Alas for New Zealand: a democracy without an effective opposition party is in effect a dictatorship and subject to the whim of whoever is dominant in Cabinet. Right up to the election there was no chance that New Zealand would enter the fray against the Islamic caliphate. Just a couple of days after the election, though the situation on the ground remains unchanged, the deployment of SAS troops is ‘under serious consideration’ by our leaders. Sensibly, Switzerland is not considering such a move – so why should New Zealand?
New Zealand used to follow a strict principle of involvement in overseas conflicts only under UN auspices. That principle appears to have been abandoned, first in Afghanistan and now potentially, in Mesopotamia. NATO’s approval is not a substitute for the UN’s. The revival of anachronistic Jihadi theology in the modern world is a catastrophe of the US, Britain and Saudi Arabia’s making. It is not for New Zealand to sort out the mess that other more directly concerned powers have created.
This is especially so, as the leaders of the coalition against the IS appear to be setting themselves up to fail in their mission (and in the process, to add a few more tens of thousands to the existing mountains of dead and ruined.) It is utter folly for a weak nation to enter battle on the side of a major power that is doomed to defeat, but which is large enough to be able to act with impunity, while it can pass off the consequences of that defeat on its weaker allies. Resultant Islamic activism is far more likely to impact Europe, Australia and New Zealand than ever it would such a remote and tightly monitored state as the USA.
Why will the coalition fail? Two of the nations closest to the battlefield, Israel and Turkey, who are both favoured recipients of US and in Turkey’s case, NATO support, are actively aiding and abetting extremist Islamists factions in Syria. Netanyahu declares at the UN that Israel views Iran as a more serious threat than the IS.
The nations most actively threatened by the IS, which is daily becoming more firmly entrenched across the populations of eastern Syria and northern Iraq, are Syria, the Kurds, the Shia majority of Iraq and the Iranians.
The US, Britain and Saudi Arabia (and Turkey and Israel) have all declared their intention to overthrow the Syrian regime by arming, training and using any faction of the Syrian rebel movement that doesn’t openly claim allegiance to IS (despite all of them being heavily penetrated by jihadist sympathies.) The Syrian regime’s armed forces, thanks to Iranian support, are by far and away the most actively engaged and effective enemy of IS. Turkey is reluctant to allow NATO allies to arm and equip the Kurds for combat against IS, lest it encourage fresh armed insurrection among its own discontented Kurdish population. The Kurds therefore remain a lightly armed, home defence militia, of little use for aggressive campaigning. Much to Israeli delight, as Iraq’s Balkanisation was a long stated foreign policy goal, after ten years of a US occupation founded on a divide and rule policy and the dismantling of its traditional military establishment, the Iraqi Shia are incapable of reuniting their country. That leaves the Iranians. As a bitter Shia enemy of the Sunni IS, Iranian armed forces have the full potential to expel the IS from Iraq and, allied as they are with the Syrian regime, to destroy its military capability. However, their economy is being dismantled by US sanctions and their government’s destruction is a main objective of both Israeli and Saudi Arabian policy.
Given that on top of the above constraints, the USA has clearly announced its refusal to put significant troops on the ground, and given that no guerrilla based movement with popular support has ever been defeated solely from the air, how is IS going to be defeated?
In the short term, the only (and unlikely) military solution is for the nations allied against IS to negotiate an alliance with the Syrian regime and then, for Saudi Arabia and the USA to overcome their mutual hostility to Iran and bring it too, fully into their alliance. In the longer term, the Western nations must leave the Islamic world to sort out its own theological mutation that is currently engendering this vicious sectarian war between fellow Moslems. This is the only front on which the jihadist movement will ultimately be defeated.
One is reminded of the Thirty Years War in Europe. In the first half of the Seventeenth Century, seventy percent of the European population died as a consequence of sundry European nations and varied Christian sects indulging in their own internal jihad. With that in mind, the current outlook for the Middle East is not good. An invitation to play golf does not justify our nation participating.