Chris Liddell has dropped his candidacy to become director-general of the Paris-based OECD. Without support from the Ardern government and vilified in the media as somehow being involved in the encouragement by Donald Trump of the Washington riots, he plainly saw he had little chance of crowning his stellar career in an international post.
Liddell scored highly in the pre-selection rounds and was impressive in his interviews, according to diplomats in Paris. He ended in the second tier behind the top three – from Australia, Sweden and Switzerland. However, as support was not forthcoming from the new Biden administration, he felt obliged to withdraw.
Yet those who have followed his career to the top rungs of international business and then into the White House believe NZ is the loser for not winning a key position in an international forum.
As for condemning him for his role in the White House, his critics display their ignorance. Liddell is one member of the Trump White House credited with gaining credence and respectability around Washington DC in its final days. He kept the wheels of government turning while Trump descended into a world of denial fuelled by right wing media.
As Trump and his cronies continued to maintain he had won the election, Liddell formed a necessarily clandestine but solid working relationship with the incoming Biden team led by chief of staff and former Democrat senator Ron Klain.
Insiders say he risked his immediate job in effect to challenge Trump by recognising Joe Biden would become the next president and there needed to be a smooth transition. It would have been easy, according to some, for him to resign and vacate the rapidly disintegrating regime.
He worked closely with VP Mike Pence and was instrumental in encouraging Pence to resist Trump’s command that the VP somehow refuse to accept the Electoral College result.
Likewise, he maintained open channels with the US Defence Department leadership to ensure the commander in chief couldn’t or wouldn’t embark on some military diversions. He had a behind-the-scenes part in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s call to Defence to ensure there were measures to watch Trump’s actions with the nuclear codes.
Given his corporate background in NZ, then – more importantly – with major corporations in the US, Liddell was ideologically aligned with the Republicans. Insiders recognise he avoided becoming embroiled in the machinations of the Trump family and the administration.
With his experience and outstanding record in business he could have been a compelling voice for NZ in the international sphere.
Wellington’s reluctance to express its support for Liddell has lost NZ not just the possibility of winning a voice in a key international organisation but probably of securing his services on behalf of this country in any capacity.