Saturday, March 29, 2003

Humanitarian aid yes, military assistance no!

ACT is once again trying to distort our commitment to provide humanitarian aid to Iraq, this time by demanding that we immediately send a naval minesweeping unit to assist in clearing the port of Umm Qasr - while the war is still raging.

Mine-clearance will be an important part of the post-war reconstruction effort. The whole of Iraq is literally littered with mines, and the Shatt-al-Arab waterway is still mined from the Iran-Iraq war, so we may want to contribute in that area. But the port of Umm Qasr is currently open, and aid ships are able to dock there. There's no queue of ships waiting to deliver food to the port (hell, there are no such ships, period - the British have provided food and medical supplies aboard the Sir Galahad, but noone else is queuing up to), people aren't dying because of a bottleneck there, so there seems to be no need for immediate action on our part.

In fact, ACT's demand is just another attempt by them to get us into the "Coalition of the Willing" by stealth. Like National's outbreak-of-war demand that we send our expected postwar reconstruction contribution of a medical team and transport aircraft immediately, it's an attempt to have us send military forces to the Gulf before the shooting stops. Once there, they'd naturally be placed under allied command, and before you know it, Bush would be praising the "contribution" of "our very very close friends in Noo Zeeland". This is most asuredly not what the vast majority of people in New Zealand want.

If ACT is concerned about the plight of the Iraqi people, and wants to make an immediate contribution, it should lobby the government to send what is desperately needed at the moment: food, water, and medicine. But they'd rather try and score political points with the Americans in the futile hope of getting a free trade deal...

As for what we should be contributing to Iraq: we should concentrate on sending actual aid, rather than military assistance. Food, blankets, that sort of thing. Once the shooting has stopped, we may want to assist with demining, or with rebuilding, but we should ensure that these efforts are under the auspices of the UN rather than the US - we must support the recognised source of international authority, not a rogue nation. And we absolutely should not contribute in any way towards an occupation force - if the Americans want to knock over Iraq, let them deal with trying to keep it under control.