Senator Joe McCarthy couldn't have done better. In 1950, he invented reds under the bed when he stood up before the Ohio County Women's Republican Club and said he had a list of more than 200 workers at the State Department who were "known Communists".

He had no such list, but the so-called wars on communism, terror and even drugs for that matter, have always depended for international support on fostering fear of attacks at home.

Somewhere, McCarthy's spirit was surely watching and smiling approvingly this week as John Key announced that up to 80 New Zealanders had links to Isil. Some call this organisation Isis, IS or even Daesh, but Barack Obama calls it Isil so that's what I'll be doing.

I thought a third term in office might have seen the PM kick back a bit and treat the electorate as intelligent individuals, but not so. In answer to the question "How gullible does he think we are?" the answer is still "Incredibly".


He has been softening us up for this. The need to address terrorism was announced shortly after the election. Who'd have guessed, given the number of vital issues that surfaced during the campaign, that as we hurtle to the end of the year the Government would be putting most effort into finding a new flag and combating international terrorism?

The latter is a problem that affects few of us directly and dealing with it has never been one of our core competencies.

Then, on October 11, he said it would be "odd" if we did not play any part in action against Isil. Can't argue with that. "Odd" would have been maintaining an independent foreign policy, a rational view of world threats and a determination not to commit resources and possibly lives to the whims of foreign powers such as the US.

Finally, on Wednesday, he made an announcement of the measures we would be taking to grind Isil into oblivion.

This announcement was so serious he had to rope in a chorus line of Cabinet ministers behind him while he made it.

But having Gerry Brownlee and Chris Finlayson standing wearing their Worried Faces doesn't make you look authoritative. At best, it wins sympathy because people can see what you have to work with. In the process, it showed that the Prime Minister does not have the gift for compelling visual imagery that is a hallmark of Isil's organisation.

In recent weeks, however, Isil's allegedly impressive military might has been showing signs of falling apart. In some cases, this is thanks to the US assisting its opponents but largely it's because it is a group of fanatics who have, for instance, maintained the siege of Kobane at great cost to themselves long past the point where they should have directed their energies elsewhere.

Isil does not make good choices. This makes it no less dangerous in the short term but casts doubt over the likelihood of it being able to carry out any part of a government's job in the long term, apart from scaring the bejezus out of citizens. Which our Government is now trying to do.


As a consequence, and it's hard not to see this as a welcome consequence given the Government's love of spying, subterfuge and all things clandestine, we are about to protect ourselves from terrorism by giving the SIS the right to conduct emergency surveillance of up to 48 hours without a warrant.

Given the Government's past willingness to use public agencies for its political purposes, whatever else you might call this, you can't call it surprising.