Key admits he’s using our troops as vote-bait

Yesterday in the House, John Key admitted that it’s “no” coincidence that our deployment to Iraq is scheduled to end at the perfect moment – right before the 2017 election.

Andrew Little : Why has he declared that the deployment to Iraq will end, whether or not its objectives are completed, about 6 months before the next election? Is that just a coincidence?

Rt Hon JOHN KEY : No.

The whole video is worth watching but the supplementary in question begins at 2:23:

 

As jaded as his opponents might be at this stage about Key’s utter political cynicism, game-playing and complete lack of real regard for our armed forces, this is shocking. Our troops should not be sent in to a chaotic situation where their lives are at risk, put in the situation of upskilling war criminals, and then pulled home – those who aren’t killed or maimed in the process – so John Key can get some sweet Churchillian photo ops on the tarmac.

Rob Salmond also has some thoughts about Key’s uncharacteristically calm demeanour during Question Time over at Polity.

The price of the club?

Back in 2003, John Key had an interesting take on whether it was appropriate to send troops to Iraq: he seemed to think the only factor to consider was whether we got a free trade agreement out of it.

[Content note: graphic images]

 

From the Hansard:

Where is our name? Missing! It is “MIA” just like it was during the war in Iraq—missing.

This country will pay for that—members need not worry about that. There will be no US free-trade arrangement with New Zealand. One thing we do not have to worry about is container ships going to America, because none will be leaving this country for America; there will be no free-trade arrangement because of the absolute shambles that the Government has made of that position. It does not matter that the Government is offering up bodies and all the rest of it now; that is not helping. The Government has missed the boat with this bill.

Well, now the Prime Minister has his chance, and wouldn’t you know it? He’s “offering up bodies” of Kiwi soldiers and telling us it’s the “price of the club” – or, if that doesn’t float your boat, he’s recycling a different line from 2007 – that it’s about “family.”

Both are shabby excuses for sending our troops into a warzone without a plan.

Let slip the dogwhistles of war

In discussions, potential possibility, no commitment, carrying out a scoping mission – the plan to send NZ military forces to Iraq to combat Islamic State is only the vaguest of options at this point. The story was broken by Australian media first, but John Key has wasted no time in jumping on the bandwagon, talking up the idea of a joint mission with the Aussies operating under the ANZAC badge.

Yep, in the centenary year of World War One, as he’s on shaky ground over dirty dealings, lying to journalists, granting sweeping new powers to an intelligence service whose political neutrality is compromised, John Key has had the brainwave of flying a (newly-designed) nostalgia flag.

After hearing our Prime Minister refer to the deployment of troops as “symbolic“, given the timing, my reaction was this:

But the political logic seems obvious enough: there’s a good chunk of our national identity in the ANZAC campaign, evoking our rugged go-getting colonial upstart beginnings. And joining the fight against IS isn’t a hard sell, on the face of it, after weeks of news coverage amping them up into the worst threat the world has faced since Saddam Hussein (read as many levels into that as you will.) And of course, they’re just going to be trainers. Not combat troops. They’ll be safe in their little bases running drills for the actual fighters.

The only difficult bit should be balancing the safety concerns with the desire to show some muscle and talk up the “taking the fight to IS” rhetoric.

Yet this isn’t going over easily. We’ve got far too much recent experience of our “trainers” ending up in firefights. Ten Kiwi soldiers have died in Afghanistan, including our first woman to die in a combat role. I don’t think many people really begrudge the idea of sending in reconstruction teams to help a war-torn nation rebuild itself, but we also know, from recent, bloody international experiences, that a warzone is a warzone and there’s no safe little corners where the only threat is someone smashing their thumb with a hammer.

And maybe we – the political nerds, the media, the public – are just a little bored of hearing John Key spin something out of nothing. From the jam-tomorrow promises of budget surpluses to the vaguest of tax cut promises in the election campaign to the “potential possibility” of an ANZAC deployment, even the most die-hard fanboy has to be wondering when we’ll hear the Prime Minister say something concrete.