On Ardern’s fence sitting on Syrian attacks

Jacinda Ardern stood out from allies by not giving a strong endorsement of the US/UK/French missile attack on Syria. Neither did she take a stand against violence and war.

Her careful positioning on a wobbly fence may have disappointed both sides of a bitter war argument.

Chris Trotter points this out in Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has a bob each way on bombing Syria

The latest strike against Syria marks a further deterioration in the conduct of international affairs. Of more concern, however, is the quality of the response it elicited from Jacinda Ardern. The New Zealand Prime Minister’s remarks were not the sort to inspire either confidence or respect.

In matters of this kind, a prime minister has two viable choices. Either, she can line up behind New Zealand’s traditional allies and deliver a hearty endorsement of their actions. Or, she can take a stand on principle and distance her country from the justifications, decisions and actions of the nation’s involved.

What a leader should not do is attempt to have a bob each way. Why? Because, as the Ancient Greek storyteller, Aesop, pointed out some 2500 years ago: “He who tries to please everybody, ends up pleasing nobody.”

Ardern may not have strongly annoyed anyone by her middling muddy response, but pleasing nobody could be a bigger problem on the left, where her support comes from.

Had Ardern denounced the vetoing, by the United States, of a Russian Federation proposal for an international inquiry into the alleged chemical warfare attack on Eastern Ghouta, as well as the Russians’ tit-for-tat vetoing of a similar proposal put forward by the US, she would have elicited widespread support from UN member states.

That support would have grown if she had further declared her disappointment that military action had been initiated by the US, France and the United Kingdom (all permanent members of the Security Council) before inspectors from the Organisation for the Prevention of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) had been given a chance to examine the scene of the alleged attack, gather samples, and make their report.

Perhaps Ardern had other international considerations (Prime Ministers always do). She may wanted to appear to stay onside with France and the UK ahead of her European trip this week.

She could also have announced that, if the Eastern Ghouta incident was confirmed by the OPCW as a chemical attack, then New Zealand would be seeking a vote explicitly condemning its perpetrators at the UN General Assembly, as well as a re-confirmation of the UN ban against the deployment and use of chemical and biological weapons.

Such a course of action would have identified New Zealand as an outspoken defender of the UN Charter and encouraged other small states to take a stand against the precipitate and unsanctioned military actions of the United States and the two former imperial powers most responsible for the century of instability which has beset the nations of the Middle East –  France and Britain.

At a more pragmatic level, such a response would undoubtedly have strengthened New Zealand’s relationship with that other permanent member of the Security Council, the People’s Republic of China. The Chinese have consistently and vehemently opposed unsanctioned and unprovoked military attacks against the sovereign territory of fellow UN member states.

Such would have been the high road for New Zealand: coherent, consistent and principled.

Alas, it was not the road Ardern chose to take.

Instead, having lamented the Security Council’s veto-induced paralysis, the statement issued by New Zealand’s prime minister went on to say:

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.”

Using fewer than 30 words, Ardern telegraphed to the world that New Zealand’s fine words about diplomacy and multilateralism should be dismissed as mere rhetoric. In reality, her country is perfectly willing to set aside its commitment to the peaceful resolution of conflicts between nation states, and the rule of international law, if the United States, the United Kingdom and France ask them to.

Rather than take an unequivocal stand for peace, the UN Charter and the rule of international law, New Zealand’s prime minister has chosen to talk out of both sides of her mouth. An opportunity to assume moral leadership and demonstrate political courage has been heedlessly squandered.

That’s fairly harsh criticism from a fairly left leaning commentator – and it’s not the first time Ardern has been accused of talking out of both sides of her mouth.

This may blow over most voters unnoticed, but it also has risks for Ardern.

I wonder what Trotter and the left think of the trade deals Ardern is trying to progress in Europe and the UK.

Leave a comment

34 Comments

  1. Second paragraph: “Or, she can take a stand on principle…” Some would say that supporting the strikes was taking a stand. In the words of little Tommy, “Sometimes you gotta fight when you’re a man.”

    Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 17, 2018

      pick your fights though…Tommy.

      Reply
      • Kitty Catkin

         /  April 17, 2018

        It’s ‘fight to be a man.’ The boy’s father told him that he didn’t have to fight to be a man, and he didn’t until a time came when he did because he had to.

        Reply
  2. Blazer

     /  April 17, 2018

    Trotters opinion is one of many .Ardern has been proved right,in not reacting in knee jerk fashion…to the U.K ‘deadly poisoning incident’.
    Germany and Italy and the majority of the nations in the world do not look at situations through the US/U.K portal…either.
    I recall former Australian right wing ,P.M,Malcolm Fraser saying one of his biggest regrets was in Australia not having had, a more independent foreign policy.
    Murray used to champion NZ’s ‘honest broker’ approach which fits with objective ,measured response to international incidents.
    We know there are always 2 sides…to every story.

    Reply
    • admiralvonspee

       /  April 17, 2018

      “Ardern has been proved right,in not reacting in knee jerk fashion…to the global warming/climate change/extreme weather event alarmists.”

      One wishes 😦

      Reply
  3. Gezza

     /  April 17, 2018

    She got it right. Say something that says nothing.
    1. She’s good at it.
    2. In a situation like this & with her trip coming up she can’t be accused of criticising the illegal attack. But neither can she be accused of supporting it.
    3. Assad’s winning anyway, this was an unlawful political military attack on a sovereign country by the usual suspects which changes nothing but smack Putin’s nose & threatens Iran & North Korea.

    Reply
    • NOEL

       /  April 17, 2018

      From memory she said she she “accepts” whilst many others used “understands”.

      Reply
    • Gezza

       /  April 17, 2018

      Very interesting.

      “This is the story of a town called Douma, a ravaged, stinking place of smashed apartment blocks – and of an underground clinic whose images of suffering allowed three of the Western world’s most powerful nations to bomb Syria last week. There’s even a friendly doctor in a green coat who, when I track him down in the very same clinic, cheerfully tells me that the “gas” videotape which horrified the world – despite all the doubters – is perfectly genuine.

      War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

      As Dr Assim Rahaibani announces this extraordinary conclusion, it is worth observing that he is by his own admission not an eyewitness himself and, as he speaks good English, he refers twice to the jihadi gunmen of Jaish el-Islam [the Army of Islam] in Douma as “terrorists” – the regime’s word for their enemies, and a term used by many people across Syria. Am I hearing this right? Which version of events are we to believe?”

      Continues ….

      Reply
  4. seer

     /  April 17, 2018

    I posted a copy of the comments to the https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html article as I thought they added to the article.

    It didn’t occur to me to take out all the links within that copy of the comments so that’s probably why it is awaiting moderation and might not get through. Sorry.

    Reply
  5. Missy

     /  April 17, 2018

    Her response has definitely been wishy washy, and I am of the opinion it is most likely due to not wanting to upset the UK and French leaders ahead of meeting them this week.

    I find it interesting how many people wanted action to wait until after OPCW inspectors went in (it is the common argument among many here in the UK), there are several issues with this course of action:

    1. The OPCW do not apportion blame, only confirm if an attack happened.

    2. Those wanting to wait for the OPCW investigators would only want to do so because they do not believe an attack happened, and – as we have seen with the Salisbury case – regardless of what they say because they do not apportion blame it still leaves all to spin the findings to fit their narrative.

    3. The area is under control of Russia, and as we have seen, the Russians have barred access to the inspectors – though they claim they will let them in today, but I am not confident as the Russians were going to let them in at the weekend.

    Off the OPCW, I wish people would stop referring to the strikes as bombing, the use of language in this case leads to misrepresentation of what took place. What occurred at the weekend were missile strikes on selected targets, not indiscriminate bombing on civilians as some seem to believe, and be spreading – including sadly some MPs here in the UK.

    Reply
    • Kitty Catkin

       /  April 17, 2018

      I was thinking of the old story of the old man and the donkey. It ends with disaster when the old man tries to please everyone and fails.

      Reply
    • Blazer

       /  April 17, 2018

      stop soaking up propaganda Missy….try and wake up to real ..objectivity instead of the we ‘good guys ,them bad guys’ mentality.

      Reply
      • Missy

         /  April 17, 2018

        Not sure what you think is me ‘soaking up propaganda’ in what I have said.
        Lets look at what I said and you can tell me exactly which bits are propaganda.

        First, I offered an opinion on my reading of the PM’s statement.
        Second, I stated that I find it interesting that many are wanting to wait on an OPCW investigation before taking action as there were some issues with this course of action – I should have added that these issues will make it impossible for people to decide on a course of action once the OPCW investigation is concluded.

        Please show in those two statements where I have ‘soaked up propaganda’, and please do explain what propaganda I have soaked up.

        Now, the issues with the OPCW investigation.

        1. I stated that the OPCW do not apportion blame, only confirm if an attack happened – I concede I should have added they will also confirm the chemical used. This is a statement of fact, please explain what propaganda I am ‘soaking up’.

        2. My second point is a logical conclusion of the first. If the OPCW does not apportion blame and only confirms an attack happened then it stands to reason that those wanting to wait for the OPCW investigation will have doubts that the attack happened. I also stated that regardless of what the OPCW the responses to their findings on Salisbury were open enough to leave all sides open to spinning them to fit their own agenda as the OPCW does not apportion blame. Please tell me what propaganda I am ‘soaking up’ in that statement.

        3. It is a matter of fact that Douma is under Russian control and that the inspectors were barred by Russian Military Police from entering yesterday. It is also a matter of fact that the inspectors were meant to be able to enter on Saturday to begin their investigation, but still have not been let in. I offered an opinion that I am not confident that the Russians would let them in today. What propaganda am I ‘soaking up’ here.

        Finally I finished with stating that the use of language in the reporting was misleading, the UK, France and the US did not drop bombs, they used Missiles – even Syria state it was a missile attack. What propaganda am I soaking up in correcting the use of language and pointing out that using incorrect terminology misleads the public?

        I would be interested in a detailed response to your allegations Blazer. Please detail precisely what propaganda I am ‘soaking up’.

        Reply
        • Blazer

           /  April 17, 2018

          how/where were the missiles launched?
          ‘the inspectors were barred by Russian Military Police from entering yesterday. It is also a matter of fact that the inspectors were meant to be able to enter on Saturday to begin their investigation, but still have not been let in. I-says..who?

          1. The OPCW do not apportion blame, only confirm if an attack happened.-so what use is that to…anyone.?’
          ‘But, no specific or scientific information on the very subject the OPCW was asked to confirm – the nature of the toxic chemical used in the Salisbury poisonings.’…=complete waste of time.

          Reply
          • Missy

             /  April 17, 2018

            I tell you what Blazer, I will answer your questions when you respond to my request to provide a detailed explanation of what propaganda I am ‘soaking up’.

            You have yet to do that, so let me help you.
            – Show me what I have said that is propaganda
            – Tell me whose propaganda I am soaking up
            – Show me where I obtained this propaganda
            – Show me evidence that what I have said is not fact

            Once you have done this in detail I will look at responding to your questions. Oh, and I trust you will manage this without ‘soaking up’ Russian and Syrian propaganda.

            Reply
            • Blazer

               /  April 18, 2018

              you invariably accept the right wing Govt line ,no matter the topic.You believed the Novichok-Russia construct and condemnation.
              If Moggy told you the moon was made of blue cheese,you’d…believe it.

    • Gezza

       /  April 17, 2018

      The problem is that all may not be as it seems or is claimed by Assad’s enemies (see Fisk article), the US has not released the evidence Mattis claimed was sufficient for him to authorise strikes, it is in breach of international law, and possibly the US Constitution, & both the US and UK governments have form for attacking another country under pretext on the basis of unverified false intelligence despite the accurate denials of the attacked party of what he was accused of – see Chilcott Report.

      Reply
      • Alan Wilkinson

         /  April 17, 2018

        Chemical warfare is a breach of international law and no-one else was lifting a finger to stop it.

        At first glance the symptoms of hypoxia don’t seem to match those reported. Nor is it obvious why a dust storm would reduce oxygen levels or otherwise induce it. Is it a coincidence the regime left just one doctor there to tell Fisk this story?

        Reply
        • Gezza

           /  April 17, 2018

          Hard to say. Go there. Report back?

          Reply
        • Gezza

           /  April 17, 2018

          Did you read the whole article – there is no claim a dust storm induced hypoxia. There were certainly reports (and video) of what was claimed to be white phosphorous/incendiaries being dropped on Douma – although tbh watching the footage I thought they could just have been flares. I’m not aware of phosphorous munitions actually flaring on the way down, only on impact.

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  April 17, 2018

            Yes I did. Did you?:

            but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2018

              Yes I did. If you are ingesting dust in your lungs and incendiary bombs are being dropped why might this not induce hypoxia. Have you watched any footage of these bombings happening?

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  April 17, 2018

              As far as I have managed to find out, hypoxia is only likely to have been caused by direct bomb blast injuries. Not by wind, dust or anything else blowing into tunnels. The symptoms don’t seem to match those reported either.

            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2018

              Hypoxia is what kills in firestorms. It kills people in cellars who are otherwise untouched.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  April 17, 2018

              Less likely if there is wind. Would require a lot of CO2 to sink down and into the cellars and not be blown away. That means burning lots of stuff, not just phosphorus.

            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2018

              Just requres air and oxygen to be sucked out.

            • Alan Wilkinson

               /  April 17, 2018

              Can’t suck it out without sucking replacement air in.

            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2018

              And dust

          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  April 18, 2018

            Dust won’t cause hypoxia.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  April 18, 2018

              If people are struggling to breathe through reactions to inhaled dust I see no reason why not. Hypoxia is the depletion of oxygen in the brain &/or other tissues.

        • Gezza

           /  April 17, 2018

          They have no need to use chemical weapons and provoke an attack Alan. That is why I am disinclined to simply accept the claims made without verification, I do not trust the US military they have a major power track record of lying second only to the Russians in my opinion.

          https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/04/syrian-forces-targeting-homs-qalamoun-damascus-180417055734554.html

          Reply
          • Alan Wilkinson

             /  April 17, 2018

            If reports I have read are true there have been a series of low scale chemical attacks by the regime for some time. Not deterred apparently.

            Reply
            • Gezza

               /  April 17, 2018

              If reports by the Russians and Syrians I have read of are true, those reports are false. It’s hard to say who’s telling the truth isn’t it. The Americans want to get rid of Assad. They had a lot of very genuine-sounding Military and Political people giving us a lot of very false information when they wanted to get rid of Saddam Hussein. From people said to be in Iraq. Best not to just rely on what we’re told by the US.

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