Saturday, January 13, 2007

NZ Minister also doesn’t like the “surge”

It’s often in the off-times that New Zealand gets dragged into seeming clashes with the US. At the moment, the government is on a kind of hiatus, with one cabinet member being designated as “Duty Minister” to kind of look after the shop for a few days.

It was reported yesterday that Jim Anderton, while Duty Minister, criticised Bush’s plan to send more US troops to Iraq:

It is hard to see how an additional 20,000-25,000 troops are going to be capable of making any real difference and this has an eerie Vietnam revisited element to it. One wonders whether the lessons I would have expected to be learnt from that fiasco have been learnt in any way at all.

Prime Minister Helen Clark was quick to point out that Anderton wasn’t speaking for the Government. Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the remarks were "ill-informed and regrettable".

Predictably, the conservative National Party leader John Key condemned it, with another story reporting that he’d criticised Anderton’s “anti-American” comments which, the article reported Key as saying, would “weaken the Government's attempts to improve relations with the US.” Key was probably referring to a “free trade” deal with the US, something that in the last election his party was so eager to gain that it was willing to drop New Zealand’s nuclear-free status. The article also asked for Key’s position on the “surge” and reported that “Key was non-commital, saying New Zealand was too far away to judge the best course of action.”

On the Left, Green Party Co-leader Jeanette Fitzsimons praised the remarks and criticised Clark for different reasons:

The fact that Clark has been willing to bag her closest coalition partner in order to keep relations with the US friendly is not something I would have expected from a leader who just three years ago inspired New Zealand by refusing to bow to pressure to join the “coalition of the willing” (in the invasion of Iraq).

Early reports are that ordinary New Zealanders seem to agree with Anderton. Actually, most Americans probably do, too. But it’s typical for the National Party to brand any criticism of US policy—however justified—as being “anti-American”. As a sovereign nation, New Zealand has a right to have differences with the US, something even the current US government grudgingly admits. History will show the Clark government was right to avoid supporting the Iraq war, and that Key is wrong in blindly backing US policy because we’re “too far away to judge the best course of action”.

Seems to me, this is one issue where it’s far better to be on the right side of history.

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