The public's appetite for New Zealand's involvement in foreign wars and conflicts is undoubtedly waning. The Defence Force currently has personnel deployed on 14 military operations across 12 countries.
In fact over the last decade or so, New Zealand has been involved in more overseas military interventions than ever before. Afghanistan and Iraq have obviously been the most controversial, but the armed forces have been deployed in other significant so-called 'peacekeeping' deployments in recent years including to Bougainville, Cambodia, the Balkans, and the Solomon Islands. Currently the Defence Force is involved the conflict-ridden Syria - but the latest news is that New Zealand is extricating itself from this area too - see Tracy Watkins' NZ troops to pull out of Syria.
Obviously the exit strategy being discussed the most is that for Afghanistan, and there is plenty of political disagreement on this. New Zealand's military involvement in that country has until recently been a relatively non-partisan issue, with an indifferent public and little real debate. But the five recent deaths, has seen a sudden escalation in the politicisation of the issue. The best item from recent days has been John Armstrong's Not running, just walking away very fast.
He explains how 'The weekend deaths may well awaken what could prove to have been a sleeper issue in domestic political terms'. Armstrong argues that Labour is politicising the issue with its call for the troops to be brought home 'as soon as practicable'. He also believes that the announcement of an April exit from Afghanistan is definitely a hastened exit brought on by public pressure, saying that Key wants to appease those wanting the troops out. Adequate management of the issue is vital, according to Armstrong, because a late departure could have 'gruesome [political] consequences' for National.
The timetable for the exit is also discussed by Brian Rudman in Stay or go, Kiwis won't affect war. He delves into the Government's logistical explanations for the timetable and questions why it's okay to speed up the exit plans to meet the needs of the Japanese airport construction plans but not okay to speed up the exit to save New Zealand lives. He advocates that for the rest of their time in Afghanistan, the troops should 'take a lesson from the Hungarian survival manual' and pull back from active combat duties. Similarly, Gordon Campbell says the troops should 'wait out the remaining time in barracks. In which case, any involvement by our PRT troops in patrols in north Bamiyan should be officially suspended' - see On what comes next in Afghanistan. Campbell also argues in favour of an October 2012 departure date. The on-the-ground logistics of New Zealand's military campaign are also discussed in depth in Paul Buchanan's blogpost Beefing up in order to draw down.
Tuesday's Press editorial also focused on the 'Eroding political support for military action', saying that although questioning of the country's role in Afghanistan has been 'subdued' until now, with 'the latest deaths more voices are calling for an early withdrawal from the war, questioning whether we should have entered it at all and asking whether the results are worth the losses'. However the editorial warns that this is entirely the desired aim of the Taleban, and hence the Government should stay its course - see: Afghan goal achieved. The editorial also labels New Zealand's involvement a success because it has achieved its goal of transforming the country into one 'that will not be able to become a haven for threats to the rest of the world'.
The Government's approach to the exit from Afghanistan receives an endorsement from TV3's Duncan Garner, who says 'John Key is right not to cut and run from Afghanistan. It would look wimpy and reactive' - see: Key right to manage a hasty exit. Garner is also strongly critical of Labour's approach to the exit strategy: 'Labour's position has been all over the show. David Shearer appears to be saying John Key is doing the right thing. Phil Goff says bring them home as soon as possible. Labour needs to get its house in order. Why does Shearer allow Goff to speak on these matters? Who is leading this party?'. Garner also has harsh words for those criticising the Government's current exit strategy, saying that 'politicking over it is fruitless and cheap' and that 'Those who argue they should be withdrawn tomorrow and put on a plane out of there know nothing about war'.
Most other media editorials are also supportive of the Government. For example, the Otago Daily Times says it supports the Government's approach, but also warns that the Government's dilemma will grow if the violence 'continues to escalate' - see: NZ's dilemma in Afghanistan.
Far from pulling out early, Tuesday's Herald editorial suggests that the Government should be boosting troop numbers in a short-term 'surge' to finish the mission - see: Send more troops to get the job done. It claims that 'Overwhelmingly, soldiers surely want the risk of further casualties to be addressed through the dispatch of reinforcements'.
In fact, the Government is now considering sending SAS troops back to Afghanistan, after previously ruling that out - see Vernon Small's Small SAS contingent may return to Afghanistan. This would involve 'only one or two SAS soldiers' for the purpose of helping 'with intelligence and planning for a counterstrike against those responsible for the death of five Kiwi soldiers this month'.
The Government's response to the latest deaths has been made harder by the news that one of the soldiers killed in the weekend had made 'public' Facebook condemnations of the Prime Minister's decision not to attend the last military funeral - see Audrey Young's PM won't comment on slain soldier's criticism. On the same issue, TV3's Hilary Barry (@hilary_barry) tweeted 'We've all made wrong judgement calls before. Sadly for the PM a wrong call will now haunt him for a long time'.
The other issue that is being politicised - especially by Labour and the Greens - is whether the Government is affording the troops adequate equipment to protect them from roadside bombs. John Key has replied to such questions by saying that although the US wouldn't provide mine-resistant armoured vehicles to the New Zealand contingent, the Government have done their best to equip them - see Audrey Young's PM: Bamiyan vehicles best available to NZ.
So how much more will the politicisation of New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan escalate? Actually the differences between parliamentary parties isn't great. In fact, as Vernon Small emphasises, Labour and National are not so different in their approach to the timing of the departure.
Although initially it looked like Labour was pushing a different line on the exit strategy, 'within hours the two were on the same page - more or less. Despite the political rhetoric, both Labour and National now acknowledge that leaving Bamiyan province "as soon as possible" means in the first months of 2013' and that 'the difference between a National and Labour timetable comes down to a matter of weeks' - see: Time to put date on troop return. And although on the left of Labour Hone Harawira is making the most radical demands, he also advocates enhancing the security equipment of the troops and raises questions about whether the SAS should ever have been withdrawn - see Audrey Young's Dangers of extended patrols to be reviewed.
Nonetheless, the multi-partisan consensus in favour of 'peacekeeping' and 'humanitarian intervention' appears to be breaking down and we might expect that the Defence Force will play a smaller role in international affairs in the immediate future.
Other important or interesting political items today include:
• The gap between rich and poor in New Zealand is at its widest ever according to the latest Household Incomes Report - see Hayden Donnell's NZ inequality at highest level. You can read the original report here.
• The independent report on the scandals and problems at ACC is finally out - for the initial coverage of what it contains see Adam Bennett's Report: ACC needs culture change.
• Is the Government's partial privatisation programme on the rocks? Adam Bennett two items suggest major problems - or at least delays - to the sales process - see: Drop in coal triggers Solid Energy rain check and Tiwai Pt threat could delay Mighty River sale.
• Trevor Mallard has been stirring up trouble with left-wingers again, this time with a post on Facebook that says 'It is wrong to tax a working person almost to the breaking point, then give it to a person who is able to work, but refuses to'. Cameron Slater has the information in his post, Trevor the benny basher.
• Labour's strategic direction is further critiqued by Scott Yorke who reveals the party's new blue logo in The Genius Of Shearer's Plan Is Revealed. Also, Giovanni Tiso explains Labour's 'Man on the Roof'.
• What can the Dutch teach us about raising children? A lot according to the Every Child Counts report, which makes the case for a whole swathe of leftwing reforms - see: Kate Shuttleworth's Report recommends raising wage, parental leave. Meanwhile the Government has launched its own version - the Supporting Vulnerable Children Result Action plan - see Kate Chapman's Govt launches plan for vulnerable children.
• The tobacco wars are heating up, with tight regulation being challenged by the industry - see Kieran Campbell's Tobacco company launches fightback and Isaac Davison's Ministers say tobacco ads against plain packaging a waste of money. And today the Herald comes out on the side of the tobacco companies in its editorial, Plain-pack law would be plain theft.
• Meanwhile, University of Canterbury economist Eric Crampton draws attention to new research that challenges the assumptions that increased taxes on cigarette will reduce smoking. Instead it punishes the poor, and hence the Government should 'consider some offsetting income tax cuts for lower decile groups' - see: Tobacco excise incidence.
• The alcohol industry is doing better than tobacco in its bid to resist heavy government regulation - see Isaac Davison's Govt backs down on alcopop law changes.
• The next big moral issue to be politicised could be euthanasia, and John Key is positioning himself on the 'progressive' side of this debate - see: Michael Forbes' Euthanasia already happening in hospitals - PM.
• Does New Zealand need a farmers' political party? The 'NZ Rural' party have submitted their party logo to be registered with the Electoral Commission.
• Rosemary McLeod says she doesn't like gangs but agrees with Hone Harawira's defence of their right to wear patches, and she might even start wearing one herself - see: Top of impoverished is not a privilege.
• Do the state-owned energy companies drive electricity prices higher? According to Paul Gorman, 'An investigation into soaring electricity prices this winter has pointed the finger at state-owned power company Meridian Energy' - see: Soaring winter power prices.