Obama visit would show relations fully restored
Reports that US President Barack Obama plans to visit New Zealand this year will not only create intense interest but is a sign that our relationship with the world’s greatest power is better than it has been for decades.
While an Obama visit is not assured and involves some speculation, it would not be a surprise. He has previously intimated that a visit here is on his agenda; he has a warm relationship with John Key; and in switching America’s focus to the Pacific and Asia, he wants to visit as many countries in the region as possible during his presidency.
If he does come, Obama can be sure of a warm welcome as one of the most popular presidents of the modern era. He would be the third US president to visit this country — Lyndon Johnson visited for a day in 1966 and Bill Clinton attended the Apec summit in Auckland in 1999.
New Zealand-US relations reached a nadir during David Lange’s stand against visits by nuclear-armed or powered vessels as part of New Zealand’s 1987 nuclear-free zone legislation. In response, the US suspended its ANZUS obligations. The nuclear-free zone has continued right through to the Key government.
Rebuilding the relationship has been a long, slow process that was begun under the Clark government and is now at the stage where this country is seen as a full ally again.
Obama on the other hand has done a good job in restoring the international reputation of the United States after the disastrous policies of George W. Bush. There has always been diehard anti-American feelings, and these flourished under Bush.
By contrast Obama is seen as a rational and cautious man with an emotional aspect that makes him much more than a figurehead.
He is of course in what is known as the lame duck stage of his presidency, with elections due at the end of this year. He also faces fanatical and at times irrational opposition from the Republicans who hold a majority in both the Senate and House of Representatives.
In that sense, a visit here could be refreshing.