Little appetite for war against Iran


Ever since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal the risk of a war between the two nations has increased. Ayatollah Khamenei began to increase the rhetoric against the United States, saying how it wanted war. President Donald Trump believed that the deal was fundamentally flawed from the start, and at the behest of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who believed it compromised Israeli national security, withdrew from it. Initially Iran said it would continue to comply with it in full. But when it was revealed that the other powers signatory to the agreement were not complying with their end of the deal in full, Tehran immediately said that should they not resume within 60 days it would withdraw.

Which is precisely what Mr Netanyahu and Mr Trump wanted. But now with the war hawks attempting to ratchet up the drum beat of war to another level, it is time to look at why the hawks could be in for a brutal surprise should Iran and the United States come to military blows.

There is a distinct difference though between the Iraq War and how any war against Iran in terms of the support that the United States has. Whilst many nations friendly to America expressed considerable reservations or expressed condemnation of its 2003 invasion of Iraq, it did have the support of a few nations. They included the United Kingdom, Spain, Australia, the Netherlands, Iceland, Portugal, Japan and South Korea, along with a number of eastern European, central Asian and Latin American countries.

In many respects the United States and Israel would be facing a very different foe to the demoralized Iraq that was invaded in 2003. Among the primary reasons:

  • Iran has not suffered a major conflict since the Iran-Iraq War ended in 1988 and has rebuilt
  • Iraq’s military was severely depleted, badly trained, paid and resourced – much of its equipment was useless for lack of parts, ammunition
  • Iran has significant powerful allies including Syria and Russia
  • Its compliance with the nuclear deal means the grounds for military action based on a grave and present threat are non-existent, which American allies generally recognize
  • International support for a war against Iran is almost non-existent
  • Much of the promotion of a hard line against Iran has more to do with bolstering the military industrial complex and certain politicians than achieving any real good
  • The risk of an Iran-U.S./Israel conflict becoming a direct clash between the U.S. and Russia is real

Iran is suffering under heavy American sanctions and diplomatic pressure on other countries to stop buying Iranian oil. However several nations including South Korea still do so. It has refused to have anything to do with the petro-dollar and some are suggesting it might be investing in crypto-currency such as Bitcoin.

None of this is to say that the Iranian Government or the Ayatollahs are saints. They are not. Iran has one of the most appalling records of any nation in the Middle East when it comes to womens rights, the death penalty, torture, arbitrary detention and extra-judicial killings. Human rights activists such as Nasrin Sotoudeh are regularly imprisoned without justification, and almost always on trumped up charges such as posing a threat to the Islamic Republic

Nor is it to say that Iran respects its neighbours. During the Iraqi sectarian violence following the U.S. invasion in 2003 it armed militias to destablize the country and disrupt the attempt to restore the country. It arms Hezbollah militants fighting against Israel, by supplying them with Qassam and Katyusha rockets, drones and small arms. It point blank refuses to recognize the state of Israel in any form. Iran may have interfered in the Afghanistan war and its chief regional rival is Saudi Arabia.

But if we take all of this and acknowledge the willingness of Russia to exercise veto powers when U.N. Resolutions against Iran are proposed, the extent to which Russia has enabled Hezbollah to be armed, and so forth, it is clear Russia has a significant stake in Iran’s well being.

To the extent it could be compared with America’s in Israel.

National’s foreign policy plan is tone deaf


On Monday National released a policy document outlining its foreign policy. A mixture of old well known positions, with a few surprises such as bypassing the United Nations to impose our own sanctions, the document is for the most part, vintage National.

The announcement comes at a time when New Zealand is feeling the squeeze by both the United States and China, both indirectly and directly. Indirectly as both continue a trade war that has had the markets on edge, New Zealand has been exposed to the turbulence as much as other countries. And directly as it tries to find common ground with other nations on dealing with hate and lone wolf terrorism.

Interestingly enough, Mr Bridges also appeared to signal his intent to woo China, by doubling trade with it to N.Z.$60 billion per annum. I assume this would mean substantial growth in Chinese-New Zealand tourism, investment in dairy despite it having clearly peaked, further expansion of Huawei and other technology firms, input into education and property.

To me, this is an incredibly tone deaf foreign policy. It ignores our core role as one of the key players in the South Pacific where we should be investing 80% of all the time, money and resources that go into foreign affairs. These are the nations whose well being most seriously impacts on our national security behind Australia. These are the nations with the biggest geographical and cultural links to New Zealand. The Pacific nations of Tonga, Samoa, Fiji, and to a lesser extent Vanuatu are where we go on holiday in our thousands.

Perhaps Mr Bridges is trying to woo both super powers at once in an attempt to keep them onside. If so it is a risky proposition. For all their supposed friendship, neither the United States or China understands the delicate state of the South Pacific, why it should be New Zealand’s top priority and nor do they care. They might ask why they should, and the answer is fairly simple: as one of the leading nations in the South Pacific and one with a significant Pasifika population these nations are our  backyard and long time friends, and for us to be well means they must be well.

Perhaps Mr Bridges believes that America is still the same America that won international respect by providing the armaments and large ground forces to help the Allies win World War 2. And that if this is the case, America by default is a force for the good, cannot do any wrong and must be supported at any rate.

It does not change the fact that America is turning itself into something of an international pariah with its belligerent behaviour towards friends and foes alike. Far from trying to wind up the War on Terrorism, Mr Trump has turned it into an exercise of Pax Americana. More strongly left-wing types would use the word hegemony to describe what they believe America is trying to impose, and perhaps that might yet reach a point where it becomes accurate, but there are rays of hope. Moderate Republicans and Democrats alike are becoming exasperated with Mr Trump and realize America risks alienating large tracts of the international community if it continues down this path.

New Zealand needs to be careful with China. It has invested vast sums of money into this country. It competes with others for the rights to build infrastructure and puts significant effort into building ties with political parties, notably National and A.C.T. This is not a red neck screaming “Yellow Peril!” at the top of his lungs. Nor is it an anti China statement to criticize the Chinese Government, but 2 weeks out from the 30th Anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre, and with the Great Fire Wall of China as strong as it has ever been, we need to remember China is not a democracy – it is an authoritarian regime that will hang on to its power using whatever means are necessary.

The election result no one saw coming


Nobody saw it coming: An Australian Liberal Party victory that even stunned its leader, Scott Morrison, who whilst hoping for a miracle, must have been a nervous man throughout Saturday as millions of Australians voted in the Federal Government elections.

I was just as stunned this morning when I read that Australia had returned the Liberal National coalition to office for a third term as I imagine most of the left-wing of Australia’s political spectrum were last night. It reminded me of New Zealand Labour’s slump to their disastrous 2014 defeat against New Zealand National, where Labour barely managed to hold its ground, let alone make inroads into National. In the aftermath of that election Labour leader David Cunliffe found himself walking the gang plank as Labour plunged into another round of blood letting. After a while they settled on giving Andrew Little a go.

It does not look like there will be any of that in this Australian Labor Party. At the same time he was making his concession speech, Labor leader Bill Shorten also announced his resignation as leader of the Party and indicated that he would maintain his seat in Maribyrnong. Already deputy leader Tanya Pilbersek and fellow Labor M.P. Anthony Albanese are lining up as candidates, and with the dust still settling on the election, it is possible that others may yet join.

For Labor and Green party candidates this will have been a horrible night. A night in which, right up to the close of polls Labor had been expected to take office had been snatched from right beneath their feet. Apparently climate change, refugees, Australia’s support of Trump, the Centre Link debacle and the hugely disproportionate spread of wealth across the country are not priorities to Australia. Far better to listen to Peter Dutton rabbiting on about refugees taking Australian jobs and offering nothing but criminal activity appears to be the verdict of Dickson voters.

In some respects though this has actually been a very modest swing to the centre. Shorn of Toxic Tony (Abbott), the Liberals appear to have realized some of their fringe members are a liability. But most of the swing has probably come from the apparent demise of One Nation, a refugee and Aborigine hating, gun loving, climate change denying mob from the Queensland woop woops, led by Pauline Hanson. I guess that is the price paid for having a certain Member of Parliament launch a ferocious and totally uncalled for attack on refugees on the same day 50 were slaughtered at Al Noor mosque in Christchurch. No great loss to see him getting egged by the electorate.

So, in conclusion, much as it pains me to say so, Congratulations must go to Prime Minister-elect Scott Morrison and his Liberal Party who might yet be able to form a government without National assisting. Right through out his time as Prime Minister, even when Labour had opened up a 5-point lead in the two party preferred stakes, Mr Morrison consistently led Mr Shorten in the preferred Prime Minister stakes, sometimes by as much as 9 points. And during the last two months whilst Labor still maintained a lead in the polls, Mr Morrison managed to close the two party preferred to within 2 points of Labor.

Where Mr Morrison goes from here with his Liberal or Liberal/__________ coalition remains to be seen. However, tax cuts are a certainty, as is a deadening lack of progress on Australia’s abomination of a refugee and lack of constructive indigenous policy.

 

 

Australian election 2019: Uninspiring and typically divisive


So, it has come to this. Two uninspiring parties significantly detuned from the Australian electorate are in a near dead heat for what will either be a miraculous third term of the Liberal National Party coalition or the first term of a Labor led Government.  Australian Labor Party led by Bill Shorten is expected to at least maintain its tight grasp on the throat of the Liberal National Party coalition led by Prime Minister Scott Morrison as Australia go to the polls on Saturday. But after months of dysfunction and no real change in politics or policies on offer just how enthusiastic are Australians?

Leader of the Opposition Bill Shorten does not strike one as all that inspiring. Indeed for much of the last 3 years Mr Shorten has ridden the consistently superior Labor polling in the two party preferred stakes with a margin of anywhere between a dead heat at 50/50 out to 56/44. Yet at the same time Australians desire for his leadership has consistently shown the leader of the Liberal Party to be the preferred Prime Minister.

But what leader(s) was/is that? Over those same three years that Mr his party has been behind in the polls, Australians have clearly and consistently signalled that they want a conservative leaning Prime Minister. The infighting in Labor between former leader and one time Prime Minister Kevin Rudd was a significant and potentially lasting turn off for many Australians, who would have been hoping it would be better remembered for the apology to the Aboriginal people; acknowledging climate change and moves to keep the Australian economy moving along.

Oh yes, that is who it was. A man by the name of Anthony (Tony)Abbott, who denied climate change, thought that Australia started when the British arrived to establish a penal colony, insisted that Nauru and Manus Island Detention Centres were not only legitimate, but also necessary for Australian protection of its borders. His time as Opposition leader was defined as a man with one mission only: destroy however you can, the Government of Prime Minister Julia Gillard. So short on ideas was he and his Government, that before the end of the first term, he was gone, replaced by Malcolm Turnbull though never to yet shut up, sniping, barracking and carrying on from the back bench.

Sadly Mr Turnbull was no better and in terms of the treatment of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island, possibly even worse. A weak Prime Minister whose fledgling government barely escaped being confined to the annals of Australian political history, Mr Turnbull has been shunted by his inept Ministers from one disaster to another growing next to it. With crises ranging from extraordinarily expensive combat jets for the Air Force to Centre Link, Pauline Hanson’s ongoing crusade against Aboriginals, Muslims and Chinese, a wad of by elections causing losses at regional and at State level, Mr Turnbull might be quietly looking forward to a bit of quiet time before deciding how and where to end his career having surrendered to Scott Morrison last year.

And then there is Scott Morrison. The treasurer of the Abbott Government appeared to have only tax cuts for the immediate corporations on his mind, with not any thoughts as to how Australia’s governmental services would operate. And after a tenure trying to find ways to cut the taxes instead of looking at which ones work best an A$326 billion debt grows in the background; Member for Dickson and Minister of Home Affairs Peter Dutton’s paranoid character assassination of detainees

The Liberal National Party coalition managed to fit all of this into 6 years of Government that was childish, polarizing and showed Australia in a decidedly negative light. I imagine it is dreading Saturday, for all of the above reasons and more. But can the untested and consistently less popular Bill Shorten do any better?

Watch this space!

Acknowledging the good, the bad and out right ugly of social media


Soon Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern will address leaders of the political word and the technological world in Paris. She will be talking about the need to address hate speech on social media and how to stop the spread of videos recorded by attackers in the course of their acts of violence. As we wait for that address it is important to acknowledge the role of social media in our lives – good and bad.

Social media plays a critical role in New Zealand in dispensing information from the authorities. It came into its own during the earthquake emergencies of 2010 and 2011 where for example it was the media platform on which the Student Volunteer Army was launched. In the years since it has been used to update the public during the recent Christchurch terrorist attacks, numerous overseas emergencies such as tsunami events. The same authorities have realized that whilst establishing a channel for criticism of all sorts, and sometimes quite nasty stuff at that, it provides the public with a non urgent means of passing on information, making queries and helping with tasks such as solving crimes.It also helps to build a rapport with various agencies – notably New Zealand Police, New Zealand Defence Force – posting more light hearted content such as the “Pawlice – Doggo’s with Jobbo’s” series of posts of Police dogs and their handlers having fun.

The same social media has by orders of magnitude improved politicians ability to interact with their constituents, campaign during election periods and pass on information. All of the parties in Parliament have Facebook and Twitter accounts, which can be lightning rods of support for media savvy politicians.  as evidenced in the United States by Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s ability to turn attacks on her back on the attacker (Fox News, Breitbart, et al). In equal measure when a politician does something particularly nasty such as attack a religious minority (Australian Senator Fraser Anning attacked the Muslim community on his Twitter account, which then got suspended), social media accounts become lightning rods of criticism. Given the ability that social media has provided politicians to do much of their constituency work, I cannot imagine any politician who tries to limit social media because of certain networks failure to shut down harmful content following the Christchurch terrorist attack.

Tragically social media when abused can be the focal point of dreadful consequences for some. Examples in point have been numerous and I have often found myself having to call out racism or other bigotted behaviour – comments about people of African descent being monkeys/chimpanzees; Muslims being goat humpers, kiddy fiddlers and such; Maori being barbaric savages, and so it goes on. Sometimes Facebook has done the right thing and blocked the person or taken down the offending content, but just as often it has left highly inflammatory stuff up. I have also found that – although they seem to have had second thoughts about this since – in its early days streaming live coverage of police trying to talk someone out of jumping off a building was apparently a thing and it would attack absolutely horrible commentary.

I have a Facebook account and a Twitter account as well as this blog. I operate three pages on Facebook – one for my Amnesty International group with input from Amnesty International New Zealand head office in Auckland, one calling for comprehensive reform of waste legislation and one for this blog. My Twitter account is so I can comment on tweets in a strictly personal capacity as myself. I owe the success of my blog, which on average at the moment gets about 200 visits a day and on occasion over 1,000 to extensive advertising I have done on Facebook.

The same Facebook, as I am sure is the case for millions around the world, has enabled me to make contact with people I have never met but am now good friends with. It has enabled me to maintain long distance friendships with people in Sweden, the United States and elsewhere. Obviously with family members living both here and abroad, making contact and showing them photos of things like birthdays, weddings, new borns and things the children have been doing, helps to close the distance in a metaphorical sense if not a literal one.

There is absolutely no doubt that we must improve our conduct on Facebook, Twitter and so forth. There is also no doubt that, despite their assertions to the contrary both and others like Instagram can do more. But this idea that all is hunky dory is complete and utter garbage. Don’t believe me? Former Facebook staff member and one of Mr Zuckerberg’s initial inner circle Roger McNamee wrote a book called “Zucked: Waking up to the Facebook catastrophe”. In Whitcoull’s now.