Claire Trevett on how Andrew little got blindsided in Iraq

Andrew Little, helped by the Media party, is claiming triumph on his blitzkrieg tour of Iraq…in the shadow of Gerry Brownlee.

Claire Trevett explains why he’s been done like a dinner by those dastardly Nats.

At first blush, the Government’s invitation to Labour leader Andrew Little to visit the troops in Iraq appeared to be a trick.

The question is not so much why Little took up the invitation to go along with Defence Minister Gerry Brownlee. Despite having criticised Prime Minister John Key’s own visit to Iraq as a photo op, Little had no qualms about brandishing photos of himself striding manfully around Taji in his flak jacket.

The bigger question is why the invitation was issued in the first place.

A superficial interpretation of the Government’s motivations is that it put Little in an awkward situation. Politically, it was a risky move for Little. Labour vehemently opposed sending the troops to Iraq last year, yet there Little was, meeting those very same troops.

It is not unheard of for Opposition leaders to visit troops on deployment. Last year, Australian Labor leader Bill Shorten visited the troops at Taji.

The difference between him and Little was Shorten was able to stand before the troops and assure them they had Labor’s bipartisan support.

Little’s message to the troops was somewhat more complex. It appeared to consist of telling those troops he thought they were doing a good job while sticking to his line that the job they were doing was futile.

Should Little oppose future deployments, he has handed his rivals an encyclopedia of photos and gushing comments with which to lambast him.

The prospect of watching Little squirm in front of those whose deployment he had opposed may well have been the cherry on the top for National.

Uh huh. When Little stands in parliament to oppose the inevitable re-upping of training in Iraq he will be presented with all those tough guy photos of him in Iraq. He accused the PM of going for photo ops but that is precisely what he himself has now done.

Inviting Little to Taji was a form of insurance to try to revert to a bipartisan stance on such matters. If further evidence was needed, NZ First leader Winston Peters was also invited on the trip but declined. The Green Party was the only Opposition Party that was not invited, perhaps considered a lost cause when it comes to support for such deployments.

Operation Little may have had some success. Things are never quite so black and white once you’re on the ground in Taji.

Little has had to reassess some of the reasons for his original opposition. He moderated his broad-sweeping position on the lack of discipline and motivation of the Iraqi troops in the wake of his visit, saying trainers and Iraqi commanders told him while some Iraqi soldiers were motivated, others were not. In that respect, Little likely received much the same briefing as media on the PM’s trip last year. That included analysis of the complex reasons for lack of motivation in the Iraqi forces – such as strong religious and regional affiliations and mindgames and the efforts trainers had to put in to reverse a perception Islamic State were undefeatable.

Another reason for Little’s initial opposition was the safety of the troops and scepticism about whether they would remain “behind the wire”. That was based on the blurred line between combat and non-combat in Afghanistan. But Little’s visit should at least have reassured him that in Taji the words non-combat are a far more realistic option than Afghanistan.

Camp Taji is a grim place if ambience is what you are looking for. But it is secure. The threat risk is still high because of the risk of attacks on the base. But the troops themselves who had worked in both Afghanistan and Iraq remarked on the comparative safety – there are no ground patrols, for instance. The bigger fear was snake or spider bites.

Andrew Little is a fool. He looked all earnest standing beside Mark Mitchell, who was probably thinking this was the tamest visit he’s ever had into Iraq…certainly tamer than his trip to Baghdad to have a little chat with Viktor Bout about stopping killing his workers. The attacks stopped and no one would take Bout’s contract to get Mitchell.

There is another reason for National’s wish for a return to bipartisan support for such missions. International partners such as the US are understandably nervous about a split on issues such as intelligence, security and defence, and in New Zealand there have been splits in all three areas. Both major parties have been guilty of playing politics and appear to have learned lessons. Labour has learned it will not be rewarded by voters for playing silly buggers in areas of national interest.

National has learned it cannot take bipartisanship on such issues for granted, something it was guilty of doing. Efforts to remedy this have included Little’s visit to Iraq and putting Little on the calling card for NSA boss Jim Clapper on his visit to New Zealand earlier this year – a precursor to the rewrite of intelligence laws which Key has said he will not go ahead with without support from Labour.

As for the war, National was hoping for a human rather than political reaction from Little by taking him to Taji. The best salespeople for the deployment are the soldiers themselves.

Little’s position is now more opaque and less naive. He maintained he still had concerns about the abilities of the Iraq forces and set the Iraqi forces a very high test by which he will assess the impact of training – if they can retake Fallujah and Mosul. But he did not call for the troops to be withdrawn.

Asked if Labour would support extending the deployment, he didn’t quite say yes. But nor did he say no. Brownlee can consider that a mission accomplished.

Little has been painted into a corner, but the best part is that he supplied the brush, the Media party supplied the paint and National just laughed.


– NZ Herald


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  • Ross15

    Perhaps the best thing about this is it has clearly shown the media how stupid Little is ( if they are prepared to think about it for a few seconds)
    Watch them start putting the knives over the next few months.

  • When Claire Trevett twists the knife you know things are getting desperate for Labour.
    I imagine without going to look that if the online version of this has comments open the left will be howling and beating their breasts about how the Herald is the mouth piece of the right (laughable but they will) and Claire Trevett a dyed in the wool far right winger.

    The fact that she is a card carrying lefty and an old buddy of Helen photographed many times at Labour socials (BBQ’s) will not deter them in the least.

  • Skydog

    Little knows his time is soon up, so why not go somewhere for free that is interesting and once in a life time experience.

  • Second time around

    It also shows that National is prepared to work with people from other parties and will even to listen to them. Andy is not used to working with people, preferring to claim the moral high ground and frustrate any attempt at compromise. Maybe there is a human side to Little, and when the flak jacket photos appear on the election billboards in 2017 we will get a better understanding of the man. But for the moment, he just radiates negativity.

  • Big_Al

    Poor old Andy, he just does’nt get it, does he. I wonder why is it, that whenever his name is mentioned. The term “Two Short Planks” comes to mind. And what makes it even worse is that he thinks that he could actually run a country. Please somebody “Tell him he’s Dreaming”

  • JEL51

    Clare, like it or not, the Middle Eastern issues are too important NOT to have a bipartisan approach. It is past the time that all political parties stepped-up to be counted on this one. You Lefties believe in some piece of fiction that the UN will solve all disputes when it is patently obvious NOTHING we or anyone outside of that region do, will sort it out.
    Those people have to take ownership of their own issues/causes, overpopulation being foremost with the pressure on resources & environment that ONE ignored element promotes, People deserve the governance they foster and cowardice is strong in that region. The way they have either chosen to run or descend into barbarism, I personally have lost all respect for all those in that area.
    I believe they are not worth a hair from any one of our kids heads over there and my Aussie nephew is currently on the 2nd mission on which he has dutifully volunteered.
    It is time Clare, for all those of influence including those in your profession, to do your duty. It is too serious just to pontificate.

  • zotaccore

    So, Gomer Pyle again living up to his name. Clearly he is suffering some form of brain fade and I know exactly how the troops would have interpreted his stupid remarks – I’ve heard them from Goof when I served in the Middle East. Little is a tool, but even more worrying for the Labour Party is they still won’t recognize it.