Q+A Panel: In response to Murray McCully interview
HOSTED BY SUSAN WOOD
In response to MURRAY MCCULLY interview
Welcome to the panel. Political scientist Dr Raymond Miller, former Labour Party board member Kate Sutton and Auckland Chamber of Commerce CEO Michael Barnett. A very good morning to you all. I think better, and I think we probably all agree some sort of diplomatic solution to Syria rather than throwing bombs has got to be preferable, doesn’t it, Raymond?
RAYMOND MILLER - Political
Yes. Though I’m worried about too much dependence on anything coming out of the Security Council, the United Nations, because, quite frankly, it’s been rendered almost impotent because China and Russia on one side and the United States on the other have refused to compromise on the issue of military action. But I can understand NZ playing the part that it is, and when asked whether they’re prepared to give moral support to the United States, being somewhat coy about that, because NZ likes to play an independent role in all of this. And I can also understand it in the grounds that for President Obama, there’s been a real struggle going on in his mind as he’s fluctuated between direct military action and diplomacy. We can see him being a very cautious decision maker, taking a long time about it, and it’s made it very difficult for countries like NZ to know quite how to respond.
SUSAN What has been fascinating, Kate, I think, and part of this is certainly watching the power play between the Russians and the Americans. Wonderful editorial in the New York Times written, perhaps - certainly there was a line from Vladimir Putin - he was supposed to have written it. The Russians have outplayed the Americans to some extent, haven’t they?
KATE SUTTON -
Former Labour Party board
Obama really backed himself into a corner by saying chemical weapons were his bottom line. So as soon as he’d done that, then when there was evidence of chemical weapons from their perspective, well, then he needed to act. I’ve just spent some time in the States, and certainly the relationship with Russia and the kind of trust and negotiation around that is playing out in the minds of the American public. And I think it would be fair to say that the appetite for intervention is not there, and certainly from New Zealanders’ perspective, I don’t think there’s any appetite for our intervention. We’re good at peacekeeping, we’re good at rebuilding. Let’s stick at what we’re good at. But we do need to look at what’s achievable, what can be done here. In the past, I think when there’s been successful military interventions, there’s been an opposition government ready to take over that we were happy to support. It doesn’t seem to be here now, so we really need to tread carefully here.
SUSAN I mean, the complexities here, Michael, are extraordinary, aren’t they, of Syria itself? You’ve got perhaps a thousand organisations, goodness knows some of them Al Qaeda-backed, some of them not, fighting this regime.
MICHAEL BARNETT - CEO,
Auckland Chamber of Commerce
I think when I had a look at the complexities, we’d just listened to a minister stand there for about five minutes and say nothing.
KATE That’s pretty normal. (LAUGHS)
RAYMOND He was ok on the America’s Cup, though.
MICHAEL I mean, for me, you know, when you have a look at it, NZ saying anything isn’t going to matter. When you look at the institutions that they’re calling on and saying wait for them to say something, they have no credibility. And so, to me, I think NZ should be making a stand around a values proposition. We’re good at peacekeeping, we’re good at these things, and I don’t think we should be lending support to anybody that’s advocating force.
RAYMOND As they events have unfolded, it’s really interesting. There have been a couple of really bizarre things, developments, that have taken place. One if, of course, President Obama turning to a hostile Republican majority in the House of Representatives for approval. And, of course, the second is here is Putin acting as a kind of great peacemaker when we would like to know more about his military intervention in Syria over the last few years. 100,000 deaths, a million people who have been moved on. The role of Putin - he’s certainly not up for a Nobel Peace Prize, that’s for sure.
SUSAN No, and I think the other bizarre thing about it, Kate, was of course this whole deal, it seems, came from a throwaway comment from John Kerry.
KATE Quite- Well, what did John Key say? He said, ‘Oh, that’s very interesting.’ He was quite dismissive about it, and that’s actually come off, so we need to learn a lesson on that. But let’s remember there’s innocent people dying now in Syria, and with an intervention, there will be innocent people dying. Even with these surgical strikes, there are civilian casualties. So we have to keep people and the fact that there are people at the heart of this in our mind, and the international community does need to act. I guess the question is which way.
SUSAN And that, Michael, takes us to the UN, because, as Raymond was saying at the beginning of this session, they have been rendered impotent and pathetic, perhaps, even.
MICHAEL Even when you look at Syria, they quickly grasped at the opportunity that the Russians provided them. Everybody sort of breathed a sigh of relief, and then they tagged it with conditionality and conditionality, and that’s where we’ll end up - with nothing happening.
RAYMOND Well, the latest conditions, of course, include a week to actually come up a list of chemical weapons. In November, the chemical weapons people move in, and it’s not till the middle of next year that these are removed from Syria.
SUSAN There’s time to light them.
RAYMOND There’s plenty of time.
KATE And chemical weapons are not the only thing at play here. I mean, there are other ways to kill people, to be perfectly honest and frank about it, and I think that we need to keep our eye on that too.
SUSAN Very good. Thank you, panel.