Bryce Edwards ' Opinion

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards: Political round-up: August 20

There has been three further deaths of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan. Photo / Thinkstock.
There has been three further deaths of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan. Photo / Thinkstock.

Politics doesn't stop when soldiers die, but it does make public pronouncements more difficult. Parties and politicians are loath to be perceived as scoring points, but all sides are reacting in a political way to news of three further deaths of New Zealand soldiers in Afghanistan.

The Government's line is: We are not for turning and to withdraw from the war in Afghanistan would be cowardly. Nonetheless, the Prime Minister has used the event to announce further details of New Zealand's withdrawal programme for 2013. Key now says this will happen 'early next year', after previously refusing to be tied down on the exact timing. It has been reported that, 'Goff believed the recent deaths had influenced the Government's decision to consider bringing the troops home early next year' - see Danya Levy's Pull troops out early: Opposition.

Opposition parties are calling for New Zealand troops to come home from Afghanistan early. Phil Goff is leading the charge, and has made some strong statements (just prior to the latest deaths) about the presence of New Zealand in Afghanistan: 'To me, further sacrifices aren't going to bring better outcomes for Afghanistan. I've been to every funeral for those killed in action and they are terribly sad and your heart goes out to the families. But can I look them in the eye and say your son died because it was critical for us to be in Afghanistan? I don't believe I can' - see Neil Reid's Further troops sacrifice futile: Goff.

Of course Goff and his party played the crucial role in sending New Zealand into the Afghanistan war, so his current stance would appear, to some, to be hypocritical. Goff refuses to say that Labour's intervention was wrong, essentially suggesting that it has only been wrong under the National Government, but few will be convinced. Goff's view of the future is bleak: 'Afghanistan was slipping towards civil war.... He said success in Afghanistan relied on a local administration that could capture the "hearts and minds" of its people. The Karzai administration had failed on that front, and Goff said it was "deeply corrupt". "It is involved in drug trafficking, supports war lords, and hasn't got the support of the people. Why are our guys dying to defend an administration of that nature?"' Ironically, those criticisms were, of course, the exact ones made during Goff's tenure as Minister of Defence. Goff's words now amount to an admission of defeat.

David Shearer's position on the withdrawal appears to be more cautious than Goff's, and is effectively the same as the Government's. When interviewed today Shearer said: 'I don't think we should be cutting and running, because that will undo the very good work we've done over the last nine years. But we shouldn't be staying any longer than we have to - I'm talking about months, rather than a year and a half' - see TV3's Firstline - Leave Afghanistan 'as soon as practical' - Shearer.

Despite all the 'no cutting and running' messages from the Government, it is clear that there is rapidly waning enthusiasm for this war across the spectrum. Five deaths in a month have caused much angst and too many more casualties would force the Government to bring soldiers home as soon as possible.

Political bloggers tend to be less restrained in making their points about military deaths. Labour's Robert Winter has laid the blame for the three deaths clearly at the National Party's feet: 'our government has decided that these deaths are acceptable, an outcome that, somehow, is worth the price... It is [John Key's] decision that has caused these deaths. Moreover, he must be aware that these deaths follow our support of a corrupt and venal government, and a failed international effort to prop it up' - see: Bring them home.

The Standard blog has little to say about it apart from that it's Another dark day for NZ in Afghanistan, but adding that 'John Key has used American chickenhawk language' to defend staying in the war.

Gordon Campbell is also highly critical of Key's National Government and blames them for staying too long in Afghanistan: 'when Prime Minister John Key wears his sad face and talks gravely about sacrifice, we need to keep in mind that the lives in question have been sacrificed for a political commitment that is meaningless. There is no noble purpose involved here, only the usual grubby business of politicking - that by joining the effort in Afghanistan, New Zealand might gain some political or trade favours from the Americans' - see: On the latest New Zealand deaths in Afghanistan. Peter Cresswell's analysis is similar: - see: Time to question the Afghan mission.

Kiwi journalist Jon Stephenson, currently reporting from Kabul, predicted only a few weeks ago that NZ soldier deaths 'unlikely to be last' - Stephenson and said this morning that the security situation has undoubtedly got much worse (listen to Stephenson interviewed on RNZ this morning here. Another expert also says to Expect more attacks, soldier deaths.

Under such circumstances it's hard to imagine much 'provincial reconstruction' happening in the remainder of the deployment. We may see a repeat of the situation in the Iraqi city of Basra during 2004 where New Zealand's engineers hunkered down in their base until they could leave. This would allow the Government to 'meet it's international commitments', but all pretense at any other purpose would be abandoned. The answer to why New Zealand would keep troops holed up in Bamiyan just trying not to get killed, may be best summed up by the song sung by allied soldiers in the trenches of WW1 - 'We're Here Because We're Here Because We're Here'.

Other important or interesting political items today include:

• If Parliament bans gang patches in government buildings, will MPs still be allowed to wear their party rosettes at Parliament? The debate over banning patches is currently between National's Todd McClay and Mana's Hone Harawira - see Neil Reid's Hone fires up at MP's 'racist' bill.

• Fran O'Sullivan ponders the rise and fall and rise of David Cunliffe and suggests he might have 'cynically "gone red" to build votes within the party at large' - see: Cloth-cap Cunliffe pursues hidden agenda.

• The answers to David Shearer's popularity problems are simple - he just needs to read the blogosphere more often. That's what Scott Yorke says in his humourous blogpost Helping David Shearer.

• The Waitangi Tribunal is set to report back this week on the water claim and TVNZ's Q+A made a valiant attempt to clarify the differences between Maori and English based rights over water - see: Tim Watkin's Water ownership debate turns to quicksand and TVNZ's Water rights debate 'not a land grab'

• Hold the line for plain packaging says the Dominion Post editorial, Keep fighting against tobacco, but Eric Crampton says the lobbyists' campaigns and how they are funded needs to be looked at. He asks, 'How long are we going to tolerate these big multinational efforts to influence New Zealand legislation, and especially when they're using kids to do it? - see: International influence. Meanwhile it seems cigarettes are the new porn mags for some supermarket customers who are only being given their nicotine already wrapped up in a bag - see Russell Blackstock's Hiding cigarettes in supermarkets 'PC-madness'.

• Once the problems are sorted out, KiwiRail's new Chinese made locomotives will only be as good as the ones they are replacing. The company has missed the chance to get faster, stronger, more efficient and safer technology according to a former long-serving senior engineer - see: Allison Rudd's '1970s' technology bought by KiwiRail. Auckland rail needs more accountability from it's private contractors says Rodney Hide's Get railways back on track.

• Who are New Zealand's most influential businesspeople? Unlimited magazine has put together a list of the The top 25 Influencers of 2012. It includes the likes of business-Tweeter Vaughn Davis, Knowledge Wave rider Andy Hamilton, Christchurch's Roger Sutton, the Warehouse's Stephen Tindall, Fonterra's Theo Spierings, founder of ReadWriteWeb Richard MacManus, Trade Me's Sam Morgan, Kiwibank's Rob Morrison, Ngai Tahu's Mark Solomon, and ex-politicians Jenny Shipley and Ruth Richardson. Roger Sutton is named Influencer of the year.

• Mark Blackham measures the social media popularity of New Zealand politicians, and finds 'expressions of support for John Key are lower this week than any time previously measured' and that 'Labour Leader David Shearer got a spike in social media comments over the past seven days... but remarkably few people bothered to express a view'.

• Is New Zealand about to get its first serious online-only media organisation? See Newswire's Trust aims to provide media alternative, and Bernard Hickey's Introducing the first version of Journalism.org.nz.

• The Megaupload owner has provided some great political theatre and a few giggles but the issues involved are no laughing matter writes David Beatson in Hey, Kim Dotcom! This game is getting serious...

• Feathers in our border security agencies have been seriously ruffled by a visiting American scholar, but no-one is saying why reports Tracy Watkins in Border protection report put on ice.

• With National's single seat coalition partners facing extinction, the next government may be decided by voters on the Maori roll - see: Matt McCarten's Review puts election control back in Maori seats. In asking why there's no referendum on the MMP review, Graeme Edgeler finds himself with some Strange bedfellows.

• No more worries about being 'tenants in our own land' for National, says John Hartevelt. The Government's enthusiastic endorsement of foreign investment is in contrast with the politically cautious approach of previous years - see: National racing through the gears.

• It's been a tough few months for the Act leader but he is intent on battling through - see John Armstrong's Old John Banks is back in the trenches, and today's revelation: Banks: I believe Bible's account of how life began.

• Apparently the politicians know how to eliminate poverty but just won't do it and journalists are just too dumb to know - see: Rodney Hide's Ending poverty is easy. Given his policy prescription, maybe it is historians who should be most ashamed for not recognising Victorian England as the most poverty-free period in human history.

• Finally, a word of warning on predictions in the online era. David Farrar has been particularly cruel to fellow bloger Danyl Mclauchlan - see: And I've STILL got it.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Bryce Edwards is going on sabbatical for five months. He will still be writing blog posts, but they will no longer be published daily.

- NZ Herald

Bryce Edwards

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

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