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Iraq Conflict Set To Be NZ Election Issue - PM

Iraq Conflict Set To Be NZ Election Issue

By Kevin List

A poster that has recently started appearing around Wellington

“I have no doubts whatsoever that an issue in this election will be whether New Zealand makes decisions based on its own values and principles about where it engages militarily offshore,” explained the Prime Minister at yesterday's post-cabinet press conference.

The Prime Minister considered that the present conflict in Iraq would very definitely be an issue in the upcoming general election.

“[Iraq] is certainly an election issue because it is very clear to everyone that had there been a National Government in power, New Zealanders would have been sent into combat in Iraq,” she said.

At the beginning of the America-led invasion of Iraq, the then National Party leader Bill English told the House on 18 March 2003:

“The National Party will be supporting the coalition of the willing … We have no eagerness for war. We have no eagerness for the suffering that might come with it. But in the long term our interests lie with those of the United States, the United Kingdom, and Australia.”

Foreign policy differences between Labour and National look set to be highlighted in the upcoming election following recent statements made by the Prime Minister.

The Prime Minister considered that this foreign policy position was also shared by the National Party MP Simon Power, who is currently number three on the National Party’s list.

“As National’s [former] defence spokesperson spelled out some months ago their policy was to do whatever their allies requested.”

The Prime Minister was referring to a speech given by Mr Power which many commentators believe cost Mr Power his position as the National Party’s defence spokesperson.

In an address to the National Party Central Regional Conference in May 2004, Mr Power explained that the National Party was “international in its outlook” and that it would without reservation “support our close allies, Australia, the United States and Britain when and wheresoever our commitment is called upon.”

This week current National Party leader Don Brash was interviewed in the Listener regarding Iraq and the possibility that a National-led Government may send New Zealand soldiers to assist the occupation forces.

Dr Brash evaded the questions put to him by the Listener, stating he did “not have enough information” to answer the journalist’s questions.

Dr Brash was questioned about assisting the ‘coalition of the willing’ in this week’s Listener.

Hours before Dr Brash's ascension to the National Party's leadership, on 28 October 2003, he was interviewed by Radio New Zealand and explained that he supported President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

When asked for his view in regard to backing the United States and their invasion of Iraq, Dr Brash firstly avoided the issue before conceding that he would have, “done what President Bush did”.

When it was put to Dr Brash that this would have put him offside with the New Zealand public, Dr Brash replied that, “there was always a risk that if you adopt a policy that you antagonise some part of the public”.

Scoop attempted to clarify just what the National Party’s policy is regarding Iraq and whether a National Government would send NZ military personnel to assist the United States-led occupation force. A spokesperson for Dr Brash didn’t think there was any specific National Party policy related to Iraq and explained that there certainly wasn’t anything on the Party's website.

The National Party’s current foreign affairs spokesperson Lockwood Smith explained that, in his opinion, there had been no formal National Party policy - even concerning the initial invasion of Iraq. This was despite Bill English assuring the House on 18 March 2003 that the National Party fully supported the ‘coalition of the willing’ with regard to the invasion of Iraq. However, Dr Smith explained to Scoop that if the National Party had been occupying the government benches in March 2003, they may have been, “more sympathetic to the US cause”.

Scoop drew Dr Smith's attention to Dr Brash’s comments on Radio New Zealand, namely that Dr Brash would have “done what President Bush had done”. Dr Smith said that he recalled Dr Brash saying something like that and then suggested that Dr Brash would probably have followed that statement up with words to the effect that, “it is no bad thing (if) we chose not to”.

Don Brash actually explained to Radio New Zealand in 2003 that a political leader had to make “tough choices” and that he was committed to making these tough choices “in the best interests of New Zealanders”. Dr Brash did however concede earlier in the interview that “perhaps the Americans didn’t handle Iraq as well as it [sic] might have done, but that is easy to say in hindsight.”

Winston Peters’ decision to support sending NZ military personnel to Iraq led to angry exchanges in the House in 1998. Matt Robson, then an Alliance MP (now in the Progressive Party), was particularly incensed at the decision taken by the NZ First/National Government.

The last National-led Government did in fact authorise the deployment of New Zealand troops to Iraq. In early 1998, the then Prime Minister Jenny Shipley sent a New Zealand SAS contingent to Iraq without public debate.

The National/New Zealand First government was condemned at the time for deciding to join a potential Middle East conflict before Parliament reconvened, even attracting criticism from those parties that supported the decision to commit troops.

When Parliament did eventually sit, a fiery debate erupted regarding Ms Shipley’s decision to send troops to Iraq to support a United States-led alliance that was operating outside the auspices of the United Nations.

In the House on the 18 February 1998, Ms Shipley explained that the world’s greatest superpower the United States had asked for New Zealand’s help and “we had agreed”.

Ms Shipley was heckled throughout her speech by Matt Robson. Rising to Ms Shipley’s defence was the then Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters. Mr Peters condemned Mr Robson’s protestations that New Zealand was acting outside the mandate of the United Nations.

Is that member suggesting to me that if the United Nations would not do a thing he would not? That is what he is saying, by logic. If the most serious threat was posed yet the United Nations said it would not act, he says he would not act. Well, I prefer to think we have something better to offer the world than that sort of view of collective irresponsibility,” retorted Mr Peters following one of Mr Robson’s interjections.

In 1998, as part of the Government, Mr Peters was prepared to deploy New Zealand military personnel without a United Nations Security Council resolution. However five years later Mr Peters was only prepared to commit military personnel with the United Nations’ blessing.

We in New Zealand First are prepared to support an American-led invasion to rid the world of this evil regime for humanitarian reasons proven a thousand times over, but only if it is decreed by the United Nations, and only to prevent further conflict and ill to mankind. To be consistent, that is the only position this country, with our history and our present circumstances, can take, ” Mr Peters told the House on 18 March 2003.

When The National/New Zealand First Government's decision to send troops in support of the United States in 1998 was raised with Dr Smith, he considered the comparison with current circumstances to be meaningless.

“For those sort of issues you have to make decisions based on the individual circumstances. I don’t think it is much use. We have no formal policy on it [Iraq] now. But, obviously New Zealand must make a decision based on our overall best interests,” he said.

The Prime Minister believed that, given past statements made by National Party Leaders and defence spokespeople, the National Party would be influenced by our more powerful allies, especially in regard to the ongoing conflict in Iraq. .

“That is not our position. We stand up for what we believe are New Zealand’s interests and values in these matters,” she said.


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