Tuesday 1 November 2016

New Zealand’s Only Middle Eastern Exit Strategy – Leave Now.

Kiwi Boots On The Ground: To Arab eyes, New Zealand’s continuing presence in Iraq must signal a depressingly familiar message. Since the late-nineteenth century, this country has happily marched in the long imperial columns that have trudged their way across the dry and dusty places of the world.
WHY ARE NEW ZEALAND TROOPS in the Middle East? Our soldiers have been there for so long we’re in danger of forgetting why we sent them in the first place. And, since New Zealand’s contribution can only ever be token, what is this country’s apparently permanent presence in the world’s most dangerous region intended to communicate?
To Arab eyes, New Zealand’s presence must signal a depressingly familiar message. Since the late-nineteenth century, this country has happily marched in the great expeditionary columns that have trudged their way across the dry and dusty places of the world. From the South African veldt to the Sinai desert, the Kiwis’ broad-brimmed hats have dutifully bobbed along behind the pith helmets of their Imperial British mentors.
Numerous speeches have been delivered this year commemorating the grievous loss of young New Zealanders in the muck and fury of France and Flanders during the First World War. The Defence Minister, Gerry Brownlee, was in France only recently intoning the doleful register of our sacrifices at the Battle of the Somme. Not as much is being said, however, about the considerably less muddy and bloody exploits of the New Zealand Mounted Rifles in what was then the Ottoman Empire.
All New Zealanders know about their country’s role in the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915. Less well known is the role that Kiwis and Aussies played in driving the British Lion’s blood-stained claws into the carcass of the Ottoman Empire’s Middle Eastern provinces – especially Palestine – between 1916 and 1918.
The New Zealand Government’s reticence about drawing Arab attention to the role this country played in the emergence of the State of Israel is entirely understandable. What purpose would be served by reminding Arab historians about the Kiwi and Aussie troops responsible for the deaths of more than 200 Palestinian men and boys in the tiny village of Surafend in 1918? Or about the fulsome vote of thanks delivered to the Antipodeans by residents of the nearby Jewish settlement of Richon Le Zion?
Dredging up these historical incidents might prompt Egyptian historians to investigate the role played by the New Zealand and Australian mounted infantry in suppressing the Egyptian nationalist revolt against British domination which exploded in the final months of 1918 – a task made much easier by the Antipodeans’ already fearsome reputation for brutality against Arab civilians.
Questions might be asked about whether or not New Zealand’s behavior towards the Islamic world has changed all that much over the course of the past 100 years. True, the British Empire is no longer the dominant global superpower, but its American successor would appear to be no less persuasive when it comes to drawing the Antipodeans back into the marching columns of imperial adventures.
Indeed, if Nicky Hager’s book “Other People’s Wars” is to be believed, members of the NZ Defence Force were more-or-less begging the Americans to allow them to participate in the pacification of Afghanistan following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. Perhaps it was this country’s soldiers’ enthusiasm to get back in the imperial game that prompted US Secretary of State Colin Powell to inform the world that the USA and New Zealand had, once again, become “very, very, very good friends”?
The only serious diplomatic spanner which New Zealand has ever dropped into the works of her imperial allies was the one let slip by Helen Clark in 2003. The Fifth Labour Government’s refusal to invade Iraq without the approval of the United Nation’s Security Council did not go unnoticed by the Arab world. For the first time in its history, New Zealand had declined to join its traditional allies: Australia, Britain and the USA; in a military enterprise. It could have marked the beginning of a new era in this country’s foreign affairs and defence policies. Sadly, it was not to be. Clark’s government was soon “persuaded” to step back into the dry and dusty places of the world.
Where, it would appear, we intend to stay. New Zealanders were assured that our assistance to the Iraqi government came with a clear exit strategy. Our troops would be engaged in training the Iraqi army – nothing more. But now, the “mission creep” historically inseparable from these ostensibly limited engagements has our government contemplating extending the NZDF’s training role to the Iraqi police. The Guardian newspaper is, further, reporting the involvement of our Special Air Service in combat operations against Islamic State. These claims have been strenuously rejected by John Key. But then he would say that – wouldn’t he?
To the peoples of the Middle East, the first step towards securing peace in the region is extremely simple: the nations of the West must leave. That includes New Zealand. We have aided and abetted the forces of imperialism for far too long. It’s time to go.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, November 01, 2016.


Andrew Nichols said...

Lest we Forget... Sure do. The very moment we join another war. I favour the medieval times where the leaders went out at the front of military action. Let's return to that and make up a battalion of our parliamentarians who vote for these deployments and send them to the front line at Mosul or East Aleppo to fight the jihadis.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I suspect that the reason we are in the Middle East at America's behest is simply the old story of New Zealand's traditional need for someone to defend us. After the Singapore debacle, we were reluctantly dragged screaming and kicking into the American orbit, and adopted their position on foreign policy, particularly on communism.

And I suspect that some of that has been influencing our view of the Middle East. The Americans do tend to stereotype Muslim countries rather. Perhaps not the State Department but that seems to have lost ground in the influence stakes over the last 30 or 40 years. And after all, one of the reasons for metaphorically kissing the American buttocks was that they were supposed to defend us while our troops were in the Middle East fighting some sort of global war. Now of course it's possibly more to do with trade. Are there members of the present government that remember President Johnson's threats regarding trade when we were supposed to send troops to Vietnam?

Of course as you say, our contribution as you say is minuscule. And if the Americans can't train the Iraqi army to a reasonable standard after spending billions of dollars on it, then we are certainly not going to be able to improve on that. But as I've said before it's not so much a question of training them, but of giving them a country worth fighting for. No one but the Iraqis can actually do that.

Wayne Mapp said...

So just as it looks like Iraq is able to defeat ISIS, we would announce our imminent departure?

While you may well be steeped in the history of the last 100 years, I suspect an announcement now would not be viewed by the Iraqis through that lens.They have more immediate concerns.

At least wait till ISIS is defeated on the battlefield.

As for the wider training, I guess that is an open point. How enthusiastic are the Iraqis that we provide some support? Do they want any ongoing connections with partners? Presumably at least to some extent. After all we send our soldiers, and presumably police to overseas schools for advanced training.

The west getting out of the Middle East is not the same as completely disconnecting from them.

Charles E said...

We are there with our tiny token contribution because we know which side, which club if you like, we belong to. And I suggest a majority of NZers would agree with our miserable effort. Or want to increase it. Helping the Iraqi police at their request is a good thing. Which Arabs in this world do you think oppose that? Well, Iraqi criminals for a start. Most Iraqis? I doubt it.
Yes Clark did make the right call but as with now, I expect she had a good popular majority behind her.

As for the SAS, I think they should be deployed to assist the Kurds and in special ops against ISIS in general. It's what they do and the only people who would oppose our forces fighting ISIS would be who? Your friends? I hope not. Perhaps some damn Islamist supporters but what proportion of the Arabs you say oppose our 'ventures' support ISIS do you imagine? The millions of refugees who have fled ISIS, would those Arabs oppose our tiny effort? Turkey’s one party state would oppose helping the Kurds, as perhaps would Saudi’s highly representative and balanced government. You have at least two Islamist backers there. You’re welcome to them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Guerilla Surgeon said...

Wayne. You have made predictions about the Middle East before remember? That Afghanistan and Iraq were "stable". Just before the Iraqi army started running away?

One of the reasons we should withdraw immediately, is that you can be pretty sure that the Iraqi army is going to commit – if not atrocities – then repression in the Sunni areas, no matter how much the people there might have resented Isis. And why would we want to be associated with that. Personally I think that the test of whether it's worth doing should be something like would you send your children out to fight there? I suspect not many would.

And all the Isis fighting in the world is, as I said not going to give Iraqis a government worth fighting for or in many cases even supporting. That's the question all you conservatives seem to ignore. Why doesn't one of you try to address this question? Or is the elephant too big for the room.

(Dammit sorry, I got my Sunnis and my Shias mixed up.)

Patricia said...

I think every Country has to look after itself. Would anyone want America to defend us? As they told the poor Vietmanese "we have to kill you to save you". An Iraqi told me that his Country has been bombed back a thousand years. Would you really want that for New Zealand?
Talking talking and more talking is the only answer.

Nick J said...

Wayne argues that to defeat ISIS foreign troops should remain. I would note that ISIS ran rampant with foreign troops present until locals stood firm. With so much disinformation flowing it is hard to know.

What appears from my viewing of Al Jazeira is that a large portion of ISIS fighters were paid foreigners. US UK airstrikes failed to stop revenue flows from oil sales in over a year. You would have to question their intention given their capacity to stop oil flowing through Turkey onto the black market. By contrast Russian airstrikes reportedly stopped the oil in a week. Fighters had their pay cut and are reported deserting and going home. Weaponry supplies diminished. The Syrian and Iraqi forces gained traction.

As stated I get the story from Al Jazeira. Is it true? Who knows who to trust but given what they say I question the views of starry eyed supporters of US imperialism like Wayne. There is a seismic shift in world power and NZ has some hard choices to make. What these should be is up for debate, the first thing the people of NZ need is the truth of what we are doing and why?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

“If a country cannot mobilize the capability and the will to fight and win after receiving our aid and training, sending our own troops to do the fighting would at best provide only temporary success. Once we left, the enemy would take over.” Richard. Nixon

greywarbler said...

Thanks Nick J for giving another version of reason for Russian continued attacks. As you say there is so much disinformation about. Really it puts tv drama shows out of business. Truth is stranger than fiction.

Robert M said...

NZ clearly has never had any understanding of what its British and American allies required of it. POst 1956 our Army has never been large enough to contribute much to nay allied effort and being small and differently equipped it represented even less. THe same applied to the modernised Skyhawks which to Nationals surprise were not wanted for the 1991 Gulf war as they were obsolete, slow, and had been refitted in a way inconsitent with the remaining USN and Marine force Skyhawks. In the 1980s we had the same idea that what the US Navy government mainly wanted was access for its nuclear powered vessels. However the USN had completly abandoned any idea of converting its fleet to nuclear power after 3 mile islands spectacular meltdown in which total disaster was avoided by a few minutes in realtively sophisticated Pennslvania in 1989.
Many New Zealands action have shocked Whitehall senseless. The attempt to withdraw Royalist from the Suez adventure in 1956 and the denail of access for the RNs frigate and destroyer force in 1985 when the Royal Navy relied totally on the nondivisible 2nd line nuclear deterence of its frigates and destroyers as it really lacked any effective conventional anti submarine weapons.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The NZ clearly has never had any understanding of what its British and American allies required of it"

I think the New Zealand government perfectly well understood that as their allies were so much bigger and better armed than we are, that all they needed from us was some form of token contribution giving them political legitimacy. Certainly that was the understanding in Vietnam, where the US was desperate to get other countries involved.

Victor said...


I'm sorry but I just don't understand what seems to me to be your double standards concerning the mirror-image Syrian and Iraqi conflicts.

In the former, Russia is abetting the government in overcoming a Sunni Jihadist uprising, with the aid of hardline Shi'ite militia and a coalition of other forces, some of them Kurdish.

In the latter, the US is abetting the government in overcoming a Sunni Jihadist uprising, with the aid of hardline Shi'ite militia and a coalition of other forces, some of them, Kurdish.

The most significant differences between these two inter-linked conflicts seem to me to be that the government in Baghdad has a mite more democratic legitimacy than that in Damascus and is controlled by members of the majority community.

Apart from that, there are very broad similarities between these two obviously inter-related conflicts.

So how is it possible to argue, as you seem to have done repeatedly of recent months, that Russia's involvement in Syria is praiseworthy, whilst condemning the current US involvement Iraq?

I don't normally find you guilty of double standards and am prepared to accept that I've misunderstood your position. If so, how?

Need I add that I write as someone who was absolutely opposed ab inito to the illegal invasion of Iraq by the Anglophone coalition in 2003 and to America's earlier blood-stained adventures in South-East Asia and Central America.

Chris Trotter said...

A fair question, Victor.

My answer is quite straightforward.

I have come to the conclusion that the presence of the Western powers (among which I still include Russia) in the Middle East lies at the root of practically all of that unhappy region's problems.

The logical consequence of this conclusion is to call for the withdrawal of all Western forces - including Russia's - from their present theatres of operation, and for the immediate cessation of all arms sales to the combatants.

The USA and the Russian Federation should then join forces in the UN Security Council to demand that no other power/s (are you listening Beijing?) attempt to profit from or fill the resulting power vacuum.

I realise this is the counsel of perfection, so, in the event that the West does not vacate the region, we New Zealanders should do so unilaterally. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it would allow us to make the case for Western withdrawal on the international stage.

Yes, chaos and mayhem may well erupt in our wake, but the essential point is that it will be their chaos and mayhem to resolve - not ours.

The settling of Europe's 20th Century borders cost a minimum of 30 million lives. Could it be that we in the West are not the best people to pronounce upon the future shape of the Arab lands?

Victor said...

And a fair answer, Chris.

It would be churlish of me to cite other posts of yours which may have given a different impression. So I will simply signal my broad agreement with your position as now stated.

Charles E said...

I support that ideal view Chris but we do not leave in that world, so for now we are in the right position, with our (sometimes mad) friends there. Our enemies include Russia in my opinion so if they left I might change my view. I see them as not just mad, but bad.

Chris Trotter said...

It would not have been in the least churlish, Victor. My position has changed since those postings were written.

As John Maynard Keynes put it: “When my information changes, I alter my conclusions. What do you do, sir?”

Charles E said...

That Keynes view is his best legacy. His economics have proved as disaster so I would expect him to have changed his dictum if he was alive today.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"His economics have proved as disaster "

And yet the most prosperous period in Western history occurred under a regime of Keynesian economics. I see Truthiness still abounds.

Victor said...

Charles E

I thank my good fortune that I grew up in a world dominated by Keynesian thought.

It's abandonment, from the 1970s onwards, was the start of most of our current misfortunes.


Precisely what information has led you to change your views on the topic to hand?

Chris Trotter said...

Oh dear, Charles, and we were getting on so well.

Just when I was tempted to believe that Charles E really wasn't such a nincompoop after all you come out with something like Keynes' "economics have proved a disaster".

This is simply untrue - as others have pointed out. The Keynesian era saw the most sustained and rapid growth in ordinary people's living standards in human history.

And, before you blame "stagflation" on Keynesian economics, I would point out that the economic crisis of the 1970s was the result of politicians NOT following Keynesian economic theory.

In essence the Keynesian model boils down to "In good times build surpluses. In bad times run deficits." Unfortunately, politicians find it almost impossible to refrain from boosting spending and/or cutting taxes when the economy is booming - thereby igniting inflation and leaving the economy vulnerable to the next economic shock.

New Zealand was very fortunate to have an intelligent Keynesian as Minister of Finance between 1999 and 2008. Michael Cullen's substantial surpluses allowed NZ to weather the GFC better than nearly any other country in the OECD.

Please try to keep your free-market knee-jerks under control Charles - they do nothing for your credibility.

Victor said...

To be fair to both Keynes and his critics, the stagflation of the 70s was caused in part by oil (and other commodity) price hikes, which made it more difficult than usual to spend your way out of the doldrums.

But oil prices go up and, a few years later, they come down. It's happened time and time again since the 1970s. Yet we're still saddled with the malign and silly intellectual counter-revolution of those years.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

And, as we find out yesterday we are increasing our commitment. When will they ever learn. Rhetorical question – probably never.

Victor said...

By the way, Chris, I genuinely would like to know precisely what information has made you change your mind over Syria and/or Iraq.

David Stone said...

Congratulations on having this printed in CounterPunch Chris
Cheers David J S

David Stone said...

Take that back! Global Research rather.

Charles E said...

What you say is well behind the times. Try to keep up with what has happened in the last eight years. Keynesian economics have led to vast public debt Chris and so that is or is likely to prove to be a disaster. So at a certain point his theory does not work as we have seen: Governments have been spending vastly to stimulate flagging economies, to no avail. Look at Japan with it's world record national debt cf GDP, and many other countries, similar. NZ less so than most thanks to Mr B English for many years now, one of the most successful Finance Ministers anywhere any time.
So I maintain that if here today Keynes would have come up with a new idea, as the facts have changed. You are the nincompoop, stuck in the 70s.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


And here we go. Just making the point that my predictions on the Middle East are a damn sight better than Wayne's. :-)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh so wrong Charles. Neoliberal policies have led to high inequality, low productivity, and high debt. This is directly fuelling the right wing nutcases that are electing fascist/racist parties you seem so fond of all over Europe, and in the US.