It is clear that New Zealand’s entry into the Iraqi civil war is a war of our government’s choice, rather than one of national necessity. In the case of asset sales by the previous Key government, even though the majority of the country was against them, Mr Key could claim that he had a mandate from the electorate as he had included these sales in his pre-election manifesto. Those who voted for National in order to benefit from others of its policies would have accepted that they were taking the full package of his government’s policies – warts and all.
In the case of entry into the civil wars in Iraq and Syria, which are none of New Zealand’s business and not in pursuit of any pressing national interest, there was no such mandate. No doubt, with an eye to an election victory, Mr Key had stated before the election, that there was no intention of entering the war. Within a week or so of re-gaining office, his government indicated a change of mind and started prepping the electorate for a military contribution to the USA’s endeavour. As there had been no significant change on the ground during the short interval between the giving of the pre-election assurance and the post-election preparations, one has to assume that the intention to ignore it was already present when the assurance was given.
And here comes the announcement: 24th February 2015. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/66589856/prime-minister-john-keys-statement-on-iraq
“Mr Speaker, today I am announcing to the House the Government’s decisions about our contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Last November I gave a national security speech which outlined the threat posed to New Zealand by ISIL.
This brutal group and its distressing methods deserve the strongest condemnation.
ISIL’s ability to motivate Islamist radicals make it a threat not only to stability in the Middle East, but regionally and locally too.
It is well-funded and highly-skilled at using the internet to recruit.
Disturbingly, if anything, ISIL’s brutality has worsened since I gave that speech late last year.
In recent weeks we have witnessed a mass beheading and the horrific plight of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.
And we’ve seen stories of Western hostages who have been kidnapped and killed in barbaric ways.
ISIL’s outrageous actions have united an international coalition of 62 countries against the group.
New Zealand is already considered part of the coalition because we have made humanitarian contributions, with $14.5 million in aid provided to the region so far.
The Government has been carefully considering its options to expand our contribution to the international coalition.
As I outlined in November, our approach is one that addresses humanitarian, diplomatic, intelligence and capacity building issues.
Mr Speaker, New Zealand is a country that stands up for its values.
We stand up for what’s right.
We have an obligation to support stability and the rule of law internationally.
We do not shy away from taking our share of the burden when the international rules-based system is threatened.
We have carved out our own independent foreign policy over decades and we take pride in it.
We do what is in New Zealand’s best interests.
It is in that context that I am announcing that the Government has decided to take further steps to help the fight against ISIL.”
Mr Key’s speech, full of misleading statements and demagogic blandishments, benefits from being broken down and analysed. Its gist has been loyally followed by other government ministers (including a jingoistic speech from the Minister of Education, to the effect that NZ children need to be taught that a willingness to intervene militarily in other people’s affairs, should be a hallmark of New Zealand’s national identity! )https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11408000
• “Mr Speaker, today I am announcing to the House the Government’s decisions about our contribution to the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL. Last November I gave a national security speech which outlined the threat posed to New Zealand by ISIL.”
Any analysis of the threat posed to NZ by ISIS (or ISIL as Key prefers to call it) must have at its heart an understanding of the group’s intentions. If one ignores minor wannabe franchises in places such as Libya and Nigeria, the heartland of ISIS’s Caliphate currently consists of a piece of desert containing a native population of around eight million Iraqi and Syrian citizens. While beset with enemies on all sides, ISIS’s religious leaders are racked by earnest theological debate as to whether or not they should convert or kill the remaining seven billion of the world’s population, or whether they should limit their territorial advance to the southern banks of the Bosporus! As such, the threat of their arriving in a convoy of Toyota utilities on NZ’s shores seems remote.
As my previous blog https://khakispecs.com/?p=603 makes clear, ISIS, though based on the same scriptures, differs from al-Qaeda. The Al Qaeda remnants strive to pose an avenging threat of global terrorism against the Western crusaders’ homelands. In contrast, ISIS’s foundation Caliphate is preoccupied with the problem of developing a modern-day ‘state,’ based on rules and regulation written down fourteen centuries ago. Given how far the caravan has moved on since the Prophet dismounted from his camel, ISIS has a mind-bogglingly difficult task on its hands and little time for pursuit of the al Qaeda international agenda. Given the universally hostile international reaction to ISIS’s conduct, its ambition to significantly expand those territories appears unlikely to be realised.
So what is the danger that is forcing New Zealand to war? Mr Key argues that elements of New Zealand’s Muslim community (approx. 1% of the NZ population) might go to the Caliphate, be trained in combat and return to NZ to carry out acts of terrorism. The intelligence services, of which Mr Key is the head, have already identified forty or so individual NZ residents, who might wish at some stage to travel to the Caliphate. These, might not all be intending to make the journey or to take up arms should they get there. The Caliphate is recruiting not just fighters, but all professions, nurses, teachers etc. to help it run its new state’s infrastructure.
The New Zealand government’s extraordinary decision to follow the UK and Australia in confiscating the passports of ‘at risk’ individuals, in order to prevent their travel, seems designed to increase the risk of terrorism in New Zealand. Instead of allowing the few unfortunates infected with this strain of fervent religiosity to voluntarily enter the isolation ward that is the Islamic State, the government has come up with a cunning plan. By insisting that those who might be infected with the virus remain circulating among the New Zealand public, the risk of their infecting others and/or of otherwise venting their frustrations on the innocent community about them, will be maximised. Baldrick would be impressed!
Given the amount of enemies the Islamic state has managed to arraign against itself, most of those making the trip are likely to remain there until they realise their ambition of entering Paradise. Those few, who return, are liable to be the disillusioned and, once cured of their enthusiasm, no longer to represent a threat. If the returnees, if any, have committed crimes while overseas, they can duly be brought to account in New Zealand law courts.
New Zealanders, who wish to travel overseas as mercenaries, are free to go and join the French Foreign Legion, fight for the Kurds against IS, serve with the Israeli Defence Force in their occupation of Palestine, or join one side or the other in the Ukraine. In this instance, Muslims who might wish to travel to the Caliphate for reasons of their religious faith, no matter how nutty it might be, are refused permission to leave New Zealand. Mr Key’s move means all sections of the New Zealand community are no longer equal before the law. The Muslim community leaders have pleaded with the National government not to become embroiled in this war, on the grounds that involvement could inflame the passions of those already that way inclined. Now, the leaders of that community, their pleas ignored, are going to have to struggle to prevent a potential disaster for race relations in this country.
“This brutal group and its distressing methods deserve the strongest condemnation. ISIL’s ability to motivate Islamist radicals make it a threat not only to stability in the Middle East, but regionally and locally too.”
The undeniable fact is that wherever western military forces intervene in the Islamic world, though they may temporarily dampen the fire of overt Islamic protest, in the longer term they give oxygen to the anti-western, fundamentalist movements. It is not ISIS, but the military interventions of western states that is the greatest motivator of Islamic radicals. There is nothing ISIS has welcomed more than the western military interventions against it, which the spectacular nature of its brutality has been designed to provoke. Since the US bombing campaign commenced, existing Islamic terrorist groups around the world (Libya, Nigeria, Sinai, Pakistan, Afghanistan, the Philippines, etc.) have declared their allegiance to the new Caliphate. Being associated with the kudos ISIS has won in fighting the western military and its allies clearly helps bring in new recruits.
By joining the US coalition, New Zealand is in fact, helping promote global Islamic fundamentalism. The US, with the benefits such wars bring to its economy, will be persuaded to intervene in an increasing number of these local wars in which the dissidents declare themselves as ISIS franchises. In so doing, it will be sowing more dragons’ teeth and dragging some of its less well advised allies into the mire of their own creation.
Though these out-lying ISIS franchises may drain resources from countries with large Muslim populations in the Pacific region, absent large-scale western involvement in the killing of locals, they are unlikely to seriously threaten their stability. Currently, having already lost about 20% of the territories it originally captured, best estimates are that ISIS in Iraq/Syria is attracting about one thousand new recruits from outside its borders each month. The combined populations of Indonesia and Malaysia, with an interpretation of Islam far less prone to fundamentalism than that prevailing in the Saudi Arabian heartland, amount to approx. 280 million. If Indonesia and Malaysia are not sufficiently concerned about the threat posed by ISIS to join the USA’s second Iraqi coalition, surely NZ too, should be unconcerned about the threat that they face from it? On the contrary, as a neighbouring Christian nation meddling in their religion’s affairs, we are more than likely to damage our cordial relations with them. Even Thailand, which faces an active Islamic insurrection in its southern province, has not shown any interest in joining the war in Iraq.
The Philippines might have a rather more serious problem. For several years the USA’s assassination by drone programme in pursuit of terrorists allegedly involved in the 9/11 event, had aggravated that country’s problems with its Muslim dissidents.
It now would appear that some USA government agency has moved to ensure that the budding peace agreement between the Muslim and Christian communities in the Philippines should be aborted. https://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article41280.htm However, despite the latest endeavours to further civil war, the preponderance of non-Muslim Filipinos will ensure that the country itself remains stable. Even should a Muslim province manage to break away, the new breakaway state will not be subject to the full horrors of Salafi medievalism as practiced in the ISIS heartland.
• “It is well-funded and highly-skilled at using the internet to recruit.”
Indeed, ISIS is, and has been, well-funded. Our NATO ‘ally,’ Turkey has been accepting oil that ISIS has stolen from the Syrian and Iraqi lands it has occupied – and paying in kind as well as cash. Both Turkey and our Israeli ‘friends’ are providing medical treatment for ISIS and/or its allies. https://english.al-akhbar.com/node/22712 Money, inspiration and moral support have poured in from the Gulf States and from Saudi Arabia (in honour of whose late departed king our Prime Minister ordered the flag on the Auckland Bridge be flown at half-mast.) Our ‘allies’ in America and among members of NATO, in their attempt to support the jihadist enemies of the Syrian government, have been providing the arms indirectly (and in some case directly) with which ISIS has equipped its forces. Indeed, many ISIS warriors have received their military training, weapons and equipment, courtesy of the US Army. The programme is still continuing in Turkey and open to any Syrian, who promises that he won’t join ISIS – at least until the training is completed.
• “Disturbingly, if anything, ISIL’s brutality has worsened since I gave that speech late last year.”
In fact ISIL’s public brutality has noticeably worsened, not since Key’s speech, but since the onset of the US coalition’s air assault. The following hyperlink is instructive. It indicates how deeply the brutality and illegality of our American ally’s previous interventions in the Muslim world have affected the ISIS world-view. Despite the claims in the Western media and of Mr Key in parliament, they do not appear as simply a perverted group of blood-thirsty psychopaths, but normal humans who have to hype-themselves before enforcing the harsh dictates of their legal system.https://www.al-monitor.com/pulse/originals/2015/03/terrorism-social-work-jihadist-profile-roumieh-prison.html
• “In recent weeks we have witnessed a mass beheading and the horrific plight of a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage. And we’ve seen stories of Western hostages who have been kidnapped and killed in barbaric ways.”
The execution of the Jordanian pilot was not unlawful by the legal code practiced in the Caliphate. ‘An eye for an eye’ was the legal code of the desert tribes in the time of the Prophet. The pilot was found guilty of firing rockets into houses and causing death by burning. Furthermore, to complete the proper execution of his sentence, after the bonfire was over, a digger was brought in to empty building rubble over the corpse as indicative of the building falling on top of the burned victims of his alleged rocket fire.
• “ISIL’s outrageous actions have united an international coalition of 62 countries against the group.”
Were New Zealand not to join, it would have been the only member of the exclusive, global surveillance, ‘Five Eyes’ club not to have done so. The USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia are all there, as are many European countries in the US commanded NATO order of battle – the most notable exception being Turkey (though Turkey is included in Key’s sixty-two countries, because, while allowing wannabe ISIS fighters almost unhindered access to its border crossings, it also allows some US aircraft to use one of its bases.) https://foreignpolicy.com/2014/11/12/who-has-contributed-what-in-the-coalition-against-the-islamic-state/ It is interesting to note that this listing, which included New Zealand, was made in November 2014. It would appear that the USA was informed of NZ’s participation as a member of the coalition long before the citizens of New Zealand – and before there was any opportunity given for parliamentary debate.
However the claim that 62 countries have joined the coalition against ISIS is hyperbolic. Reading the hyperlink above, you find a list of often reluctant toadies of American empire, all, like NZ, striving to make the smallest possible contribution to a war to which the USA itself appears to be striving to make the smallest possible contribution. If Mr Key is quoting 62, like-thinking countries, on the basis that their numbers offer safety to help justify his decision, one has to ask why couldn’t New Zealand have been content to remain among the 134 nations that were not listed as members of the coalition?
A major problem is that many of the US claimed coalition partners are ambivalent in their hostility to ISIS. Even among its main members, the coalition is one only in name – not in reality. The four militaries, actually fighting ISIS on the ground, are Syrian, Iranian, Kurdish and Iraqi. Israel, America, Britain, Turkey, Qatar, Saudi Arabia are all trying to destroy the Syrian government. (They seem intent on using the ultimate defeat or neutralisation of ISIS in Iraq, as their signal to move against Assad’s regime and to thus instigate the next phase of the Syrian civil war.) The Saudis, Qataris and Israel are bitter opponents of the Iranians; Turkey and the Iraqi government in Baghdad are deeply mistrustful of the Kurds. The Americans refuse to openly cooperate with the Iranians; the Saudis are supportive of the non-ISIS Iraqi Sunnis in their conflict with the Shia dominated Iraqi government – and so on. This complex Islamic civil war and hybrid coalition, which Mr Key has inserted us into, is a bucket of chicken entrails, way beyond his, or his government’s ability to decipher.
• “New Zealand is already considered part of the coalition because we have made humanitarian contributions, with $14.5 million in aid provided to the region so far.”
These are weasel words. What Mr Key does not explain is that being a coalition member is not the same as being a contributor to a military operation. In order to boost their numbers, the Americans have listed as coalition members just anyone who did anything, or even said they might do something. For instance, Iceland is listed as a coalition member because it closed down a pro-ISIS website. Neutral Switzerland is listed because it gave humanitarian aid. Being listed as a coalition member does not mean that a military contribution is justified. Or is Mr Key’s argument ‘as well be hung for stealing a sheep as a lamb?’ Does he mean that we might just as well intervene militarily in that by so doing, while giving extra satisfaction to our ‘natural allies,’ (read USA/UK) we will not be changing the character of potential ISIS hostility – only its extent?
• “The Government has been carefully considering its options to expand our contribution to the international coalition. As I outlined in November, our approach is one that addresses humanitarian, diplomatic, intelligence and capacity building issues.”
True, we have given a modest sum for humanitarian aid. On the diplomatic front our effort is not noticeable, despite promises to use our new seat on the Security Council to further the interests of smaller nations, we look like a safe vote for US supported policies. (Our decision to make a military contribution to the US coalition in Iraq underlines our distraction from smaller nations’ concerns.) Our intelligence contribution will be minimal – we have no Arabic-speaking HUMINT capacity on the ground and our contribution would seem to be just more of the same, massive, data capture from our Five Eyes listening stations transferred, holus bolus, over to the USA for analysis.
Capacity building – well that is what our sixteen trainers will be doing for the Iraqi government’s 800,000 or so men under arms. (If classroom size is an issue, that’s approx. 50,000 trainees per head.)
• “Mr Speaker, New Zealand is a country that stands up for its values. We stand up for what’s right.”
In the debate that followed this speech, Mr Key accused Andrew Little, the leader of the opposition, who objected to Key’s military involvement with the coalition, of “not having any guts.” Apparently Mr Key defines ‘having guts’ as involving people (other than himself) in a military conflict, while avoiding any thorough-going democratic debate on the matter. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11407112
Had New Zealand, as a country, been ‘standing up for what’s right,’ it would have been doing all in its diplomatic power to discourage the western allies in their repeated interventions in other countries’ affairs. Instead it has actively encouraged them in its tacit diplomatic approval of their aggressive actions, in its token military contributions to their efforts and in offering practical help by allowing a significant portion of America’s global target acquisition network to be situated in New Zealand.
Where was New Zealand’s diplomatic voice on the subject of NATO’s destruction of Libya; against western sanctions on Saddam’s Iraq (which resulted in the estimated deaths of over 500,000 Iraqi children;) on a coalition member (probably Turkey) gassing a thousand Syrian civilians to give the USA cause to enter a hot war against the Syrian government; on illegal renditions; on Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, Bagram, and other black sites; against Israel’s destruction of Gaza and illegal settlement of the West Bank; against multiple drone assassinations with massive civilian collateral; etc? The list of western outrages committed in breach of international law and against the Islamic world and other developing nations (and all against a background of New Zealand’s active or passive compliance) would fill several volumes. New Zealand most emphatically doesn’t stand up for what is right. It takes guts to speak truth to power and that is exactly what Mr Key’s government lacks.
• “We have an obligation to support stability and the rule of law internationally.”
We do indeed have an obligation and a foremost national interest in supporting the development and rule of international law. As a minor nation we have no defence to fall back on, other than that international law should constrain the would-be law-breaking nations of the world. The alternative, which is the one New Zealand appears to have chosen, is to form alliances with the law-breakers. This policy is guaranteed to win New Zealand a raft of enemies it would not otherwise have had – with no enforceable guarantee that New Zealand won’t be abandoned by the larger powers should it ever suit them. The USA, with its claims to being the one and only exceptional and indispensable nation, intervenes in other nation’s domestic affairs at will, and ignores all international law that doesn’t suit it. Its close ally and major influencer, Israel sees as its prime national interest the retention of all its illegally acquired territories. It therefore pursues a deliberate policy of undermining the respect in which the UN and the rule of international law are held, while the USA regularly uses its Security Council veto to support Israel in this endeavour.
• “We do not shy away from taking our share of the burden when the international rules-based system is threatened.”
The real threat to the ‘international rules system’ is that there are always going to be certain nations that don’t agree with the rules drawn up by a single military and economic superpower. The small objectors, like Gadhafi in Libya, Saddam Hussein in Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan, Assad in Syria or the Ayatollahs of Iran get hammered and hopefully disappeared. However, human-kind’s survival is itself threatened when the objectors, such as China and Russia, are major nuclear-armed, military powers. Taking up ‘our fair share of the burden’ should best be done, not by allying with one side in the global conflict that is fast emerging, but by straining every diplomatic muscle to get a universally accepted rules-based system in place.
• “We have carved out our own independent foreign policy over decades and we take pride in it.”
It is true that some of Mr Key’s predecessors, notably Norman Kirk and David Lange, attempted to do just this. It is hard to see the current National government’s contribution in this respect, beyond that of caddying for the USA.
• “We do what is in New Zealand’s best interests.”
Every country does what its leaders believe to be in their (and their countries’) best interests. The word to emphasise here is ‘believe.’ Such best interests can only be discerned with intelligence (in both senses of the word) learned debate and a strategic view of long term national goals. New Zealand has entered the ISIS conflict through a decision making process, which lacks all of these traits. Given its lack of an authoritative international governing institution, we have an anarchic world – a globalised economy outside the control of any globalised polity. It is in New Zealand’s best interests that this fatal flaw be resolved through the development of international law – and not through giving carte blanche to one side of the debate for its exercise of overweening military might. Joining military alliances is not contributing to a solution that will meet either New Zealand’s, or humanity’s best interests.
• “It is in that context that I am announcing that the Government has decided to take further steps to help the fight against ISIL.”
New Zealand’s ‘help’ is to consist of sixteen military trainers with a further ninety supporting personnel (intended to protect the trainers from the possible hostility of their trainees) and an estimated two-year budget of $65 million. Given the scale of the total anti-ISIS operation, this contribution is no more than a token of a commitment to helping those nations who, with their illegal regime-change agendas in Syria and Iraq, gave rise to ISIS in the first place.
For this modest cost, New Zealand will acquire the right to share the guilt with which the instigating nations are saddled in the eyes of the rest of the world. The real cost to New Zealand will be the consequent reduction in the moral authority with which it might have been able to speak on global affairs had it sought ways to help ease the humanitarian crisis other, than by using its military to train one group of Muslims how to kill the other.
The decision to involve New Zealand in someone else’s war and to place New Zealanders into harms way, is not one that should have been taken on the whim of a leader notoriously uninterested in international history. It should not even have been taken on well-informed and rational opinions, which had not been thoroughly debated to the point when something approaching a national consensus has been reached. How has it come about that the New Zealand constitution and its public have allowed such a controversial decision of national significance to be made with no attempt at a parliamentary consensus and with scarcely a debate?