Key guarding high ground over Iraq


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.

Continued below.

Related Content

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.

Share this article


Adam Holland-McCord

- New Zealand
08:56 am Wednesday 11 March 2015
Very well done Claire! Very pleased to have read this. BRING THEM HOME!


- Auckland Central
10:02 am Wednesday 04 March 2015
Will Key cancel the deployment if the Shia militia slaughter Sunni civilians as it pushes back IS, these are the government security forces Key will be training, Irve said this all along.

The liberation of Tikrit came as a surprise to the U.S., which should ring alarm bells in the Beehive.

Why is Key so evasive with the truth, does he have too much to hide.


10:26 am Tuesday 03 March 2015
This 'war' in the Middle East is basically a religeous war. Between Sunni extremists and Shia extremists. There are no black and whites in this world and so there is an element of local politics thrown in.

The proverbial really hits the fan when you have outsiders, in the form of a self righteous, arrogant bully boy and his gang interfering and throwing their weight around. To make matters even murkier you have red herrings such as oil ( as if we did not already have enough of the stuff) thrown in.

But the world can relax. New Zealand has decided to remain in the gang and will make it's honest contribution. This should enable the mayhem to be extended, even if just a little.

What a world we live in! I would not have missed it, the last 67 years, for all the tea in China!


- Auckland Central
10:26 am Tuesday 03 March 2015
please put this in Q+A comments in facebook page, and on their website.
Key claims that they'l be behind the wire, not at a forward base to act as new targets to take the heat of Baghdad. And the Sunni's wont love us for taking the Shiite, Key really doesnt do details.

dick black

10:58 am Friday 27 February 2015
"Western military intervention in the Middle East has made things worse time and time again."

not only that - its giving isis exactly what they want, raises their international profile and legitimises their rhetoric in the eyes of those who might be on the cusp of joining


- New Zealand
10:58 am Friday 27 February 2015
Your even less safe when sent to a military base (Taji/Camp Cook) in the middle of the "Sunni Triangle) with active Daesh battalions less than 15km away on three sides.

I've been to that base, its a dog to defend properly. When I last visited there were two thousand US troops present who have all gone home, now its full of civilian contractors and their armed guards (mercenaries, who I wouldn't trust at all) as well as a few hundred US trainers, a couple of Iraqi Army training groups, and if I remember rightly the new Iraqi Air Force (who might now have a few second hand Sukhoi's) in the air.

Strange how PM Key has also failed to mention the fact Taji is split into US/allies and Iraqi sections with the result that one side hates the other!


- Massey
10:58 am Friday 27 February 2015
Since when has war ever been about having a "moral case?"

War is about survival. Kill or be killed.

Of course, there have been wars for land or resources. However, once a war has been started, the response is basically about stopping it.

WW2 in both Europe and the Pacific was about expansion by the perpetrators. The response from the rest of the world was not a matter of "morals" - whatever they may mean - but for the survival of the "free" world.

What is happening in Syria and Iraq has to be stopped. Words, as usual, won't do it. To let Isis continue is to endorse their atrocities, and by implication to turn a blind eye to all the other similar groups who are blowing up civilians in Africa and elsewhere.

So if it requires a "moral" case, then that has been amply demonstrated times without number, including in this morning's world news of the latest murderous atrocities by jihadists.

jesters whip

- New Zealand
10:58 am Friday 27 February 2015
it has certainly stuffed up any kiwi proudly displaying a new zealand flag on their backpack any where in the world!

mike neal

10:58 am Friday 27 February 2015
The Key government is taking this action for geo-political and economic reasons. In other words they are looking after New Zealand's interests. That is what I voted for.

jesters whip

- New Zealand
10:57 am Friday 27 February 2015
looks like unemployment is due to rise here in nz with an influx of expats returning home, the ones who don't want to end up in an orange suit or worse

Carolyn Notknown

10:57 am Friday 27 February 2015
Key may indeed be guarding the high ground. I suspect the rarefied air of the high ground of the Security Council has got to him and he is experiencing delusions of grandeur aka the boys club; to which he aspires to climb to and conquer. Trouble is, Edmund Hillary was a one-off.

Stephen Rowe

- New Zealand
10:56 am Friday 27 February 2015
Seems the US is dropping arms and ammunition to ISIS YouTube link With friends like that, who needs enemies? Mistake or not, war sure is good for business.


10:56 am Friday 27 February 2015
The game of sending troops to what politicians label as a necessary "war" continues.

Nothing more than a way for large corporations/defence contractors to get wealthy thru access to the taxes we all pay.

A great money machine for the elite. At the expense of soldiers and foreign civilian lives.

All starting and continuing to be run behind the scenesby the oligarchy of the freemasons, the Buildaberg Group, and the like.

The Saudi Govt. is likely the largest influential rich decision maker at the big table.

Buying cooperation, bribing our leaders, and steering the world's socioeconomic outcome.

And yes, OB is muslim. And yes, he was born in Kenya. And he was placed there by the above.

John Key is just another puppet in "the club".
Why do you think this troop deployment decision did not go to vote?
The NZ people really have no say.


- Wellington CBD
03:43 pm Thursday 26 February 2015
I completely disagree that Little's suggestion that NZ support rebuilding economic and political stability in Iraq appeared, "astonishingly naïve". Quite the opposite.

It is what most experts are saying needs to happen. Western military intervention in the Middle East has made things worse time and time again. What's naïve is to think it will be any different this time. Looking for meaningful alternatives is, in contrast, far-sighted and necessary.

of The old sage

- New Zealand
03:30 pm Thursday 26 February 2015
Clare, like other dramatic reporters, mischievously label this event a 'crusade'. On what basis? How many of the soldiers participating could be labelled Christian? One? Two? How many of the so called 'leaders' could be called Christian?

Any? Obama has never revealed his faith. He is rumoured to be Muslim if so how does that fit into your narrative? So much rubbish is being printed by the left leaning to overshadow what ISIS really is and how much of a threat to world peace it is becoming.

The Twin Towers attack was made from a country who harboured a known terrorist group but the world wanted to know nothing. Look what happened next. We are putting up a little group of 'trainers'. This is the bare minimum we could contribute.

No SAS as Helen Clark sent into Afghanistan. What more do you want? All the speculation of doom can only come about if someone fails to do their job properly. What about the enemy within this country? How do we deal with them? Pay no heed until they attack? The time to discuss the issue of ISIS is long overdue. Lets see some real journalism. Let the people read the truth. Let the political rubbish go and serve the interests of the people.
Load more

More Claire Trevett on politics