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Patrick Gower interviews Rick Larsen

Patrick Gower interviews Democrat congressman and co-chair of the Congressional Friends of New Zealand caucus, Rick Larsen


Rick Larsen: My view is that the US, while we were there, did a very good job of training up the Iraqi security forces. But since that time what we’ve seen is a hollowing out of the security forces by the Maliki government so that the professionalism that we in the international community worked so hard to train into the security forces, basically hollowed out by Maliki. So you’re left with basically a military that’s loyal to a prime minister instead of to the country. And I think that in many respects contributed to the security forces basically falling by the wayside as ISIS came into the north part of Iraq.

Patrick Gower: You’ve advocated pulling out of Iraq since 2007. Do you think that in the end the States got out of there too quickly and left the security forces to fall apart?

I don’t think that’s the case at all. Keep in mind that the United States under President Obama, despite public opinion which wanted us to get out, he was willing to negotiate with the Iraqi government to have a force of 10 to 15 thousand US combat troops stay, so long as those troops had immunity from prosecution in Iraqi courts in the course of doing their job. The United States was not going to allow US troops to stay in Iraq if they were going to be subject to prosecution in Iraqi courts. The Iraqis were not willing to agree to that so President Obama made the right decision to say ‘well we are not going to stay in Iraq under those conditions’.

What should the United States do now? Boots on the ground, air strikes? These are all options.

I don’t think you’re going to have a lot of members of Congress, in the House or the Senate, you may find a few but not many, advocating to have US boots on the ground. The President has announced a certain number, about 270 or so, of US marine personnel going back into Iraq, strictly for protection of our embassy personnel and for evacuating embassy personnel to other countries. As well, the issue of air strikes is a very difficult one because you don’t really know who you’re going to be striking. We don’t have intelligence resources on the ground to identify those places or those people that we might want to subject to airstrikes. But the other thing is that we would probably only do anything in conjunction and cooperation with the Iraqi government as well as members of the international community.

On that international community issue – I mean is there a role for New Zealand and the international community to play here in terms of perhaps giving moral backing to any type of American action?

I would leave that to the New Zealand leadership to make a decision on, but I don’t think, I think right now we’re facing two things: one is a coming humanitarian crisis, especially in northern Iraq that countries like New Zealand can help with if they so choose. The second is a diplomatic effort, probably an international diplomatic effort, to try to impress upon Prime Minister Maliki that he needs to have an inclusive government, a government just not just made up of Shia, but an inclusive government of Sunni, Kurds and Shia, so that there is a unified voice in Iraq saying that what is happening in northern Iraq is not acceptable and won’t be accepted, but that’s going to take a lot of international pressure by a lot of countries to press that message upon Maliki.

Drone strikes: you’ve asked for more accountability and more transparency?

I think there ought to be much more transparency and accountability, but the flipside of that is I also think it’s a legitimate tool for the United States to use in a declared war against terrorists who have said that they want to kill Americans. I just don’t think that any President or any member of Congress can legitimately say that if there’s members of a terrorist group who have committed to killing Americans and they’re taking actions to do that, which is an important point, if they’re taking actions to do that, that we’re just going to sit aside and let that happen. But the challenge we have with using unmanned aerial vehicles to commit these strikes is without the appropriate intelligence on the ground to determine that the person, or people, or group that we’re firing on is in fact the group that we think it is we might end up with what some call collateral damage. I call them humans.

Speaking of collateral damage, a New Zealander was killed by a drone strike in Yemen, an al-Qaeda suspect, and we know very little about it – should we know more?

I don’t have much information on that particular case, except what I’ve read. But again, I would just emphasise from my point of view if somebody is an avowed member of a terrorist group whose purpose is to kill Americans and they’re taking actions to do that – in my view that person becomes another combatant in a war.

Now to the TPP – will this deal get done?

I think the deal will be done. I will not put a timeline on it. I think a lot of what happens in these complex international negotiations early on, people start putting artificial timelines saying if it doesn’t happen by this day, if it doesn’t happen by that day, and they do that to press and push partners. My view is that there’s still a lot of noses that need to be put to the grindstone to get the work done, but it’s important work.

Dairy is a big deal to New Zealanders of course, what chances are there of a TPP where there are no tariffs? Is that realistic?

I’m not going to talk to any one issue because unless everything’s agreed to nothing’s agreed to in any of these deals. I know how important dairy is to New Zealand, but there are many issues, whether its state owned enterprise, digital goods, labour, environment, the disputes settlement resolutions, in addition to all the individual product issues. All that is negotiable, being negotiated, as I said nothing’s agreed to until everything’s agreed to.


ends

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