Published: 29 July 2005
I’ve just read a fascinating, perceptive, well constructed series of 3 articles on the damage US conservatives are doing to their own country’s cause by pursuing the wrong enemy.
You have to get well into the 3rd part of the series to see the particular relevance to New Zealand, but it’s worth the journey.
37 years ago, when I edited, first a competing student newspaper, Camp-us, then for a short time the official Otago University student paper Critic, the world was in a state of political foment. Students took to the barricades for numerous causes that year, 1968. In New Zealand, a large percentage of the population marched in opposition to the US war against the North Vietnamese & Viet Cong regimes, and to the New Zealand Government support for that war. Harold Holt, the Australian Prime Minister whose support for the US cause introduced the phrase All the way with LBJ, had disappeared mysteriously in December 1967 when he went for a swim in the sea, but Australian governments have hardly wavered from that support of the US cause in the succeeding decades.
The article in The New Republic – How conservatism leaves us vulnerable to nuclear terrorism – is by the magazine’s acting editor, Peter Scoblic. He argues that the Bush (and wider Republican) doctrine of fighting fundamentalist terrorism with a campaign to spread the ideologies of freedom & democracy ignores what the real focus should be: capability.
He doesn’t delve so fully into what I suspect is an equally powerful ingredient of international terrorism, the reaction against having somebody else’s ideology inflicted upon your country. You might reach the same ideology over time, but having it forced down your throat is wont to cause an upset stomach.
Removal of Saddam Hussein from his autocratic presidency in Iraq was an example of focusing on regime change instead of on diplomacy to reduce nuclear capability, Mr Scoblic argues. While the US administration focused on that, it paid little heed to greater danger next door in Iran and, in the case of North Korea, again focused on the personality of the president rather than trying to defuse the capability danger.
New Zealanders who marched against the US & allies’ Vietnam campaign will be familiar with that: US soldiers travelled the world battling “wrong” ideology. In New Zealand, the Vietnam war largely set left against right, the young Left of the 60s & 70s acceded to power in the 90s & new millennium, and National Party leader Don Brash stands accused today of toadying to the US cause.
US Ambassador Charles Swindell departed from his term in New Zealand saying it was time to move on from our longstanding intransigence over the nuclear issue. The message that reached me â€“ and which would automatically be rejected by the anti-US marchers of the 60s & 70s â€“ was that New Zealand should soften its position.
In the New Republic article, Mr Scoblic sets out many international policy areas where the US has rejected internationally binding commitments, and highlights the US’ plans to increase its nuclear capacity as a primary cause of “increasingly widespread concern & impatience with the unsatisfactory progress being made toward nuclear disarmament” by the US, Russia, China, France & Great Britain. Among the concerned, 7 nations which have formed the New Agenda Coalition this year â€“ one of them New Zealand.
Mr Scoblic summed up: “â€¦..the Bush administration’s ideology is such that, not only won’t it negotiate with our enemies, it won’t negotiate with our friends – even if it would improve our national security. So, if the US wants to better protect itself, it needs to replace the ideology that’s running our foreign policy.”
He argues that the way out of that predicament is to elect a Democratic administration (after a few changes in their thinking, too), although plenty of Democratic administrations have acted similarly to the Republicans in this area of policy. In this country, the proportional voting system & range of possible government mixes make it harder to work out who to vote for (if anybody) to find a more accommodating â€“ but not subservient – way forward.
More important, though, is the underlying anti-Americanism demonstrated by many New Zealanders â€“ against McDonald’s or Chev SUVs or shopping concepts or numerous business models â€“ which has been built on top of the anti-Vietnam war theme. People with that kind of thinking are entrenched, not looking for any way forward.
We operate on the small-town model, still with virtually no debate on wider issues, on how we might improve our place in the world, on how we might advance relationships with other countries. Our approach to Zimbabwe over the cricket tour is much the same as Mr Scoblic has described the US approach to fundamentalism: Reject, erect a wall, don’t discuss.
NZ Cricket’s approach has been based entirely on business, ignoring moral stands & ideology. The mainstream business approach to politics in New Zealand is to prefer the steamroller style, wanting international benefits without taking any note of the intricacies and adopting the same approach on local issues, especially those where resource management are involved.
Labour has worked hard in the past year on self-destructing as a government, paving the way for policy shifts. Internationally, it would be easy for New Zealand to veer towards the thinking which Mr Scoblic describes as dangerous to your own cause. Domestically, we have the chance of debate – particularly on resource management issues, less likely on education & business issues – to make us a more inclusive & advanced society, one that has moved on from the entrenched divides of the past 40-odd years.