Archive for ‘May, 2011’

A Film Worth Seeing.

datePosted on 14:44, May 30th, 2011 by Pablo

Now that I am back in NZ and have replaced elevator riding with wood chopping, I am starting to think “local” again. To that end I am pleased to inform readers who may not be aware that the documentary on the October 15, 2007 “Operation 8″ raids and their aftermath (“Operation 8: Deep in the Forest”) will be playing in and around in Auckland in June. The film is an important examination of the abuses that occur when the State is given unbridled authority to define and prosecute national security threats unchecked by public or parliamentary accountability. Whatever one thinks about the Urewera 18 themselves, the film raises important questions about legitimate dissent, the manipulation of threats and the machinations of NZ government agencies and politicians in the post 9-11 era.

Go see it!

Auckland, Rialto – Newmarket – Starts 2 June
Auckland, Bridgeway – Northcote – Dates TBC
Auckland, Academy Cinema – Starts 16 June
Devonport, Picture Palace – Starts 16 June

Primary thoughts on Te Mana

datePosted on 06:33, May 25th, 2011 by Lew

My thoughts on Te Mana aren’t very mature — they are very mixed, and quite primary, and I’m afraid I’m not very well informed. I’ve also been insanely busy the past few months — and especially the past month, and have had little time to focus on it. But last week I received a request by email from a regular KP commenter to post my thoughts on Te Mana, and what follows is a somewhat expanded edit of the reply I sent to him.

The initial comments suggested concern that Te Mana might be “opportunistically” taken over by the Pākehā “far left”, and I do agree that Te Mana needs to be Māori-led, and its functions need to be safeguarded against hijack by the usual bandwagon-jumpers — among whom I include folk like John Minto, Socialist Aotearoa and so on. The māori party, I think it’s now pretty clear, has been significantly colonised by Pākehā interests on the right, and if Te Mana is to prove any more robust, it must insure itself against the same happening from the other side. As a minor party, above all it needs to have focus and discipline, and too many chiefs (as it were) will lead to factionalisation, and that’s to everyone’s detriment. I’m not opposed to diversity within a movement, but I am against the leaders of one noisy faction taking over a movement for their own ends. That’s the major risk I see from people like John Minto and the principals of Socialist Aotearoa taking a prominent role: their vision isn’t the same as Hone’s, and although I expect they understand that, I’m certain the rank and file they command do not. Moreover, I think they’re a liability — even more than Hone is a liability, if possible — because they will turn off Māori as well as non-socialist Pākehā. That’s as far as my reasoned thoughts on the party’s internal dynamics go, and I welcome comment from anyone better informed on this topic than I am.

As far as where the party sits within NZ’s wider political context I think I have a better handle on things. The conventional wisdom about ACT and Te Mana engaging in a bit of mutual base-engagement is pretty good, but still a sideshow. The main event is (as ever) between National and Labour, and Te Mana’s relevance here rests on four main points.

First, Te Mana, with Hone likely to win Te Tai Tokerau, should be self-sustaining, at least for now. It needs to stand tall in the by-election to prove to people that they should support it in the general election. As far as Te Mana’s brand goes, the establishment Left distancing themselves is not really a bad thing (much more on this later). Te Mana needs to attract disenchanted māori party voters, and those who can’t be bothered voting for those parties. Its constituency needs to be positive-sum to as great an extent as possible, because the existing electoral offerings are broadly zero-sum.

Second, this is the establishment Left’s opportunity to say “for the past decade and a bit, National have been scaremongering about how we’re loony fringe extremists; socialists, communists, environmentalist haters of humanity, run by anti-family lesbians and all that — now Aotearoa gets to see what a real radical left party looks like.” The truth is that the Greens are perfectly moderate and gentle, and Labour are so ferociously orthodox they pose no meaningful threat to the established order of things, and Te Mana gives them a chance to illustrate that.

Third, and further to the second point, Te Mana provides Labour a crucial opportunity to differentiate from National. While historically the right has taken great glee in painting the Greens as the left’s equivalent of ACT, this is bogus. ACT is a genuine extremist party, espousing positions abhorrent even to many right-wingers, whose electoral existence in New Zealand relies upon them gaming the MMP threshold exemption because for most of the past decade they have been unable to persuade even one in 20 voters to support them. The Greens, on the other hand, represent a global movement whose positions and support are becoming more, not less, mainstream, and while not exactly rocketing skyward, their support remains strong and is steadily climbing. As much as the right wishes to claim the Greens are ACT’s left-wing equivalent, it is Te Mana who more appropriately fills that role. John Key was swift to label ACT and Don Brash ‘extremist’. He’s right, but he’s also protecting National’s voter base. This was tactically smart but strategically foolish, because Labour now get to label Te Mana as ‘extremist’ (‘radical’ is more correct, but that’s a technicality) and then say “National are working with the guy they admit is an extremist — we’re ruling out working with the extremist Mana Party. We’ve been telling you this whole term that John Key is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and now he’s proven it.” They’ve done the first bit and I can only hope they have a plan to do the second bit, reclaiming the boring harmless sensible moderate ground they so richly deserve to hold.

Fourth (this wasn’t included in the email but is something I’ve argued elsewhere): while many people have pointed out that the by-election will cost money, which the three parties contesting it don’t have much of, by the same token it gives those parties an opportunity to go into the general election with a bit of momentum. It will give them a fair bit of media exposure (not all of which will be favourable), an opportunity to field-test their lines and positions. Most importantly, it will give the people involved — the candidates themselves, and the campaign managers and organisers and doorknockers and drivers and ringawera — valuable frontline experience. Falling into a rugby analogy: it gives the parties a chance to build match-fitness for the main event which follows.

Finally, I think the best outcome for both Labour and Te Mana here is the one Morgan has persuasively argued is most likely — for Hone Harawira to beat Kelvin Davis by a slim margin. Davis is a strong MP, if inexperienced, and although marginally placed at 33 on the list, should get in at the general election if Labour can at least maintain their polling. A tight contest will light a fire under both parties, which is valuable in and of itself. Hone Harawira has remained mostly true to his principles, undoubtedly represents a constituency and thus possesses at least a moral mandate to represent those who vote for him; Davis, also, but those principles are also represented by the Labour party. Hone would (on present polling of about 3%) bring in a couple of others, who would be in a position to advocate radical positions and apply pressure to the māori, Labour and Green parties while permitting Labour and Green to solidify their claim to the middle-ground, and would give the parties of the left an opportunity to feel each other out and reposition. More to the point, in terms of November 27 realpolitik, the lesson of NZ First in 2008 should be clear: if Hone doesn’t win his electorate and Te Mana doesn’t pass 5%, those votes are wasted, and National will be the main beneficiary. Labour’s future — in 2012 as it was in the past — is not to go it alone as the all-singing, all-dancing united left party, but at the core of a wider movement including the diverse and often misguided voices which characterise the wider left. Those horses (as has been exhaustively demonstrated by the NewLabour, Alliance and Progressive parties) cannot be bound by the same rope, and sometimes must be given their head.

L

One axiom of mediation is that the parties sincerely want to settle their dispute and realise that mutual concessions will have to be made in order to do so. Another is that the mediator has to be procedurally and substantively neutral–s/he has no interest in the specific terms of the result and is bound to procedurally enforce the rules on negotiations as well as externally enforce the settlement (which in effect makes the latter a contract between the disputants).

This is why Barack Obama’s latest attempt at mediating the Israel-Palestinian conflict is doomed.

In order to establish a semblance of neutrality, he proposed that Hamas recognise Israel’s right to exist in exchange for Israeli acceptance of the (post-conflict) 1967 borders as the basis for negotiations on a two-state solution. He said that mutually agreed upon land swaps would form the basis for the contract. Neither Hamas or the Israeli government accepted the offer and instead rejected it outright. Although it is possible that Obama’s initiative is just the opening gambit in a more delicate elaboration, it is also quite possible that this was his best offer, which is now dead in the water.

The problems with the proposed deal are many. With regards to the US, it is clearly not an impartial mediator. Whether the administration of the moment wants to or not, the power of the pro-Israel lobby and Israel’s strategic connections (intelligence sharing, weapons acquisitions and covert political maneuvering) ensure that the US will support it as the default option. To that can be added the fact that the US has designated Hamas as a terrorist organisation and openly supports Fatah as the legitimate representative of Palestinian interests even though the latter lost its electoral mandate to Hamas some years ago. By any measure the US is not impartial, neutral or objective, so its role as a mediator is reduced to pressuring Israel to engage limited concessions in the hope that Hamas will take the bait and offer significant concessions of its own. That will not happen. And yet no other country has offered to step into the breach, and it is doubtful that any other country (the UK? Germany? France?) would be acceptable to both parties.

As for the principles, they have no real interest in cutting a deal that binds them over the long-term. Politics in Gaza and Israel are dominated by fundamentalist discourses that see the conflict as a zero-sum struggle where the “other” is seen as sub-human and inherently evil. Both governments are divided and weak, the Palestinians visibly so but the Israelis no less so in spite of their veneer of unity. Corruption has become a major problem on both sides, which delegitimates their standing as honest interlocutors and representatives of their respective constituencies.

Moreover, both Israel and the Palestinians have foreign partners who overtly or covertly work to prolong the impasse and low intensity warfare because it is seen as serving their geopolitical objectives (Iran and Saudi Arabia come to mind). Then there are the weapons merchants and others who see profit in fighting and who do not wish to see the source of that profit end. One might argue that there even are NGOs and humanitarian agencies that have a vested organisational interest in an unresolved armed standoff that provides them with the opportunity to “do good.”  In other words, the constellation of interests that favour the continuation of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict outweigh those that sincerely seek a durable peace.

Which is why Obama’s initiative will not prosper. But there is a factor now at play that may make the US role irrelevant and actually force a hole in the diplomatic logjam obstructing resolution of the Palestinian “question:” the Arab Spring. Although it has yet to result in democracy anywhere in the Arab world, the groundswell of popular protest against authoritarianism has been a game-changer (of sorts). The change is in the acceptance of non-violent mass resistance as the preferred method of voice and redress. Not only does this strategy explicitly turn its back on jihadism. It also forces regimes to either up the ante and engage in mass repression (such as in Syria), or attempt to reform-monger in a way that maintains elite interests while offering more avenues of representation and service to the populations in question. Most importantly, though, it forces the Arab world to reappraise the regional status quo, specifically with regard to the status of Palestine, in such a way that it will make it increasingly less tenable for Israel to continue its policy of illegal settlements and armed force. With popular demands for a harder line on Israel emerging in places like Egypt, the pressure is on for the “reformist” leaders to reconsider the options with regard to Palestine. In addition, the use of (mostly) non-violent passive resistance against Israel such as the Nakbar protests on the Israeli-Syrian border forces it to show its authoritarian stripes (as it did in killing a half dozen of the cross-border protesters) or live up to its supposedly democratic principles when confronting unarmed protest.

Given Israel’s current political climate, it may well ignore all democratic pretense and fire away at will against peaceful demonstrators. But that is a short-term solution. The longer-term impact of the Arab Spring will be to force increased accountability on Arab regimes, which in turn will require them to adjust their approaches to Israel and Palestinians in ways that will not uphold the status quo ante. Should that happen, then it will be Israel that will be forced to make the first significant move with or without US backing, and it will do so not out of a sense of idealism but because it has pragmatic self-interest in doing so. After all, Israel is the stronger actor in this conflict. It has less to lose and much to gain when offering a genuine unilateral concession, in the beginning of what game-theorists call a “tit-for-tat” strategy (that is, it opens with a cooperative move then mirrors the adversaries’ response). It may take a few iterations and more concessions to elicit a cooperative response from Hamas, and the outcome could still result in failure, but that is how the game will have to be played if there is any hope of reaching a negotiated compromise.

Hardline Zionist talk notwithstanding, the best guarantee of Israel’s long term security given the changes underway in the Arab world is not superior counter-force as a deterrent. Instead, the solution that guarantees Israel long-term security is diplomatic, and that involves over-riding hardline interests in pursuit of diplomatic flexibility. There will be domestic consequences when it does make the first move, which will have to involve the unilateral eviction and withdrawal of newer settlements on occupied Palestinian land (think of the precedent of violent resistance by illegal settlers to the limited evictions undertaken by the Israeli government to date), and Hamas and Fatah will have to agree on a commensurate response if negotiations are to advance to the point of establishing a blueprint for dual statehood (which is the only realistic option and where recognition of Israel’s right to exist comes in). None of this will be voluntarily generated by the elites currently in office, not will it be the US that breaks the impasse and brokers the deal. Instead it will be the extension of the Arab Spring into Gaza and Israel that may offer the best hope for a diplomatic opening in pursuit of a durable peace, and should that opening come, it will be endogenous rather than exogenous in nature.

Although it is hard for the Obama administration to do given the imperial hubris that infects US domestic politics and foreign policy, the best thing it can offer is to quietly encourage the Arab Spring, openly condemn repression, seek broader international consensus and let events take their course. Or, as a senior Israeli intelligence official told me a few years ago (and I roughly paraphrase from memory here), “although conditions are not favorable to negotiations at the moment, there will come a time when both sides realise that theirs is an unhappy marriage, but it is for the children’s sake that they stay in it and make it work.” That moment may shortly be upon us, and it will be the “children” who force the issue.

The countdown (to the return) begins.

datePosted on 20:34, May 14th, 2011 by Pablo

As an antidote to some of the heavy discussion occasioned by Lew’s recent posts, I figured that I would interject with a mention that two weeks from today my partner and I return to NZ. The definitive return was delayed six months by an offer of a teaching position in Singapore, but that has now finished. All of the marking has been done, and other than a videoconference lecture by me, a brief holiday in Bintan and packing, we are done in Singapore. Although it has not always been the most pleasant experience, it has been interesting in many ways and we have learned from our stay. I expect that either individually or together we will write at least one scholarly essay about the place, simply because analyses of things like the gross exploitation of foreign low-skilled labor and domestic workers needs to be more widely exposed. We also have in a mind a comparative project using Singapore and Cuba as case studies–two one party authoritarian island states whose regimes were born of traumatic circumstances that were originally led by charismatic leaders, now in a slow process of political liberalisation in which the original leadership cadres are being replaced by a third generation of less battle-hardened and dogmatic cadres, and in which the attitudes of the younger generation of citizens are not shaped by the origins of the regimes in question.

There is more to the comparison–the state-centric nature of the economies is a structural likeness that defies the clear differences in macro-economic approaches–so it will be interesting to delve into the subject in greater analytic depth. I also have an interest in studying the role of the third generation Singaporean Armed Forces in the process of regime liberalisation, as its role as regime defender is being challenged from within and without the SAF by a new generation of “professional” officers more interested in meritocratic and technocratic advancement than cultivating political ties to the PAP, and who find echo in young professional in the civilian bureaucracy who are not as interested in joining the PAP patronage networks that underpin the supposedly “meritocratic” criteria for promotion to senior ranks.

I think I have a fair grasp on these subjects. My post on the Singaporean elections, along with the version on Scoop, got a lot of play in Singapore, most of it favourable. This a good sign because (especially Chinese) Singaporeans have a good deal of anti-foreign sentiment and reject being told, in spite of what economic growth and government propaganda lead them to believe, about the flaws in their system of governance and culture (for example, the endemic racism against Malays, Indians, Filipinos and Tamils by the dominant group that is codified in not-to-subtle legal jargon, as well as the simmering resentment of Anglo-Saxons in spite of the fact that the country can not operate successfully without them). The fact that I was not pilloried in the coverage of my essay indicates that, written in the appropriate manner, some of what I/we propose to research could provide a contribution to debates within Singapore about the future of the country. We shall see.

In the meantime we are looking forward to wearing sweaters and jeans, enjoying cool weather, breathing clean air and resuming the existence on the western slopes of the Waitakeres from whence we came. That, and contributing in our own ways to political and social debates in the land of the long white cloud.

NB: In light of Phil’s remark I have amended the title less readers think that I have developed some pop idol fixation.

A Response to Chris

datePosted on 22:37, May 12th, 2011 by Lew

Chris Trotter has written a response to the previous discussions regarding the Treaty, titled Talking Past Each Other (a crisp description of the comments threads on both prior posts). I would usually respond there, but Blogger comments are presently down and I have time now, so here it is. It’s a bit more than a comment, at any rate.

I think Chris’ post is intended as a critique of my political and historical naïveté (a common theme), and a perception that I’m treating the history of Aotearoa as a ‘morality play’, to borrow Scott Hamilton’s phrase. In spite of that I find in it quite a lot to agree with. In particular, the characterisation of the agendas of the parties to the Treaty, which captures well the diversity, lack of cross-cultural and long-term perspective, and motive chaos within each camp; and the final affirmation that, whatever the history, the future of Māori and Pākehā must be together. The final paragraph, especially; I cannot agree more strongly.

I also have some problems with the piece; in particular the argument that violating the Treaty was necessary to the establishment of a functional colony and that, ultimately, it was for the best that the Crown did breach the Treaty because we ended up with this lovely country. I don’t agree, and to my mind this sort of let-bygones-be-bygones, it-all-turned-out-for-the-best thinking is a very convenient position to take when it’s not your land which was taken. But our differences on this point are well documented and I don’t intend to relitigate this disagreement here (or in comments; honestly, there’s enough of it on the other two thread!s)

Nevertheless, I do also think the piece mischaracterises my position. There are two main aspects to this. First, Chris says it is naïve to view the Treaty as a contract — and I agree, if it is to be viewed only as a contract. My framing of the two preceding posts in these terms was deliberately simplistic, as I noted to Hugh in comments to the first. But it was deliberate inasmuch as there exists such a paucity of understanding of the actual historical context of the Treaty as it actually occurred, and of its significance as a founding or mediating document, that a simple and clearly Pākehā frame of reference is needed to explicate it. It was not just a contract, but the Treaty was among its other roles, a contract laying out the grants and consideration of an agreement to colonise undertaken between the Crown and local rangatira. Viewing it as a contract, I think, forms a useful minimum basis for understanding, and in particular for the establishment of expectations of what should and could have occurred following its signing.

Of course, history isn’t so simple as that, and this gives rise to the second point: Chris (and others, particularly the commenters on the posts) seem to have interpreted my call for the Treaty to be honoured in the most literal terms — that, if my argument is true, Pākehā have a responsibility to return every square foot of raupatu land; pay reparation for every man killed in the Land Wars; and that Pākehā in 2011 must beat their breasts and prostrate themselves before the descendants of those fortunate enough to survive with whakapapa intact. I mean nothing of the sort. What I mean is that, even if it were for the best, even if breaches were necessary, there exists a moral responsibility to recognise these breaches. I disagree that admission of breaches is “accurrate but trivial”, as Chris puts it; if the agreement was made in good faith (as, having been authorised by the Queen, we have a right to assume it was) then the breaches matter, and give rise to an obligation on the part of the party in breach. Where my point has been lost, I think, is that this obligation extends to making reparation for the breaches to the mutual, minimal satisfaction of both parties. Māori, as I have kept pointing out, have not been unreasonable in this regard, invariably accepting reparations of a tiny fraction of the value of the initial breach, or of no economic value whatsoever — settling for symbolic gestures, apologies and recognition. The obligation, I argue, is to negotiate in similarly good faith. Inevitably, neither party will be entirely happy, but that’s not a realistic object — the object may be to reach a state of ‘minimal satisfaction’, a solution which, although merely tolerable to both parties, does enough to prevent further disputes.

And the end goal of this is the same as what Chris hopes for — a future together. By demonstrating good faith and making just reparation, we make progress toward solving two significant problems: one is the cultural and material circumstances in which Māori find themselves, largely as a consequence of successive governments’ lack of adherence to the Treaty. The other is the status of Pākehā society, which by acting in such poor faith has too long denied its own kaupapa; successive leaders, including the odious Prendergast, denying the existence and authority of a Treaty signed in the name of their own sovereign; and even having eventually recognised it, doing so only in a mean and grudging fashion. These circumstances — both the material circumstances and the lack of good faith by Pākehā — give rise to the ‘attitude’ problems among Māori referred to extensively in the prior comments by Andrew W and Phil Sage, which they argue creates a cycle of dysfunction. The same circumstances give rise to the Pākehā guilt to which Chris refers, and of which he has accused me in the past of being victim.

But I say again: this isn’t about guilt; none of us Pākehā held the sabre in hand or pulled the trigger. Many of us, myself included, have no ancestors who were here at the time of the Treaty’s signing and its most egregious breaches (mine were still in Skye, Kerry, Eindhoven and Brabant labouring under their own troubles at the time). But as Chris says, we have — and our society has — grown and prospered at the expense of the country’s original inhabitants, and we share in the responsibility to make that right. It’s not about dwelling in the past — it’s about moving into the future, which we cannot only do once the misgivings of the past have been settled. Although Pākehā have tried to do so, it should be clear now that we cannot force Māori to forget — and nor should we. But we can work together — as much as possible without self-flagellation or haughty defensiveness — toward squaring the ledger, purging the bad blood and cleaning the slate so that we can go forward, unencumbered, into a future as iwi tahi tātou.

L

Violating ourselves, redux

datePosted on 23:48, May 10th, 2011 by Lew

A long and largely futile discussion has been running in response to my latest post about the Treaty, and the responsibility that Pākehā have to honour it, according to our own standards of conduct.

This post is nothing more than a formal clarification of the argument. There are really only two contentious points of principle in my case, and they are the following:

(1) Whether the Treaty was materially breached.

(2) Whether honouring one’s agreements in good faith is, in fact, a philosophical baseline of Pākehā culture.

The first premise is the subject of a very considerable literature. The legal weight of the Treaty and its breaches have been exhaustively documented: authoritative accounts have been written by (at least) Walker; King; Belich; Kawharu (junior and senior); Durie (two of) and Orange; not to mention the reams and reams of material deliberated upon by the Māori Land Court and the Waitangi Tribunal. Treaty breaches are simply a matter of historical reality. Anyone who denies them is ignorant of the facts of the country’s history; is at odds with the views of every qualified expert in the field; the courts, and the official position of the Crown. If you don’t believe the Treaty exists in force and has been materially breached, you quite literally don’t know what you’re talking about.

The second premise is also the subject of a very considerable literature from within the European enlightenment tradition which also gave us the philosophy of liberalism which underpins most of our society — Locke, Mill, Smith, many others. Strong contracts are at the foundation of our pluralist-capitalist society, and in this system, strict enforcement of contracts is a fallback position when good faith and the honour of the two parties fails. Since there is no ultimate authority to enforce the Treaty of Waitangi and to compel the Crown to make good its breaches, as a matter of practicality it falls to the Crown’s adherence to its own stated principles.

If (1) and (2) are both true, Pākehā have a responsibility to negotiate with Māori in good faith to achieve a mutually satisfactory resolution of the breaches. This is my argument. It is not, contrary to the beliefs of those who appear to accept neither of these propositions, a very contentious one.

L

Helen Clark understood well the axiom that in politics the best defense is a good offense. She was a master of the art of character assassination and discrediting the opponent. This was particularly true when the opponent was not a politician but someone from outside of the partisan divide who pointed out a dubious policy decision or raised ethical questions about the behavior of her government. I know this first-hand, because I was the subject of one of her attacks (with regard to the role of former ambassador Richard Wood, then director of the SIS, in the Ahmed Zaoui case). She also knew the value of having everyone in her government play off of the same sheet of music when it comes to cover-ups, hence the “lying in unison” refrain. Love her or hate her, Ms. Clark knew how to play dirty.

When National came to office it argued that it was going to end the sort of practices Ms. Clark was so adept at. But as it turns out, it has done exactly the opposite and instead deepened the dark “art” of shooting the bearer of bad news. The latest instance of this is its treatment of independent war correspondent Jon Stephenson. Mr. Stephenson is by all objective accounts a remarkably brave and serious journalist. He is also a thorn in the side of the NZDF. The reason is because he travels independently to conflict zones in which the NZDF is deployed, foregoes the embedded journalist niceties that accrue to the likes of TV talking heads, and asks hard questions about the actions of Kiwi soldiers as well as the polices and rules of engagement under which they operate. That line of inquiry does not conform to the scripted narrative that the NZDF would prefer that NZ audiences consume, so it makes the Defence brass uncomfortable.  As a result some of the NZDF and Defence leadership are antagonistic towards Mr. Stephenson. The irony is that such antagonism does not extend down to the rank and file troops, many of who candidly share their views with Mr. Stephenson under conditions of anonymity. In fact, they are often the source of his insights into how the NZDF operates in combat environments. For his part Mr. Stephenson has repeatedly voiced his high regard for the integrity and professionalism of Kiwi soldiers, those in the SAS in particular. The animus, in other words, is not mutual.

In April Mr. Stephenson published an article in Metro magazine titled “Eyes Wide Shut.” In it he writes that in its previous and current deployments in Afghanistan the SAS transferred and continues to transfer prisoners to US and Afghan forces that have been implicated in abuses of the Geneva Convention. He makes very clear that the SAS does not abuse prisoners, although–contrary to the National government’s initial assertions–the SAS takes a lead role in counter-terrorism and search and destroy missions, kills adversaries as a matter of course (some of whom it turns out were not hostile but either misidentified or the victims of faulty intelligence), and detains and transfers prisoners to Afghan and US custody as part of its standard operating procedures. The trouble for the government is that after Labour withdrew the SAS from Afghanistan in 2005 in part because of concerns about the treatment of prisoners initially detained by the elite force, National turned around and re-deployed them in 2009 without getting ironclad assurances from either the US or the Karzai regime that prisoners detained by the SAS would be treated in strict accordance with the Geneva Convention. The lack of such assurances are what have forced UK forces serving in Afghanistan to refuse to hand over prisoners to the Afghan government and played a part in the Danish decision to withdraw their special forces from ISAF, so the concerns are wide-spread and well known. Yet, rather than wrestle with the ethical dilemmas involved, it appears that the NZ government has repeatedly misrepresented what the SAS is actually doing in Afghanistan, and on at least one occasion has played loose with the truth when asked about that role, to include, specifically, whether the SAS leads combat missions and takes prisoners on its own.

Mr. Stephenson’s article raises all of these troublesome points. Its well researched account of incidents in 2002 and 2010 raises questions about what National agreed to in 2009 that Labour could not stomach in 2005. It specifically questions General Jerry Mateparae, former NZDF head, current GCSB director and Governor-General-designate over his statements to parliament in 2010 that the SAS does not detain prisoners and does not lead combat engagements. It is damning stuff that should be the subject of an independent inquiry.

The government response has been to take a page out of Helen Clark’s book on character assassination, and then attempt to write it more crudely. Prime Minister John Key, current head of the NZDF Lieutenant General Richard Rhys-Jones and Minister of Defense “Dr.” Wayne Mapp have all attacked Mr. Stephenson as being “non-credible” and of having an anti-NZDF bias. Military sycophants like Ron Smith of Waikato University (who is reported to have a personal connection to General Mateparae) have accused Mr. Stephenson of having a “hidden agenda,” with the insinuation that the agenda is pro-Taliban as well as anti-NZDF. Although General Rhys-Jones has disputed some facts in the Metro article, Mr. Mapp has been forced to admit under questioning in parliament that the SAS does in fact lead combat missions, does detain prisoners and does indeed hand them over to Afghan or US authorities without proper follow up monitoring (worse yet, Mr. Mapp initially claimed that the NZ government has an arrangement with the Red Cross for the latter to monitor prisoners captured by NZDF forces once they are handed over to the Afghan authorities, but the Red Cross denies any such agreement exists, among other things because it only signs agreements with the governments holding prisoners, not with those who may have initially captured them).  

The result of Mr. Stephenson’s reporting and its follow ups reveals that in effect, the National government re-committed the SAS either ignorant of what its operations would entail or fully cognizant of them, but then lied to the NZ public rather than admit the truth (or has the NZDF lie on its behalf). Either way it is not a good look.

Rather than own up to what was agreed to in 2009, the government is pursuing a campaign of character assassination against Mr. Stephenson. It cannot argue his facts so it is playing him instead. It is not surprising that a money-changer like Mr. Key would not have a strong ethical compass, or that a career politician like the good “Dr.” Mapp would weasel rather than front on the ethical dilemmas involved in the deployment. But it is unfortunate that the top military brass have joined in the campaign, regardless of whether or not they are simply trying to close ranks around General Mateparae. They of all people should know that the integrity of the force should come before politician’s political machinations.

If there are reasons of state behind the decision to commit the SAS back into Afghanistan under less than optimal ROEs (at least with regard to the treatment of prisoners), then they should be stated clearly and openly. It is quite possible that a majority of New Zealander’s would have no problem with the mistreatment of prisoners initially captured or detained by the SAS. However, if there are domestic political considerations behind the government’s apparently duplicitous approach to revealing the considerations involved and the terms under which the SAS was re-deployed, then the NZDF should not carry the water for it. Responsibility for the decision lies with the civilian command authority to which the uniformed crowd are ultimately subordinated, and if the NZDF has been asked to misrepresent the terms and conditions of the re-deployment, that is unethical as well as injurious to morale. Troops do not like to be pawns in some political game played by people with no experience in soldiering and no regard for their individual fate, which is why the NZDF leadership should come clean on what it has been asked to do and not do when it comes to its commitment of troops abroad.

In reporting on what the SAS does in Afghanistan, Jon Stephenson was just doing his job, in the time-honoured fashion of war correspondents. In that he is a rare bird in NZ, where flak-jacketed and helmeted media figures “report” in hostile theaters from “sanitised” positions miles away from the action that are surrounded by layers of armed security (i.e. these journalistic poseurs are kept away from real harm and instead are the guests of government-orchestrated field trips in the proximity of battle zones). It is because he adopts the independent, non-scripted line that Mr. Stephenson is being attacked, and in the measure that a democracy is only as good as the free flow of information allows it to be, the actions of this government against him are not only despicable, but a clear sign of the ingrained authoritarian (some would say bullying) ethos that permeates the NZ political elite.

The Greens have called for an independent inquiry and sensing a chance to wound National, Labour has joined them (since it can now use its 2005 decision to not continue the SAS deployment and objection to the 2009 re-deployment as ammunition against the government). Mr. Key has refused to agree to the demands, insisting that he is satisfied with NZDF explanations about the incidents Mr. Stephenson has reported on. What he really means is that he is applying the first rule of bureaucracy when it comes to handling prickly issues: CYA (Cover Yer A**e).

As a political community we should not allow the government to get away with such a cynical response, nor allow its slander of Jon Stephenson to go unchallenged. After all, basic principles of democratic accountability and NZ’s international reputation as a defender of human rights are at stake, as is Mr. Stephenson’s career.

Violating ourselves

datePosted on 00:03, May 5th, 2011 by Lew

This post is more rantish and more polemic than even my usual here, and although I’ve said all this before (it seems like hundreds of times) I feel the utter dearth of understanding of what the Treaty of Waitangi is all about — particularly among Pākehā — necessitates it being said again. Forcefully.

Danyl Mclauchlan is someone who, for the most part, gets it, and over the past few days he has put up a couple of very smart posts on the topic. Both are worth reading, and the comments to both also, if only for a view of the howling gulf which passes for understanding of Aoteatoa’s fundamental history among what is probably one of the largest, smartest, and most liberally-minded blog communities in the country. But I refer to the second, and in particular the three points which Danyl argues nullify Don Brash’s claim that Māori should be treated no differently to any other ethnic group in New Zealand:

  • Maori as a people were signatories to a treaty that was not honored.
  • Maori, their culture and language are unique to New Zealand. If we don’t try and preserve, say, the Chinese culture and language in New Zealand and it is subsumed by the dominant culture then that’s a little sad, but not a tragedy because the culture and language flourishes in other countries. But if the state doesn’t cultivate Maoritanga and it goes then it’s gone forever.
  • Maori are overrepresented in negative statistics like crime and morbidity, and it’s sometimes more effective to target these problems culturally rather than at the wider population.

The first really is the beginning and the end here. The other two are good and worthy, but rest on the utility of those particular goods (value of the culture, wellbeing of Māori people) rather than on hard principle. That permits the “One Nation” lot to argue the waffly details and ignore the fundamental point, which is this: the Treaty of Waitangi provides a settlement right to Tau Iwi, and in particular grants the Crown the right to establish government, from which all future settlement (and other legal and civil society) rights devolve. Nothing else in the factual historical record of New Zealand history grants that right. Nothing else. You take that right and you accept the terms under which it was agreed, or you leave it. Successive generations of settlers have chosen to accept it, and that’s a wonderful thing. But it is not a right which can be enjoyed without obligation.

Hobson and his lot had no rights to settle here until they were granted by the Treaty. Sure, he could have tried — but they were outnumbered 20 to one by well-armed, well-trained soldiers who’d by that point been fighting wars on land and sea for generations, who had a complex internal economy and international trade systems up and running for more than a decade, and who were swiftly becoming cognisant of the realpolitik of the day. You could argue the settlers would have prevailed in the end, and you’d probably be right — but in point of fact that’s not what happened. In any case, if Don Brash or anyone else want to go down the repugnant path of claiming swordright over Aotearoa, they’re welcome to try.

Hobson drafted the Treaty and agreed its terms on behalf of the Crown, and consequently Tau Iwi were granted by Tangata Whenua the right to settle, to implement laws and so on, under conditions stipulated in the Treaty. The opening words of Article 3, the one which Don Brash and the other “one nation” bangers love to quote is “in consideration thereof”; the deal is contingent on the agreement being honoured. One other thing. To all those folks who argue it’s a “relic”, there was no expiry date on the Treaty. It gets amended or disbanded according to the wishes of its signatories, the two parties to it, or their descendants as appropriate. And by no other means. People of today remain bound by the decisions of the governments of yesterday. On the other thread Psycho Milt makes this crystal clear.

So it’s really very simple: as Tau Iwi, if we live here in Aotearoa, we have an obligation to do our bit in ensuring the Treaty gets honoured. Because to the extent it remains unhonoured, we’re in breach of the only thing which grants us any enduring legitimacy, the only agreement which gives us a right to be here. One of the basic, fundamental principles of the English civil society which Hobson represented, and which New Zealanders continue to hold dear today is the notion of adhering to one’s agreements; acting in good faith. In fact, Hobson’s instructions were to deal with the Māori in good faith as equals.

Pākehā society, by refusing to honour the Treaty, isn’t honouring its contract with the Tangata Whenua of this land. That breach is not the breach of some airy fairy notion of being nice to the natives. This is not some set of alien strictures; it is not some Mosaic law handed down from on high, to which we must adhere for fear of divine punishment, and most certainly it is not a set of principles insisted upon by Māori in order to weaken the Pākehā bargaining position. This is Pākehā culture in its purest, most idealised form! By failing to honour the Treaty Pākehā society is in breach of its own most fundamental and hallowed principles. The economically dry parties — ACT and (lately to a much lesser extent) National — who are most strongly opposed to honouring the Treaty are doubly guilty in this regard, because they know better than anyone that reliable contracts are the foundations of good society. The responsibility of adhering to one’s agreements is at the core of their philosophy.

Well, I’m Pākehā, and even if those other pricks won’t live up to their own declared standards, I want to honour my agreements, and those of my forefathers; and those made by people from whom I’m not descended but from which my 20th-Century immigrant grandparents benefitted. This Pākehā, at least, pays his debts. I do not carry guilt for the 170-odd years of breaches to date — I carry the responsibility for making right. What form will that take? Well, that’s a wider question and one to be properly decided by society at large.

By failing to honour the Treaty Don Brash is in violation of his own stated principles as the representative of a party which believes in responsibility. By failing to honour a Treaty drawn up by Pākehā, on Pākehā terms and according to Pākehā custom, we as New Zealanders are, more than anything, violating ourselves.

L

There’s a follow-up to this post and discussion here.

bin-Laden bites the dust.

datePosted on 19:01, May 2nd, 2011 by Pablo

Osama bin-Laden has met his maker, facilitated on his journey by a US Delta Force operation (which would have involved a SEAL fire team–SEAL Team Six, specifically– Air Force special operations platforms for insertion and extraction and US Army special forces and CIA paramilitaries doing the human, signals and technical intelligence to pinpoint his location and guide the fire team to the target, and which appears to have involved the fair use of deception in order to divert Pakistani attention elsewhere). Militarily, it is a tremendous achievement and underscores that the US military has become the most experienced and dangerous military force on earth (after all, it has been continuously at war for most of the last three decades, in both high and low intensity operations, and has developed a full spectrum skill set that no other military can match). It tells the jihadist movement that, as in the case of the old Nazi-hunter’s approach to fugitive war criminals, they can run but they cannot hide. It tells would-be adversaries such as the Chinese and Russians that they have a long way to go before they can militarily challenge with any hope of prevailing. As for the likes of the leaders of Iran and Venezuela, it tells them that reckless provocations can have unpleasant consequences even if they hide amongst wimin and children. In a word, the US is unsurpassed in projecting force, which means it is dominant in any battle field, even if it takes some time for it to adjust to the tactical exigencies of the moment (this, however, does not mean that it can politically prevail in every instance, which ultimately is the determinant of overall victory in war. Political issues, rather than military balances, are what make the Afghan conflict and Pakistan’s instability so intractable).

The significance of killing of bin-Laden is more symbolic and ideological rather than practical. After all, al-Qaeda has been fragmented and forced to devolve into decentralised small unit and self-radicalised “lone wolf” operations that cannot alter the strategic equation that runs against them. It can lash out and cause damage in restricted tactical operations, but it is no longer able to mount big symbolic attacks such as the 9-11 and 1990s US embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania (reports of a hidden al-Qaeda nuke in Europe notwithstanding). Strategically, AQ is not a game-changer.

The killing of bin-Laden is the second ideological blow to al-Qaeda that has terminally weakened it as a global political force. The first blow was the Arab Spring, currently ongoing, in which al-Qaeda is a non factor. Instead of rebelling in support of Sharia rule, fundamentalist interpretations of the Koran and the extension of the Caliphate, the Arab street has risen up against tyranny in favour of democracy, free speech, popular vote, government accountability and better equality of opportunity. These are “Western” values that al-Qaeda explicitly rejected, so the ideological repudiation of its vision of the preferred Muslim society is near complete. With the death of its symbolic leader, the futility of its fight is made apparent.

This does not mean that AQ is not dangerous. Ayman Al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda’s operations director and the person with the fixation on airplanes and transportation hubs, is still alive. Small-scale operations, to include inevitable revenge attacks, will continue for some time to come, if not forever. But as a fighting as well as ideological force, al-Qaeda is spent.

However, another can of worms has been opened by bin-Laden’s killing. His location in a modern constructed (2005) fortified compound with 3-5 meter walls topped by barbed wire located 40 miles outside of Islamabad suggests complicity by at least some elements of the Pakistani state in sheltering him. Although President Obama has said that he consulted with Pakistani authorities and that they “collaborated” in the operation, the truth is more likely that such statements are designed to save Pakistani face and that if anything, the Pakistani authorities were alerted only once the operation was over. The civilian government is weak, fractured and does not control either the military or the intelligence services (ISI). one would think that at least some elements of Pakistan’s security forces would have to have been alerted to the construction of the compound and the unusual nature of its occupants. The Pakistani state is fractured and acts as a sieve when it comes to information leaks, unless the subject matter is too important for some state actors to divulge because their own core interests are involved. Thus it is improbable that the entire Pakistani security complex had no idea of bin-Laden’s whereabouts.

The Pakistani authorities are now confronted by a dilemma. They have repeatedly complained about drone strikes as violations of territorial sovereignty, and most recently ordered the expulsion of dozens of CIA agents. Yet the raid on bin-Laden, so deeply into Pakistani territory–over 120 miles from the Afghan border (or more than 250 miles if the assault came from the Arabian Sea) and so close to the Pakistani capital–is a direct and measured assault on the sovereignty of the Pakistani state. It tells the Pakistani authorities that they do not have a monopoly on security within their borders, and that they are not trusted to share intelligence on critical subjects within those borders. This will leave them embarrassed and seeking a way to placate what will be inevitable domestic protests against the raid and supposed Pakistani collusion with it.

Under such conditions it is not implausible to speculate that some elements of the Pakistani security apparatus will attempt to stage a honor-restoring diversion so as to appease public unrest and re-establish some measure of self-pride. This could be focused on India or Afghanistan as easy targets for unconventional or proxy warfare. It could involve diplomatic retaliation such as a turn towards China. But is seems inevitable that the Pakistani State will be rendered by this event, and that the consequences of that destablisation may be anything but positive.

Hence, jingoistic flag-waving in the US notwithstanding (and some will say that the flag-waving is amply justified), the death of Osama bin Laden may bring some degree of closure but it is not the end of an era. It could well spark an uprising of extremist Muslim resistance that is reinvigorated by its  symbolic leader’s death. It will force a change in US-Pakistan relations and in the way Pakistan behaves as a geopolitical actor.  Whatever the consequences, this is just the end of one chapter and the beginning of another in a story yet to be concluded.