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Gordon Campbell on Labour’s endorsement of a combat role

Gordon Campbell on Labour’s endorsement of a combat role in Iraq

Normally, it is governments that drop their unpalatable measures in the shadow of Christmas, but this time the Labour Opposition is doing so. Apparently, if certain pre-conditions are met – UN sanctioned, clear objectives, acceptable level of risk etc etc – Labour now believes that New Zealand special forces could play a worthwhile ‘limited’ combat role in the battle against Islamic State. Presumably this would be within Iraq – not Syria – given that the Iraqi government has just sanctioned the deployment of a fresh detachment of less than 200 US special forces.

Labour leader Andrew Little met with Pentagon officials on a visit to Washington last week. Yet according to Labour defence spokesperson Phil Goff on RNZ this morning, Labour actually set out its perceived-to-be-new position in a press release back on December 10. In an Orwellian twist, that press release would be the one headed “ Don’t Rush Into Military Commitment, Labour Says” which can be found here.

Who knew that a press release that warned :

“We know from past experience that military deployments escalate both in the level of commitments demanded and in length of time. It’s easy to be drawn into conflicts. Exit strategies are much harder…

was actually endorsing an escalation of our military involvement, from a training to a combat role? Or that Labour, which earlier this year, had strongly opposed the deployment of New Zealand trainers as ineffective, was actually all along more hawkish than the National government, and was really wanting to escalate our contribution to a combat role as the more effective option ? Not many people read between the lines in quite that fashion. Most people will see it as a change of stance, and will miss an alleged consistency that’s able to be seen only through Phil Goff’s glasses.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee has said the Iraqi government “doesn’t want” such an escalation – which presumably means Brownlee hasn’t yet caught up with the switch in position by the Iraqi government, which was opposing the escalation in early December, before endorsing it yesterday…. Presumably, the Key government is currently considering the US request for an enhanced contribution from its allies in the fight against IS.

Other countries are debating this same issue. Some of the force of 69 Canadian special forces were recently involved in combat within Iraq.

Interestingly, while the new Canadian government of Justin Trudeau has chosen to start shifting Canada’s contribution from a combat role to a training role, the budding Labour government of Andrew Little seems headed in the exact opposite direction.

Foreign Affairs Minister Stephane Dion has said he expects the withdrawal of the CF-18s will happen “within weeks not months,” but the government first wants to work out details of a beefed-up Canadian training mission to Iraq before announcing the date the planes will return home.

The combat role that is already being played inside Iraq and Syria by US special forces has been politically controversial in the US, given the White House assurances that there will be no US “boots on the ground” in a combat role. This ground is shifting – and not because the special forces are needed in a defensive role against IS. There is an offensive about to be launched.

The assistance to the Kurdish peshmerga is being beefed up in anticipation of the long-awaited push in 2016 to retake the city of Mosul from Islamic State, and thereby deliver a significant military and propaganda defeat to the Islamic caliphate. If and when the battle for Mosul is joined, the question will be whether the inhabitants would regard a Kurdish –led offensive as a deliverance, or as a possible prelude to ethnic cleansing by the Kurds. Our SAS could well find themselves right in the middle of this conflict.

One of the problems for the Iraqi government is that the most effective fighting forces on the ground against IS happen to be (a) the Kurds and (b) the Shia militia, both of which are anathema to the Sunni populations that provide the bulk of the IS fighters. What we see as agents of terrorism, many Sunni see as a means of defence for their communities. This has been evident for some time. Why then, has Labour changed its tune on the battle against Islamic State ? It can only be because it assumes the Key government will soon be beefing up New Zealand’s military contribution - and evidently, Labour doesn’t want to be caught out on the “peace” side of the debate, and in opposition to a combat deployment against Islamic State. Therefore, it has acted pre-emptively, and has embraced the likely deployment of the SAS before it has even been announced. Norman Kirk must be rolling in his grave.

One last Christmas song

Lou Barlow will be touring New Zealand again in February. Yay. His song “ Mary” is an attempt to deal with a vital, absent figure from the usual Christmas story. It tackles the point of view of Mary’s actual boyfriend, and the real father of the boy child…

And as a bonus, here’s a couple more of Barlow’s songs, one with Folk Implosion, the other with Sebadoh :

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