Archive for ‘USA’ Category
This one is arguably better than the last. I say “better” simply because it speaks to intelligence and security issues in the main rather than broader foreign policy or NZ leaderships characteristics, and names key players in the NZ security apparatus (it should be noted that although it is illegal to name various intelligence personnel in NZ public fora, this was a classified internal US government document so the legal restrictions do not apply. Now the document is a matter of public record so the cat is out of the bag, so to speak).
10/23/2018 TAGS: PINR, PREL, NZ SUBJECT: A/S FORT’S OCTOBER 9-10 VISIT TO NEW ZEALAND Classified By: Pol/Econ Counselor Margaret B. McKean; Reason 1.4 (b), ( c), (d) 1. (C) Summary. During an October 9-10 visit to New Zealand, INR A/S Randall Fort met with members of the External Assessments Bureau (EAB), the Chief Executive of the Prime Minister and Cabinet’s Department, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade Deputy Secretary Caroline Forsyth, and officials with New Zealand’s Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). GNZ officials praised USG efforts to improve intelligence sharing, particularly with respect to imagery. GNZ interlocutors acknowledged that New Zealand gains enormous benefits from being part of the Five Eyes intelligence community. A/S Fort’s message focused on the increasing sophistication of commercial search engines and the growing number of open source analyses available to policymakers. In the future, the intelligence community must find ways to differentiate their products and provide value added to policy makers, argued A/S Fort. He also discussed the issues surrounding cyberspace and national security. Key issues for GNZ officials centered on the recent Georgia/Russia conflict, Iran, Iraq, Pakistan/Afghanistan, North Korea and the Pacific region. End Summary. Security of Public Sector Computers is Key Concern ——————————————— —– 2. (C) INR Assistant Secretary Fort visited New Zealand on October 910, accompanied by other INR staff. Meetings with GNZ officials included calls on Gregory Baughen, head of New Zealand’s External Assessments Bureau (EAB), working sessions with EAB officials, a meeting with Bruce Miller, Deputy Director of New Zealand’s GCSB, and a a call on Michael McBurney, Deputy Director of New Zealand Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS). Discussions with EAB working level staff and analysts from other government
offices focused on the recent Russia/Georgia conflict, North Korea and northeast Asia, China, Iran/Iraq, Afghanistan, and the Pacific region. 3. (S/NF) During his visit, Fort called on Chief Executive of the Department for Cabinet and Prime Minister’s Office, Maarten Wevers, who manages a staff of 120, including Domestic and External Security groups, the PM’s policy group, and Wevers also oversees New Zealand’s intelligence committee. Wevers likened his Department to the National Security Council in terms of breadth of coverage and responsibilities. He noted that EAB’s operations are highly compartmentalized and EAB reports are tightly held within Cabinet, with few Ministers seeing them. He explained that New Zealand’s contribution to the Five Eyes intelligence community consists of two monitoring stations; one in the northern end of the south island, and the other on the north island near Wellington. Wevers offered that the GNZ recognizes that it is a “”enormous beneficiary”” of the Five Eyes community and lauded the good bilateral relations on intelligence sharing, including recent strides in imagery sharing. He added that New Zealand was “”well past the military issues”” of the past. A/S Fort hoped the additional access would prove useful to New Zealand; the amount of information and management of the information can be a challenge. Wevers commented that intelligence and assessments may mean something different to New Zealand than to other Five Eyes partners. Often there are significant differences with Australia, he added, as New Zealand is a more Pacific country than Australia and the latter is not always attuned to Pacific developments. 4. (C) A/S Fort spoke about the challenges for intelligence analysts posed by the rapid growth of commercially available analytic services outside government and the sophistication of search engines such as Google and Yahoo. The information needed by policymakers is increasingly available outside government,
and the size of outside companies or groups is not a factor. Smaller can be very nimble; the quality of the analysis is key and the intelligence community must increasingly look to match outside services and provide additional value added to remain relevant, affirmed the A/S. 5. (C) Fort turned to issues involving cyberspace and the Comprehensive National Cybersecurity Initiative (CNCI), which will begin with the Five Eyes and then move to NATO countries. Security is part of the issue, but the A/S also stressed the relevance to finance and defense. Even small countries can benefit with a relatively small contribution towards equipment and personnel. Regarding deterrence, he mentioned that there are analogues to nuclear deterrence but the international community is only beginning to think about cyber threats in similar fashion. Wevers noted that the GNZ is seized with the issue of cybersecurity, and f is working with the PM’s Department to protect the public sector computer system and analyze the range of risks. 6. (C) In discussing the Pacific and Chinese activities in the region, Wevers said that China has recognized that their competition with Taiwan is not helpful, but their foreign affairs officials are not always aware of what others in the Chinese government are doing in the region. Venezuela and Cuba are now coming into the Pacific, and Wevers likened their interest to that of the Russians in the past. A/S Fort mentioned that the backtracking of democracy in the broader Pacific region (Fiji, Thailand, Philippines, Malaysia) was a Washington concern. The region is more fragile today than 10 years ago, he opined, and urged a coordinated approach by the stronger and healthier democracies. Wevers offered that APEC remains an important regional mechanism and the East Asia Summit, which includes India, is another good venue for raising issues. Wevers added that China is only now realizing the very significant law and order problem
within China, as people are making money illicitly without any sense of the rule of law. The metamphetamine problem in the region can be traced to China, continued Wevers, and the precursor chemicals are coming into New Zealand and other countries in large containers that are difficult to stop. Meeting with MFAT Deputy Secretary Caroline Forsyth ——————————————— —— 7. (S/NF) DepSec Forsyth welcomed A/S Fort’s visit, stating that the GNZ values its contacts with the Washington intelligence community. The twice-weekly CIA-Commonwealth briefings are very useful, but the Five Eyes provides greater depth. She added that intelligence reports go to the PM’s office, who “”absorbs”” the paper. A/S Fort explained that the State INR Bureau is relatively small, and therefore focuses on core issues. Currently, Washington policymakers are focused on the longer term implications of the recent Russia/Georgia conflict and what is holds for Russia’s future and adherence to international norms. With North Korea, the Six Party Talks are the central issue, but also Kim Jong Il’s health and possible successor. Afghanistan’s trend lines are worrisome, he added, particularly due to the link with the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (FATA) in Pakistan. Pakistan’s transition to civilian leadership is being watched closely in Washington, noted the A/S. He and Forsyth discussed Iranian nuclear pretensions and possible Israeli reaction. A/S Fort offered that Israel is likely to strike if the government of Israel believes Iran has met their red lines; an Israeli strike against Iran would be more complex than those launched against Iraq and Syria, he said. A/S Fort added that the US-India nuclear deal was an historic diplomatic achievement for the Secretary. Responding to Forsyth’s question, Fort downplayed Venezuela as a threat to USG interests and characterized Chavez as more of an annoyance with limited political influence within the region. 8. (S) Forsyth praised the US-New Zealand bilateral
relationship, noting that the highlight of the year had been the Secretary’s visit to New Zealand and onward travel to Samoa, which had provided a window into the challenges facing the Pacific, particularly to the micro-states of the region. New Zealand views the situation in Fiji as “”acute,”” and appreciates USG support for the Pacific Island Forum (PIF) position on Fiji. A/S Fort commented that GNZ sigint had been critical to USG understanding of the 2006 coup. Forsyth offered that New Zealand sees an arc of instability in Melanesia, as there is a great deal of money but little to no capacity to use it wisely. The Solomon Islands are under control at the moment but there are still significant problems in terms of governance and corruption. The GNZ is weighing the necessary structural changes needed to make a long-lasting improvement in the SI society so that RAMSI security forces might depart. Vanuatu is coping for the moment, she added, and New Zealand is putting significant assistance towards agricultural projects there. 9. (S/NF) Moving to North Korea, Forsyth asked if the stalled progress on the Six Party Talks was linked to a DPRK assessment that the U.S. election aftermath might offer a better deal. A/S Fort replied in the negative, noting that foreign policy continuity is the norm. Oscillation is part of the DPRK strategy, he added, and the current situation is complicated by Kim Jong Il’s health issues and the succession process. Kim Jong Il played off the former Soviet Union and China to his benefit and may be trying to use the U.S. in the same way as the Soviets. China’s role has been constructive, continued Fort, largely because Beijing does not want to see a nuclear Korean peninsula and the ramifications of a northeast Asian arms race. The A/S mentioned that North Korea faces a food crisis despite World Food Program assistance. Forsyth said that the New Zealand high commissioner in Seoul would be going soon to North Korea for a periodic visit. 10. (S/NF) The MFAT
Deputy Secretary asked for A/S Fort’s assessment of Afghanistan and Pakistan. New Zealand has troops stationed in Bamiyan province and the GNZ is concerned over the malevolent influence from the tribal areas of Pakistan, particularly since the international community has been trying to transform Afghanistan into a state since 2001. Fort responded that Afghanistan will be an enduring challenge for generations requiring cultural changes. The U.S. is determined to be more aggressive in addressing Taliban cross-border operations, and is weighing the political costs with Pakistan. Forsyth and Fort discussed prospects for the Indian government to improve its relations with Islamabad to ease pressure on the Pakistan army to fight insurgents in the FATA. Comment ——- 11. (C) GNZ interlocutors were pleased to have the opportunity to discuss a range of global issues of bilateral concern. All meetings focused on GNZ support for the intelligence sharing partnership and, in particular, the singular role of Prime Minister Clark in ensuring good cooperation. As of this writing, the New Zealand HC based in Seoul has already returned from her trip to the DPRK; we will try to get a readout from MFAT. End Comment. 12. (U) A/S Fort has cleared this message. MCKEAN”,24/10/2008
Posted on 13:34, December 12th, 2010 by Pablo
It is said that politics is the art of hypocrisy and that diplomacy is the art of saying one thing when meaning another. The publication of US diplomatic correspondence between its embassy in Wellington and other US agencies in Washington and abroad (see distribution list below) show that the 5th Labour government was much more closely aligned with the US on security and intelligence matters than it let on in public, and that the push to improve ties with the US crossed the aisle in parliament but was deliberately not made public for domestic electoral purposes.
Rather than read what others have to say about the issue, I figured that it is best to just offer KP readers the opportunity to digest one particularly informative cable for themselves. It is long but well worth the effort reading, and comes courtesy of Selwyn Manning at Scoop, which also has the most in-depth analysis of the subject. Of course, by my publishing it and you reading it we have both apparently broken US laws governing classified information.
I wonder if that means that I will hear the words “cavity search” on my next trip to the US.
98719,3/02/2007 4:55 AM,07WELLINGTON194,Embassy Wellington,SECRET//NOFORN,,VZCZCXRO2665OO RUEHPBDE RUEHWL #0194/01 0610455ZNY SSSSS ZZHO 020455Z MAR 07FM AMEMBASSY WELLINGTONTO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3972INFO RUEHBY/AMEMBASSY CANBERRA IMMEDIATE 4773RUEHPF/AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH IMMEDIATE 0043RUEHPB/AMEMBASSY PORT MORESBY IMMEDIATE 0637RUEHSV/AMEMBASSY SUVA IMMEDIATE 0573RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHDC IMMEDIATERUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATERUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC IMMEDIATERHHMUNA/CDR USPACOM HONOLULU HI IMMEDIATE,”S E C R E T SECTION 01 OF 04 WELLINGTON 000194 SIPDIS SIPDIS NOFORN STATE FOR EAP/FO AND EAP/ANP NSC FOR VICTOR CHA OSD FOR JESSICA POWERS PHNOM PENH FOR POL/MCKEAN E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/01/2017 TAGS: PREL, PGOV, NZ SUBJECT: PM CLARK GOES TO WASHINGTON Classified By: Charge D’Affaires David J. Keegan, for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d) 1. (C) Summary: Prime Minister Clark has announced to New Zealanders that she will use her March 20-21 visit to Washington to discuss key regional and world events with the President and other
Senior Officials. In reality, she has a broader agenda as well: to improve the tone of her dialogue with us and to send a message to the NZ electorate that cooperating with the U.S. is normal and advances New Zealand’s interests. Now in her third term in office, Clark has over the years developed a deeper understanding of the breadth and benefits of the US-New Zealand relationship. She recognizes that sound bites matter, and in response has begun to modulate her public statements to be more positive about the relationship. She also strenuously avoids saying anything critical about U.S. policy. Although a strengthened centrist domestic political opposition may motivate Clark to be more open to us, most of her efforts to improve bilateral cooperation have not been made public, indicating genuine commitment. Over the past year, she has quietly filled a number of key positions with officials who are well disposed towards the United States, and she and her Ministers now treat official meetings with us as opportunities to advance common agendas rather than either public relations coups or something to deny. The PM closely monitors and supports the “”Matrix”” process as well as deeper US-NZ cooperation in intelligence and other issues. She particularly appreciates our cooperation in the Pacific and Antarctica. End Summary. 2. (C) A micromanager, Clark will come to Washington extremely well briefed on the issues. She will likely suggest small but concrete ways to cooperate within the boundaries of the Presidential Directive, such as by regularizing our dialogue on scientific and Pacific Island issues. She will probably announce that New Zealand will extend its military deployments in Afghanistan through September 2009. Clark will not seek any dramatic changes to bilateral policy, which she recognizes would be more than either side’s system could bear. Nor will she make a heavy pitch for an FTA as she did during her 2002 visit, instead leaving that for Trade
Minister Goff’s trip to Washington later this year. 3. (C) We should use this visit to urge continued tangible commitments to the improving bilateral cooperation and NZ’s defense modernization. We should also elicit a greater willingness to publicize our successes where possible. Clark will be setting the pace for improving U.S.-New Zealand relations for the foreseeable future. This visit provides us an opportunity to encourage her to stay the course and to resist negative pressures from those in her party who prefer to keep us at arm’s length. ————————————– MOVING UP THE LEARNING CURVE: WE MATTER ————————————— 4. (C) With over seven years in office, Clark is now the longest serving Labour Prime Minister in New Zealand history. Although she has no clear successor and may run for an unprecedented fourth term, she is clearly already focused on her legacy. Arriving in office well to the left of the political spectrum, Clark began her tenure by stressing New Zealand’s role as a small but principled player favoring multilateral (ideally UN-based) solutions to the world’s problems. Since then, she has witnessed such events as 9/11, cooperation between NZDF and US troops in Afghanistan, and shortcomings of the UN system (such as its inability to react to the 2005 Tsunami). As a result, she has over time focused more on New Zealand’s role in the Pacific region and its relations with Australia and other bilateral allies. 5. (C) Through learning on the job, Clark has clearly developed a more sophisticated understanding of the breadth and importance of the US-New Zealand relationship. Her desire to improve relations with the Administration may be due in part to the influence of Foreign Minister Winston WELLINGTON 00000194 002 OF 004 Peters, but we see evidence that Clark herself wants to improve US-New Zealand ties. Contacts tell us she has especially valued our close cooperation following the coup
in Fiji, and during her recent meetings with PM Howard she praised EAP DAS Davies’ trip to the Solomons. The Ambassador reports that Clark is obviously impressed by our dedication to environmental protection and generous support for New Zealand activities in Antarctica, which she witnessed first hand during this year’s celebrations of USNZ cooperation on the ice. 6. (C/NF) Recognizing that her Government had initially resisted improving the U.S. relationship, Clark has since the 2005 election appointed to key positions a number of officials well disposed towards working with the United States. In addition to Foreign Minister Winston Peters (arguably a marriage of convenience), she has appointed Warren Tucker as Director of the NZ Security Intelligence Service (NZSIS), Bruce Ferguson as Director of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB), Roy Ferguson as NZ Ambassador to Washington; and John McKinnon as Secretary of Defence. Together with Peters and Simon Murdoch, second in command at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, these officials have improved their agencies’ coordination on U.S. policy and instructed staff to be helpful to us wherever possible. For example, NZSIS had for months resisted housing equipment needed to implement a possible HSPD-6 agreement with the United States. Soon after his arrival, Tucker ordered NZSIS to be the host, paving the way for negotiations. 7. (C) Clark has been more mindful of the public side of our relationship as well. She participated in the Embassy’s 4 July reception even though she never attends national day events. She was also gracious guest at a media-covered reception at the Ambassador’s residence last May in honor of her favorite Kiwi composer. Mindful that her 2003 remarks about the Iraq war have not been forgotten, Clark now slaps down her Cabinet Ministers for similar offenses. When on January 12 Duty Minister Jim Anderton issued a blistering critique of
the President’s plan to send more troops to Iraq, Clark quickly disavowed the comments and removed Anderton from duty within the day. She was roundly criticized in the media for her actions, but did not budge. After confirming her visit to Washington on March 1, a reporter asked what Clark would say if the President asked her views on the war. Clark merely said she doubted that would happen, adding that New Zealand is not in Iraq and it would be “”gratuitous to offer any advice.”” ———————————CLARK REALLY DOES WANT CLOSER TIES ——————————— 8. (C) Some observers claim Clark only wants to mend fences with the United States to wrest center ground from the opposition National Party, which is gaining in the polls. We doubt this is her main motive. For one thing, polling suggests up to half of all Kiwis believe New Zealand does not need a closer relationship with the United States, and the anti-American sentiment in the left side of her own caucus is well known. Although Labour is losing ground in opinion polls, Clark is far from being in such crisis that she needs to change her foreign policy to get votes. New National leader John Key is charming and confident, but has been in Parliament for only five years and his practical agenda remains fuzzy. In contrast, while many Kiwis consider Clark cold and some question her integrity, we have yet to meet any who regard her as anything less than competent. The majority seem proud of the way she has helped forge a new, modern identity for the country: clean, green, multicultural, multilateral, creative, and yes — nuclear free. Nor is there a chance of the type of leadership putsch within Labour that has plagued National in recent years. —————————————– WE BENEFIT FROM STRONGER COOPERATION, TOO —————————————- 9. (C) New Zealand is small, but concrete improvements in WELLINGTON 00000194 003 OF 004 bilateral cooperation over the past year, including
via the “”Matrix”” process initiated in Bangkok last year, have brought tangible, positive gains for U.S. interests. We continue to cooperate closely on events in Fiji and have come to value the views of Kiwi officials regarding events in E.Timor, the Solomon Islands, and Tonga. We are increasing behind-the-scenes dialogue on N.Korea and Iran, both of which have diplomatic relations with New Zealand. The “”Matrix”” process has also been helpful in enabling both sides to stay joined up in response to other events, such as ensuring that the recent fire on board a Japanese whaling vessel in Antarctic waters would not lead to an environmental disaster. 10. (S/NF) Improvements on the defense and intelligence side have also borne fruit. As Minister in Charge of the NZSIS and GCSB, Clark is read into all major operations involving U.S. intelligence. She understands the implications of a post-9/11 world for New Zealand’s security. She also realized after the Fiji coup that New Zealand had become too reliant on Australian intelligence. Clark grasps that NZ must “”give to get”” and that some of our cooperative operations — such as monitoring radicalizing Kiwi jihadists — strengthen her country’s security. But she also has been willing to address targets of marginal benefit to New Zealand that could do her political harm if made public. Over the past year, she has supported increased counterterrorism cooperation with us. 11. (C/NF) While the Presidential Directive still limits our defense relationship, New Zealand’s push since 2004 to modernize its forces have improved our ability to work together in those areas in which we can cooperate. In support of NZ military activities in the Pacific Islands, Timor Leste, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, there have been more high-level U.S. military visits to New Zealand over the past 6 months than in the previous two years. This March alone, there will be visits by two Admirals for maritime security consultations with New Zealand, France, and the UK, as
well as a yearly call by PACAF Commander General Hester. There have been more U.S. military waivers for multilateral exercises including the NZDF as well. Unlike in the past, the PM and her Government have focused on the substance behind these visits and exercises instead of touting them to the press as a sign that NZ’s nuclear ban no longer matters to the United States. New Zealand continues to be an active participant in the Proliferation Security Initiative, has helped explain the importance of this effort to Pacific Island states, and will for the first time host an Operational Experts Group Meeting in Auckland March 2628. ———- Key Issues ———- 12. (C/NF) Regional/Global Security: In her public statements announcing the visit, Clark has said that she hopes to discuss with senior US officials common interests in counter-terrorism/Afghanistan; regional security and good governance in the PICs and E.Timor; and DPRK, Iran and other nonproliferation issues. Although she told a journalist that Iraq is unlikely to come up, MFAT staff tells us that she knows that this is a major issue on the mind of the Administration. They also say she is likely to raise concerns over China’s role in the Asia Pacific region. Clark will likely announce during her visit that New Zealand will extend its deployments to Afghanistan through September 2009, the longest extension since the Afghan war began. She may also propose that both sides agree to regular consultations on Pacific Island issues. We agree this could send a positive public signal about our joint work in the region, although in reality fast moving events make it a certainty that we will continue to communicate in real time as well. We would also have to ensure that the search for agenda items and “”deliverables”” did not overwhelm our constructive dialogue. 13. (S/NF) Intelligence: Although it will be obviously impossible to publicly highlight the exact nature of NZ’s WELLINGTON 00000194 004 OF 004 intelligence cooperation during
Clark’s visit, she undoubtedly would appreciate having it acknowledged behind closed doors. We should also encourage New Zealand to agree to some public recognition of the HSPD-6 MOU that we understand will be signed during the visit. A public signing ceremony the Embassy hosted when we concluded the US-NZ Regional Alert Movement agreement received positive press play here, which indicates that not all intelligence cooperation issues are tabu to Kiwis. 14. (C) Environment and other issues: Since the Antarctic celebrations in January, Clark has become more aware of the close level of cooperation between US and NZ scientists both on and off the ice. She may propose new areas for cooperation in Antarctica and suggest both sides review the US-NZ Science and Technology Agreement to consider possible new joint research efforts. GNZ officials were struck by parallel references to climate change and sustainable energy in both the President’s and PM’s opening statements to their legislature this year, and Clark may raise this as well. She may also propose cooperation on efforts towards sustainable fisheries. Clark will almost certainly acknowledge U.S. leadership in WTO Doha negotiations. 15. (C) The Public message: Clark will deliver three speeches while in the United States. Unlike her speech there in 2002 on New Zealand’s desire for an FTA, Clark’s address in Washington will present a more positive focus on overall US-NZ relations. This reflects both her understanding that an FTA is not possible for now and her desire to speak to the broader relationship. Clark will deliver a second speech in Chicago covering WTO and economic issues (including a soft FTA pitch) and a third in Seattle on innovation in New Zealand. ——- COMMENT ——- 16. (C) PM Clark will continue to set the course for improved USNZ relations. It is clear there will be no change in New Zealand’s anti-nuclear policy in the medium term; even the
new opposition leader John Key has announced that the National Party wants to maintain the ban. National also continues to be vulnerable to accusations of being too close to the United States, which cost it significant support at the 2005 election. If elected in 2008, the Nats will have more political room to work with us if they can build on progress made under this Government towards better US-NZ ties. A re-elected Labour Government will do the same. This visit provides a chance to encourage Clark to set the bar high. We may have setbacks along the way, but the better our mutual understanding of what each side can expect from each other, the less likely that these hiccups will undermine our progress. End Comment. Keegan”,2/03/2007
The latest document dump by wikileaks, more than a quarter of a million documents detailing “cables” (diplomatic messages) between the US State Department and 274 embassies and consulates from late 1966 until earlier this year, is a treasure trove for diplomatic historians and others interested in the minutia of diplomatic correspondence. As a recipient of such cables in a former life I have found it highly entertaining and informative to read the musings of US diplomats about foreign leaders, sensitive subjects, US perspectives on those subjects at given points in time, with a fair bit of gossip thrown in. Many of these communications came from junior diplomats as well as ambassadors and other senior department officials. Most of them (half) were unclassified, 42 percent were classified “confidential” (the lowest security classification), 6 percent were classified “secret,” and 2 percent were classified “Top Secret-NOFORN” (NOFORN means no foreign eyes may read the document).
The latter is where things begin to get serious and sensitive, and it will be those cables that the US government is most concerned about even if they have been redacted by the news organisations that received the dumps (to their credit several of the news organisations, including Der Speigel, The Guardian and the New York Times, sent the documents to the US government in order to have them vetted for security purposes and accepted most of the suggested redactions that came in response). These cables will be the ones that mention negotiating strategies, intelligence gathering capabilities and methods, people in foreign governments who work with or for the US, military relations within and between states, and to a lesser extent the personal foibles of foreign leaders.
The rest is just normal daily correspondence between embassies and Foggy Bottom (where the State Department is located in DC). They may prove embarrassing to some, but is anyone really surprised that the Saudis and other Sunni Arab Gulf states are deeply fearful of Iran, or that much of the money for jihadists comes from them? Or that the Chinese engage in cyber espionage and sabotage? Or that North Korea and Iran are military partners? Is anyone surprised that Ghaddafi is a weirdo or that Kenya and Nigeria are vast slicks of corruption floating on a sea of poverty and unrest? Or that Silvio Berlusconi can party better than most people a third of his age? Or that some foreign leaders are not the sharpest tools in their sheds?
Mind you, a lot of the correspondence is just hearsay or cocktail party tidbits, and the analytic abilities of the correspondents vary considerably. But that is what routine diplomatic correspondence largely consists of–everyday reporting of things that may or may not be true, may or may not be interesting for reasons other than salacious purposes, and which may or may not elicit a policy response on the part of the US government. In downscaled terms, this will be the same for NZ diplomatic correspondence, so the publication of these documents can offer potential insights into how NZ operates diplomatically (there are almost 1500 cables that mention NZ in the dump, many of which cluster around the issues of Afghanistan, non-proliferation, terrorism and Fiji. That alone demonstrates the areas of mutual interest and cooperation between the two states).
As mentioned, there is much to be mined in this latest dump, and some of the more sensitive information is bound to cause concern in diplomatic circles in Washington DC and beyond. One item that caught my interest and which has been flagged by the New York Times is that US diplomats were instructed to go beyond their credentialed responsibilities in order to obtain personal information about foreign dignitaries and substantive information about different country’s negotiating postures on selected issues. This differs from normal diplomatic reporting because it asks foreign service officers to serve as what are known as “official cover” intelligence collectors. An “unofficial cover” intelligence agent is someone who uses a false identity that has no official connection to the government for which s/he is working. If they get caught they are at the mercy of the government that captured them (think of the Russian spy ring recently broken up in the US). Official cover assets use their diplomatic status to cover the fact that they are engaged in activities for which they are not credentialed and for which they will be arrested if caught. Since they have diplomatic immunity they are merely deported if discovered.
The practice of using diplomats as official cover assets is not new, but the revelations in this document dump demonstrate how systematic is has been while Hillary Clinton has been Secretary of State, and how the UN has been a major target of such activities. That is bound to cause a stir. What is personally interesting to me is that earlier in this decade I suggested, with reference to the Zaoui case and the SIS misinformation campaign directed at him, that I would not be surprised if some NZ diplomats might be serving as official cover assets in areas of diplomatic and security priority (this at a time when the SIS director was a former career diplomat rather than a former judge or military officer like those who preceded him, and claimed to have no idea who Zaoui was before he arrived in NZ even though the director had been NZ ambassador to France and Algeria at exactly the time when Zaoui purportedly committed the “crimes” for which the SIS branded him a risk to NZ national security).
The curious issue of having a former diplomat front an intelligence agency notwithstanding, I said at the time that it would be expeditious if NZ used diplomats as official cover assets, admitting the risks involved in doing so. After all, NZ is a small country with limited diplomatic and intelligence-collecting resources and a good international reputation, so allowing MFAT or other diplomatic personnel abroad to double as intelligence collectors outside of their credentialed positions seems like good value to me (again, understanding the need for acute discretion when doing so).
My comments at the time were condemned by Helen Clark, SIS Director Richard Woods, various Labour Party MPs (I remember former Immigration Minister Leanne Dalzeil disparaging my character), and I even got an accusatory letter from the then-State Services Commissioner (someone by the surname Wintringham I believe) and a strange phone call at home from someone claiming to be from the EAB. The gist of what they all said–besides Ms. Clark prophetically saying that I was unworthy of employment at Auckland University–was that I was endangering the security of NZ diplomats by making such “unfounded” accusations. Well, perhaps I got the idea for making such speculative claims from having worked inside the US foreign policy apparatus, so I just assumed that it would be par for the course in other countries as well, particularly US allies or partners with similar interests in specific areas. Then again, perhaps not and NZ is a much “cleaner” actor on the diplomatic stage. UPDATE: As it turns out, John Key agrees with my speculation: http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/americas/4400719/WikiLeaks-reveals-NZ-pipe-band-cables.
It may be a pyrrhic victory but I guess I stand vindicated on that one.
In any event, I urge anyone with an interest in international affairs to read the coverage of the latest document dump if not the documents themselves. It is amazing to see how the press in different countries cover the story (I read Latin American, Spanish and Portuguese papers as well as the Singapore Straits Times, various British, US, Australian and NZ outlets and other internet sources, and the variety in focus is enlightening and itself a source of information). It will be fun to watch the diplomatic reactions to the revelations in the leaked documents. But what I am really looking forward to is the US embassy in Wellington commentary about the appointment of Winston Peters as foreign minister as well as in anticipation of his visits with US leaders in DC and NZ. Something tells me that they could be unintentionally very funny, if not “glowing.”
From the rhetoric and doe-eyed looks emanating from the PM and Foreign Minister during the signing of the so-called “Wellington Declaration,” one would have thought that NZ had just been awarded most favoured nation status by the US and assumed a place akin to that of France or Germany in US foreign policy. This belief seems to have gone to the head of the PM, who has taken to lecturing larger states such as Japan on NZ expectations when it comes to trading agreements. The truth is a bit different.
The “strategic partnership” announced by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirms what has been apparent to the international security community since 2001: NZ quietly dropped its concerns about engaging in military-to-military relations with the US in exchange for the US routinely granting executive permission for these to occur. NZ military deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq (the latter reportedly involving more than just the one year rotation of combat engineers in Basra, something that the NZ government refuses to acknowledge), as well as NZ commitment of intelligence assets to both tactical and strategic intelligence gathering at home and abroad (such as the deployment of GCSB and SIS personnel to Afghanistan) all occurred without fanfare and in spite of the formal ban of military exchanges and exercises in effect since the dissolution of the ANZUS alliance. Not having US Navy surface ship port visits in NZ does not deter US submarines from entering NZ territorial waters with or without NZ government connivance, and any look at video of NZDF troops in action in foreign locales clearly shows that they work in close proximity to US troops and preferentially use US equipment during the conduct of their combat operations.
The Wellington Declaration just makes public this discreet relationship, which even as it deepens and becomes standardised over the long-term will not require signing of a formal alliance treaty. The latter is seen as an encumbrance for domestic political reasons on both sides (since both the US Congress and NZ Parliament would see opposition to the signing of a bilateral security treaty), so much as in the way the US conducts its foreign wars (which is to not seek Congressional ratification of a declaration of war for fear of opposition, but instead to use Executive authority as commander-in-chief to declare a state of national security emergency requiring military combat deployments abroad that presents Congress with a fait accompli), the Wellington Declaration circumvents legislative scrutiny at the same time that it reaffirms the obvious close security ties that exist between the two states.
What changed most clearly is that while Labour prefers to soft peddle the relationship due to its internal factional dynamics, National has always had issues with the “independent and autonomous” foreign policy stance that has characterised NZ diplomatic relations since the early 1990s. Although it cannot reverse the anti-nuclear policy due to domestic political factors, National has always worked to reaffirm its “traditional” security ties, to the point that it supported NZ joining the US-led “coalition of the willing” that invaded and occupied Iraq without UN authorisation. With the Wellington Declaration it has gotten its wish.
But sometimes getting what one wishes for brings with it unanticipated trouble. By formally committing to a strategic partnership with the US, overlapped on National’s commitment to engaging closer military ties with Australia, NZ has in effect become a posse member for the global sheriff and its Antipodean deputy. The closer the level of military engagement between NZ and its larger military partners (quaintly called “interoperability” in the jargon), the more dependent it becomes on them for strategic guidance, material support, operational readiness and deployed force security. This makes it more likely, in spite of National’s assurances that NZ always retains the option to refuse a request, that NZ will wind up becoming involved in conflicts not of its choice but that of its strategic partners. That in turn raises the specter of NZ developing, by way of military coat-tailing, hostile relations with countries and cultures with which it historically has had no quarrel, which will spell the end of its “independent and autonomous” diplomatic posture.
What Mr. Key and his company of advisors appear to not understand is that the US rapprochement with NZ is due to two basic strategic factors, one general and one specific, that have little to do with interest in NZ per se. The first general reason is that, after a delay in responding due to the obsession with counter-terrorism in the Middle East and Central Asia, the US has moved to counter Chinese advances in the Western Pacific basin, which it sees as the next big strategic conflict zone. Not only is it in the process of moving the bulk of its military assets into the Pacific, in a reversal of the century-old Atlantic and Euro-centric orientation that characterised its strategic outlook until recently. It has also reaffirmed its bilateral security ties to all of its Asian partners as well as India. This includes Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, NZ and even Viet Nam. This defensive arc covers countries deeply concerned about Chinese neo-imperialist ambitions, many of whom have diplomatic or territorial disputes with the Chinese, and along with its soft power projection in the Pacific Island Forum countries (including Fiji, where the US has just announced the resumption of US AID development work), the US is moving to counter Chinese influence in SE Asia and beyond (most often gained via so-called “chequebook diplomacy” whereby China promotes infrastructure development projects with no apparent strings attached but which all have potentially dual civilian and military applications). The Wellington Declaration just adds NZ to the roster of US security partners that constitute a collective hedge against the looming Chinese presence, which is particularly noteworthy because of NZ’s increased dependency on Chinese investment and trade for its economic fortunes.
With the Wellington Declaration Chinese influence and ambitions in NZ are potentially fence-ringed. That may have been National’s undeclared intent, and if so that is the hypothetical NZ gain from the deal. But all of that remains to be seen (if nothing else because it would contravene National’s public assurances that it welcomes the Chinese investment and cultural presence on NZ shores–cue revelations about Pansy Wong and her long obviously dodgy failed businessman-husband, who just might have caught US negative interest given the Chinese penchant for placing intelligent assets in their diaspora).
The second, specific strategic purpose that the Wellington Declaration serves is US nuclear counter-proliferation efforts. Unlike its predecessor, the Obama administration has a basic, and apparently sincere interest in reducing nuclear weapons stockpiles and preventing the proliferation of nuclear weapons beyond those that currently possess them. Having a small “neutral” non-nuclear state as a partner in such efforts provides a convenient and effective cover (some might say fig leaf), particularly with regards to “rogue” states such as North Korea and Iran. NZ has already participated in the Six Party negotiations on the North Korean nuclear programme, helping to gain a delay in Pyongyang’s efforts to achieve full weapons capability. In Iran’s case, NZ’s strong economic ties to the mullah’s regime is seen as providing a source of indirect diplomatic access and backdoor entry into the Iranian mindset with regards to nukes (via diplomatic and intelligence service information sharing). In other words, working with and through NZ on matters of nuclear proliferation, the US gains diplomatic cover for its own self-interested reasons to oppose the spread of the universally recognised deterrent.
What NZ does not get out of this strategic partnership, and which the National government continues to wax deluded about, is improved negotiating status with the US with regard to bilateral trade. The US is content to allow the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations to take their course with respect to trade with NZ and other small Pacific partners, and domestic political considerations accentuated by the recent midterm elections make it nigh impossible for NZ’s leading export sector, dairy, to make inroads into the subsidised US market. Truth be told, for the US there is no “issue-linkage” between security and trade when it comes to NZ even if its rhetoric continues to hold out the promise of such being the case sometime in the future. Yet the current (and to be fair, the past) NZ government continues to insist that, “difficulties” notwithstanding, bilateral trade with the US in forthcoming if not imminent because of NZ efforts across a range of issues of mutual interest without qualification or constraint.
This is where Mr. Key and Mr. McCully fail the foreign policy leadership test. Given the US strategic interests at play, and its absolute need to secure partnership agreements that catered to these interests given the evolving world balance of power, NZ was in a position to bargain hard and leverage its credentials (mostly Labour-made) as an honest broker and reliable international interlocutor into some form of tangible, immediate benefit in exchange for accepting the role of US strategic partner. That did not happen. Instead, what NZ got was platitudes, promises and bilateral yearly meetings between foreign policy counterparts, something that is par for the course for any number of nations, in what essentially amounted to a stop-over on Secretary Clinton’s trip to more important meetings with the US proxy that is Australia. As a result of that brief rendezvous, NZ is now saddled with the burden of being internationally perceived to be (if not in fact) more closely tied to the US without the full benefits of being so. It is a junior partner of the US in security only, and that is bound to be noticed by the international community.
In effect, NZ is just a small cog in a larger US strategic plan that is influenced by factors that have nothing to do with NZ interests and all to do with how the US sees and proposes to shape the strategic environment currently evolving in the Western Pacific and with regard to nuclear proliferation. National believes that it has made NZ a “player” by signing a strategic partnership agreement with the US, but the truth is that it has committed the country to a relationship that has always been one sided and which just got more so. To put it bluntly: the Tories may feel big as a result of the “Wellington Declaration” but they still are small and myopic when it comes to perceiving, much less comprehending the bigger picture, to say nothing of the realities at stake down the road.
PS: The farce only gets better. NZ announced that it is in FTA negotiations with authoritarian, crime mob-dominated klepto-oligarchic Russia even though it admits that Foreign Affairs and Trade have very limited Russian language comprehension skills and the deal will involve Tajikistan and Uzbekistan (Russia negotiating for them, presumably), two states that NZ has admitted to having”limited” knowledge about (to include comprehension of Tajik or Uzbek dialects). In other words, National has staked its claim to being at the forefront of free trade agreements without understanding the business and political culture, much less language or human rights conditions, of potential partners just after it committed to a long-term security partnership with a country that has a troublesome relationship with all three. This is amateurism taken to art-level heights.
Jane Kelsey’s latest book on trade, an edited collection titled No Ordinary Deal, was launched last night in Auckland. Other launches will follow in Hamilton, Wellington and Christchurch this week before the road show heads to Australia. As a contributor to the book I attended the launch and enjoyed the speech given by another contributor, Lori Wallach, a trade specialist at the US research institute Public Citizen (founded by Ralph Nader in 1971). Lori, who wrote the chapter on the US domestic agenda and approach to the so-called Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations, noted that the model for the TPP is not the General Agreement on Tarriffs and Trade (GATT) but instead the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which essentially is an investor’s guarantee agreement rather than one about free trade per se.
In her chapter and her speech, Lori noted that among many other downsides to the TPP, it would exempt foreign investors from domestic regulations in NZ, and should the investor be made to comply with those regulations by court order, the costs of compliance would be borne by the NZ taxpayers in the form of mandatory compensation. She went on to note how local pharmaceutical regulations and control boards would be circumvented in favour of US drug company standards, and explicated the dumping and market monopolisation efforts of US agri-businesses under this type of trade regime. As a sidebar she noted how NZ dairy exports would not appreciably increase to the US under the agreement, as well as the fact that the recent midterm elections have ridden on a backlash against trade because of presumed US job losses tied to it, which means that the possibility of the US ratifying the TPP in the next two years under the new congressional leadership (even if negotiations are concluded, which itself is unlikely) are improbable at best. Her basic premise was that she would not object to the TPP if it were about free trading of goods and services as per the Ricardian ideal. What she objects to is the use of free market rhetoric to cloak cross-border commercial arrangements that are less than free or fair and which contain pernicious costs for smaller national partners and wage labour-dependent consumers in general.
The bottom line is that the TPP is fraught and the public need to be aware of the very large downside to it. It is not a genuine “free trade” agreement in the proper sense of the term. Instead, it is a US-centric investor’s agreement skewed in favour of large (mostly foreign) corporate interests rather than consumers and local producers. Among other topics, chapters (there are 19 in all) explore the impact of the TPP on indigenous rights, climate change, intellectual property, cultural exchange and, in my contribution, security. They are well worth reading, and often eye-opening.
The book is designed to promote informed debate on the matter by offering a critical counter-point to the received wisdom of the policy elites who attempt to sell it as as “win-win” universal good for all involved. As I have noted previously when writing about asymmetric trade, this is a far cry from the truth and carries with it not only the potential for a loss of economic freedom and sovereign control of strategic assets, but also the very real danger of increasing both physical and emotional insecurity in the smaller partners involved in such agreements. Since insecurity breeds fear (be it fear of job loss, fear of environmental harm, fear of forced dislocation from one’s land or cultural roots, to say nothing of fear of physical harm by direct or indirect means), and freedom from fear is considered to be an inalienable human right, the downside of the TPP needs to contrasted againt the supposed upsides championed by those who stand the most to benefit from the deal, and who constitute an elite and often unaccountable minority among the constituencies involved.
More publisher information on the book and the launches can be found at www.bwb.co.nz. An information sheet on the book is here:
No Ordinary Deal
None of these arguments stacks up. All nine participant countries except Vietnam are heavily liberalised, deregulated and privatised.* They already have many free trade deals between them. Who really believes that US dairy markets will be thrown open to New Zealand, or that China, India and Japan will sign onto a treaty they had no role in designing?
No Ordinary Deal
Above all, No Ordinary Deal unmasks the fallacies of the TPPA and exposes the contradictions of locking our countries even deeper into a neoliberal model of global free markets – when even political leaders admit that this has failed.
*The US, Australia, New Zealand, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. Malaysia joined in October 2010.
Distributor: HarperCollins, PO Box 1, Shortland Street, Auckland
The Contributors: Jane Kelsey, Bryan Gould, Patricia Ranald, Lori Wallach, Todd Tucker, José Aylwin, Paul Buchanan, John Quiggin, Warwick Murray, Edward Challies, David Adamson, Geoff Bertram, Tom Faunce, Ruth Townsend, Susy Frankel, Jock Given, Ted Murphy, Bill Rosenberg, Nan Seuffert.
The dramatic reversal in the Democrat’s fortunes since November 2008 and their impending defeat in Tuesday’s mid-term elections raises the question of how things went so wrong for them in such as short time. Needless to say, the situation they inherited did not help: a major recession with near record unemployment, bankruptcies and home foreclosures, two wars of occupation, immigration concerns and a deeply polarised electorate. Even so, President Obama had a wave of popular support, the Democrats gained control of Congress, there was a mood for change in the country and the world was sympathetic to the incoming administration. Inherited obstacles notwithstanding, the scene was set for a major shift in direction under consolidated Democratic leadership for years to come.
Instead, the Democrats have foundered while the GOP-Conservative opposition has rebounded and mounted a formidable challenge that threatens to undermine any hope for significant alterations in US policy direction. The immediate reasons for this Republican resurgence and the pallorous state of the Democratic Party (and the President) in the run-up to the midterms has more to do with the latter’s strategic and tactical errors rather than the former’s platform for governance. The Democrat errors can be enumerated, and will be summarised here.
The first strategic error was to believe that playing a centrist game was going to work. That may have succeeded in years gone by, but with an Republican opposition operating off a script of obstructionism, fear-mongering, personal denigration, xenophobia and cultivation of populist ignorance, it was never going to prosper in today’s political climate. Appeasing a disloyal opposition simply encourages it to become more vicious in its attacks, particularly when it has a partisan media working on its side. Thus the “Kenyan-Muslim-Socialist” and “Pelosi-Reid deficit spender” memes that have reverberated from the moment the Obama administration took office and the Democrats gained control of Congress.
What the President and his party should have done is staked out an explicitly Liberal-Left policy agenda that starkly differentiated their (relatively, given that it is in the US) progressive and pro-active approaches to the nation’s woes. They were going to be vilified anyway, so the stark differentiation of their platform from the reactionary and failed GOP approach would have clarified the lines of debate in ways that the public could clearly understand, both in terms of where the fault lay with regards to the economic woes of the country as well as in the solution set being offered as an alternative. After all, the US has not had anything remotely close to a “progressive ” policy agenda (and I say this phrase advisedly simply because what passes for progressive in the US is centrist is most other liberal democracies) since the early days of Jimmy Carter’s presidency, and the inherited economic and political conditions were ripe for a bold move away from the failed policies of the Bush 43 administration. That would have been a real agenda for change.
Since the Democrats did not do so, they failed on a second strategic level: they failed to impose the terms of the policy debate and ceded that space to the Fox and talkback-led conservative opposition. Since the latter had little to offer other than invective, this allowed them to turn to the usual diversionary wedge issues in order to gain political traction: ethnic conflict, cultural mores, “socialism,” and taxation. Whatever the administration’s accomplishments (and there have been a number, including nuclear arms reductions with the Russians and the gradual military exit from Iraq), these have been lost amid the din of conservative outrage about sins more imaginary than real.
Thus the Democrats found themselves on the defensive even as they tabled their policy agenda. Since those who dictate the terms of debate are those who win the debate, that meant that they were fighting a losing battle from the get-go.
They compounded these strategic errors at a tactical level. President Obama granted leadership of the legislative agenda to his Congressional counterparts. That was a mistake. The November 2008 elections were about him, not the Congressional leadership. The Democratic take-over of both Congressional majorities was more a result of coat-tailing on the President’s popularity than on the intrinsic merits of Democratic candidates themselves. Obama had a mandate, and he had the political capital surplus to spend; Congress did not, and in fact remained one of the country’s most detested institutions even after his election. Thus, by delegating leadership on the legislative agenda to the likes of Pelosi and Reid (which he likely did in deference to his former senior colleagues), President Obama ceded his bully pulpit to the circus on the Hill. That gave the impression that he was weak and insecure, which in turn gave the Republicans space to go on the attack against “entrenched interests” and all the other failures of the DC-based “liberal elite.”
The tactical error was compounded by the choice of battles to commence with. Instead of focusing on mortgage relief and rescue for desperate homeowners, serious financial market reform, education opportunity enhancement, immigration policy adjustment and re-orientation of US military commitments abroad (among any number of policy areas), the President and Congress chose to address health care first. Although it is obviously needed given the deficiencies of the US private health care system, it was simply too contentious and big a problem to tackle at the onset given the image of Presidential lack of experience and his conciliatory nature. Democratic strategists may have believed that they had to spend the President’s political capital early so as to ensure its passage, but in fact taking that policy issue as the first order of business under Congressional leadership direction hamstrung the Democrats even if they succeeded in passing a watered-down version of health care reform that provides some level of universal benefit to all citizens.
Put another way: the last thing the American public wanted to hear at a time of deep recession and after the financial bail-outs of the banking and automobile industries was that more public money would be spent of health care and that future taxes would reflect that increased level of deficit spending. Compared to the billion dollar figures being bandied about with regard to health care reform, Obama’s “middle class tax cut” (for those earning US$250,000 or less) and tax rebate (amounting to $500 per household) were seen as negligible drops in the bucket and meaningless political sop thrown for opportunistic purposes. For those who had spent a lifetime of paying for private insurance, it also seemed be a case of the indolent, irresponsible and unmotivated being gifted, at taxpayer expense, benefits that they did not deserve. Once the Republican-conservative spin machine got a hold of the issue, the spectre of “socialised” medicine replete with “death panels,” lack of individual choice, limits on care, endless delays and assorted other deficiencies soon dominated public discourse regardless of Democrat attempts to clarify the issue.
The combination of these four factors–failure to head to the Left and carve out a distinct position, ceding the terms of political debate to the opposition, allowing Congress to set the legislative agenda and choosing to reform health care as the first priority–set the stage for the political train wreck that is the Democrat’s midterm election campaign. To that can be added a failure to realise early that Republican operatives are using the Tea Party movement as a Trojan Horse with which to re-gain political momentum and a return to power. Similarly, the White House chose to ignore rather than frontally confront the “Kenyan-Muslim-Socialist” allegations until they were well entrenched in the public consciousness–a full twenty percent of the US electorate now believe that the President is one, the other, or all three. It is too late to bolt the door against such attacks.
Some argue that the Democrats are playing to lose because the inevitable gridlock that will follow from Tuesday’s vote will allow the President to paint the Republicans as do-nothing obstructionists without a real agenda for solving national problems. That could be true if the Republicans do not win the Senate as well as the House, but if they win both branches then they will have the ability to impose a legislative agenda that among other things will repeal the health care reforms and other aspects of the Democrat’s agenda that have been accomplished so far. That puts the ball in the President’s court because it forces him to exercise his veto in order to salvage his original program, which in turn casts him as the obstructionist during the two years leading into the 2012 presidential election.
The bottom line is that although the Republican-conservative opposition play extremely dirty, the Democrats have no one but themselves to blame for this impending election fiasco. If Clausewitz is correct in his assertion that war is politics by other means, than the reverse is equally true: politics is war by other means. The goal is to win, pure and simple, and that means that if the opponent is going to play dirty then the governing party must understand what it is up against and counter it decisively without equivocating about the niceties involved. Rather than understand this very simple logic, the Democrats returned to form, tried to play nicely to the center, tried to respect the separation of powers mythos that is ingrained in US political folklore, tried to be civil in the face of a disloyal opposition and tried to embark on big policy reforms before the the President and his new Congressional counterparts had fully moved into their offices. For their efforts they are going to get hammered on Tuesday.
Watching the lead up to what will be a major Republican and Tea Party comeback in the upcoming US midterm elections, and having spent an earlier part of the year in Greece, I cannot but help but be struck by the parallels between the two countries. This may seem crazy, but sometimes what is obvious is not necessarily apparent.
The US and Greece are saddled with immense debt, most of it public. Both have extremely large state bureacracies that consume an inordinate amount of the tax base. Both have lived, in their personal and public consumption, way beyond their means over the last two decades, riding the wave of financial sector excess and lving off real estate and other speculative bubbles that did not, in fact, significantly contribute to national productive rates.
In each case immediate past centre-right governments contributed to the false sense of security by allowing the financial sector to operate with considerable degrees of autonomy and lack of oversight, reduced taxes for the wealthiest sectors of the population and corporations, and spent money well in excess of state revenues. In Greece state expenditures went into a bloated welfare system that was designed to prop up living standards that are seen as a birthright of all Greeks; in the US, the excess state spending went into war. In both instances the center-right governments increased state spending and the public deficits that accompanied them. In both cases they were turned out at the polls in the past two years.
Center-left governments replaced the discredited right. They inherited unsustainable deficits that will take years to redress and embarked on economic reform programs that were designed to cut the public deficit and increase economic efficiency over the long term. In Greece this meant slashing the public workforce, decreasing public salaries and welfare benefits while offering a package of tax incentives to small and medium business so that they could innovate, expand and thereby take up the slack produced by reductions in the public workforce.
In the US the economic stimulus program was designed to prop up and revitalise at-risk major industries (the automobile and financial sectors in particular) while providing tax relief for 95 percent of the working population. A national health program was instituted that, even though watered down and more pro-business than pro-consumer and nowhere close to socialised medicine, provides for minimum health coverage for the majority of the population. Selective regulation on the financial sector was legislated, although this worked more on the margins of the system rather than at its core. Military spending was cut at the corners, and in a number of cases companies that received financial bail-out packages have begun to re-pay their debts. In effect, although in the US public spending increased over the short term with the stimulus and health care packages, the design is oriented towards lowering the overall public spending bill within five to ten years while maintaining a disproportionate emphasis on “defense.” That is the American way.
In both instances some or most of the center-right opposition in the legislature supported the economic reform packages of the government, but backtracked when confronted by public reaction. In both cases that backtracking led them to move towards the zealot wing of their popular base. That has consequences.
The reason? In each case there was an immediate, reflexive and largely unthinking public backlash against the reform measures. Following Greek protest tradition, often violent strikes and demonstrations have engulfed the country from the moment austerity measures were announced. Although the protests are led by unions and other elements of the agitational Left, the real beneficiaries of the crisis are the hard Right, who have seen an opportunity to engage in nationalist-populist demagogery in which “foreign interests,’ illegal migrants, “Communists” and a host of other suspected culprits are blamed for the country’s woes.
In the US attempts at reform have been met by a wave of right wing backlash among the mostly white middle classes, who also blame illegal migrants, “Socialists” and other purported “progressives” as well as atheistic liberal homosexual-enabling secular humanists for the decline of Empire. At public forums many vented their anger by calling for a “revolution” or at least the ovethrow of the Washington elite. Some of them turned up armed to make their point. They have a movement not unlike the Greek ultra-nationalists. It is called the Tea Party.
What is striking about both hard right wing resurgences is that they stand to gain the most from upcoming elections simply by blaming the governing center left administrations without offering a plausible solution to the problems of the day and near future. Both want to return to something long gone. Both want lower, not more taxes, apparently not understanding that in the case of Greece that national pasttimes of tax avoidance, island vacation homes and reliance on the state for pensions, social security and universal health care are contradictory and incompatible. In the US the pejoratively labeled “Tea Baggers” apparently have not connected the dots between maintaining a massive military apparatus that consumes 6 percent of GDP, is fighting two wars of occupation and at least a dozen small irregular conflicts simultaneously, has a presence in 150 countries and deploys three carrier task forces comprised of 7 ships and 75 aircraft at sea at any one time (no other country can deploy even one), and the need for a substantial tax base. Nor can they see that the party that they support is the one that has the most extensive ties to the Wall Street giants that played loose with their money in the game of financial roulette known as the sub-prime lending market that has now come a cropper. Instead they rail against welfare queens and “illegals” stealing the jobs most Americans disdain.
In both countries the conscious anti-intellectualism of the Right is manifest. They want simple solutions to complex problems, they want the solutions to benefit them without requiring any sacrifice, and they want it all to happen yesterday. Reflexively ignorant political champions lead the charge and rally the masses in each case.
Most of all, it is historical myopia, an overdeveloped sense of entitlement, the lack of acceptance of responsibility and the shifting of blame that ties the US and Greek public together in their rightwards march. Both cultures prefer to forget the immediate past that led to these tough times and instead focus on a mythical past in which the Nation was strong, proud and united in its demographic homogeneity and cultural mores. Both cultures believe that they are special and especially deserving because fortuitous circumstance determined that they were born Greek or American. Neither culture embraces the notion of individual and collective responsibility as a majority ethos anymore. Instead, the common approach is to blame others for individual failure and collective misfortune. Both right wing movements have little to offer than hatred for central government elites, current reform policy, bankers of “dubious” persuasion and all the “others” who instigated the entire mess. Mutatis mutandis, there are faint echoes of interwar Europe in all of this.
That may be a basis for victory in any contemporary elections given the circumstances, but it is certainly no blueprint for national regeneration. History has repeatedly shown that national-populist lurches to the right produce more anomie and retrogression than progress. For the latter to occur, people will have to first take individual and collective responsibility about their role in the process of decline. Then they will have to accept the costs of redressing that decline which means that they will need to assume the burden of altered lifestyles no longer easily bought on the back of cheap credit, deficit spending and overinflated notions of national grandeur. They will then have to grin and bear it during the tough times so that their children and grandchildren will prosper under different conditions.
None of that is going to happen anytime soon.
Imagine that title in scary-movie-narrator-voice. Via Pascal’s Bookie, a simply magnificent piece of propaganda from Personhood USA.
This two-minute ad is superbly done. It frames Colorado’s 1967 abortion law as the beginning of the end, and Amendment 62 in Colorado, which aims to declare that personhood begins at the moment of fertilisation, as the beginning of the battle to save America. Amendment 62 is up for the vote at the mid-term elections in November.
What we have here is clearly not the work of amateurs, nor of itinerant cranks in trailer parks, as many (including myself) have mocked the Tea Party movement. It draws together all the conventional Tea Party wisdom about what’s wrong with America into powerfully truthy narrative: start with a misappropriated Jefferson quote; follow up with Semitic “men in black robes” who hate truth, justice and the freedom and “legislate from the bench”; portray the fringe radical rump of conservative white folk as a valiant oppressed minority group; intolerant millennial-cult hypervigilance as the American Way; Obamacare as morality and human life being bought and sold as a commodity (oh, the irony!); and most crucially, Obama himself as the Grim Reaper, the lynchpin of it all, with the caption “Then the Angel of Death arrived, and Hell followed with him”. The whole thing is capped with fireworks and the Statue of Liberty, a Daisy-esque girl fading to black and a fist-pumping don’t-tread-on-me baby. And the soundtrack really just speaks for itself.
The whole thing is absolutely barking. In the cold light of day it’s nothing more than a Dan Brown plot. It’s fevered stuff, wound up to eleven to inflame passion and suppress reason. But that’s the whole point: this ad is basically the movie trailer for the upcoming battle for America’s soul, coming soon to a screen near you. Just sit back, let it wash over you, and marvel at what that country has become.
The latest Word from Afar column addresses the subject of cross border raids set against the notions of preventive war, preemptive war and hot pursuit as they relate to jus ad bellum (justification for war) and jus in bellum (laws of war) doctrine.
I had meant to write something substantive on the politics-of-not-playing-politics evident in all aspects of the Christchurch earthquake and its aftermath, but circumstances have conspired to prevent me from doing so. I also have two deadlines in the coming week. So just a quickie, via George Darroch: What climate activists need to learn from the NRA and the gun-control wars.
I’ve made the argument before that climate change, having as it does the weight of scientific orthodoxy behind it, should be an easy win in the battle of ideas. That it isn’t, I believe, is due less to the powerful business cartels and their conspiratist minions arrayed against it, and more down to poor strategy and coordination on the part of those responsible for ensuring that the findings of the science are adequately promulgated throughout society, and for ensuring the policy responses to the problem are appropriate.
As gun control advocate Robert Walker argues in the linked post, those people — both the scientists and the political actors — can learn an awful lot from the NRA. Despite being pretty far out on the lunatic fringes even in the US political context, the NRA has simply phenomenal support both among gun users and those for whom the specifics of the debate have no direct relevance. They have this degree of support largely because they have succeeded in propagandising that issue to the point where its symbolic aspects matter more than its functional, material aspects. Doing this — breaking your topic from being a policy matter to being a symbolic matter in the public consciousness — is hard and complicated work, and you have to fight as if you mean to win; to not underestimate your enemy or permit your campaign to be hijacked by incompetence and vainglory. But if the NRA can do it with an issue like gun ownership, arguing for which on rational policy bases is deeply problematic, then surely those responsible for climate science can do as much. How they might do so is sketched in Walker’s article.