Matt McCarten on politics

Matt McCarten is a Herald on Sunday political columnist

Matt McCarten: Muckraker reveals sad truths about system

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Author Nicky Hager says anyone who reads 'Other People's Wars' will know more about NZ foreign service agendas than anyone in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Author Nicky Hager says anyone who reads 'Other People's Wars' will know more about NZ foreign service agendas than anyone in Parliament. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Nicky Hager is New Zealand's equivalent to internationally renowned journalist John Pilger.

Whether you agree with him or not, Hager is one of those people you know society would be the poorer for if he wasn't around. He is smart, principled and does great investigative journalism. The elites have attacked him for years but no one can refute his facts or challenge the influence he has had in this country.

On the first day of spring (which was Thursday), he launched his latest book, Other People's Wars, which accuses our military and foreign-service senior bureaucrats of running their own agendas and putting the needs of the United States over those of our country.

The book's publisher said it was launched this week to coincide with the 10-year anniversary of 9/11. It's also no coincidence that the launch was one day after Lieutenant-General Sir Jerry Mateparae took over as our Governor-General. Mateparae was in charge of our military, on whose watch Hager's revelations took place.

For most of this year, Sir Jerry has also been our chief spymaster.

Hager has always had good timing. His books have been a prominent part of political discourse in four of the past six general elections. In 1996 he released his first book, Secret Power, describing New Zealand's role in spying. This was followed in 1999 by Secrets and Lies, which exposed Timberlands' covert misinformation campaign on native-forest logging.

His Seeds of Distrust in 2002 revealed the cover-up of genetically modified corn that was released into our food chain, making GE a major election platform for the Greens.

Although Hollow Men came out after the 2005 election, it forced National's then-leader, Don Brash, to resign after the book documented widespread deceit and dodgy dealings with the Exclusive Brethren.

Other People's Wars probably won't have the same bombshell impact as that book, as most New Zealanders aren't that engaged with what we are doing in Afghanistan. But what Hager reveals goes to the heart of our relationship with our senior public servants.

One of the quotes attributed to a senior government official sums up the guts of the book: "People assume that politicians make decisions, but often they're busy, ill-informed or actively excluded ... The worst decisions were made by senior officials and military officers, often without [the ministers'] knowledge."

Hager insists that our senior civilian and military public servants believe they can take us into a war but only tell our politicians the things that suit them. Our democracy is a sham unless the culprits are brought under control.

Hager has had access to thousands of leaked military and intelligence documents from military personnel unhappy with their superiors' actions. Many of them were against our involvement in Afghanistan from the start and believe senior officials used the war as an excuse to pursue their own political objectives of creating closer relationships with their equivalent colleagues in Western countries - at our expense. The drivel about helping Afghans and fighting terrorism is parroted cynically for our benefit. An official review of our development aid work in Bamiyan shows it up as a mere public relations exercise.

Here's a PR tip for nothing: pull our construction teams out of Bamiyan and send them to Christchurch.

Our military PR machine prides itself on keeping us away from embarrassing stories. The most disturbing thing they managed to get away with was when WikiLeaks found a cable between the US Embassy in Wellington and Washington, claiming they had a highly placed New Zealand Defence Force official leaking classified secret information from our Cabinet. There was no outcry and no investigation ordered by Sir Jerry in his role as our spymaster or as head of our military.

Hager says anyone who reads Other People's Wars will know more about our foreign service agendas than anyone in Parliament.

That's impressive. Unfortunately, knowing this is true also depresses me.

- Herald on Sunday

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