There's been widespread sceptism and outrage in response to the Government's announcement that New Zealand troops will be sent to Iraq. This can be seen most clearly in my aggregation of reactions in two blog posts: Top tweets about the NZ Govt decision to go into Iraq and Cartoons about NZ military intervention in Iraq. Of course, Twitter and cartoonists typically have a liberal bias, so may not be considered representative of wider opinion. Yet there are other signs that this military intervention is being very poorly received, and might prove electorally damaging in the long run.
Public support for war is in danger
Public support is not with the National Government on this issue, according to John Armstrong, who concludes that 'the Prime Minister is not really winning the debate. An extraordinarily lengthy softening-up period has failed to do its job. If anything, the positions of opponents of the deployment have hardened' - see: John Key is not winning the debate.
Armstrong says that 'Key really has reason to worry whether he has called this one right', and explains that the Government is in a lose-lose position: 'There is no upside in this deployment. Even if things go smoothly, the numbers favouring the mission are unlikely to rise. If the contingent strikes trouble, Key could quickly find himself on the wrong side of public opinion'. He also addresses the futility of the exercise, suggesting it's more about 'flag-waving designed to satisfy the Americans', lamenting the Government's submissiveness to the US.
Two TV-commissioned public opinion polls were conducted on the possibility of deployment - see TVNZ's Troop deployment to Iraq narrowly gets public support - poll , and TV3's Poll: NZers divided over IS military action.
What is interesting about these results is that although support for deployment was higher than opposition, it was still relatively low. In previous major military deployments, public support has started out higher.
Of course future events could send approval numbers downwards. For example, an ISIS video response to the announcement is likely, and according to security analyst Paul Buchanan, 'New Zealand diplomats, students, aid workers and "particularly tourists" were at potentially greater risk now for kidnapping and attacks across the Middle East' - see John Weekes' Warning: Kiwis in Middle East should be on high alert. Similarly, see also Vernon Small and Mike Mather's Brace for IS threats, analyst warns.
And what would happen if ISIS captures a New Zealand soldier in Iraq? This has been raised in Parliament - see TVNZ's Ron Mark to PM: What will you do if a NZ soldier is kidnapped by ISIS?.
If, according to Vernon Small, 'Isis ramps up the threats against New Zealanders over coming days', then 'the impact on public opinion may be problematic for Key... Polls show a slim majority support the deployment - by about 49 to 43 - but that could so easily reverse' - see: No winners in war of words between leaders.
Perhaps mirroring public opinion, Parliament is polarised, with 60 MPs in favour and 60 against. This is unprecedented, and as Tracy Watkins points out, the issue 'has split Parliament down the middle in a way that Helen Clark's previous decision to send engineers to Iraq, or the SAS and combat forces to Afghanistan, never did' - see: Parliament and public split like seldom before over Iraq. Watkins points out that if - or when - the NZ troops suffer losses, 'Opposition MPs are determined that if there is blood on anyone's hands, it will be Key's alone'.
Beyond opinion polls there are now further opportunities for the public to express their opposition to the deployment. Activist group Action Station has launched an online petition, NZ Troops Going To War? #NotInMyName, that currently has about 12,000 signatures. See also Andrea Vance's Petition against sending NZ troops to Iraq gets support.
This isn't to be confused with the parody petition, Stop keeping our troops behind The Wire , set up by Herald journalist Matt Nippert.
Rallies are also being organised - there's one today in Wellington at 5pm - see No Right Turn's Protest against the war on Thursday.
The backlash against deployment is coming from a wide variety of people. Dissenting voices include some surprising figures. For example, reporting on a debate yesterday, Demelza Leslie says, 'former New Zealand diplomat Terrence O'Brien told the audience the decision for New Zealand to commit troops to Iraq was a case of misguided foreign policy. "Several months of public hesitation about what New Zealand might or might not do, looked like running around in circles."
He said visits by foreign officials had helped push New Zealand into a dubious enterprise' - see:
Similarly, according to retired Colonel Richard Hall, who was a commander of New Zealand's provincial reconstruction team Afghanistan, the decision to go into Iraq 'raised issues about New Zealand's foreign policy and whether we are the "masters of our own destiny" or simply bowing to the pressure of our allies in order to score points' - see TVNZ's
Iraqis in New Zealand are also opposing the intervention according to Lauren Baker's report,
For other important critiques of the deployment, see Russell Brown's
, Chris Trotter's
, No Right Turn:
, Stephanie Rodgers'
and Dita De Boni's
The most critical newspaper editorial has been the Otago Daily Times'
. The newspaper views the decision as just adding 'another flag to the United States-led coalition. It has symbolic significance and shows this country's willingness to participate'.
Why is there so much opposition to the deployment? Ex-foreign affairs minister Wayne Mapp points out that 'The debate in New Zealand appears to be much more heated than in other western democracies' - see his blog post
. His explanation for the polarisation is New Zealand's 'emotional distance from our friends and allies. We no longer see ourselves as part of the inner circle, which uncritically accepts mutuality of obligation. It is no accident that we are the one and only western country that is nuclear-free. It was a choice that we could make that Australia would never countenance. And the freedom we have gained from being nuclear-free will always restrain our enthusiasm for Western military causes, whether or not they are for good or for ill'.
Support for war
Commentators supporting the intervention decision with any gusto are harder to find. Mike Hosking does the best job with his column today,
, in which he argues the Government has made the right call, morally and electorally. For other interesting commentary supporting the decision, see Tim Fookes'
, Alexander Gillespie's
, and Rachel Smalley's two items,
Other voices of support come from the Catholic Church - see:
, the New Zealand Herald - see:
and the Dominion Post - see: New Zealand must face a grim duty (http://bit.ly/1Be5drI).
Not all on the political right are entirely in support, however. Caution is expressed by Ron Smith in his blog post, Fighting Islamic Extremism (http://bit.ly/1AqcunK). And further to the right, the 'Redbaiter' argues that the Government has been too weak - see:
Debate and disagreement in Parliament has been particularly strong. This is very well conveyed in Audrey Young's
, and Patrick Gower's
The best analysis is Vernon Small's
. He points out that Key's self-described 'passion' on the issue is indicative of the fact that his government is now so politically 'isolated'.
John Key's now infamous cry of 'get some guts and join the right side' has been the subject of a complaint to the Parliament's Speaker, who has ruled that it doesn't fall foul of Parliament's Standing Orders - see Lydia Anderson's
Chris Trotter disagrees, and says that 'Key crossed a vital constitutional line', labeling it 'out-of-control demagoguery' and making analogies with Nazism - see:
. Trotter warns that the Government is descending into aggressive and intolerant behaviour.
So what is Labour's stance?
A key strategy in National's armoury against the deployment backlash is to argue that Labour's opposition to deployment is disingenuous. For the best ennunciation of this, see David Farrar's
Green-aligned blogger Danyl Mclauchlan essentially backs this argument up, saying that 'if Labour were in government our commitment to the latest US/UK adventure in Iraq would be pretty much identical. The marketing would be different: our troops would be providing 'humanitarian aid': painting schools, standing up for women's rights, and so on, instead of National's more paternal 'training the Iraqi army' pretext. But I just can't see a Labour PM saying 'no' to Obama' - see:
Meanwhile another Green supporter suggests that, in fact, the Greens would never allow a Labour government to send troops - see No Right Turn's
Vernon Small also suggests that Labour is somewhat confused or ambiguous: 'there is nothing particularly principled about Labour's position either - that it opposes Isis and backs military action but because New Zealand can make little or no difference militarily it should do nothing. Was that our pitch to sit on the Security Council? Is that Labour's stance on climate change?' - see:
Finally, Claire Trevett shows how easy it is to ridicule Labour's position on Iraq: 'Rather than send soldiers in steel-capped boots to train soldiers, Labour wanted to send people in gumboots to train Iraq's people to milk cows. Little's reasoning was civilians would be safer than soldiers and Iraq needed to reduce its reliance on oil. His approach helped crowd the Greens out of the debate. But it seemed so astonishingly naive he may as well have suggested Isis simply hug it out' - see: