Key guarding high ground over IraqSave
By Claire Trevett
No sooner was the announcement made that New Zealand was heading to Iraq, the war of words broke out. Even the Catholic Church got in there, issuing a statement in support of the Government's decision to deploy trainers to Iraq. That prompted one rather incredulous MP to quip that it was the Crusades all over again.
Prime Minister John Key was immediately on the attack to try to justify his decision. But the soft propaganda began much earlier. Key's modus operandi is to ease New Zealanders into difficult decisions by signalling them very early. He did it with asset sales, he's doing it with the flag. So it was obvious what the ending would be from the very moment Key delivered his major security speech in November.
There followed a couple of months of rhetoric as he built his case - the 30-odd people on the watchlist for domestic terrorism, the decrying of the beheadings, burnings and child executions overseas. By the time he actually announced it this week, it was all but a formality.
Key's other trademark is a homeopathic approach to contentious decisions. He dilutes them down to a more palatable level for voters. There was no wholesale state asset sell-off - he stopped at 49 per cent. In Iraq, National is contributing the least it thinks the allies will let us get away with. Key's groundwork did its job; almost half those polled by Colmar Brunton last week believed New Zealand should take up a non-combat role.
Labour's concerns the mission will escalate are not unwarranted. Key has prior form, saying before the election that New Zealand would not intervene in Iraq. Afterward he justified the shift by saying the situation had changed - Isis (Islamic State) had grown quickly and Iraq was now asking for help.
Nonetheless, Labour has made it easy for Key to try to criticise its stance. He may have gone too far in the heat of the moment by all but saying Labour would have blood on its hands if a New Zealander was killed by Isis. But Key could point to the decisions former Prime Minister Helen Clark made in sending engineers to help coalition forces in Iraq and the SAS to Afghanistan.
Labour's alternative approach was also easy to ridicule. Rather than send soldiers in steel-capped boots to train soldiers, Labour wanted to send people in gumboots to train Iraq's people to milk cows. Little's reasoning was civilians would be safer than soldiers and Iraq needed to reduce its reliance on oil. His approach helped crowd the Greens out of the debate. But it seemed so astonishingly naive he may as well have suggested Isis simply hug it out.
Just before Little set out his position in Labour's caucus corridor on Tuesday, his foreign affairs spokesman David Shearer told of his time as a civilian UN aid worker in Iraq. The compound he was in had three layers of physical security but there were still three deaths and a number of wounded, courtesy of rockets. "You're not safe in Iraq," he added, rather redundantly.
Shearer's aim was to dismantle Key's assurances that New Zealand trainers would be relatively safe "behind the wire". But it had the double-edged effect of defying Labour's own argument that civilian reconstruction workers would be safer than the military.
Little's analysis of the relative safety of military versus civilians also ignores the fact Isis has shown little respect for the distinction - many of the hostages taken and executed have been the very civilians he would send over: aid workers.
If the overall aim is to eradicate Isis there is no better training ground right now than the inner suburb of Grey Lynn. Minister of Primary Industries Nathan Guy is waging his own war against another very elusive enemy, the Queensland fruit fly.
As with the Iraq deployment, the spin was in full flow. Officials even tried to argue that the finding of more fruit flies was not a disaster, it was actually very good news.
It was good news because it showed the traps were actually working.
Then Guy released the hounds, announcing every bag, satchel, briefcase, bumbag and handbag would henceforth get a good sniffing at the border.
It was almost too much for the wags on Twitter. The zone took in some of Mt Eden - prompting someone to suggest it could impede the throwing of rotten fruit at the Australian cricket team on Saturday.