’ with the United States? We won’t be important to them; we probably never were, but our influence there might rise if their usual allies start dropping away.
Members of Congress of both parties will help shape the new relationship, but now Republicans have the upper hand.
A recent YouGov poll might help us understand where we stand in the pecking order.
Surprisingly, we were quite high. We were 8th in their informal ranking of allies in 2014. Democrats controlled the White House, and they ranked us 13th.
Now an unstable Republican controls the White House and drives their foreign policy and trade policy directions.
In 2017, we still rank 8th overall, but the Republicans rate us the 8th most important ally.
That is 5 places better than the Democrats gave us – even though they have downgraded us since 2014, when they ranked us 5th most important.
But we haven’t been tested yet by Trump and his odd bunch of policy advisers. Their positions have yet to settle down.
Being as high as 8th means we have a lot to lose.
It is a different question about whether we should care about what they think. We have made a diplomatic career out of being independent. Apparently that has given us bipartisan respect on both sides of the isle in Congress.
In a test, that could change fast. But it may well work to our advantage.
But the US will always be important to New Zealand.
Trump has dumped the TPP, and signaled he wants a new bilateral trade arrangement. With allies falling away, or growing frustrated or sceptical fast, maybe we are not in as weak a position as we think.
Remember our trade relationship is a long distance one. From an American view-point, we are a ‘suburb’ of Australia, who are a ‘province’ of China, who is the real supplier to the American middle class which drives the world economy.
So, ranking high in their thinking as a ‘friend’ is something our diplomats and trade negotiators can work with.
Below, is a ranking of the survey responses for all places American respondents were asked to rate in terms of ‘important allies’.
|In 2017||In 2014|
Australia might be who Republicans currently think of as their #1 ally, but their President shows alarming disrepect for that view.