Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Gerard Henderson, an antipodean Colonel Blimp, and New Zealand the new utopia ...

(Above: a couple of David Low cartoons to set the tone).

Today Gerard Henderson turns armchair warrior and rattles his sabre fiercely at an extremely dangerous opponent ... New Zealand.

Is this a bid by our prattling Polonius to turn into an antipodean Colonel Blimp?

The header catches the whiff of where we're headed: NZ puts nation first, war second.

Hang on, hang on, is that some subbie having fun with good ol' Gerard? It hardly sounds a problem, does it, to put the nation first and war second. Unless of course you were a die hard armchair squatting war monger who thinks war should come first, and the nation second.

Henderson begins strongly with his own fierce version of the haka, poking out his tongue, rolling his eyes, and making obscene gestures with his hands and arms, while also managing to stomp his feet. Warrior material!

New Zealand may be a nation of warriors when it comes to football codes. But such courage does not extend to elected politicians in Wellington, whether they be conservatives or social democrats.

Oh you wretched Kiwis, what have you done now to so upset Gerard? Well it seems the ungrateful sods have been undiplomatic, and risk averse:

Rudd wanted Key to send up to 50 troops to assist Australia in Oruzgan where it is training the Afghan National Army and engaging in reconstruction projects. Clearly Key does not want to risk New Zealand lives in Oruzgan province, where international forces are experiencing casualties. Rather than make the announcement with an address to Parliament or a considered written statement, he decided to announce his rejection of Australia's request on Radio New Zealand in somewhat undiplomatic language.

How unseemly. And what is this undiplomatic language?

Key told Radio New Zealand listeners: "I don't think we need to be embroiled further in a war which will not be won if the local government there continues to be corrupt and not to win the hearts and minds of its people".

Oh how unfortunate. A politician thinking that Kiwis dying to preserve the opium and heroin trade, and the corrupt regime of Karzai, its power sustained by a farce of an election, and sundry warlords determined to keep their people in a state of misery while building grass castles ...

What's that? Could the Kiwi leader have been reading Post-Taliban Kabul blossoms for the rich, or Rawa's Buildings of Afghan Ministers and Warlords in Kabul?

Could he have read this by Joseph A. Palermo?

After nine years of war the U.S. occupation of Afghanistan lacks support at home and is widely recognized as a drain on the domestic economy in a time of severe economic contraction. The billions of dollars in U.S. economic assistance to the Hamid Karzai government has created an unsustainable class of Afghans who are dependent upon the American largesse and military presence that would be impossible to sustain by local taxes. It is a puppet government that wouldn't last a day without American arms and money.

As it was with South Vietnam's "Army of the Republic of Vietnam" (ARVN) it is futile to try to train locals in Afghanistan to kill their own people on behalf of foreigners. There will be desertions, spies, informants, corruption, and low morale. Those few who might be prepared to fight will fear the abilities of their Muslim brothers because they fight with fire in their bellies, which cannot be measured or quantified. There are no meaningful "metrics" with which to gauge success or failure. America's Afghan enemies aren't going anywhere. They're in it for the long haul. Ten years, twenty years, fifty years - it doesn't matter. It's their country and they have nowhere else to go. (aggregated by Rawa, here).

No, no, of course not. Instead let us purse our lips, and put our fingers together, and then search for a suitably diplomatic word, to contrast with the Kiwi's most undiplomatic grasp of reality. Unhelpful! That's the discrete, diplomatic word!

This is a particularly unhelpful statement. Right now the US President, Barack Obama's, surge strategy is about to be put into effect. It may or may not work. But it is worth a try. The New Zealand Prime Minister's statement is not helpful to the US, which is leading the military effort.

What's that? A surge is about to be put into effect. Well what was that surge I read about in February when Civilian deaths mar Afghanistan surge?

Does Henderson have the first clue about what he's sabre rattling about? Does he have any idea of what General Stanley McChrystal was up to, until he too departed the scene, though perhaps not in the style of William Hay Macnaghten during the first Anglo-Afghan war?

Worse, it seems, the Kiwis have infected the decent upright Dutch with their defeatist talk, and now it seems they're not prepared to stay the course, and convert a simple decade long exercise into a fifty, or perhaps with perseverance and courage, a hundred years war:

It's much the same with Australia. The Netherlands has announced that from next month it will begin withdrawing its forces, which have been working with the Australians in Oruzgan. The Defence Minister, John Faulkner, announced on June 23 that the Dutch would be replaced by a new multinational command structure. Faulkner also pointed out NATO and Australia hoped the new government in The Hague would consider a continuing commitment in Afghanistan.

Yes, Australia's prepared to bat on for as long as it takes, never mind if it takes a draw or a loss on a sticky wicket to turn things around. But those Kiwis are white anting away with their defeatist talk, when if not for them, everything would be going spiffingly well:

If the new Netherlands government takes any notice of Key's assessment, it is unlikely to recommit forces to Afghanistan. His comments are at best indiscreet. If New Zealand does not want to pull its weight in NATO and the Western Alliance, that's New Zealand's business. But Key does not need to rationalise his country's isolationist tendency by criticising a commitment in which his country has played only a scant role.

Damn you, fickle cowardly Kiwis, damn you and your white feather isolationist ways. But stay, what's this talk of corruption?

Certainly there are concerns about corruption in the government in Kabul led by Hamid Karzai. But the Karzai government is the only viable administration that Afghanistan has right now. There are many instances where the Allies have supported flawed governments during times of conflict - most notably Joseph Stalin's communist dictatorship in Moscow when the priority was to defeat Adolf Hitler and Nazism.

Why that reminds me of another Low cartoon (click for large):

Whatever its faults, the Karzai government offers more hope for both Afghans and peace than an Islamist dictatorship run by the Taliban. Also, under Karzai, Afghanistan is unlikely to become a base for the export of Islamist terrorism of the kind that led to the murder of Australians and New Zealanders, among others, in such places as New York, Bali and London.

Yes, yes, just as Nguyễn Cao Kỳ's government was the best hope for South Vietnam, and so long as he ruled, there was no hope that Vietnam would become a base for the export of rampant Chinese communism around the world.

Never mind that many of the terrorists currently doing or attempting or planning the killing of Australians actually hail from Indonesia. How does that old song go?

If you're down and confused, and you don't
remember who you're talkin' to, Concentration slip
away, 'cause your baby is so far away,

Well there's a bomb in the fisted glove, and the eagle
kills the dove, and if you can't be with the one
you bomb, honey, bomb the one you're with, bomb the
one you're with, bomb the one you're with, bomb the one
you're with.

Gee, I like it. Has that kind of 'bomb bomb Iran' quality about it, melody and lyrics, that so appealed to John McCain. As for corruption in Afghanistan and flaws in the glass of the Karzai government ... Forget about it. I mean we supported Joe Stalin and Mao when he was against the Japanese, so we'll need to get up to twenty million dead and the world flooded with heroin before we have anything to worry about.

But I digress. I forget that first of all we must bomb New Zealand:

The Western Allies - especially the US, Britain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia - have borne a heavy burden in Afghanistan on account of their willingness to engage the enemy in the field in southern Afghanistan. Now a conservative prime minister in New Zealand has rejected a modest request for military support by a social democratic leader in Australia.

Oh to be so fickle. A conservative and he has done this to us. Where's the Anzac tradition?

Key's line about winning hearts and minds will no doubt go down well among his fellow New Zealanders. Yet he knows that there will be no security in Afghanistan until the Afghan National Army is trained and deployed. This is one task that the ADF is currently undertaking which Key has declined to assist.

You know, I'll bet they committed the worst crime in the known civilized universe. They didn't pull their weight, and they made John Howard unhappy:

It was known that key figures in John Howard's Coalition government believed that New Zealand under Helen Clark's administration was not pulling its weight on national security. However, Howard and Clark, despite their different political orientation, had a good working relationship. Moreover, Clark was invariably professional and was careful not to be heard criticising Australia's foreign and national security policies.

Say what? That socialist Clark was discreet and professional, and refused to call the war in Afghanistan a disastrous bottomless pit with obscure objectives and unachievable outcomes?
Oh well played. Why even the local redhead is on board and toeing the line, as we valiantly surge towards the fifteen year mark, and perhaps might even get to twenty if we play our cards right:

Now Key has not only rejected a request from Rudd but appears to have queried Australia's Afghanistan policy. The New Zealand Prime Minister's comments on Radio New Zealand were made just a week after Julia Gillard, in her inaugural media conference as Prime Minister, said that Australia relied on our troops, "to keep us safe". She specifically praised Rudd for having had the "foresight to reinforce" Australia's commitment in Afghanistan.

As you'd expect those white anters and appeasers, the academics, have appeared out of the woodwork, having mulched the fibre of the wood to pulp:

An Australian academic, Hugh White, a critic of Australia's Afghanistan commitment, has praised Key's "political courage" in this instance. Yet it takes no particular courage for a New Zealand political leader to appeal to that nation's isolationist tendency and its considerable left-wing constituency. An act of real political courage by the National Party would be to increase its commitment in the dangerous areas of Afghanistan and to announce that New Zealand was rejoining the ANZUS Alliance, which it baled out of two decades ago.

Yes, just as it takes no courage to sit and scribble a column in support of a futile war, before retiring to an armchair for a well earned glass of port. Yes, there's nothing like delusional folly to prove that you have courage.

The shemozzle that occurred when Clark and her fellow leftist Margaret Wilson effectively forced then New Zealand Labour prime minister David Lange to junk ANZUS over the issue of US naval visits is well documented in Michael Bassett's Working with David: Inside the Lange Cabinet.

The US Navy still does not have untrammelled access to New Zealand ports. New Zealand does have a navy but no effective air force. It has a proficient army, which the Conservative Prime Minister does not want to deploy to assist an ally. Once were warriors, indeed.

Yes, indeed, since we're referencing movies and Alan Duff's novel, let's return to small town life, with street gangs, savage fights, wild parties, and a father given to thoughtless brutality. Once were stupid references, indeed.

But you know suddenly I've formed a deep affection for New Zealand, warmed at first by their principled stand against no nukes in their country. They have a sensible eyes open understanding of Afghanistan, as opposed to Henderson's eyes wide shut stance, and above all they don't have Gerard Henderson.

Why it sounds like utopia ...

And now, as we always do, in the presence of an armchair warrior and Colonel Blimp, we stand to attention and run Sir Henry Newbolt's Vitaï Lampada, in praise of futile and senseless military actions:

There's a breathless hush in the Close to-night
Ten to make and the match to win
A bumping pitch and a blinding light,
An hour to play, and the last man in.
And it's not for the sake of a ribboned coat.
Or the selfish hope of a season's fame,
But his captain's hand on his shoulder smote
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

The sand of the desert is sodden red -
Red with the wreck of a square that broke
The gatling's jammed and the colonel dead,
And the regiment blind with dust and smoke.
The river of death has brimmed its banks,
And England's far, and Honour a name,
But the voice of a schoolboy rallies the ranks -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

This is the word that year by year,
While in her place the school is set,
Every one of her sons must hear,
And none that hears it dare forget.
This they all with a joyful mind
Bear through life like a torch in flame,
And falling fling to the host behind -
"Play up! Play up! And play the game!"

Phew, glad that's over. Now for the armchair and a glass of port ... while the valiant lads go off and get themselves killed. Oh well played sir ...

(And now a few more Low's, a dinkum New Zealander, who lived and worked in the UK, to sum up Gerard Henderson's antipodean Blimpean ambitions).


  1. Excellent work. I stopped reading Henderson's malodorous piece in today's SMH once he started on about Stalin. I mean a Stalin reference in a piece on Afghanistan, the man has a peanut for a brain.

  2. The next time you write a post about Gerard Henderson, why not ask him about his draft-dodging during the Vietnam War era, when he was of military age? (Of course, he had other priorities at the time, like getting a worthless arts degree.)

  3. Steady, steady, here at the pond we value priceless arts degrees - how can you put a price on them? - since we're not given to the degree of self-loathing to be found in the likes of Henderson. And perhaps instead of military service, Mr Henderson could show the way by heading off to Afghanistan as part of an NGO to show how a conservative thought tank can fix the country ...


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