The Government’s explanation of its new military commitment to the Gulf is untenable. Helen Clark is trying to say that it has nothing to do with an impending American invasion of Iraq, but few people across the political spectrum agree with her.
Let us look at the facts. The frigate Te Kaha and an Orion will be joining the Operation Enduring Freedom maritime interdiction operation, whose operations go well up the Persian Gulf. They will be asked to identify every ship passing through this area, which is the only sea access to Iraq, and plot their movements. Included will be all Iraqi ships and other ships traveling to Iraq. All that information is to be fed from the Canadian-led subgroup our people are participating in, to the American overall command based on an American aircraft carrier in the region.
Who in the world will believe that that information will not be of use to the Americans and the British, in preparing for, and implementing, an invasion of Iraq? In fact, it appears that the aircraft carrier is the Abraham Lincoln currently involved in bombing targets in Iraq. Our frigate is also tasked to escort ships around the Strait of Hormuz into the Persian Gulf. Will that not be of use to the Americans during an invasion?
Yet Helen Clark tries to tell us that the operation is , ‘completely divorced from Iraq’ ‘. She claims that it is all to do with catching Taliban and al-Qaeda people as if they are flooding across the Persian Gulf. In fact, in 23,223 queries of passing vessels, and 348 boardings – to use the Prime Minister’s figures given yesterday – there does not seem to have been any confirmed al-Qaeda people detained. The best information I have is that four suspects were picked up, and we all know how broad the American definition of a terrorist suspect is.
This is just the wrong time to be using our military assets for an operation that is in any way supportive of an American invasion of Iraq. Such an invasion would be the biggest challenge to international law and the peaceful settlement of disputes that we have seen for many decades. As well as being disastrous for Iraqi civilians who would be killed, and the stability of the Middle East, it would be a precedent for any nation to engage in unilateral military action anywhere in the world. The world could degenerate into a Wild West where the Government with the biggest posse takes out those Governments its disagrees with, or that stand in its way.
Since September 11, the American military has been acting as the self-proclaimed world police force, starting off in Afghanistan. It claims to have jurisdiction in any country. Earlier this month the American CIA acted as judge, jury, and executioner in Yemen when it fired a missile from a drone plane into a car, killing six people, at least one being an alleged terrorist suspect.
Many New Zealanders are asking why, when the Bush Administration is acting in such an arrogant, aggressive, and illegal manner, is the Labour Government trying to please it with a new military commitment. It will just make the US Hawks more likely to launch an invasion of Iraq. After September 11 the Labour Government started down the wrong path, supporting America’s military response to the attack on the World Trade Centre. Against the opposition of many New Zealanders, including the Green Party, it committed an SAS unit to Afghanistan.
The correct response to terrorism is to combine patient police work and political pressures to get those responsible before a court and to deal with them, to address the underlying causes of terrorism that lie in social and economic inequalities between and within countries, and the despair that results from those inequalities.
We also have to recognise the real motives of the Bush Administration that have almost nothing to do with the pursuit of freedom, and almost all to do with American corporate interests. Those most enthusiastic about an invasion of Iraq and regime change are the major American oil companies that want to get their hands on Iraq’s vast oil reserves. Our Government should not be helping such corporate interests. It should be reflecting the desire among New Zealanders for both peaceful solutions to conflicts in the Middle East, and an end to George Bush’s warmongering.
Sadly, the Labour Government’s approach might be governed by a misguided version of our economic interests; the idea that, in some way, a little bit more military support to George Bush is beneficial.