Gordon Campbell on the diplomatic immunity fallout at MFAT, and Iraq/Vietnam comparisons

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Terrific. I’m glad that Murray McCully is well and truly determined to get to the bottom of who screwed up the Malaysian diplomatic immunity case, and when he finally finds out who was Foreign Affairs Minister at the time…boy, I wouldn’t want to be in that guy’s shoes.

As we’ve all learned down the years though, when things turn out badly on McCully’s watch its always someone else’s fault. To an almost pathological degree, McCully appears chronically incapable of taking responsibility for any of his actions – or inactions – that turn out to have negative political consequences. Once the needle hits the red, he’s out of there, incognito. To the extent that officials did screw up – and that still remains to be seen – Labour MP David Shearer was probably right to sheet this debacle home to the dismal morale and loss of expertise at MFAT from the beginnings of McCully’s reign of terror.

So what did happen? One thing we can remove from the table is the conspiracy theory that McCully was cleverly colluding with the Malaysians to express outrage here at home, while enabling the diplomat to head back to Malaysia, in return for future favours – in say, the upcoming vote on our Security Council ambitions. That didn’t happen. It may come as a surprise to those who have watched the Malaysians duck and swerve over the fate of their missing airliner, but the Malaysians have behaved entirely honourably on this occasion. It seems that they offered to waive diplomatic immunity, we misled them into thinking this was not what we wanted…but now that we have managed to clarify what our position actually is, they have complied with it. Full marks to them for their patience.

McCully, in his usual fashion, has been blaming his officials – just as he did when his reforms of MFAT went off the rails. Everyone was to blame but himself when his pet project failed, and talented people began to leave MFAT in droves and /or kept their heads down, with consequent damage to MFAT’s quality of output. If, as signalled, a fresh witch-hunt is being readied at MFAT, someone needs to intervene – if not in the name of natural justice, then at least because of the risk of constructive dismissal liability for the Crown. Perhaps Prime Minister John Key can show some leadership here, and rein in McCully before he launches another vendetta within the key ministry through which this country engages withy the world.

In the meantime, this morning’s NZ Herald headline and sub-head sums up the current state of play with admirable clarity : “McCully defends inaction – Murray McCully says it was “good and proper process” for him to leave the case of a Malaysian diplomat accused of sex crimes to authorities for seven weeks.” Exactly. If McCully wanted a different outcome, maybe he could have stirred himself along the way, to ensure that it happened.

Offensives past and present.

Interesting comparison by the Stratfor think tank.

Stratfor has likened the current ISIS offensive in Iraq to the Tet offensive of February 1968 by the Viet Cong/NLF forces, which marked a crucial turning point in the Vietnam War. The Tet offensive did expose the North Vietnamese fighters to counter attacks that inflicted huge losses, but it delivered a psychological hammer blow to the Americans – and convinced the American public that the war was unwinnable, and that withdrawal was the only viable option.

Right now in Iraq, the counter attack against the over-stretched ISIS fighters is still getting under way. Meanwhile, the sudden US build-up of forces within Iraq has all but slipped under the radar. As the Foreign Policy website has pointed out, there was some media coverage of the 300 US troops despatched as advisers. Gordon Lubold at Foreign Policy (paywalled) has been doing the maths :

Less than two weeks after announcing it would send 300 troops into Iraq to conduct assessments and advise the Iraqi forces, the Pentagon sends more troops in. The Pentagon is sending an additional 300 troops into Iraq, on top of the “up to” 300 announced June 19 as the threat to Baghdad grows….

The numbers can get confusing in a hurry, but suffice to say there are nearly 1,000 troops total now serving in Baghdad – including about 470 conducting security around the U.S. embassy in Baghdad as well as “airport road,” the route between Baghdad International and downtown; another 90 troops are assigned to the new “Joint Operations Command” in Baghdad, and another 90 advisers working to conduct an assessment of Iraqi forces and their capabilities. In addition, there are roughly 100 troops who were serving in what’s called the Office of Security Cooperation at the embassy.

And in addition to those troops, there are a number of special operations forces that the Pentagon has not acknowledged publicly operating across the city of Baghdad and the rest of the country. And in addition to that, officials tell Situation Report that there are more civilians from other government agencies, including the FBI and others, headed into Iraq. All told, the contribution of troops and civilians to a new war that President Barack Obama had sought to end three years ago appears to be growing, and quickly.

Again, the talk of sending in “advisers” is very reminiscent of Vietnam-era language. No one is expecting a major role for US ground forces but the build-up is putting a lot of Americans in harm’s way, again.


Kris Kristofferson was in New Zealand earlier this year. Now 78, he was showing inevitable signs of wear and tear. It is worth recalling how good he could be. This demo, which I came across only in 2010, dates from around 1970. After a false start, Kristofferson delivers a great solo acoustic version of one of his saddest and most rueful songs, “Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends” ….

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