14 mins to read

NZ Politics Daily: John Key’s politically smart war against ISIS at home and abroad

John Key is no military hawk. He's not much of a civil libertarian either. 

Bryce Edwards
Thu, 06 Nov 2014
John Key is no military hawk. He’s not much of a civil libertarian either.
Those are the two most obvious points to take from yesterday’s ‘landmark’ speech on national security and the fight against ISIS. Both factors are likely to work in his favour.
The Government’s carefully thought through approach to battling ISIS at home and abroad is an extremely pragmatic and smart political strategy. In terms of fighting ISIS abroad, the Government appears relatively moderate, liberal and sophisticated, and in terms of the supposed domestic threat, it looks serious and protective. 
A moderate and liberal approach to combating ISIS abroad
The National Government and John Key can hardly be accused of enthusiastically rushing in, ‘boots and all’, to another military adventure. Instead, as John Armstrong conveys today, yesterday’s response ‘falls way short of the gung-ho stance of Britain, Australia and the United States’ – see: Minimalist approach to 'war' classic Key
It might have been expected, Armstrong says, that National would have been more ‘forthright or enthusiastic’ about following the lead of the US and other allies. However, Armstrong stresses ‘the limited scale of New Zealand's yet-to-be-approved contribution to the American-led Operation Inherent Resolve. That is almost always more symbolic than substantial for such deployments. It is the nature of that contribution which speaks volumes. In this case, it is pretty minimalist’.
A similar point is made today by TV3’s Tim Watkin in his blog post, On War, restraint & Trojan horses. Here’s the main point: ‘New Zealand has done about as little as it can. It is important that we somehow show our resistance to I-S and stand alongside so many other allies across the world. Of course a few planners and trainers will do nothing to change the fate of Iraq or its army. Our contribution is practically futile, but sends the right message.  It is all about perception’.
Today’s editorial in The Press conveys approval of this pragmatic approach: ‘The responses outlined the Prime Minister were typically careful, measured and pragmatic. They were tailored, as he said, to be in keeping with the independent line and the principles the country has generally taken in foreign policy for nearly two decades or more’ – see: Key's carefully pragmatic line.
John Key continues to demonstrate his pragmatic instincts. Or as Armstrong puts it, his ‘approach is classic John Key. Do enough to keep everybody reasonably happy, even if not ecstatically so’. Militarily, Key’s approach is also pretty much in line with previous military interventions that are more putatively ‘liberal’ than ‘hawkish’, in that they rely more on elements such as ‘military training’ of supposed allies, use of ‘humanitarian aid’, and other logistical and diplomatic tools. This is approach is therefore more about the use of ‘soft power’ than ‘hard power’. Helen Clark’s Labour Government took a similar approach on numerous occasions. 
In fact, Key’s more liberal approach might be seen as in line with that of his political hero, Keith Holyoake, who managed to keep New Zealand out of the Vietnam war as much as possible. For more on this, see Gordon Campbell’s recent blog post, On New Zealand getting involved (again) in other peoples wars
Key’s approach is therefore causing little backlash in Parliament or beyond – despite some relatively minor differences that are being amplified. Labour is fairly compliant, and even the Greens have little of significance to disagree with. As blogger Sebastian Klinkum has pointed out, ‘Interestingly, the decision made by the Government is nearly identical to what the Green Party advocated for – no armed intervention and a humanitarian response’ – see: Key’s decision on armed intervention is the right call. Klinkum also argues that New Zealand is ‘doing what we’ve successfully done in the past – lobbying on a diplomatic level, and providing humanitarian aid for some of those affected by the ongoing conflict. NZ may also provide ‘capacity building’ support to local security agencies in Iraq, and support the global coalition by providing military, non-combat personnel’.
Supporters of the Government’s actions are labeling it a ‘multifaceted approach’ as opposed to a more traditional and conservative ‘military solution’. By using diplomatic tools the National Government hopes to concentrate on finding a ‘political solution’ by focusing on solving the Palestine-Israel problem, or using it’s ‘intelligence capacity’ – see Stacey Kirk and Aimee Gulliver’s Kiwis supporting Islamic State 'surprising'. See also John Armstrong’s column, Two discordant messages in PM's security speech
Of course, just because the National Government’s approach to ISIS abroad is relatively moderate and liberal, it doesn’t make it any less cynical or self-serving. Ultimately the Government’s actions continue to be based on furthering the country’s trade and diplomacy – basically keeping on side with the big powers, while keeping domestic voters happy and the economy healthy. So Key’s approach – like that of Helen Clark previously – simply acknowledges New Zealand’s changing strategic interests, together with different ways to achieve these. 
This is why, according to leftwing unionist Mike Treen, all such foreign wars shouldn’t be supported – see: Why workers need our own “foreign policy” based on solidarity. From Vietnam through to Afghanistan, Treen says such wars have been based on lies and the needs of the Establishment. Josie Pagani is unlikely to agree, and argues today that the political left needs to get in behind such modern interventions – see: Fighting modern day fascism, New Zealand’s fight too
Combating terror at home with expanded state surveillance
The National Government appears to be taking a far less liberal or moderate approach to fighting domestic terror threats at home. This involves expanding the state’s power to carry out surveillance as well as confiscating passports to prevent travel to so-called hotspots. 
Newspaper editorials have been relatively critical today. The Dominion Post complains that ‘The rise of Isis is more likely to be a convenient peg on which to hang beefed-up surveillance powers for the Security Intelligence Service which were probably in the wind anyway, given that its current legislation is decades old and out of touch with modern-day threats’ – see: Key lights a fuse that may fire up terror
The Herald complains that Key’s justification for new rules about passport confiscation shouldn’t rest on silly arguments about New Zealand’s reputation, and that a stronger case is needed – see: Solid evidence of terror links vital before passports held
Today’s Otago Daily Times argues that the state does not have a very good track record in terms of state surveillance, and ‘there will be some scepticism the new powers will be used judiciously’ – see: Balance of security and privacy.
But The Press is much more positive about the changes, calling them ‘modest’ and suggesting that they ‘strike the right balance between giving effective powers to the authorities without unduly infringing individuals' rights’ – see: Key's carefully pragmatic line.
There are plenty of other critical voices. Blogger No Right Turn complains that the proposed new laws are completely unnecessary, instead ‘they're just used as a rhetorical prop for throwing our freedoms on the bonfire’ – see: Gunpowder, treason and plot. See his other posts, Safeguards?, and National refuses to say how many people it has exiled without charge or trial.
And for elaboration on this argument, see the recent blog post by Graeme Edgeler: Terrorism is already illegal
So are the new rules based on scaremongering?That’s the point made other bloggers – see Anthony Robins’ Reds under the beds and Martyn Bradbury’s The Great SIS fishing expedition begins.
The alleged scaremongering and vagueness of John Key can all be summed up in one sentence according to Scott Yorke – see his parody blog post: Full text of John Key’s speech on Islamic State. See also his very funny parody, We must join the fight against Islamic State
Columnist Brian Rudman also asks: If the Government really is keen on stopping New Zealanders going overseas to join armed forces creating misery, why does it allow them to join the Israeli army, or indeed that of Britain, the US or Australia? – see: Scaremongering to curb freedom further.
Meanwhile, some might have missed National’s creation of a new group of ‘free thinkers’ to help alert the Government about ‘unknown’ and unexpected terror possibilities. Chris Trotter has a penned an amusing take-down of National’s choice of appointments to the Strategic Risk and Resilience Panel – see: Risk and Resilience: Introducing John Key’s “Free Thinkers”. Trotter suggests that instead of the rather conservative Establishment choices, National could have used the more radical alternatives of Nicky Hager, Anne Salmond, Edmund Thomas, Murray Horton and Jane Kelsey.
For some other interesting analysis of national security issues, see John-Paul Powley’s New Zealand and ISIS, Gordon Campbell’s On our IS counter measures, and Patrick Gower’s TV3 interview, Polls guide Govt on Islamic State response.
Finally, for more on New Zealand’s spy agencies, watch Phil Vine’s 44-minute 3rd Degree documentary and news article, GCSB spies respond to mass surveillance allegations.
Today’s content:
NZ national security and terrorism
Audrey Young (Herald): PM ramps up SIS and Five Eyes
John Armstrong (Herald): Minimalist approach to 'war' classic Key
Tim Watkin (Pundit): On War, restraint & Trojan horses
No Right Turn: Safeguards?
Stacey Kirk and Aimee Gulliver (Stuff): Kiwis supporting Islamic State 'surprising'
Anthony Robins (Standard): Reds under the beds
Sebastian Klinkum (Beehive Mandate): Key’s decision on armed intervention is the right call
Martyn Bradbury (Daily Blog): The Great SIS fishing expedition begins
David Farrar (Kiwiblog): Herald says 80. Fairfax says 40
Man of Errors: New Zealand and ISIS
Nikki Papatsoumas (Herald): Decision a 'win for women' - Teachers union
Jo Moir (Stuff): 'Victory for motherhood'
Pike River
Access to 90 Mile beach
Isaac Davison (Herald): Iwi to limit access to 90 Mile Beach
David Kennedy (Local Bodies): John Key's Housing Legacy
Karl du Fresne (Manawatu Standard): Law not a game of pick and choose
Lib Wilson (Stuff): $800,000 to review 'sin tax'
Fundamentally Useless: Inside the minds of our minders
Today in politics: Thursday, November 6
Bryce Edwards
Thu, 06 Nov 2014
© All content copyright NBR. Do not reproduce in any form without permission, even if you have a paid subscription.
NZ Politics Daily: John Key’s politically smart war against ISIS at home and abroad