The beating of the patriotic drum resonates in the proposal to send an Anzac force of trainers and troops to Iraq. The legend of the Anzacs grows ever larger, and is reaching a new pinnacle as the centenary of the Gallipoli landings looms. But that is no good reason to dispatch a new joint force into the quagmire of Iraq. This country's involvement must be decided dispassionately. It should not, in the words of Labour Party leader Andrew Little, be the product of "some sort of sentimental throwback". On that basis, there is no good reason why New Zealand should embrace the Anzac plan.
That is not to say sending of trainers is a bad idea. Air strikes by the United States and its allies have curbed the spread of the barbaric Islamic State but, ultimately, will not secure victory. They become ineffective against guerilla forces in urban areas. The eventual defeat of the Islamic State must be achieved by the Iraqi army. So far, it has proved anything but a credible fighting force. The success of the aerial campaign, however, provides the time and chance for trainers from the United States and its allies to improve the Iraqis' expertise and stiffen their resolve.
Troops from New Zealand and Australia have co-operated in such undertakings in theatres around the world. They have done so without having to operate under the Anzac badge. Indeed, the idea has, until quite recently, never been contemplated because of the differing global perspectives of the two countries. Australia has spent much of its time serving as a deputy sheriff of the United States. Even in the renewed intervention in the Middle East, it has been far more gung-ho than New Zealand. Its Super Hornet jets were quickly dispatched to join the aerial assault on the Islamic State.
The Prime Minister, John Key, says that the New Zealand troops would be "behind the wire" in training roles. The Anzacs would not be a joint combat force. But it is difficult to eliminate the possibility of their role escalating. That happened with the SAS in Afghanistan, and a more active participation could eventuate if, say, the Anzacs' base was assaulted by Islamic State forces. That would probably be the inclination of the Australians, but this country may wish to be more circumspect.
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That points to the importance of New Zealand retaining control of the deployment of its troops. This was always the problem with Australia's suggestion, five years ago, of an Anzac taskforce capable of deploying rapidly and seamlessly when conflicts flared in the Pacific. Mr Key's vague utterances have done little to remove fears about Australian control. "I would have thought it would be joint but we would have to work our way through it," he said. If, however, Australia is providing the bulk of the manpower - 200 of its troops against 40 to 100 New Zealanders - it is reasonable to assume that it would see itself as the senior partner and would expect to usually get its way.
The Prime Minister has painted the idea of an Anzac force as a symbolic gesture to mark the centenary of Gallipoli. But it is difficult to dismiss the notion that it is a recourse to sentimentality, designed to win over opponents to intervention. There is good reason to help Iraq strengthen its military and civil institutions. That country needs all the help it can get if it is to survive intact. But New Zealand should provide assistance on its own terms. Being part of an Anzac force would carry the risk of an involvement far beyond what it intends.