Friday, 31 July 2015

Music Will Save The World: Anna & Elizabeth

ADAM WHITE, long-time anarchist and music aficionado, alerted me to Anna & Elizabeth – and I’m so pleased that he did.
These two, superb, 25-year-old folk-singers, Elizabeth LaPrelle, from Virginia (she's the short one) and New Englander, Anna Roberts-Gevalt, have carved out an enviable reputation for themselves in the rich Appalachian musical tradition. Their voices produce the most fragile and poignant of acapella harmonies, while, in their highly educated hands, fiddle, banjo and guitar are persuaded to perform with equal emotional effect. Anna & Elizabeth’s monologues, illustrated by their “crankies” – illuminated cloth and paper scrolls – celebrate the lives of the men and women uncovered in the course of their musical-historical research. American music critics have described Elizabeth as possibly “the most sought-after ballad singer of her generation”. Their music is available from Free Dirt Records.
Video courtesy of YouTube
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.

The Impotence Of Purity

"Certainly, The Impotent Are Pure": Gough Whitlam struggled to make the left of his party understand that purity at the expense of power is a poor bargain. “It is true that some parties can exist only as pressure groups ..... Neither our traditions nor our purpose permit us to adopt this role for ourselves. We are in the business to serve and preserve democracy. Parliamentary democracy.”
GOUGH WHITLAM’S LEGACY to Australian Labor is huge, so it’s easy to assume that he was always its hero. Nothing could be further from the truth. Such a doctrinaire beast was the Australian Labor Party in the 1950s and 60s that the “modernising” Whitlam was widely and deeply distrusted. Nowhere was this more evident than in Victorian Labour Party (VLP). Victorian Labour saw itself as the Keeper of the Flame of “true” socialism. Whitlam, a silver-tongued Sydney lawyer, born of privilege and power, was not the sort of person these “true believers” warmed to.
Whitlam, however, had a very clear idea about where Labor needed to go if it was ever to bring the seemingly interminable reign of the Liberal-Country Party Coalition to an end. The VLP, he knew, was a vital station on the federal party’s path to power. The Keepers of the Flame would have to be politically confronted – and ideologically defeated. In June, 1967, Whitlam finally bearded Victoria’s socialist lions in their den.
Speaking to the VLP’s annual conference, Whitlam laid it on the line – as only he could. Addressing directly Labor’s abysmal electoral record at both the state and federal level, he spoke the words that everyone knew to be true, but which no one dared to utter:
“We construct a philosophy of failure, which finds in defeat a form of justification and a proof of the purity of our principles. Certainly, the impotent are pure. This party was not conceived in failure, brought forth by failure or consecrated to failure. Let us have none of this nonsense that defeat is in some way more moral than victory.” [My emphasis.]
Nor was he afraid to name Labor’s two great enemies on the Left: the Moscow-aligned Communist Party of Australia; and that bastard child of Catholic reaction, the Democratic Labor Party (DLP).
“It is true that some parties can exist only as pressure groups. The Communists support this view because they do not want to win Parliamentary representation or power; the DLP supports it because it cannot win Parliamentary representation or power. Neither our traditions nor our purpose permit us to adopt this role for ourselves. We are in the business to serve and preserve democracy. Parliamentary democracy.”
It was this key insight that made Whitlam such an extraordinary change agent. He grasped what the Keepers of the Flame had either forgotten, or never quite understood in the first place. That before it could be about socialism, Labor had to be about democracy. Why? Because socialism only happens when people start taking democracy seriously.
The events of the past three weeks have made it clear just how urgently the New Zealand Labour Party is in need of a good Whitlam-style dressing down. Members of Labour’s Caucus have been stunned and hurt by the viciousness of their own party’s Keepers of the Flame. That Phil Twyford’s campaign to highlight the role played by offshore Chinese property investors in Auckland’s housing bubble could be likened to the activities of the Ku Klux Klan was beyond outrageous.
New Statesman columnist, Helen Lewis, calls it “values signalling”. Heedless of the personal and political damage inflicted by their social media interventions, the Values Signallers are only interested in letting their “friends” and “followers” know just how emphatically they are on the side of “the right and the good”. Not for them the hard slog of increasing their political party’s electoral support – always a desperately frustrating process, fraught with difficult personal compromises and dubious moral elisions. To operate in this world requires a level of maturity which most Values Signallers simply do not possess. For them, proclaiming one’s principled purity to the world is much more satisfying than helping one’s party win the next election. That such strident and unhelpful posturing might indefinitely delay the day when their principles are backed by the power of a parliamentary majority is not an idea they are much given to considering.
In the end, Whitlam’s observations about impotence and purity go to the heart of a much more profound political and philosophical debate. The invitation to sacrifice one’s personal political purity in favour of collective political potency is always a hard one to accept. And yet, if it is not, then the conditions permitting the enlargement of social, as well as individual, morality cannot be realised.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 31 July 2015.

Thursday, 30 July 2015

How Smart Is Tim Groser? Will We End Up Panning Or Praising New Zealand's Trade Minister?

Diplomatic Genius, Or Corporate Minion? From its humble origins as a modest New Zealand trade initiative, the TPPA has always been viewed by Tim Groser (above) as the Kiwi sprat to catch an American mackerel. New Zealand corporates just ain't that clever!
TIM GROSER may be a lot smarter than even his most fervent supporters claim. It’s just possible that the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) – as currently drafted – is the document he had in mind all along. That, from its humble origins as a modest New Zealand trade initiative, the TPPA was always viewed by Groser as the sprat to catch a giant USA mackerel.

With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear there was never the slightest chance that the United States was ever going to sit back and let a handful of small Pacific states set up a free-trade zone from which it was excluded. As a pretty shrewd geopolitician, Groser would also have realised that, as the US slowly disengaged from its military entanglements in the Middle East, there was a very high probability that its struggle with China in the Pacific – disrupted by 9/11 and all that it inspired – would be resumed.

A comprehensive free-trade agreement, including an increasingly apprehensive Japan – but  excluding the Peoples Republic of China – was an obvious “next move” for a United States determined to reassert its hegemony over the nations of the Pacific Rim. It was also an obvious “next move” for New Zealand, whose economic fortunes were, to a potentially dangerous degree, becoming entwined with those of its principal protector’s principal rival.
The plausibility of this argument depends entirely on how skilled at playing geopolitical chess you are willing to believe this country’s diplomats and trade envoys truly are.
Who was it, for example, who initiated the process which led to the New Zealand-China Free Trade Agreement (FTA): New Zealand or China?
This country’s preference, for at least the past two decades, has been an FTA with the United States. Was it the latter’s refusal to negotiate seriously (i.e. to commit to the liberalisation of its agricultural sector) that persuaded the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) to focus its attention, instead, on the Chinese? Because, in addition to boosting our exports, the New Zealand-China FTA also provided our diplomats with the precious bonus of just a little leverage vis-à-vis our “very, very, very good” friends in Washington. Groser, himself, is at pains to reassure anybody who asks, that should the TPPA negotiations fall through, New Zealand will not be left without options. Sceptics are invited to ponder the significance of New Zealand’s early decision to join the Chinese-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank.
Could Tim Groser and his colleagues at MFAT really be so smart? Is it possible that, sometime in the next few days, New Zealand will put its signature to a document that gives its key exporters the best of both worlds? Not only a vastly rewarding economic relationship with the second most powerful economic entity on the planet; but also the long-sought and much-desired prize of a free-trade agreement with the world’s mightiest nation? Well, yes, it is possible. And, if it happens, Tim Groser’s much anticipated appointment as this country’s next ambassador to the United States will have been well-earned.
From Washington, Groser will be supremely well-positioned to judge just how serious the developing struggle between the US Eagle and Chinese Dragon has become. With the TPPA in place, he will, of course, be free to choose between these two heraldic beasts. Free access for New Zealand’s agricultural exports to all the markets of the Pacific Rim – especially those of the USA, Canada and Japan – will mean that if push eventually comes to shove, New Zealand’s economic eggs will not be concentrated in the basket labelled “Made in China”.
A Peoples Republic of China beset by crashing stock markets and a rapidly slowing pace of economic growth will soon be faced with even greater difficulties. Constant economic expansion has been utterly crucial to the Communist Party of China’s ability to keep its population, if not happy, then at least quiescent. Mass unemployment, sharpened by the mass impoverishment of China’s rural and urban stock market investors, could very easily panic China’s leaders into a series of ultra-nationalist distractions in the South China Sea or along the Sino-Indian border. Very quickly, having all our economic (and most of our diplomatic) eggs in a single Chinese basket could prove to be very awkward.
Many New Zealanders are fearful of the TPPA. They worry about the future of Pharmac and are alarmed at the prospect of becoming enmeshed in the coils of the Investor State Dispute Settlement process. While these are by no means insignificant issues, there are much greater dangers out there that we would be most unwise to ignore. Looking back, we may yet have cause to feel relieved that the TPPA was wound up in July-August 2015. And even those on the left of New Zealand politics may feel just a little bit thankful that Tim Groser was where he was, when he was.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 29 July 2015.

Tuesday, 28 July 2015

Behind Prison Walls

Signal Failure: Following the change of government in 2008, the "model" Spring Hill Correctional Facility’s inmate muster went from 650 to 1,038. In 2013, Spring Hill prisoners staged one of the largest and most destructive prison riots in New Zealand history. Under-resourcing in New Zealand's prison system is not confined to Serco's privately-run facilities, it afflicts the public prisons as well.
MAKING MONEY out of locking people up. How would you do it? Presumably, by making sure that the costs of looking after prisoners never amounted to more than the income you received for imprisoning them. In a more brutal society than ours, this would be easy. Those convicted of crimes could be sent to dank, dirty prisons, fed on slops, and allowed to die as Nature ordered. Very few staff would be required, and very little money need be spent. Provided none of the prisoners escaped to harry and harm the public, only a handful of simple-minded do-gooders would ever want to know what goes on behind prison walls.
The problem with making prisons profitable in today’s world, however, is that the State has an internationally mandated duty of care towards all incarcerated persons. Regardless of whether a prison is publicly or privately run, its inmates have rights that must be acknowledged and enforced by the people in charge. Unfortunately for profit-seekers, human-rights cost lots of money.
For those seeking to make a profit out of prisons, the challenge is, therefore, to present the State with a plausible plan for upholding the inmates’ rights, while surreptitiously cutting the institutions’ running-costs to the bone. Obviously, this requires a large measure of collusion on the part of the State. There will, accordingly, be plenty of scrutiny of the plans for rehabilitating their inmates, but very little, if any, of the budgets showing how these will be paid for. Likewise, the State will give lots of publicity to the private prisons’ promises; but none at all to their actual performance.
Why would the State collude so blatantly with private sector incarcerators? The explanation, sadly, is the same as the private sector’s: to make a profit. Except, the State doesn’t call what it does “making a profit”. It’s preferred term is “achieving a surplus”. In brute, political terms: it reduces expenditure on the prison system, which the public doesn’t like, in order to free-up funds for spending on things the public does like – such as schools and hospitals, or tax-cuts.
It requires a very strong-minded government to push back against this kind of political logic. A government determined to uphold its duty of care to prison inmates – even in the face of concerted public opposition. Rather astonishingly, in the light of recent events, New Zealanders elected such a government just 16 years ago.
Matt Robson - Minister of Corrections 1999-2002
In the Labour-Alliance Government of 1999-2002, led by Helen Clark and Jim Anderton, the Minister of Corrections was a man named Matt Robson. As a lawyer, Mr Robson knew a thing or two about the shortcomings of our prison system. Indeed, he is reported to have said that the best thing that could happen to Auckland’s dank and dirty Mt Eden Prison would be for it to be bulldozed flat. Sadly, that did not happen. What Mr Robson did do, however, was order the construction of Spring Hill Prison in North Waikato.
Spring Hill was to be a model, state-owned and operated prison for a maximum of 650 inmates. Each prisoner was to have his own cell, and the institution’s commitment was to rehabilitation through education and skills acquisition. The collapse of the Labour-Alliance Government, in 2002, brought an end to Mr Robson’s short stint as Minister of Corrections. He left Parliament in 2005 – two years before the Spring Hill Corrections Facility finally opened.
A year later, in 2008, a much more conventional Minister of Corrections was appointed to oversee New Zealand’s prison system. Judith Collins, like so many of those who had come before her, was determined to reduce expenditure on, and improve the efficiency of, the business of locking people up.
It was Ms Collins who contracted the global conglomerate, Serco, to manage the Mt Eden Corrections Facility. She was also responsible for the “double-bunking” of prisoners nationwide. This decision, bitterly criticised by inmates and criminologists alike, was seen as a sure-fire means of increasing prisoner stress levels through institutionalised over-crowding. The Spring Hill facility’s inmate muster, for example, went from 650 to 1,038. In 2013, Spring Hill prisoners staged one of the largest and most destructive prison riots in New Zealand history. Mr Robson’s “model” facility lay burned and broken.
The unfolding scandal at the Serco-managed Mt Eden Corrections Facility, while shocking, is only one aspect of the under-resourcing crisis afflicting our entire prison system. Yes, the privately-run facility is chronically under-staffed. And yes, the State does appear to be covering-up some of its deficiencies. But many of our state-run prisons are equally under-resourced. The State’s duty of care is being called into question on a daily basis – in both the public and private sectors.
As citizens of a civilised nation, we have a duty to care about what is being done, in our name, behind prison walls.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 28 July 2015.

“Something Very, Very Different”: Why Rumours Of Labour’s Internal Poll Numbers Are Giving The Nats The Heebie-Jeebies.

Reasons To Smile: For some in Labour’s Caucus, the experience of taking fire (especially from people they considered friends and allies) has been a painful one. But the fact that they have remained at their posts, and returned fire, has not been lost on Labour’s traditional constituency. There have been no leaks, no private briefings, no wayward press releases. The Labour Caucus has – touch wood – rediscovered the power of collective commitment and responsibility. In the process, it has reclaimed a good measure of much-needed credibility.
CAMERON SLATER is appealing directly to members of Labour’s caucus on his Whaleoil blog. Why? Because he’s just got wind of Labour’s internal poll numbers. According to Cameron: “Their internal polls show something very, very different from the publicly available polls. Apparently the gap between Labour & National is about 6 or 7 percent when the public polls have it at 15%.”
This can only mean that, in the usually highly accurate UMR poll, Labour is positioned somewhere between 34-36 percent and the National Party somewhere between 40 and 42 percent. At that level of support, it’s ‘Game Over!’ for John Key’s government. No wonder Cameron is doing everything he can to sow doubt in the minds of Andrew Little’s colleagues.
Clearly, these results have brought on an attack of the heebie-jeebies in National’s ranks. How else to explain the usually very crafty Mr Slater’s tactical lapse? Calling people’s attention to what he’s heard about Labour’s internal polling – when it’s this good – has given a major boost to the Left’s morale. It’s also boosted the credibility of the other big rumour doing the rounds about UMR’s polling: the one that puts the combined Labour-Green vote at 49 percent.
Cameron’s post may also serve to confirm the rumours about National’s own internal polling. According to these, Labour’s much criticised ‘China Play’ almost immediately began shaking erstwhile Labour voters loose from National’s tree in large numbers.
That would certainly explain the way National suddenly went dark on the whole issue. As Matthew Hooton explained in his NBR column of 17/7/15: “Wedge politics are straightforward: You find a genuine problem, associate it with an unpopular minority, raise it with inflammatory language, or in a provocative context, and wait for your opponents to defend the minority. Then you stand with the majority against them.” With advisers as skilled in the dark arts of wedge politics as Mark Textor and Lynton Crosby, the Prime Minister was almost certainly warned against expressing too much solidarity with the targets of Labour’s campaign.
That job was left to TV3’s Patrick Gower, who has been waging a virtual one-man-war against what he insists are Labour’s “cooked-up” statistics. How disappointed poor Paddy must have been when his week-long assault upon Labour for “playing the race card” was rewarded with a marginal increase in Labour’s support (from 30.4 to 31.1 percent) in the TV3/Reid Research Poll. To rub salt in his wounds, the poll also showed the ‘Opposition Bloc’ of parties (Labour, Greens, NZ First) registering 50.9 percent to the ‘Government Bloc’s’ (National, Act, Maori Party, United Future) 48.2 percent. Completing Mr Gower’s discombobulation must have been Reid Research’s finding that 61 percent of New Zealanders support a ban on foreign investors buying-up residential property.
So, let us assume, purely for the sake of argument, that all the rumours are true and all the numbers are correct. It would mean that National has shed 6-7 percentage points directly to Labour. Interestingly, this is exactly what the Roy Morgan Poll of 17 July indicated. It had National down 6.5 points to 43 percent, Labour up 6 points to 32 percent, and the combined Labour-Green vote on 45 percent. Admittedly, the Roy Morgan survey only caught the first day of Labour’s China Play, but, by the same token, it escaped the effects of ‘Paddy’s Play’ entirely.
From the beginning of the year, Labour’s clear objective, and Andrew Little’s laser-like focus, has been to re-capture the roughly 10 percent of former Labour voters who have, ever since Helen Clark’s departure, taken to voting National with their Party Vote. Crucial to recovering that lost support are the two “Cs” – Connection and Credibility.
Labour's Caucus - Sticking To Their Guns.
Labour and Little must first connect with, and then remain at the side of, their electoral base. They must whistle their tune – and keep on whistling it – until their supporters start whistling it back to them. In lifting Labour’s vote towards that magical 40 percent mark, nothing is more important than saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your guns.
For some in Labour’s Caucus, the experience of taking fire (especially from people they considered friends and allies) has been a painful one. But the fact that they have remained at their posts, and returned fire, has not been lost on Labour’s traditional constituency. There have been no leaks, no private briefings, no wayward press releases. The Labour Caucus has – touch wood – rediscovered the power of collective commitment and responsibility. In the process, it has reclaimed a good measure of much-needed credibility.
And if Cameron Slater’s right about the results of the latest UMR poll, they now have their reward.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 27 July 2015.

Sunday, 26 July 2015

Is Jeremy Corbyn Labour’s Bill Brand? Can A Socialist Become The British Labour Party’s Next Leader?

Uncanny Resemblance: British actor, Jack Shepherd (left) played the role of a firebrand socialist Labour MP in the 1976 series, Bill Brand. Nearly 40 years later, a real firebrand socialist, Jeremy Corbyn (right) is leading the race to replace Ed Miliband as Leader of the British Labour Party. The question posed by Bill Brand, and now by Jeremy Corbyn, is: "Are Socialism and Labour compatible?"
WAY BACK IN THE 1970s there was a red-hot political drama series called Bill Brand. Produced by Thames Television, it starred a (very young) Jack Shepherd (more familiar to today’s Sky subscribers for his lead role in the Wycliffe TV series). Back in 1976, however, he was Bill Brand, a young socialist firebrand elected, almost accidentally, to the House of Commons in a run-of-the-mill by-election in a safe Labour seat. Written by Trevor Griffiths, the 11-episode series explored the question of whether or not it was possible to be both a socialist and a Labour Party MP. The answer, at least as far as Griffiths was concerned, appeared to be – “No.”
I raise the ghost of the long-forgotten Bill Brand only because Griffiths’ question about socialism and Labour is being tested again. This time, however, the stakes are much higher. This time the question is: Can a socialist become the Leader of the Labour Party? The man who may yet provide an affirmative answer to that question is Jeremy Corbyn.
A man of the 1980s, rather than the 1970s, Corbyn’s record, in just about every other respect, marks him out as a sort of real-life Bill Brand. (Amazingly, he even looks like Jack Shepherd!) A supporter of just about every radical cause that has emerged over the past 35 years – from Anti-Apartheid to Animal Rights – Corbyn is among the most rebellious of Labour’s back-benchers. He is, however, much more than a mere darling of the NGOs. Corbyn is also a self-proclaimed socialist, and former trade unionist, who does not shrink from advocating swingeing tax rises for the rich, abolishing student fees, or renationalising the railways. (All extremely popular policies with British voters BTW.)
If Corbyn sounds a bit like a square left-wing peg in round Blairite hole, it’s because that is exactly what he has been for practically the whole time he’s been the MP for Islington North. And it was only as a forlorn standard-bearer for Labour’s long-abandoned socialist ideals that he put himself forward as a candidate to fill the vacancy created by Ed Miliband’s resignation. Indeed, most of the 35 MPs who signed his nomination form did so in the spirit of political charity. Why? Because everybody “knew” that Corbyn didn’t stand a chance.
And then something very strange began to happen. One after another Labour’s constituency organisations began declaring for Corbyn. By the end of the nominating process, to the abject horror of the Labour Party leadership, Corbyn had amassed 70 constituency nominations to the erstwhile (and very moderate) front-runner, Andy Burnham’s, 68. And, as if that wasn’t enough bad news for the Blairite establishment, the polling agency, YouGov, put Corbyn well ahead of his rivals Burnham, Liz Kendall and Yvette Cooper.
Talk about putting a very red cat among a whole coop-full of pink and blue pigeons! Almost immediately, Blairite MPs were threatening to organise a parliamentary vote of no-confidence in Corbyn should the membership of the party do anything so utterly irresponsible as electing a left-winger leader of the Labour Party. Others called for an ABC campaign (remind you of anything, Kiwis?) to unite the anti-Corbyn vote behind Burnham. Chiming in to the furore, in reflexive support of the Labour Right, came the lofty pundits of the Guardian and the Observer. “Surely,” they exclaimed to their shuddering keyboards, “Labour could not be that suicidal!
It is all so reminiscent of Bill Brand. The sheer madness of attempting to storm the ramparts of The City of London; of believing, even for a moment, that the news media might give you a fair shake; or assuming that your colleagues harboured the slightest respect for the wishes of the Labour members and supporters who sent them to Parliament.
And yet, Jeremy Corbyn is in the lead. He is winning the battle for the hearts and minds of the British Labour Party. Socialism may be dead in the committee rooms of Westminster, but in the suburbs of London, in the green valleys of Wales and in the grim post-industrial cities of the angry North, it still lives. And to the shock and horror of the entire British Establishment, the socialists have found themselves a champion.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 25 July 2015.

Friday, 24 July 2015

Time To Stop "Dribbling" And Start "Clouting"?

Boots On The Ground: The former head of the UK armed forces, General David Richards, suspects in his “bones”, that if the Islamic State is to be defeated, then the armed forces of the West will have to stop "dribbling" and start "clouting". In the General’s words: “tanks would have to roll and there’s going to have to be boots on the ground”.
ARE WE AT WAR with the Islamic State – or not? The Prime Minister says “Not”. Our role in the conflict between the Islamic State and its enemies is merely to assist the government of Iraq’s Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi. Sixteen NZ Defence Force personnel are stationed less than an hour’s drive north of Baghdad at Camp Taji – a former US military base. Their mission: to help train Iraq’s army. A further 100 Kiwi troops have been sent to provide them with protection while they get on with it. That’s all.
This is what General David Richards, former head of the UK’s armed forces, and current member of the House of Lords, calls “dribbling” – the sort of one-handed military activity soldiers are required to engage in when their political masters would rather not have them wage war with both hands.
Lord Richards has warned UK Prime Minister, David Cameron, that, when it comes to defeating the Islamic State, “dribbling” will not be enough. What’s needed against the highly motivated and exceptionally well-led soldiers of the self-proclaimed Caliphate is “clouting”.
“Properly brought together with proper leadership and proper command and control it is a very doable proposition”, Lord Richards told the BBC’s Andrew Marr. “But I worry that […] if we dribble, which is really rather what we are doing at the moment, it is simply firing up the problem rather than dealing with it.”
The former head of the UK armed forces told Marr that he suspected, in his “bones”, that if IS to be defeated, then its army will have to “clouted” by his country’s soldiers – on the front lines. In the general’s words: “tanks would have to roll and there’s going to have to be boots on the ground”.
But the UK could not possibly do this alone. After 14 years of fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq, the UK’s defence force is bruised, battered and in urgent need of repair and replenishment. Lord Richards knows full-well that what he is really calling for is the assembly of another great Western invasion force; comparable in strength to Operation Desert Storm, and guided by similar, strictly limited, objectives.
The mission of Operation Desert Storm was to drive the Iraqi Army out of Kuwait. The core mission of this new Western force would be the utter destruction of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. To render the defeat of IS permanent, however, it would, almost certainly, be necessary to accomplish the complete pacification of Syria and the disarmament of the Iranian-backed Shite militias operating in Iraq.
The elimination of the murderous regime of President Bashar al-Assad, and the disarmament of his many enemies, would lift a huge burden from the shoulders of Syria’s neighbours. Millions of refugees, driven across borders by civil war and religious extremism, would be free to return, and the arduous task of reconstructing their ancient homeland could, finally, begin.
An effort of such magnitude on the part of the West – especially the USA and the UK – is the only truly effective means of bringing the multiple tragedies of the last quarter-century in the Middle East to an honourable resolution.
The barbarity of IS is an affront, not just to the peoples of the Islamic world but to all humanity. And, in their heart of hearts, the USA and the UK both know its poisonous creed could only have been distilled from the seething cauldron of hatred and resentment which their 2003 invasion of Iraq created. “You break it, you own it”, quipped US Secretary of State, Colin Powell, back in 2003. Well, between them, the USA and the UK smashed Iraq into a thousand pieces, and now they must make her whole again.
Do the peoples of the West have the stomach for another great military effort in the Middle East. Many would say “No.” But they should fix their eyes on the tens-of-thousands, desperate and despairing, who daily make their way toward Europe’s borders. If the West does not bring peace to the Middle East, then the Middle East will bring chaos to the West. Lord Richards knows the efficacy of forward defence, that is why he is urging his prime minister to stop dribbling and start clouting.
Would it be asking too much of our own defence force, and prime minister, to do the same?
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 24 July 2015.