New Zealand has no place in Iraq


With the attacks by Iran on U.S. targets in Iraq, it is time to question whether New Zealand should have military assets in the region.

Some people say that we were formally asked to be there. So we were, but that fails to acknowledge the simple fact of the matter that New Zealand has no business in Middle East conflicts unless it is part of a United Nations sanctioned operation.

New Zealand should withdraw its troops from Iraq forthwith. There are better places that they can could go – if they really need to be in the Middle East, they should be part of one of the numerous operations in adjacent countries. Whilst it is noted that Iraq has such a mission itself, it is also noted Iraq has just voted to end the military presence of all foreign troops in the country. New Zealand would do well to recognize that.

When Iraq was invaded, the United States despite claims to the contrary, never had a real plan for putting the country back together. It was well known Iraq was at high risk of falling apart along sectarian lines, which would involve the major Sunni, Shia and Shiite sects fighting among themselves. And fight they did. Those lines in the sand drawn by diplomats with probably little understanding of or care for the ethnic geography of the region in 1916 cut straight across ethnic boundaries, and were brutally enforced by British and French forces.

Iran has also had a turbulent 100 years with both western and Soviet interference, which such large numbers massacred in the 1910’s by the Ottoman Empire. In the years prior to the Iran-Iraq War the Shah was toppled in Iran, which up to that point had been a somewhat forward looking nation. TheĀ  Women were not restricted in what they could wear, do for jobs or for a social life. The Iranian Revolution saw many of those rights lost. It also saw a significant hardening of Iranian U.S. relations, which further deteriorated with the Iranian hostage crisis in Tehran, and was followed by the Iran-Iraq war where it was known that Saddam Hussein was using chemical weapons against Iranian targets. Then the U.S.S. Vincennes shot down an Iranian passenger plane killing all 290 on board, which the U.S. refused to apologize for, though compensation was paid.

It is easy to over simplify the complex web of geopolitical relations in the Middle East. Because of that, the simplistic idea that New Zealand is working to help the U.S. ensure terrorism ends in the Middle East ignores for example the various militant groups that are active – al-Qaida, Hezbollah, Houthi’s, the Iranian Republican Guard Corps, Islamic State among others. It ignores who is funding/arming them and what those nations are trying to get out of doing so. It ignores the ambitions of groups like the Kurds who were promised statehood at some point in the past only for it to be reversed. It ignores the wider U.S.-Russian rivalry where proxies in the region fight wars on their behalf.

Also, given the influences that the U.S. agenda of ending terrorism has been highly suspect for some time now, which New Zealand should recognize, it is also a moral question of whether we should be there.

I say not.

 

U.S. assassination of Iranian commander further destabilizes entire Middle East


The explosion of the missile that killed Iranian Quds Force commander General Qasem Soleimani has done more than just kill America’s credibility in Iraq. In one truly daft move, it has set in motion a chain of events that could permanently undo America’s Middle East foreign policy, cause another major war and dial back the clock on international security by years – if not decades. And as the world reacts with shock, the primary players seem to be becoming increasingly bellicose.

The broad consensus among the general public is that Mr Trump really wants a war with Iran, undercutting his Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who insists no such outcome is sought. The extent to which Mr Pompeo is being undercut can be clearly seen in some of the language being used by Mr Trump. Immediately after the assassination of General Soleimani, Mr Trump started off warning of a severe response if Iran tried to retaliate. When Iran said that there would be consequences, the rhetoric changed to talking about 52 targets being shortlisted. And as the international alarm bells started ringing, the rhetoric changed again, to threatening a disproportionate response.

One potentially overlooked part of the matter is Iraq. It has been host – albeit in many ways an understandably unwilling one – to thousands of international military personnel, mainly from the United States, but more recently Germany, France, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and others with varying roles in helping Iraq rebuild its security and remove the last of the Daesh. As it has watched its towns getting ruthlessly fought over, first during the invasion of Iraq, then as the sectarian violence rocked the country between 2003 and 2011, and more recently the Daesh insurgency, millions of refugees have been generated. Towns, families, communities have been torn to shreds. And all for what, they justifiably ask. Thus no one should be surprised that after nearly 18 years of conflict, Iraq – still recovering from the bloody Iran-Iraq War of 1980-1988 and the 1991 Gulf War – has told its Government to start working towards getting rid of these misery makers.

Although the New Zealand Defence Force has committed to staying put for the time being, that may change whether they are prepared to admit it or not. As a developing situation that has the potential to get considerably worse in the near future, it is possible that an escalation of attacks or a general deterioration in regional security may undercut the N.Z.D.F.’s commitment. In this case I expect that the Army personnel would be pulled out of Taji and probably brought home.

None of this condones what Qasem Soleimani and his Quds Force did. Many innocent people died in violence brought about by him and his forces. But assassinating him in a foreign land, without Congress being notified, never mind approving the operation, has shown a dangerous level of contempt for international law as well as U.S. Constitutional law.

The ripples extend further than just Iran and Iraq. They potentially affect the entire Middle East. Iran has withdrawn from the nuclear agreement and said it no longer abides by it. This will alarm those hoping for calm, but excite the hawks in both the Pentagon and Tel Aviv who might finally get the war that they have been longing for. Russia views Iran in much the same way as America views Israel, and in a national security sense, this has potentially massive implications for the region.

A proxy war New Zealand does not need


A proxy war is normally a war fought by small actors on behalf of bigger actors. As such, there is a war between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, a client state of America, and the Islamic Republic of Iran, which is a client state of Russia. As client states, they receive aid from their more powerful mate.

Neither Russia or America want the other to gain absolute control in the Middle East. This is a cross roads region between the Asian, North African and European continents. Both need the oil that comes with these nations, and both are propping up dictatorships who care nothing for the supposed Western influence of human rights.

Both America and Russia are guilty of arming war criminals. They will deny it as this is a very heavy allegation to make, but American and British cluster bombs have been dropped by Saudi Arabia on Yemeni schools, hospitals and homes. And irrefutable evidence of these events has been found by Amnesty International.

Russia has blood on its hands from supporting the regime of Bashar al Assad in Syria. It has vetoed numerous United Nations Security Council resolutions trying to hold Mr al Assad to account. Russia has also steadfastly stood up for Iran in the same way America has for Israel. It has vetoed U.N. resolutions against Iran. It has ignored Iran’s abomination of a record on women’s rights. Were a war to start between the two I expect Russia will respond militarily to a direct attack on Iran, at which point the stakes rise by orders of magnitude. So too does the risk.

Has the U.S./Israel /Saudi Arabia thought about this? I am not sure that they have.

Iran, perhaps under the Russian umbrella may think it is safe and that the United States would not strike. Perhaps true, but I think Israel would. It struck Saddam Hussein by knocking out his Osirak reactor; it struck Syria several years ago. What would happen if Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu decided to bomb the entire Iranian nuclear programme and any military installations deemed to be strategic back into the stone age?

But there is another country involved. Turkey. Over the decades Turkey has maintained an increasingly hard line against its Kurdish minority. As a result some Kurdish groups such as the P.K.K. have been labelled terrorist groups. Turkey is in a unique position. It is friendly to Russia and – to a decreasing extent – the United States. It has hosted N.A.T.O. forces during various operations, including the 1991 Gulf War and the U.S. used to have missiles there, which were removed after the Cuban Missile Crisis. Recently the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has become more authoritarian and survived an attempted coup in 2016 that led to a massive crack down against the intelligentsia and activist groups.

But in the last few months that has taken on a new dimension with Turkey acquiring advanced Russian S-400 anti aircraft missiles and is talking to Moscow about participating in its 5th Generation combat aircraft programme. This has led to a sharp and possibly long lasting deterioration in its relationship with N.A.T.O. and the United States, which has cut Turkey out of the F-35 fighter programme.

And then, last week it started a military operation against Kurdish forces who had been participating in the war against I.S.I.S. after the Americans downgraded their forces in northern Syria. In an already complicated geopolitical mess, this was something totally unnecessary on Turkey’s part and that of Washington.

And all it achieves is the diminishing of the prospects for a lasting peace in a region that has been nearly continuously wracked by some sort of conflict since October 2001. It is not a conflict New Zealand needs to be a part of. It is not one we will gain anything from and definitely one we should be actively pushing towards the peace negotiations table.

 

US military chief in New Zealand


The United States Secretary of Defense is visiting New Zealand just days after being appointed to the position. Mark Esper, who replaces former Secretary of Defense and retired Marine General James Mattis is on a five nation trip where conversations will most likely centre around Iran and China.

Whilst so early in the set, I cannot imagine Mr Esper immediately wanting concessions from New Zealand, I do not want New Zealand to be involved in another U.S. military misadventure. New Zealand might be – and should be – friends with the United States, but keeping a bit of distance. I am quite sure most New Zealanders want nothing to do with a potential war against Iran that will most likely achieve at best significantly worsening U.S relations with the Muslim world.

At best a war with Iran will be limited to the United States and Iran. The latter would probably use its considerable special forces to attack shipping in the Persian Gulf, and the Iranian backed militias might launch a rocket barrage at Israel. A greater fear is whether Russia decides to become involved or not. Russia could simply move military assets into Iran or Syria without actually using them as a warning to the United States. But Russian military commanders and politicians have at times made ominous references that a war against Iran would be a catastrophe. At worst it could result in a Russian military response against American forces – at which point a nuclear confrontation is not out of the question.

Perhaps more immediately problematic for New Zealand is China’s growing military assertiveness. It has built an artificial island in the Spratley Islands with an airfield and facilities for ships to dock at. China has since stationed military patrol and combat aircraft there. As vital shipping lanes pass through these waters on the way to/from various nations such as Vietnam and the Philippines, the United States has sought to dissuade China from further expansion.

China’s military expansion is dangerous because it is aligned with more subtle moves such as massive investment in countries around the world. Some critics argue China is literally buying up other nations by establishing Government owned companies that then set up operations in other countries and buy their way into major assets – in Westland recently a dairy company was sold to a Chinese Government controlled company.

New Zealand sees this in Fiji and other small Pasifika nations. A few months ago there was a controversy about a resort being built on Fiji and the destruction of large tracts of coral reef to enable boat access to the resort. When locals and New Zealand expatriates living there tried to remonstrate the owners got aggressive and there were scuffles. Other countries such as Tonga have significant debt to China, which has led to concerns about Beijing’s attempts to extract leverage. And in Vanuatu, although both countries denied reports, there were suggestions that China has been looking for a place to establish a military base.

Whilst New Zealand needs to be careful not to anger either the U.S. or China, it needs to be clear that the south Pacific is the chief domain of New Zealand and Australia. More than it does either of them, the well being of these little island nations is paramount to our well being.

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.