John Key has put a time limit on our stay in Iraq, but Australia isn't impressed with that kind of thinking, showing the Wellington-Canberra divide on Iraq

John Key and Tony Abbott were putting a brave face on it today, with talk of the countries' "long, strong and intimate partnership", but on Iraq the cracks are showing.

There's no doubt New Zealand and Australian defence forces and politicians work closely on these sorts of issues, but there's no hiding the fact that they are taking very different approaches to Islamic State. While Key says our commitment to a two-year effort is set in stone, Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has said giving a timeframe is just playing into the terrorists' hands, effectively damning our strategy against Islamic State.

Not very ANZAC.

Australia has been at the gung-ho end of the response, quick to send in special forces, while New Zealand has taken months slowly coming to a decision to send in just 16 trainers, plus support and logistics personnel. 

While the rhetoric from both countries has been strong -- with talk of an evil, brutal regime and a great risk to the global community -- Australia's actions more honestly reflect that sort of language than New Zealand's. 

When John Key announced the decision to send those trainers and troops to Irag, he talked openly about a joint force with Australia. On the other side of the Tasman, the Australian government was hinting at an announcement in short order. Yet Abbott and Bishop have been in the country these past two days with nothing confirmed. Indeed Bishop get rather snippy when on The Nation Lisa Owen asked how the joint mission would work.

JB: I’m not saying it is a joint operation.

LO: Is it not going to be a joint operation? Is there some—?

JB: Well, the Prime Minister of Australia has not made an announcement, so I’m not sure what you’re going on.

LO: In saying that, our Prime Minister has publicly said that it’s likely to be a joint operation. Is he mistaken in that?

JB: I am not pre-empting any announcement that my prime minister would make. 

But the different strategic approach became clear when Bishop talked about setting a time limit for Australia's involvement in the war against Islamic State. She said:

It’s not useful to put a timeframe on it. That would just play into the hands of the terrorist organisations. They would either wait it out or increase their activities, so I don’t intend to give the terrorist organisation the comfort of knowing how long the coalition of countries will seek to defeat it.

Contrast that to John Key speaking on the same programme, to Paddy Gower:

JK: I think this is about making a contribution and leaving. We could be in the Middle East forever if we don’t take that approach.

PG: So how concrete is this? How concrete is this?

JK: Look, I’ve made it quite clear, for instance, to the Australian prime minister that we’re out in two years. That’s our mandate that we’ve got.That’s what we intend to follow through. 

So New Zealand has chosen an approach that Australia thinks plays "into the hands of the terrorist organisations". That's a strategic divide bigger than the Tasman. While neither side will want to inflame the situation, Bishop's assessment of New Zealand's option seems scathing, as is Key's assessment of what Australia is doing. At very least, they are at odds in their thinking.

Consider then that Australia has sent in special forces and New Zealand won't. In fact, Key says doing nothing in Iraq is a bad choice because Islamic State is already a risk to New Zealanders and we have obligations to our friends. But, by his judgement, doing more is also unwise.

But if we fight Iraq’s wars, then we involve ourselves in something that we can’t hope to solve for them. They have to solve it for themselves, so it’s about where is that line.

He warns that if we don't limit our involvement we could be in the Middle East forever.

For two countries with such a long and close friendship, this is quite a strategic divide. No wonder there are still details to be worked out before any joint mission can be agreed.


Comments (4)

by David Crosswell on February 28, 2015
David Crosswell

O.K., let's have a look at this.

The ANZAC legacy is gone, existing only in the memories of those that still remember it. Australia is as close to being another State of the U.S. as it's possible to be, and the Abbott government, through the guidance of the right wing IPA:

The Peta Credlin and George Brandis club, continues to provide the kind of steerage that guarantees passage way directly down the S-Bend.

The Australian foreign minister has no more to recommend her than Brandis, Abbott, Morrison, Hockey, or any other of the inept/bent admixture that make up the current Australian political dominance. It was she who trumpeted, after coming home from a jaunt to the U.S. that Edward Snowden was a traitor that deserved nothing but a bullet. There are plenty of other examples. A convert to the U.S. line through and through. From this I feel quite safe in assuring you that there is no Australian agenda in Iraq, but merely an American one that Australia wholeheartedly endorses. It is far from the one that Iraq would choose.


They have little appreciation for the U.S. airstrike contribution, as that is all aimed at the north in support of the Kurds, who have already sold resource poor Israel oil and have agreements to sell them more. In stable areas where the Peshmerga have established a stronghold, there is already a wealthy Zionist contingent moving in and buying up real estate. The Iraqi forces, after they picked themselves up from their initial panic, along with the Shia militias, and tribesmen, were already winning the war against the ISIL before the U.S. insisted on imposing their ever increasing presence on one side of Iran, while Kerry worked frenetically to gain the signature to retain the presence on the other side, in Afghanistan. Yes, NATO have left there now, but the numbers of German and U.S. troops keep climbing. There are plans for more. The 'nuclear' negotiations with Iran, because there were too many other parties involved, did not achieve the objective. This is why Assad's Syria, which the U.S. used to get along just fine with, in doing business during the extraordinary renditions era (and I don't believe that's quite over), which is Iran's principle ally in the region, has had to be negated. But I digress.


The only thing New Zealand and Australia have in common these days has five eyes. It's nice to remember how our boys got annihilated by that misbegotten toad, Churchill and other exponents of the cannon-fodder mentality, but in reality, the ANZAC legend began to fade into the mists of mythology about the time the ANZUS treaty was dissolved. Australia, unable to exist without the empire, hung onto the coat-tails of the President. But these days, New Zealand appears to have lost its balls, and we have a Prime Minister who, without a parliamentary vote, finally admits that there's a New Zealand military presence in Iraq (yes, SAS have been there for some time), in order to keep the crowd at the 19th hole happy, in such a determined manner as to suggest that perhaps he is the 19th hole.


I waited six months for an email from Joyce's office, and it's been just about that long for an answer from Little's office, so it would appear that there is no avenue for change in New Zealand through the political demographic. I'll be talking to the writers (not mainstream) and business demographics when I get back there in the second half of the year. I won't look to the electorate: they're obviously every bit as complacent as they are anywhere else.

by Tim Watkin on March 02, 2015
Tim Watkin

Actually David, Key has said while he can't be sure an individual SAS member hasn't been there in some capacity, as far as he knows the SAS hasn't been in Iraq.

And I don't agree Australia and NZ have nothing in common any more. The ANZAC reality may be far removed from WWI, but there remains joint ops, training, info sharing and more.

by Andrew R on March 02, 2015
Andrew R

Mr Key was very careful in the way he talked about SAS presence in Iraq. Not a definitive they are not there, but a I am not aware combined with there may be one there concession.

Given how dishonest Key is what he said is tantamount to saying that the SAS is there already.

As for the mandate, pre-election he was promising no troops to Iraq (without UN mandate). Post election no vote in Parliament. Not a strong mandate at all.

by Rich on March 02, 2015

while he can't be sure an individual SAS member hasn't been there in some capacity

What, the military don't keep records? I'd suspect that serving troops, especially in a sensitive unit like the SAS are required to report overseas trips to such areas.

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