War on Terrorism or War for the sake of War?

Where were you when the World Trade Center was attacked by al-Qaida on 11 September 2001? It was in the early hours of 12 September 2001 in New Zealand. I was a first year geology student at University of Canterbury and under any other circumstances it was just going to be another day – lectures for geology in the morning and geography in the afternoon.

By the time that day was over it was profoundly obvious to myself and my fellow New Zealanders that the world around us had changed, possibly irretrievably, for the worse. The U.S. led “War on Terrorism” had begun. Nobody knew where it was going to lead or who would do what, but that day no one wanted to offend America by failing to rush to her aid. America was going to strike back at an invisible terrorist faction that 99% of the world had never heard of, allegedly in Afghanistan, but with suspected links to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein.

Within days America made its first big mistake dividing the world into two groups by President George W. Bush saying “you’re either with us or against us”. Of course I am sure most of the world was probably quite horrified by the attacks, but as so many before and many have done since, Mr Bush grossly over simplified the world.

During the following 7 1/4 years up to President Barak Obama taking office, two hugely destructive wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were commenced. The former was on the premise that the Taliban regime of harsh Islamism was harbouring Osama bin Laden, the head honcho of al-Qaida. Going into Afghanistan, a country no foreign intruder has ever quite conquered in 1,000 years, the Bush Administration quickly lost interest upon realizing that the war would not be quick – some will say because former President George W. “Dubya” Bush wanted to invade Iraq to finish off what his father, the late President George H.W. Bush started when he liberated Kuwait in 1991. Mr Bush gave the order after having his Vice President Dick Cheney, National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and Secretary of State Colin Powell concoct a monstrous set of lies about Saddam having weapons of mass destruction and being prepared to use them. In both of these wars golden opportunities to end decades of conflict and give both countries a hand up, get their devastated economies working again and help them rebuild their social welfare, education and health systems recover, were lost.

17 years later though, and long after New Zealand and other countries should have honestly started asking America hard questions, it is glaringly obvious that something is dreadfully wrong about this “War on Terrorism”. Is it even that any more? America has spent trillions of dollars bombing, shelling, firing missiles and invading countries that it demonstrably knows little about, much less seems to care. It has also spent billions on contracts to American businesses to engage in their reconstruction instead of putting the local populace to work.

It has stoked tensions with Iran and North Korea. It has armed right wing allies in Saudi Arabia, Israel and elsewhere with weapons they did not need and have turned a blind eye as they commit increasingly grave atrocities against adjacent lands/countries. Successive Presidents have botched the Middle East, starting with President Jimmy Carter, but the current one and his two predecessors – despite President Obama doing a good nuclear deal with Iran – have strayed into dangerously grey areas of law with their use of drones.

Now that New Zealand has had its own terrorist attack, which came from the polar opposite end of the spectrum that the al-Qaida terrorist attack was spawned from, New Zealand needs to ask itself whether we should continue our participation in America’s murderous war. Are we even sure it is a “War on Terrorism”? I personally believe that stopped when Mr Obama took office on 20 January 2009. Mr Obama wanted to remove America from both wars, but wound up slowly drawing down the troops whilst keeping up an unrelenting barrage of drone strikes that probably killed more innocents than militants.

It is obvious to me that if the attack came from the other end of the spectrum, maybe it is because someone wants us to be more actively involved in a war that is morally and ethically wrong. Perhaps that terrorist attack on Christchurch was an effort to bring the violence being perpetrated against Muslims overseas to New Zealand.

If that is the case, the only thing is to immediately get out of America’s war. It was never ours anyway. It is time to get out of a war we have no place in and bring the boys and girls who so bravely serve our country, our land, our people home.

Assalamu Alaykum (Peace be on you). Arohanui (Much love).

Questions about New Zealand foreign policy following Christchurch terrorist attack

When the Christchurch mosque gunman opened fire on 15 March 2019, the people of New Zealand and the Police were not the only people taken by surprise. Foreign powers took a step backwards and wondered how a nation that is renown for its peaceful outlook, respect of international law and tolerance of diversity could have such an attack. Intelligence officials were shocked and mystified as to how they managed to miss the warning signs.

But as New Zealand tries to move forward after the attack, questions are starting to arise about the effects it will have on our foreign policy. Two of the nations most closely linked to New Zealand with whom we probably have the most to lose – or gain – have significant foreign policy bearing on New Zealand. As global super powers, New Zealand needs both of them onside, at a time when sensitivity around Islam has never been higher.

One of the more difficult questions that we will have to answer concerns the United States. New Zealand and the U.S. have in recent years been working to heal the rift that opened up following the decision of the David Lange led New Zealand Labour Government to ban nuclear armed and powered ships from New Zealand waters. Despite differences over the Iraq War, which led to a temporary cooling the progress has been highlighted by the invitation to participate in U.S. military manoeuvres, and being allowed to dock a Royal New Zealand Navy frigate at Pearl Harbor. In return an American destroyer has visited New Zealand and U.S. Air Force jets have visited for air shows.

Following the terrorist attack in Christchurch, New Zealand needs to examine whether American policy towards this country will be of use or a hindrance. American policy towards Muslim nations and Muslims is hostile, with the notable exception of Saudi Arabia and to a lesser extent Turkey whose regimes have strong man dictators on which Mr Trump likes to model his Presidential style. Conservative American media, such as – but not limited to – Fox News push the line that Muslim countries hate the United States, hate freedom and want to Islamify the U.S.

It is not just the U.S. though that New Zealand will have to look at. Chinese President Xi Jinping is overseeing a massive purge against Muslim Uighur people in Tibet and Xinjiang Province. It is systemic and includes subtle steps that seek to slip under the radar and are only noticed by people dedicated to monitoring the abuse, as well as more overt measures.

The Uighur people as far as I am aware have no history of militantcy or resisting occupation. Their subjugation is simply part of a much larger clamp down on anyone considered undesirable or a potential threat to Chinese security. Amnesty International and other non-governmental organizations are keeping track of the persecutions.

Both of these nations have significant bearing on New Zealand foreign policy. They have significant economic interests in New Zealand, and there is considerable migration from both countries to New Zealand by nationals in search of a better quality of life. A supremacist killer such as the Christchurch mosque gunman will

New Zealand will need to consider whether its security intelligence arrangements are fit for purpose as we share information with Canada, the U.K., Australia and the U.S. But would they accept a change in New Zealand priorities towards ferreting out and discouraging lone wolf attacks?

Questions face the West; the East is rising – and New Zealand looks on

Today, by the time you read this, British Prime Minister Theresa May will know whether she is staring down the barrel of electoral defeat or living, albeit badly wounded to fight another day. It is hardly inspiring to look at the fog of mystery enveloping the United Kingdom as it struggles with Brexit in all its uncertainty. Do the Conservatives or Labour know what they are doing or meant to be doing? Most likely no more than the shop keeper, the bus driver, the school teacher, or police officer doing their daily duties.

Will the U.K. be ready for Brexit on 29 March 2019 or will it have to delay?

But if we look across the English Channel to France, where the Yellow Vest revolt has entered its tenth week and has forced President Emmanuel Macron to have second thoughts about some of his more controversial policies, are things any better? France rejected the left and the right when it elected President Macron after a failed term of Francois Hollande on the left and Nicolas Sarkozy on the right, in the hope that a centrist might make more sense. Nearly two years on, it is hard to tell whether Mr Macron has had any success or not.

Will the Yellow vests become like the protesters of 1968, who ground France to a halt?

And then there is America, partially immobilized by a Trumpian shut down that shows no signs of ending and is now the longest on record. Hundreds of thousands of Federal workers who were furloughed got no pay last week. Thousands of them will be starting to seriously think about looking for alternative work in order to keep their household upright; others will be digging into their savings and wondering how long they can keep going like this before joining the thousands who will have already started looking for other work. It will not be the Democrats or the Republicans that decide this, but the thousand of furloughed workers.

The question facing America is how many vacancies in Federal jobs will have opened up due to furloughed workers quitting by the time this ends?

The dragon is rising. China is actively expanding its sphere of influence by building fake islands and then militarizing them. The old imperial vision of being a ruler of the high seas like Zheng He was in the age of imperial China is growing on President Xi Jinping, whose own ambitions are to create a dynasty not constrained by time limits rather than a President. As the dragon rises, so does the dystopian surveillance state that profiles hundreds of millions of Chinese using a vast array of computerized algorithms.

How much tighter can the Great Firewall of China get? Apparently the answer is quite a lot.

Nearer to home, one must wonder what will become of the Government of Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Riddled by scandal, crippled in the House by infighting, petrified of Aboriginals, asylum seekers, environmentalists and the Labor Party, Mr Morrison’s Government is struggling to make it even to the last day that it can call a General Election, due this year. But even if Labor wins, it will have a huge job ahead rebuilding Australia’s reputation on the world stage, addressing the socio-economic circumstances that have made places like Sydney among the most expensive in the west.

But can it get rid of the following, whose departure is necessary for Australia to rehabilitate itself: former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton, Minister for Environment Greg Hunt, current Prime Minister Scott Morrison, former Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, among others?

Looking at all of this unfolding from afar it is easy to be smug in New Zealand. However we have little reason for smugness. We have far too many people dying on the roads; a weak justice system, education and social welfare reforms badly needed; stronger leadership on waste and other environmental issues and as the Queen and Prince Philip grow ever older, constitutional reform looms as an indecipherable shape on the horizon.

How will New Zealand address these many challenges? Will it continue looking on with a smug “she’ll be right attitude” or will we notice Godzone could do with a bit of work herself?

Elizabeth Warren announces U.S. Presidential bid: A New Zealand view

Ms Warren who identifies as a fraction native American and hails from Massachusetts, announced her intention to stand as a Democrat candidate at the weekend.

At the moment I cautiously welcome Ms Warren’s candidacy. This is the Senator who worked for former President Barak Obama to introduce the Dodd-Frank laws intended to reduce the vulnerability of the banking sector to such huge failures as those witnessed during the 2007-2009 Global Financial Crisis. The collapses happened at Fannie Mac, Freddie Mac, Lehman Bros and other large financial companies that were considered too large to fail – yet did exactly that.

Through out the tenure of Mr Obama and the now nearly two years of current President Donald Trump, Ms Warren has been a constant activist for long term, comprehensive change in the banking sector. During that time talk of another G.F.C. type melt down by financial institutions that survived the first one more because they might not have had the asset profile that those that failed had, has been growing. Stock markets are once again showing signs of readying for a large scale failure, which I am sure Ms Warren has noticed.

Not surprisingly her announcement has been met with derision by Republicans and conservative commentators. The fact that it has been made so soon indicates that this is not a joke bid like those of other politicians, as it gives her time to consider her political platform, to talk to potential donors and work out what kind of campaign she wants to run.

But what of Ms Warren as a candidate?

So far she has done little – granted it is still very early in the set – to differentiate herself from Mr Trump. From a New Zealand perspective a number of questions will need to be asked and – in due course – answered:

  1. Will she view New Zealand as a stable reliable partner with which her United States can do honest business with?
  2. Because she campaigned against the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement does she still believe it and its successor, the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership, to still be the rotten lousy stinking deals they actually are?
  3. How will she conduct foreign policy – obviously Americans will want her to show a strong hand on national security; will she mend ties with European and other allies?
  4. Will she support a Universal Health Care system for Americans?
  5. Will she end the war on drugs which is fuelling a lot of the crime in the United States?
  6. What will Ms Warren do about the various environmental emergencies unfolding before ours and America’s eyes?

All of these are obviously questions that will be answered in some way or another over the next year whilst we wait for the primaries to start. We will also see whether former candidate and former First Lady Hillary Clinton stands again, as well as whether the Republican house under Trump still supports their man or demands a new President.

Before then though we have a potential National Emergency waiting to decide whether it will unfold on the American stage or in Mr Trump’s head. We will have to see whether a roller coaster stock market manages to stabilize or get even worse. We will be waiting to see whether Robert Mueller’s investigation is shut down by Mr Trump or shuts down Mr Trump.

Because two years after all is a long time in politics.


Treading the South Pacific foreign policy tight rope

Over the years New Zealand has been involved in many events on the world stage. Most for the right reasons and a few for somewhat questionable reasons. New Zealand has – depending on the Government of the day, said we have interests overseas and closer to home in the South Pacific.

When one looks at the major problems around the world, particularly in the Middle East and Europe, New Zealand is a comparatively minor player. Most of those problems are not ones worth investing our time, money or resources in. Our time, money and resources are best invested in the South Pacific, which is our proverbial back yard. And there are good reasons for doing so.

China has been expanding its interest in the South Pacific for years. It has turned a blind eye to the Frank Bainimarama regime of Fiji committing human rights abuses against Fijians. In return for such activities being ignored, South Pacific nations have permitted Chinese mining and forestry companies to set up businesses on their lands. One might ask what the problem with this is?

Simple. These island nations will not see the economic benefits. They might be employed to work on building the roads, but there is unlikely to be any sharing of the royalties taken from the business. It also remains to be seen how much tax if any that the Chinese companies will be made to pay to their Governments so they can provide basic services for their people.

It is not to say that Western companies are any better. The Ok Tedi mine where tonnes of pure copper sulphate solution was allowed to pour straight into the local river, completely destroying the ecosystem is one example of a mine project gone bad in Papua New Guinea. The company responsible was B.H.P. Billiton. Whilst litigation of the case happened and resulted in a $29 million pay out in the 1990’s the environmental, economic and social costs of the damage will take an estimated 300 years to fix.

These countries have very weak legal systems, and endemic corruption at all levels. Because of this, several South Pacific Island nations are potentially at risk of becoming failed states with governance that simply does not work properly any more. The corruption means that there is a risk that organized crime or militants linked to terrorist groups might use these nations as a back door into Australia and New Zealand.

A good example of this was Papua New Guinea’s decision to import 40 Maserati vehicles for A.P.E.C. which was held over the weekend just gone. Despite not being able to properly fund its social welfare, education or health systems, Papua New Guinea, with China’s help was able to somehow spend tens of millions of dollars on a three day talk fest that wound up being a farce.

A.P.E.C. was meant to be a summit to talk about the economic challenges facing the Asia Pacific region. Instead it became a U.S./China debating competition. The tensions rose to the point that Chinese officials barged into the Papua New Guinean Prime Ministers office and demanded changes to something that had been agreed to and only left when threatened with arrest. No joint statement was agreed to by the delegations and the other nations including New Zealand were reduced to being spectators to a super power argument.

Few of the issues on the agenda that need tackling would have been.

All nations are quite vulnerable to climate change and the outlying parts of Kiribati, Tuvalu, Niue are at risk of becoming uninhabitable in the next 50 years. Over fishing and deforestation are also likely to impact on their economies.

This is where New Zealand and Australia become very important players. As the regional powers with the means to influence the United States and China, both nations have an obligation to look after their smaller Pacific Island neighbours and act as role models in terms of how their governance should be in an ideal world. The bulk of our foreign policy effort should be in the South Pacific. New Zealand should be showing that we are their best friends.

And in terms of understanding the underlying problems, the culture and the needs of these nations, New Zealand and Australia are best placed to do so.

Mr Peters will also be well aware of the growing influence of the United States on Australia. The United States is expanding the deployment of U.S. forces in Australia, which is part of a change in doctrine that President Donald Trump’s predecessor Barak Obama instigated to counter Chinese influence in the South Pacific.

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence talked about protecting the South Pacific nations maritime and sovereign interests. I found that interesting since alongside Chinese influence, the next biggest threat to their sovereignty is environmental degradation making the smallest of them uninhabitable – something the U.S. Government of Donald Trump all but denies existing.

So, tell me now. Who has the the South Pacific’s interests most at heart? The U.S.?
China? Or New Zealand and (maybe) Australia?