Gordon Campbell on John Key’s proud claim to being the village idiot

Clearly we – and that includes Kim Dotcom – have been giving Prime Minister John Key too much credit. Everyone assumed that a smart guy like Key would know his stuff, and would be in touch with what’s going on. Not the case, Mr Key is insisting. Key continues to claim that he never heard of the Internet entrepreneur before January 19, 2012, and is defying Dotcom to prove otherwise. Clearly, that’s an impossible task. Because if someone wants to insist that he couldn’t see, couldn’t hear and knew nothing, NOTHING of the elephant in his room even when it was stomping on the furniture then….fine. No one can prove the content of the inner workings of John Key’s mind. It’s just that he would have to be operating at village idiot level for over six months for his position to be remotely credible. That seems unlikely. Because there would have been at least three elephants on the rampage here.

1. The elephant in the electorate. For Key to be credible, we are supposed to believe that a flamboyant multi-millionaire won New Zealand residency and settled in the biggest mansion in New Zealand situated slap bang in the middle of John Key’s own electorate – and Key never noticed, and no one told him a thing about the big new boy in town. Nope, haven’t got a clue what’s going on in my own electorate. Especially when it involves Internet millionaires who come trailing swags of investment opportunities in the very high tech area that my government claims to be keen to promote – and into which it is investing $1.5 billion in faster broadband. Oh, there’s a Internet millionaire living in my neighbourhood who made his fortune with one of the most globally successful operations in history, working in that very same area? Sorry, never heard of him.

2. The elephant in his portfolio. John Key is the Minister of the Security Services which include the GCSB. During 2011, the GSCB planned, in conjunction with its brother agencies in the US, an unprecedented large scale multinational spying operation to surveil, attack and arrest a prominent businessman supposedly enjoying the protections of New Zealand residency, who is living in the relevant Minister’s own electorate – and this Minister also happens to be the Prime Minister of the very country whose sovereignty is being encroached upon by an operation riven with illegalities – yet we are supposed to accept and believe said Minister’s current proud claim that he was completely ignorant that all this was going on? And that he only learned of this operation the day before the dawn raid attack on the Coatesville mansion?

For that to be credible, Key would have to be kept in a state of vegetative ignorance about everything that takes place in the portfolio for which he has personal responsibility and for which he has the prime oversight role. Put it this way: if Dotcom is wrong about the timing and extent of Key’s foreknowledge, Key should be handing in his resignation on the basis of evident incompetence in his portfolio areas.

3. The elephant in the US/NZ relationship. Ever since the Hobbit fiasco in late 2010, John Key has made a meal – literally – out of his very, very close connections with Hollywood studio bosses and has touted the importance of such links to the New Zealand film industry and wider economy. The welcome mat has been out for James Cameron here, and for Key in Hollywood. Yet we are supposed to believe that the public targeting of Kim Dotcom by the Motion Picture Association of America – which increased in volume and intensity after Chris Dodd took over the helm of the MPAA – was never brought to Key’s attention by his studio boss friends in Hollywood, even though the alleged arch-villain was not merely living in New Zealand, but in Key’s very own electorate. As the joint US/NZ operation against Dotcom was being put on the rails, there was also a shuttle of US officials to and from this country to finesse the details. It simply beggars belief that John Key, Hollywood’s golden boy from the Hobbit negotiations, would not have been brought into the frame before January 19, 2012.

In sum, there is no ‘put or shut up’ onus on Dotcom. The credibility problem rests entirely with the Prime Minister. And as Dotcom has said, he will be laying out the circumstantial trail of evidence for his claim (about Key’s foreknowledge) at the appropriate time, within his extradition hearing. At which point, Key may live to regret today’s empty challenge. So why is Key acting so dumb? Well, the wider political reality is that every aspect of the Dotcom case is a political nightmare for Key and his government – and the only way that Key can prevent being tainted is by maintaining a prophylactic ignorance of every detail of the planning for the dawn raid fiasco. It isn’t credible. And in the process, it makes Key look like a simpleton. Yet by keeping to that bizarrely illogical position, Key avoids having to explain what he knew and when he knew it – and having known about it, why he didn’t stop it.

Egyptian Dreams, Salafist Nightmares
Hope those crowds in Tahrir Square enjoyed their party. Because today’s reality in Egypt looks a lot like the coup in Algeria in 1991 – which similarly saw the armed forces topple a democratically elected moderate Islamic government, thus triggering a terrible civil war in which over 150,000 people died. Last year’s elections in Egypt – which were decreed to be free and fair by international observers – were supposed to prove in the wake of the Arab Spring, that moderate Islamic parties could and should participate in the democratic process, could be elected, and would be allowed to govern. No such luck. The mob in Tahrir Square has made the country ungovernable, got the elected government removed by the Army, and seen the Muslim Brotherhood members arrested and driven underground. These actions will play right into the hands of the Salafist hardliners and convincingly make their case that the only way forward now is via violence and terrorism. Turkey narrowly averted going the same way only a few weeks ago, and the moderate Islamic political players in Tunisia and Libya are in recognizably similar trouble.

Plus ça change, some long time observers are saying about Egypt. Beforehand, the mob in Tahrir Square were useful tools that enabled the Army to get rid of the unwanted Mubarak dynasty, and the mob has been useful once again in providing the pretext for driving the Muslim Brotherhood out of office. The underlying reality is one that’s now common to many post –dictatorship situations in the Middle East (Libya being the classic case) where the region’s budding democrats have inherited a political climate in which all the normal organs of civil society have been destroyed by decades of repression.

In the subsequent political vacuum, it is only the Islamic welfare organisations that have maintained their national networks. These organizations readily spring into life and fill the political vacuum once the dictators have been toppled. As yet the liberal/secular opposition in Tahrir Square has created only a fledgling political organisation – called Tamarod – and it has nothing like the national outreach and coherence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has survived decades of political repression. The Brotherhood will survive yesterday’s events. The more worrying question is whether democracy can survive them.