The film clip of Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee striding into the bowels of the $250 million Boeing C-17 Globemaster for a test drive this week was scary. Just what World Peace needs: Biggles Brownlee on the flight deck, ordering the pilot off to Iraq and Libya to sort out Isis, with a detour down to Nigeria to give Boko Haram a bloody nose.
The carefully choreographed visit of the Iraqi foreign minister last week, followed yesterday by the departure of Defence Force chief Lieutenant General Tim Keating for a meeting in Saudi Arabia of anti-Isis "coalition" defence chiefs, is all part of the Government's attempt to soften voters up for the despatch of troops to join the US-led crusade against Islamic extremists in Iraq.
Talk about putting a finger in the dyke. While the Government seems to think a few New Zealand troops in Iraq will make a difference, Isis lookalikes have been slitting the throats of innocent Egyptian Christians thousands of kilometres away on a Libyan beach. South of the Sahara desert, their ideological blood-brothers Boko Haram continue their murderous rampage not just in Nigeria, but in neighbouring Cameroon, Chad and Niger.
It's not being defeatist or isolationist to say this is a situation that needs less guns and troops, not more. Certainly not more from an independent democracy at the bottom of the world that has just been elected to a select seat on the United Nations Security Council. As a non-permanent member of this council we should be relishing our potential role as the honest broker, attempting to bring peace to trouble spots, not adding to the killing. We've sensibly avoided sending off a gunboat to the Crimea to help the Ukrainians fight the Russian invaders. Why is injustice in the deserts of Iraq more worthy of going to war over?
Prime Minister John Key argues that sending troops to Iraq "is the price of the club" we belong to. He seems to have forgotten we're now also a member of the exclusive inner circle club of the United Nations. It's our chance to make peace, not war. And while we're at it, to load up a Globemaster with humanitarian aid and personnel instead of guns and soldiers, and return with a plane-load of refugees.
The club Mr Key refers to has, in the last decade, spent $33 billion on propping up the Iraqi army with no success. What chance, then, of our tiny band of military "trainers" making any difference.
For an insight into the mindset and morality of the "club", there's no better guide than the just-published memoir Guantanamo Diary, by detainee Mohamedou Ould Slahi. On November 20, 2001, he was kidnapped by local police from his Mauritanian home and after a few days' interrogation by local police, illegally "rendered" to a Jordanian prison by US agents. Seven months of interrogation followed, then he was stripped, shackled, blindfolded and flown to Afghanistan. Soon after, he was shipped to the US "terrorist" prison at Guantanamo Bay. He's still there, in a segregation cell, 13 years later, waiting to be charged with any crime.
The diary was written a decade ago, following months of psychological, sexual and physical intimidation and torture. After a protracted legal battle, a declassified version has finally been published. Slahi's mistake was to briefly join al-Qaeda's anti-Soviet campaign in Afghanistan in the early 1990s -- a cause then backed by the USA. He was "rendered" within days of al-Qaeda's September 2001 Twin Tower raids. A federal judge ordered his release in 2010, but he remains in isolation, the rule of law ignored.
True, the Americans haven't cut his throat. But the diary portrays an endemic bigotry towards Islam and "Arabs" and a cruelty that in many ways mirrors the prejudices of their foes. Around 2500 words and phrases have been redacted. The warped morality of the captors is revealed in what has been censored and what remains. For instance, the word "tears" has been blacked out in a reference to Slahi's weeping at the rare kindness of one guard, but lengthy descriptions of his illegal torture remain untouched.
America's 13-year-long "war on terror" has left much of the world terrified and the Middle East in turmoil. As a member of the Security Council we should be seeking a lasting peace, by negotiation, not guns.
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