Mission Creep

Prime Minister John Key has announced that New Zealand’s mission to train Iraqi security forces will continue until November 2018.

At the time, Key insisted it would be for two years, max. The deployment was meant to finish later this year.  Key has regularly said that it was unlikely to be extended. For example, late last year, this was his position:

“Quite frankly this is likely to be a troubled part of the world for a very long period of time – we could arguably stay here forever. But this isn’t New Zealand’s engagement. I think New Zealand has a job to do here. We’re doing it. I think there should be an exit point and that exit point at about two years feels about right to me.”

So why has he changed his mind? He doesn’t really say:

“So it makes sense to continue doing something that adds value to the likelihood of Iraqi peace and security in the future, and to amend our mission to meet the changing environment in Iraq.”

But changing the environment in Iraq is exactly what we were hoping for when the troops were first sent. This is what success looks like, so there is no real need for an extension.

I think our troops have done us proud and no doubt will continue to do so. And, happily, ISIS are being defeated by the coalition ranged against them. It’s good that we’ve played a part in ending religious fascism in Iraq and Syria. But Key has put the creep into this mission. He’s not even ruling out a further extension, so we could have a military presence in Iraq for years to come.

Instead of extending the deployment, Key should have transitioned our contribution from our troops to non-military aid to Iraq. That would have been real leadership and a real help to the citizens of Iraq. But I guess there are far less macho photo ops to be had if all we do is help the civilian population in their time of need.

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