Friday 20 February 2015

Debating America's Wars

The Price Of Principle: Labour's new leader, Norman Kirk, follows his party's defeat on Election Night 1966. Labour's opposition to New Zealand's military involvement in the Vietnam War was an important factor in the National Government's re-election. Polls taken in 1965 indicated that upwards of 70 percent of voters favoured Keith Holyoake's decision to send New Zealand troops. By 1972, however, public opinion had shifted decisively in favour of withdrawal.

A PARLIAMENTARY DEBATE on whether or not New Zealand should participate in America’s latest war is long overdue. That New Zealanders will soon be going to the polls makes it even timelier. The deployment of New Zealand troops overseas is much too important to be left to National Party Cabinet Ministers alone.
The Leader of the Opposition, who will argue against participating in America’s war, has not been leader of the Labour Party for very long. Nor is he especially popular. The man he replaced as leader may not have been well-liked by the public, but he was beloved by the more forward-looking and liberal elements of his party. They resent the way in which the newcomer’s been foisted upon them with the near unanimous support of Labour’s powerful trade union affiliates. Many fear that, as the unions protégée, he will drag Labour back to the attitudes of the 1930s and 40s. They worry that the much-needed “modernisation” of the party, which his predecessor promoted, is destined for the dustbin.
If you’re thinking that the Leader of the Opposition described above is Andrew Little, then you’re wrong. Nor is the American war referred to the one threatening to flare up again in the Middle East. The set-piece parliamentary debate described above took place not in 2015, but during the penultimate week of the 34th New Zealand Parliament, in October of 1966. The war in question was raging across South Vietnam. The new Leader of the Labour Party was Norman Kirk.
Rather than go on escalating New Zealand’s military involvement in Indo-China, Kirk argued strongly for a humanitarian, aid-based response to the conflict. He remained unconvinced that a just peace in Vietnam could ever be secured simply by administering ever-increasing doses of military force.
Little’s current assessment of the most effective contribution New Zealand can offer to the struggle against Islamic State is remarkably similar to Kirk’s 1966 position on Vietnam. He, too, favours a humanitarian, aid-based response; arguing that only an economically strong, socially cohesive and religiously tolerant Iraq can hope to lure away Islamic State’s aggrieved Sunni supporters.
The parallels do not end there. If Andrew Little’s foreign policy and defence assessments mirror those of Norman Kirk’s, then the Prime Minister’s, John Key’s, position is remarkably similar to that of Keith Holyoake’s.
As New Zealand’s National Party Prime Minister from 1960-1972, Holyoake distinguished himself as an astute “consensus” politician. Pressured by President Lyndon Johnson to add New Zealand footwear to the steadily increasing number of US “boots on the ground” in Vietnam, Holyoake did his best to limit this country’s involvement. He rightly suspected that even his minimal offer of a single artillery battery would generate vociferous opposition from a sizeable minority of the electorate.
Token Force: New Zealand troops load an L5 howitzer on to an armoured personnel carrier in Vietnam circa 1965.
That the trade unions would oppose military involvement was a given, but Holyoake and his colleagues were genuinely surprised and dismayed when Labour opted to follow the unions’ lead. Up until the 1965 decision to send troops to Vietnam, National and Labour had maintained a solid bi-partisan consensus on foreign-policy and defence matters. Holyoake’s decision to hold a set-piece parliamentary debate on the issue, just a few weeks prior to the 1966 General Election, was not made in the hope that consensus would be restored, but that it would remain broken. He was betting that Labour, by holding fast to its principles, would cause the 70 percent of Kiwis who backed the Vietnam intervention, to also back his government. He won the bet.
With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is clear that Holyoake and National lost more than they won. The shattering of the bi-partisan consensus on foreign policy and defence presaged the even greater fissuring of New Zealand society. It was Labour, not National, which rode the radical changes of the late-1960s and early-70s to victory.
Nowhere was this radicalism more apparent than in Labour’s changing view of New Zealand’s place in the world: “Circumstances dictate that, while we preserve the warmest ties and closest sentimental attachments between our country and the United Kingdom,” said Kirk, in 1972, “we recognise that we have come of age and must now stand on our own feet to reject the role of the dependant and at every opportunity seize the initiative.”
“Big Norm’s” declaration of independence is reaffirmed in Andrew Little’s principled position on Iraq.
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, 20 February 2015.


pat said...

all good in theory but how do you provide effective humanitarian aid and foster tolerance and good governance in a State partially governed by a corrupt and divisive group engaged in a civil war with at least 2 other factions of which is even more intolerant and perverse than the government and the other although appearing a likely candidate for the leadership required is a minority that wishes to secede?

peteswriteplace said...

Britain had already rejected NZ in favour of the Common Market.

Anonymous said...

"The deployment of up to 100 Kiwis is so opposed that Key is likely not to seek a vote." February 21 2015, updated 9:57pm

Extraordinary statement!


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Now that it's pretty much decided, this is going to be an unmitigated disaster quite possibly. I can't see them being able to stop the troops from directly engaging Isis. Just about everybody in this balls up has experienced mission creep. Including the Canadians, who now seem to be directing airstrikes. After Canada was distinctly told it was out of the question. The question is raised therefore, how many body bags do we need before the New Zealand public gets pissed off with the whole affair? I would suggest one suicide bomber would provide enough.
And nobody seems to be able to answer the question (not that it is ever put to them very often.) if billions of dollars worth of American training can't get the Iraqi army up and running, what 100 New Zealand troops going to do?

pat said...

they are going to do the job the Iraqis couldnt/wouldnt....despite what we are told....hence your Canadian spotters.

manfred said...

The Iranians, Syrian Baathists, independent Syrian militias of various religious groups, PKK, 'moderate' Peshmerga militias and the Iraqi Shias will squash the shit out of the ISIS vermin.

They just need funding. Western involvement beyond airstrikes will just cluster fuck it up.

The Muslim and Christian heroes on the ground shedding their blood to defeat ISIS are way tougher and more battle hardened that the western forces.

Wayne Mapp said...


I think it is still quite possible there may yet be a western led force to deal with ISIS. If so, it will be special forces led with US Rangers, 101st Airborne, UK Paras, Foreign Legion adding the bulk. They are substantially more capable and skilled than the Pershmega.

If it did happen, it would be a 6 months or so deployment, enough to dislodge ISIS from the Iraqi territory they have gained without the intention of staying.

A bit like the Gulf War in 1991, but without the heavy armour.

But of course the question will be, can the Iraqi forces then hold the territory?

We may see the first of this with the planned May assault on Mosul. It may well be primarily Iraq led, but there will be a lot of US special forces guiding the assault and directing helicopter gunships etc.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The Muslim and Christian heroes on the ground shedding their blood to defeat ISIS are way tougher and more battle hardened that the western forces."

Yes of course, that's why they have had the shit kicked out of them by Isis forces. That's why it takes Western our power to give them even a remote chance of winning. Let's not romanticise these guys, this is a failing that seems to commonly occur with the Kurds. The idea that they are better than Western forces, apart from being Muslim and therefore less likely to offend sensibilities is laughable. And it's not just equipment. The Americans and the Brits have been fighting all over the Middle East and Afghanistan for years now. They're as battle hardened as anyone.

manfred said...

The groups I mentioned may not have Western style training (for all that's worth), but they have determination.

They have an existential reason for fighting to the last. This is their land.

They have also been fighting for some years - actual recent combat experience. They have begun to turn the tide already.

These are native indigenous forces, they don't give the same propaganda gift to the jihadis as western forces do.

I wish it could work, I really do -but I doubt it.

The West wants to have its cake and eat it too - it wants to undermine Assad and Iran (in order to attack Russia by proxy) AND fight jihadism. But Assad and Iran are the greatest foes of Jihadism as Shia's are lower in their estimation than you or Chris. And in their eyes worthy of death.

When the West learns that Iran and Baathist Syria are people they can do business with, a big step will be taken towards peace in the middle east.

It's just breathtakingly unstrategic to fight a two front war - one proxy war against Russia (an enemy of Jihadism) and one against ISIS and other extreme Islamist outfits.

And I'm sure the Americans won't be able to resist hurting the PKK, because they're lefties.

manfred said...

Guerilla Surgeon, as usual your mouth is firing of laughably unfactual bullshit before your first synapse kicks into gear.

manfred said...

And yes, Wayne I agree with what I think you were intimating that the Iraqi Army's resolve is questionable.

However, I'm not talking about that. I'm talking about the fanatical religious Shia militias who are absolutely itching for a fight.

And of course the Peshmerga who were almost the sole fighters standing up to ISIS in the north.

As you know, the West are cagey about making use of the Iraqi Shia militias because of their fixed attitude about Iran.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Counterfactual my arse. Whatever you say about the US Army or for that matter the Brits, they are probably in the best forces in the world at this time. At least in a stand-up fight. They have the equipment, the training, and the morale. Your denigration of them, and romanticising of – particularly the Kurds – shows a very unsophisticated understanding of military matters.
I remember reading on various websites how the Kurds were going to show Isis the door and rip them a new arsehole et cetera et cetera. Yet they were quite easily pushed out of some of their territory, which as I stated before they are only capable of re-capturing with Western aid. This needs more than just determination. It needs airpower, and heavy weapons. Which they basically don't have. Neither do the Shiite militias. And they are largely untested against any sort of determined resistance. I reiterate, you know fuck all.