Critics of the government are arguing New Zealand's role in Iraq is pointless... dangerous... or not our fight. But what does the alternative look like?

The decision to send 143 Kiwi soldiers to Iraq to help train the Iraq army has exposed the left/right divide on foreign policy more graphically than any other issue in recent years.

The debate has been propelled along by the use of the word "club" by the Prime Minister and "family" by British Foreign Secretary, Phil Hammond. Both terms feed the ideological debate. For the Left, both words are redolent of foreign policy made in Washington, not Wellington, as Russel Norman put it. A truly independent foreign policy must be free of foreign entanglements with duties and obligations.

In Australia, the idea that its United States alliance comes with some obligations is seen as quite unexceptional. But in New Zealand we have become so used to not being part of a formal alliance that the idea there is an expectation of reciprocity in defence relations is seen as quite objectionable.

The split with the United States in 1984 has become so deeply ingrained in our reaction to the United States that for many, especially on the Left, any defence or security relationship with the United Sates is ipso facto bad. Whatever the United States does can only be for venal reasons, and anything they touch can only worsen the situation.

So in the Middle East every conceivable ill is laid at the door on the United States. It is not surprising that many in the United States are also of the same belief, including one suspects, President Obama in respect to the situation in Iraq. Much of the current mess in Iraq can be squarely laid at the door of his predecessor, George W Bush.

It is hard to imagine that ISIS would be in Iraq if Saddam Hussein was still in charge.

There is of course a counterfactual... It could also have been said that ISIS would not be able to develop under Assad. But it did. And his iron grip was not sufficient to stop a civil war that has already resulted in 200,000 people killed, not to speak of the millions of refugees and their foreshortened lifespans. Using the broader definition of deaths attributable to the war, the cost in lives in Syria will be in the millions.

It would be a stretch to place the blame for the Syrian civil war at the door of the United States. There is at least a plausible case that early intervention by the United States may have forestalled the current disaster.

But events in the Middle East have been highly unpredictable. Libya is much worse than anyone expected. Egypt has gained a semblance of stability through a military strongman that was not foreseen three years ago as the revolution unfolded in Cairo’s streets.

Of course all this says to many people that everything in the Middle East is a vortex of destruction and that no matter the cause, any intervention will only make it worse.

On this basis ISIS would be left to have the run of it. They could do anything they liked in northern Syria and Iraq and the best thing would be just to look away. Anyone who went there, journalists and aid workers alike, would be simply taking their own chances. Of course ISIS would not be legally recognised and there would be some economic sanctions against them, but other than that nothing would happen.

But is it true that things can only get worse by Western intervention?

It is hard to imagine that the current intervention will result in more civilians being killed than if they are left to the mercies of ISIS. However, if all the minorities left and if Iraq just acquiesced in losing its territory, maybe fewer civilians will die in future. Those who remain may not have very fulfilling or free lives by our standards, but that is not our problem.

Of course if Iraq chooses to use military force to regain its territory that is also not our problem, any more than Boko Haram is.

However, there is another factor that might give pause. ISIS appears to foment international terrorism. That at least should concern us. But many would argue that terrorism only occurs because the West has attacked ISIS. On this basis intervening does make things worse, at least for us.

So at least some of those opposed to intervening would leave ISIS in control, if not by intent, at least by effect. They will accept that atrocities will occur. They will take ISIS at its word that ISIS only attacks the West because the West attacks them.

In short ISIS is the lesser of the evil of intervention, and much less worse than any intervention that involves the United States.

Because without doubt that will be worse than ISIS, who in any event cannot be defeated by any conceivable military force.

It may be that I read too many blogs; that the commenters on the various blogs are hardly a representation of typical New Zealand opinion. But I also listened to the parliamentary debate on Tuesday. Most of the parties opposed to the New Zealand intervention also ran these arguments with greater or lesser fervour.

The debate in New Zealand appears to be much more heated than in other western democracies. Almost half the Parliament opposes the deployment of New Zealand soldiers, and at least for the Greens, intervention by anyone, especially the United States. And unless (or until) National wins Northland, a majority of Parliament is actually in opposition to the deployment.

Part of the reason is our physical distance from the Middle East. At our remove from the world, we simply do not see the risk to us, nor do we wish to do anything that might invite it.

But the other part is our emotional distance from our friends and allies. We no longer see ourselves as part of the inner circle, which uncritically accepts mutuality of obligation.

It is no accident that we are the one and only western country that is nuclear-free. It was a choice that we could make that Australia would never countenance. And the freedom we have gained from being nuclear-free will always restrain our enthusiasm for Western military causes, whether or not they are for good or for ill.

 

Comments (35)

by Danyl Mclauchlan on February 25, 2015
Danyl Mclauchlan

The problem with this argument - that ISIS is a terrible threat so we must do something because we cannot do nothing - is that the something that we're doing is very, very close to nothing. We're sending sixteen trainers and some support staff to intervene in a civil war raging across three countries with millions of combatants.

The 'something' that we're doing will have zero effect on the outcome, so if outcomes are your primary concern then we might as well save some money and kiwi lives and do nothing. Obviously it's not about that. It's about diplomacy and obligations to our allies, but why not just say that?

 

by onsos on February 25, 2015
onsos

I don't think your counter-factual comes close to stacking up. It's predicated on the idea that ISIL could have formed if there had been no Iraq War:

It could also have been said that ISIS would not be able to develop under Assad. But it did. And his iron grip was not sufficient to stop a civil war that has already resulted in 200,000 people killed, not to speak of the millions of refugees and their foreshortened lifespans. 

ISIL formed in de-stabilised Iraq. The idea that it would still exist in Syria if there had not been an Iraq War is just absurd. Indeed, the whole civil war in Syria was a product of having a failed Iraq (with ISIL) on one flank, and significant foreign (including US) support for opponents of Assad's regime. Indeed, there is evidence that ISIL became a beneficiary of the arms sent to the rebels by the US during the civil war...

Put simply, if the US had not overthrown Saddam Hussein, there would be no ISIL. Arguing otherwise ignores the basic realities. 

Those 'millions of deaths' are a result of US blundering. (This is not to absolve Assad. He's a piece of work.)

There is no clear evidence that the US has stopped blundering. If we support that blundering, we are simply contributing to future problems. This talk of the lesser evil ignores a grim reality: doing nothing may be the lesser evil, at least until the US comes up with a real plan that might work.

(That plan would probably be hard to stomach for the US. It would probably involve deal-making with Assad, a brutal dictator, which has implications for its relations with both Iran and Israel. But the US have a moral obligation to do this.)

by Tim Watkin on February 25, 2015
Tim Watkin

Danyl, your question is a good one. But I'm not sure about the 'very close to nothing' argument if you take a collective point of view. If we were acting alone, it would be pointless. But if you argue that many hands make lighter work and for one or two countries to do the lion's share of the training, a group of others have to offer some support, then it makes more sense.

In that light, it's not only about mutual obligations, but being one small part of global efforts and taking a stand to allow for wider action (and to be provocative, isn't that exactly what the Greens are asking from us re climate change... No practical difference, but showing that we're a good citizen that takes its duties seriously?)

by Lee Churchman on February 25, 2015
Lee Churchman

However, there is another factor that might give pause. ISIS appears to foment international terrorism. That at least should concern us.

I couldn't disagree more. Terrorism is a paper tiger. The 9/11 terrorists got lucky because airport security in the US was so ridiculously lax (because security checks impinged on "freedom"). Since then, better security and heightened awareness has reduced Islamic terrorists to small-scale armed attacks. Now we're at the stage where they are simply a mostly incompetent, criminal nuisance, not unlike the left wing urban terror groups of the 1970s. Americans have more reason to be afraid of white men than they do of Muslim radicals, because white men are the top of the heap when it comes to mass acts of gun violence. That's what a rational assessment of the evidence tells us.

The reason we should object to the Iraq mission is that participating just furthers the idiotic, irrationalist politics that has taken over in western democracies. Endless media fear pumps are used to bypass our rational faculties and make us acquiesce to operations that are of limited military value and just tend to make things worse in the long run. This is just part of the general miasma of fear we have to deal with every day.

Scary people hate us and want to undermine our societies! Support our boys on the Malabar front!

by Andrew Geddis on February 25, 2015
Andrew Geddis

And unless (or until) National wins Northland, a majority of Parliament is actually in opposition to the deployment.


Not quite. Until National wins Northland, there isn't a majority in favour of the deployment ... but nor is there a majority in opposition. It's 60-60, albeit with David Seymour's somewhat tepid support.

by Danyl Mclauchlan on February 25, 2015
Danyl Mclauchlan

In that light, it's not only about mutual obligations, but being one small part of global efforts and taking a stand to allow for wider action (and to be provocative, isn't that exactly what the Greens are asking from us re climate change... No practical difference, but showing that we're a good citizen that takes its duties seriously?)

If the outcome of the US/UK led military action looked positive then I'd be all for it. ISIS seem really awful! But there isn't a glorious history of successful western military interventions in the Middle East, and the most probable short-term outcome of this one is that a Shia militia captures Mosul with 'our' support, massacres most of the men and imprisons most of the women in rape camps, which all seems like not-a-great outcome for us to help deliver. 

by Lynn Prentice on February 25, 2015
Lynn Prentice

...the most probable short-term outcome of this one is that a Shia militia captures Mosul with 'our' support, massacres most of the men and imprisons most of the women in rape camps, which all seems like not-a-great outcome for us to help deliver. 

The "shia militia" in this case being the Iraqi federal army that we are sending 16 troops over to train.

From what I understand about the politics of Iraq at present, that would probably be a reasonable supposition of the most probable outcome. 

Meanwhile 'ISIS/ISIL' will withdraw out of the oil producing areas. They stay inside Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and anywhere else that is local. They regroup and resume their banditry coupled with a little political action on the side waiting for more chaos and anarchy holes to open.

The western nations involved in this farce will congratulate themselves on a job well done and leave the shia troops to their federal occupation of the northern iraq oilfields. In Baghdad the shia 'government' of Iraq will resume their playing for the shares of the spoils, including resuming the gutting of the armed forces by getting their cousins to run non-existent paid units.

Why would we want to get involved in this insane screwup that Bush junior invented?

by Alan Johnstone on February 25, 2015
Alan Johnstone

John Key is correct (yes i really said that) when he says that only ISIL must be defeated by the Iraqi army, only a islamic military victory over them will have any form of moral standing or chance of lasting.  

If it's done by a western military force, we'd have a repeat of the insurgency of the last decade. So the Iraqi military must be up skilled to do this; Of course the failure in Keys thinking is that he ignores the Syrian aspect; if he wanted to be consistent we'd by supporting President Assad in the Syrian civil war (can't do that, Assad is in the bad book), so not matter what happens in Iraq, ISIL survives as a threat.

What I take great exception to is Keys statement that the existence of the Islamic State in the middle east increases the threat of terror attacks in the west. There is no evidence linking ISIL with any attack, none. The cause of these ideological terror attacks is Saudi funded Wahhabism. However the farcical "goodies" vs "badies" model that our media and politicians seem to work in, the Saudis are on our side, there we ignore it. 

The most depressing part is our medias failure to take Key to task on this (or just about anything else for that matter) and blithely accept what he says as fact. They do the nation a major dis-service. 

by Tim Watkin on February 25, 2015
Tim Watkin

Danyl, Lynn, I can't predict the future of what happens if/when the Iraqi army re-takes Mosul, but I presume the argument would be that Western training would make such war crimes less likely (not because the West is immune of war crimes, but because mass rape and massacres would be beyond the West's pale... plus the presence of Western media) and conditions in Mosul would be better than they are under I-S.

And if I-S are constrained and failing to expand as per their Koranic mission, they look less like a winning caliphate that will attract Muslim support.

As you say Lynn, that's not the end and they probably re-group... we're deluded if we think this solves anything or fixes Iraq... but is it not some measure of success to slow or 'degrade' them? And Wayne's implied question is, what to do instead?

by Alan Johnstone on February 25, 2015
Alan Johnstone

Oh that's simple. Do nothing.  Nada, rien du tout, zilch.

It's not our problem. It's an islamic problem that requires an islamic solution. 

We do nothing about appalling human rights abuse including organ harvesting in North Korea and China for example. In Saudi Arabia a man has been sentenced to death today for giving up islam. I don't see any rush to attack them.

Unless you accept the fatuous proposition that the existence of the islamic state somehow causes terrorist attacks in the west, of which there is no evidence, then the entire thing can be safely ignored.

Ramp up the hydraulic fracking and ignore the entire region. 

 

 

by Alex Coleman on February 25, 2015
Alex Coleman

I don't really buy that ISIL would have arisen absent the Iraq invasion, though I'm glad you now see that the invasion didn't turn out so well for Iraq.

 

At the time, from memory, didn't you come up with the 'NZ is missing in action' line that Key also used? Which, I guess, ties into the keenness to be part of 'the club'. Sorry to be grumpy about it, but given you characterise opponents both then and now as being simply anti-American, (rather than discussing the arguments they actually make) I think it's worth mentioning that they were actually right then, and you were wrong, making the same 'club' argument.

 

But back to ISIS. Most people who write about where they come from are pretty clear that there were formed out of 'AQ in Iraq'. al-Baghdadi doesn't come by that name by accident either. His core leadership group are reported to have solidified in Iraqi prison camps during the insurgency. Syria received many many refugees from that conflict too, it would be amazing if ISIL doesn't draw heavily from that population.

It's also important, I think, that the Iraqi government has been explicit that it does not want western ground troops. There are Iranian Qods forces on the ground though, led by one of their most famous generals. Big banners of the Iranian leaders all over Baghdad. Sunni parliamentarians boycotting decisions.  Hezbollah have also set up a branch. Moqtada al-Sadr is trying to get his militia folded officially into the ISF (which will give him training guns and badges of course, and it's guaranteed that Sadr will retain these men's loyalty). The Sadr brigades, who out number Sadr's militia and are much more connected to the Iranians, are leading the fight in many areas, with reports that they have operational command over ISF forces in some areas. All post Maliki mind you, so the blaming of him for all the problems is getting a bit thin.

All of this tells a pretty clear story, eh?

Is it mysterious that the Baghdad govt, (who is not even politically willing to give westerners a SOFA), does not want western troops to be taking land off ISIL. Or does it look like it would rather have the above forces everyone agrees will be doing the bulk of the fighting, taking control of the areas post ISIL?

There was a lot of talk, post the last war, about having a 'reliable partner' in counter insurgency operations. What that boils down to is being on the same page. Being aware that the goals of our local partner take precedence. Their interests are more important to them than our rhetoric. We can't force them to want we think they ought to do. They may pay that lip service to get our assistance, but at the end of the day, we will leave, and they will be staying. So it is a matter of us joining their war, and not a matter of us dictating the nature and goals of that war.

 

The gap between the rhetoric with which this is being sold and the realities on the ground that are not being addressed is what causes disquiet. That gap matters, because support for a war matters. And if a government lies their way into a war, there is  good chance they will lose that war. So either be honest about it, or don't go.

Sometimes, the bloody hippies know what they are talking about.

 

 

 

by Alex Coleman on February 25, 2015
Alex Coleman

"The Sadr brigades, who out number Sadr's militia and are much more connected to the Iranians", 


Badr Brigades, obviously. Who, it's also worth noting, got a leg up from Colonel James Steele at the beginning of the insurgency. Steele was previously famous for his role in the el Salvador insurgency that also saw the use of death squads. Funny eh?

"Colonel James Steele was a 58-year-old retired special forces veteran when he was nominated by Donald Rumsfeld to help organise the paramilitaries in an attempt to quell a Sunni insurgency, an investigation by the Guardian and BBC Arabic shows.

After the Pentagon lifted a ban on Shia militias joining the security forces, the special police commando (SPC) membership was increasingly drawn from violent Shia groups such as the Badr brigades."

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/mar/06/pentagon-iraqi-torture-cent...

We don't talk about the west gets up to, and assume somehow that therefore the locals also don't know. And then we get upset that they don't play nice with us. We have to stop lying our way into these things, or stop going.

by Danyl Mclauchlan on February 26, 2015
Danyl Mclauchlan

mass rape and massacres would be beyond the West's pale... plus the presence of Western media . . .

This seems naive. The Shia government and its militia allies - who we're going there to support - have been engaging in both of these for the last eight years. They've killed hundreds of thousands of people. The ethnic cleansing in Baghdad and environs have been reported by news services like Reuters and McClatchy, but not in New Zealand media outlets, or at least not with the same prominence that ISIS atrocities have been reported, because governments and armed forces here and in other western countries aren't conducting a propaganda campaign against the Shia government. 

by william blake on February 26, 2015
william blake

The cost of doing something is $65,000,000, compared to the $2,000,000 spent  helping with the ebola epidemic in Africa.

by Katharine Moody on February 26, 2015
Katharine Moody

The other 'club' not mentioned - the UN - isn't working toward and then following a UN resolution on the matter one of the alternatives?

by Rich on February 26, 2015
Rich

The best thing would do? Cut down on our oil dependence. ISIS is funded by rich Saudis, and they're only rich because of the oil and bribe money they get from the West.

Rather than spending our money sending armies around the world, we should get to work building a few more wind farms to get us to 100% renewable electricity (as a start to replacing oil as a transport fuel).

 

by Tim Watkin on February 26, 2015
Tim Watkin

Danyl, you may know more than me but this is not the Maliki government anymore. They are presumably the ones who committed those crimes. But the clear message from Western leaders, including our own, is that they believe this government is different and will act to unify the divisions of Iraq. That may be a heroic assumption, but to be fair you've got to make some allowance for a new government and new expectations. Or is there evidence this government is as bad?

Also, you got those links to Reuters etc?

Rich - absolutely. But that's a long-term argument that doesn't say anything about what we do today. Now.

by Tim Watkin on February 26, 2015
Tim Watkin

Alex, the Iraqi ambassador to NZ has asked for the SAS to come.

And as to your point about joining the war not dictating it, I suspect Key would argue that's what he's doing with his minimal response. The US, Aus etc are trying to dictate more, but NZ is getting in, helping the Iraqis get past I-S, and getting out. In two years.

I think the gap in the rhetoric is how Key claims I-S are the most evil, brutal lot and then all he does is send some trainers. If he's serious about how hideous that all is a) he'd send the SAS or more and b) as Alan says, he'd invade a dozen other countries.

by mikesh on February 26, 2015
mikesh

I agree with the idea of reciprocity in matters of defense. But is this a matter of "defense", or is it a matter of the US attacking another country.

by Alex Coleman on February 26, 2015
Alex Coleman

"Alex, the Iraqi ambassador to NZ has asked for the SAS to come."


Oh, when was that?

http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11408005

Asked whether the SAS may have been of more use to Iraq than non-combat trainers, he said Iraq did not want combat troops.

"We are not allowing international troops to be on the ground. The Iraqi army and volunteers from the Iraqi people are doing the job. We are asking for military advisers to be in the camp, not outside.

 

It could be he was responding to questions about SAS being used for force protection 'behind the wire' etc?

On some of the other issues:

Here's the latest from the Parliament. the militia being funded, while the Sunni based 'National Guard program stays stalled:

http://www.aawsat.net/2015/02/article55341829/iraq-parliament-allocates-...

the ISF and Militia preparing to assault Tikrit, baathis stronghold;

http://www.aawsat.net/2015/02/article55341829/iraq-parliament-allocates-...

Note there the accidental bombing of a local local sheikh, and ISIS rounding up those most likely to have supported Baghdad.

And this is fascinating:

http://www.aawsat.net/2015/02/article55341713/iraq-allawi-sadr-to-form-non-sectarian-parliamentary-bloc

Sadr pushing for his troops to be brought into the ISF proper. They are loyal to him though, so you have to ask 'what gives?'  Is it countering Badr, or an end run around the National Guard plan for Sunni/Tribal units?

A run down on why Sunni parliamentarians are boycotting parliament, in spite of the new govt's rhetoric, (contains other issues as well, if you only read one, make it this one) : 

http://iswiraq.blogspot.co.nz/2015/02/iranian-backed-militias-cause-poli...

This one could be a companion piece to the Atlantic one on ISIS, describing why Salafists really really don't like Shia, (impt because, militia being the bulk of the fighters etc)

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/02/salafist-sunnis-shiite...

lastly this brilliant i/v with the Kurdish President

http://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/security/2015/02/barzani-iraq-peshmerga-...

The gaps between all of that and the 'train the Iraqi army, rebuild sunni trust and ISIS will collapse when they start losing land' story is pretty stark I think.

 

 

 

 

 

by Alex Coleman on February 26, 2015
Alex Coleman

oops, doubled up one of those links.

 

here's the report on the preps fro the Tikrit assault:

http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/02/25/us-mideast-crisis-iraq-idUSKBN0LT1IX20150225

And this one here  notes the assault is being led by Major-General Qassem Suleimani, of the Iranian Quds forces.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/news/world/middleeast/article4362170.ece

So in terms of evidence for Unity from the New Government. I'm seeing assurances from Western leaders that The New Prime Minister etc ad nauseum. But when I do the rounds of reoprting from the ground, I'm seeing Iraniam special forces leading Shia Militia into Baathist strongholds where sheikhs have been accidentally bombed. Y'know. I just have my doubts.


by Tim Watkin on February 27, 2015
Tim Watkin

Alan, as tempting as the 'do nothing' argument may be, I have real moral problems with it. I understand how arbitrary Western intervention is (why I-S and not the Congo?), that in some senses this is a Muslim theological, tribal and ethnic war; how hypocritical the US has been down the years (Pinochet, Suharto); and how any intervention can make things worse... BUT... to say "not our problem" in the face of atrocities is to deny some part of our shared humanity isn't it?

Would we have said "not our problem" in Rwanda? To the Jews? Yes, this is different as everything in history is, but those horrors didn't impact "us" directly, yet is was right to act. We didn't say the Nazis needed a German solution.

While I agree that doing nothing should always be a serious and considered option, I'm not sure if "not our problem" is ever the right reason for choosing it.

by Tim Watkin on February 27, 2015
Tim Watkin

Alex, this is the Iraqi ambassador story.

Thanks for those other links, I'll take a look.

 

by onsos on February 27, 2015
onsos

The do-nothing argument is somewhat fictitious--there have been many alternative actions raised, not least the sort of humanitarian work that NZ did after the Iraq War, or working towards getting a UN mandate, or brokering support from neighbouring nations for effective action...

The real concern is that doing what Key is doing means supporting a corrupt Iraqi regime that is prone to atrocities to execute a war without a clear view of what success looks like. We've seen what the likely outcomes of doing that are.

It is incredibly naive to dismiss the experience of the Iraq War, the various warts in Afghanistan, the support for Saddam Hussein in the 1980s, and the support for the Shah in the 1970s. There is no way that this looks different to all those other SNAFUs.

by william blake on February 27, 2015
william blake

If this is a just, or moral, war, like the one fought against the nazis in the 1940's, then I don't think the PM should have sold it to the country as the "price of being in the club". 

The club has been putting its spooky green snuff movies of extrajudicial executions on you tube for a lot longer than the new enemy.

by Wayne Mapp on February 28, 2015
Wayne Mapp

Reflecting on the totality of the debate this week, I particularly noted that the public poll results on the ISIS deployment were quite close to the election result. The PM got slightly more support than the election, around 55% once the don't knows are discounted, but it was not north of 60% as one might hope. Part of the reason is because the main parties did not unify.

National put up its case. I personally would have thought it is self evident from their actions that ISIS is a sufficient danger to the world that they cannot be left to establish their caliphate. But it is clear not everyone is of that view.

The govt believes (as I do) that ISIS can only be defeated by military action. And New Zealand can't ask others to do all the heavy lifting, without sharing the burden. We could if we were Chile, but we have a different history and different expectations.

Of course a military campaign is not the only thing that is required if Iraq is to improve as a country, but a military campaign is an essential and fundamental requirement in defeating ISIS. It is also clear the Iraq Army cannot do it by itself. It needs international help. Quite obviously Iraq has willingly asked for help, they have not been dragged in wanting US led support. Iraq knows if they don't have outside support they would be giving up half their country.

The case could have been put better. The long drawn out period of debate ended up assisting those opposed. The use of the word "club," given New Zealand's history, was not helpful. Of course for Australia that concept tends to strengthen their case, but New Zealand is not Australia.

Labour knew that a majority (but by no means all) of their supporters were opposed. Much of that is driven by the latent anti-Americanism that is a strong current in Labour (you only have to look at at the ant-TPP arguments to know that). So Labour's leaders were in a bind. They know ISIS can only be defeated militarily, hence their support for airstrikes, but apparently the only credible ground force, the Iraqi Army is so corrupt, sectarian and useless that nothing should be done to help them. To put it mildly Labour's position lacks consistency. But it does so because they were pitching to their supporters from the luxury of opposition. In govt I suspect Labour's decision might have been very similar to the govt. But their play with politics has helped divide the nation, and that could have long term consequences.

The Greens have been the most consistent. They have never supported the deployment of combat troops in any venture that involves the west. However, they do usually advocate for humanitarian support. And this will be the views of a great majority of their supporters.

The Greens would have New Zealand as a different country, one more like Chile, but without the martial tradition. The NZDF would not have frigates, most soldiers would not be seriously combat trained, the SAS might not exist, and the bulk of defense expenditure would have a humanitarian focus. I can see the appeal. New Zealand would have a very distinctive international profile. Our humanitarian efforts would be large and would be internationally valued. Of course many existing members of the NZDF would leave (would it even be called the NZDF) but presumably others would join to do good in the world.

But such a shift would need a large electoral mandate. A fine balance would be all to easily overturned  when the centre-right gained power. There is a precedent. In the 1980's New Zealand became nuclear free. This has always had at at least 60% support, and has become part of our international positioning. The Greens might be the initial champions of such a shift, but Labour would have to be fundamentally convinced it was the right thing to do. And as in 1984 with Marilyn Waring, some brave souls in National would have to be public and vocal supporters of the change.

Maybe as New Zealand becomes more diverse, and less wedded to our past, we will reach this position.

And perhaps the ISIS debate shows we have started on that journey.

 

by Alex Coleman on February 28, 2015
Alex Coleman

Of course a military campaign is not the only thing that is required if Iraq is to improve as a country, but a military campaign is an essential and fundamental requirement in defeating ISIS. It is also clear the Iraq Army cannot do it by itself. It needs international help. Quite obviously Iraq has willingly asked for help, they have not been dragged in wanting US led support.


I think you are conflating a few things here, and eliding over significant points. The oraqi govt, such at is, has indeed asked for help. But they have also been clear about the nature of the help they will accept. I think it was the UK foreign minister who said they were'picky' about who helped and in what roles.

They are happy for airstrikes on IS etc, but are much more reluctant about ground troops. Iran has an unkown number of Qods forces on the ground and they are working closely with the militia. It is also important to note that those militia are in many respects the armed wings of the political parties that make up the Iraqi government. The Iraqi govt has shown no sign whatsoever that it would be keen on having Sunni Arab troops to assist in the ground fight. Those troops would likely be the least likely to stoke resentment in the areas being retaken, but they would undercut Shia dominace in the new Iraq. 

They have also been clear that they are not keen on western troops doing any fighting. Key is reporting this as being a great thing because 'Iraq is standing up on its own and we are helping them' etc. this formulation completely misses the salient point that the Iraqi govt is standing up with Shia militia. This is a concrete sign of the lack of change between this PM and the last. Yes, he is 'saying' some of the right things, but that could very well be just for the sake of western ears. What he actually does, is more important.  Fundamentally, even if he wanted to be more 'inclusive' his supporters would reject that. Their domestic politics are paramount. That is what having a reliable partner means, being on the same page with them about what the aims are.   

The way ISIS is militarily defeated counts more in the long term than 'if' it is defeated. It is no accident that Iraq isnt granting SOFA agreements. It is a factor of their domestic politics. the prties in power, have their power from their bases. Their politics is more important to this effort than our politics you outline.

Western govts, incl Key's, are pussy footing around these questions because they know support for the war would drop if they were honest. Lying your way into a war never works out well.


These are the sorts of fears and concerns many have. If we are joining a largely symbolic adventure aimed more at making ourselves look moral than it is about actually achieving a long lasting solution to the problems that gave rise to ISIS, then it is not 'anti-americanism' to oppose it. It is realism.

Doing things that will make the underlying reasons for the rise of ISIS worse, will not fix the problem we have with ISIS. that's not 'anti americanism', it's common sense.




by DeepRed on February 28, 2015
DeepRed

The rise of ISIS is a symptom of something bigger. And in this respect, bombing ISIS 'back to the stone age' is attacking the symptom, as ISIS is basically already in the stone age despite its use of YouTube-based propaganda.

That 'something bigger' is the still-unresolved artificial boundaries of Sykes-Picot, and the ongoing Sunni-Shia sectarianism.

Wayne Mapp: "It is also clear the Iraq Army cannot do it by itself. It needs international help. Quite obviously Iraq has willingly asked for help, they have not been dragged in wanting US led support. Iraq knows if they don't have outside support they would be giving up half their country."

The Iraqi military has enough strength in numbers and firepower to fight ISIS. But it's hand-braked by Sunni-Shia sectarianism and corruption despite all the billions of dollars being poured into getting it up to speed. Address those first, and the Iraqi military will be in a much better position to fight back.

by DeepRed on February 28, 2015
DeepRed

And I wouldn't be surprised if those financially backing ISIS from the comfort of neighbouring countries happen to be the same people who buy lots of NZ export goods. As the Trade Minister in the 007 movie Quantum of Solace remarks, "if we refused to do business with villains, we'd have almost no one to trade with!"

by Ross on March 01, 2015
Ross

I personally would have thought it is self evident from their actions that ISIS is a sufficient danger to the world...

It might be self evident to you but it isn't to me. Has the Beehive had its security beefed up due to this world wide threat? Have MPs hired personal bodyguards to combat the likelihood of attack? Of course not. You have said some silly things in the past, Wayne, but this takes the cake.

by Wayne Mapp on March 02, 2015
Wayne Mapp

Ross,

It is hardly foolish to suggest ISIS is an international threat. Sixtyone nation states are of that view to the point they are taking action. While you may disagree with President Obama for instance, the argument that he is simply silly because he sees ISIS as an international threat is probably not really engaging in the debate.

I think the ongoing seciurity improvements in Parliament are indicative of heightened awareness of risk.

by onsos on March 02, 2015
onsos

It is really frustrating when people use an appeal to common sense, or assert that something is  'self-evident', to attack a position that is not being asserted. 

There is a general consensus that ISIL should, if possible, be stopped, and that New Zealand has a responsibility to provide meaningful support to actions which are lkiely to stop ISIL. There are some exceptions, but opposition to Key's decision to send trainers (and accompanying security personel) has been opposed mainly because it is viewed as an ineffective gesture, which provides moral support to a misguided operation by the US.

So when you write the following, it really is a straw man:

I personally would have thought it is self evident from their actions that ISIS is a sufficient danger to the world that they cannot be left to establish their caliphate. 

The government has failed to make the case that this is a worthwhile mission. Labour's assertion that there are other ways that New Zealand could make a difference has more resonance.

What Labour would have done is unclear. While Labour have a patchy record in foreign affairs, there is no clear evidence they are being inconsistent in this one. Andrew Little has held the position that we should take the same role that we did in the Iraq War. Suggesting that Labour are somehow being dishonest is a rhetorical strategy by Key--and now by you--which doesn't stack up.

 

by Ross on March 03, 2015
Ross

Wayne

I note you do not substantiate your claim that 61 countries believe that IS is an international threat. You may or may not be aware that a number of countries are providing Iraq with humanitarian aid only. If they believed IS were such a threat, maybe they would do more.

I also note note thst last year there were about 300 deaths ane thousands of injuries as a result of accidents on NZ roads. Not one of those deaths was or injuries was caused by IS which indeed hasn't caused any deaths or injuries here. I expect the same will be said of this year...and next year...

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/checkpoint/wp/2014/09/25/what-the-60-members-of-the-anti-islamic-state-coalition-are-doing/

by Ross on March 03, 2015
Ross

Significantly, IS apparently receives millions of dollars each week smuggling oil out of Iraq. Does anyone think that that is the primary motive for the anti IS coalition? Presumably the West wants a stable and reliable source of oil...

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/nov/19/-sp-islamic-state-oil-empir...

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