The argument that if we don't join the American crusade to wipe out Muslim fanatics in Iraq and Syria, they'll swoop down to Godzone and behead us all is a rerun of the old Vietnam War domino theory - the nonsense that if we didn't join Uncle Sam to defeat the commies in the steamy jungles of Vietnam, then one by one the neighbouring states would topple, downwards to Australia and then New Zealand.

In 1966, Prime Minister John Key's "political hero", Keith Holyoake, fell for it and sent troops. In recent days, Mr Key has seemed about to make the same mistake all over again.

In New York in June and chasing a seat on the UN Security Council, he was firm. New Zealand was contemplating humanitarian aid to Iraq, but he ruled out special forces being sent, even in an advisory capacity.

Then last week and with the election out of the way, when asked about sending SAS troops to join the US campaign against Isis militants, Mr Key equivocated.


It was his "least preferred option", but "I can't rule that absolutely out". A week on, he continues to dither.

If he's searching for a way to say no without upsetting his golfing buddy President Barack Obama, there is a solution. He could send our troops to West Africa instead to fight a much more realistic threat to New Zealand, the unchecked Ebola virus outbreak.

Mr Obama could hardly complain. He has also called on nations to join the US efforts in that crisis.

If New Zealand lives are to be put at risk overseas on our behalf, better they be sent to help a fellow Commonwealth member, Sierra Leone, fight an unprecedented natural calamity than to the Middle East madness that only gets worse each time the West intervenes.

The UN Secretary-General's special representative, Anthony Banbury, says the Ebola epidemic is the worst disaster he has seen in a UN career dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters and war since 1988.

Certainly, with modern aviation, the spread of Ebola out of Africa could be less dominoes carefully falling down one after the other and more a chaos of chess pieces leaping all over the board.

Experts say countries like New Zealand with 21st century healthcare systems are at low risk from this virus which, like Aids, can be transmitted only through bodily fluids. But do we therefore turn our backs on the stricken people of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea because we're safe?

One report estimates that by the time the first experimental vaccines are available - on a small scale - early next year, more than a million people could be infected in a region where the rudimentary healthcare infrastructure is rapidly collapsing.


In such circumstances, it seems not only callous, but a big gamble to sit back and expect the virus to politely remain self-quarantined in West Africa. Isolated cases have already popped up as far away as the US and Spain,

Whangarei nurse Donna Collins, who with Wellington nurse Sharon Mackie has joined a Red Cross team in Sierra Leone, said: "I'd like to think if the tables were turned, other countries would come to our assistance."

Ms Mackie added: "There needs to be a global humanitarian response because the local health system does not have the skills or resources to cope."

How heartwarming it would be if our Government adopted a similar philosophy and instead of joining another shooting war, ordered the military to send a New Zealand assistance team to the Ebola front to serve with the two brave nurses.

They wouldn't be alone. After a slow start by the rest of the world, the US is now to send 3000 troops to Liberia to build 17 new treatment facilities and train medical personnel.

Britain is sending medical staff and building a 68-bed hospital in Sierra Leone, France is building a hospital in Guinea, China is sending in medical staff and equipment.

It's not just the big powers involved. Israel, for example, is to set up three medical clinics in countries bordering the three most affected states.

The model for small countries is Cuba, which for more than 50 years has engaged in "medical diplomacy". It is sending a 165-strong army of doctors and nurses to Sierra Leone, continuing a long tradition of dispatching medical aid to disaster zones that began in 1960 after a big earthquake in Chile. The small Caribbean nation proudly claims to have sent more than 135,000 medical staff to emergencies around the globe since then.

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