Of stress and slime

Michael Cullen has been under a lot of stress lately. What with Mike Williams turning the good doctor’s Budget into a PR disaster, and with the Acting Prime Minister saying borderline defamatory things about TV3, he seems a man whose cracks are appearing. Therefore, I should perhaps cut him some slack for his lamentable performance in the House yesterday, in which he indulged in a tag-team hatchet job of Keith with Winston Peters.

Rod and Keith were asking Dr Cullen, standing in for the absent Helen Clark, about her censorship by the Chinese Government, and more generally about her government’s pursuit of a free-trade deal with a regime that has a lamentable human rights record. Dr Cullen got up, and said that things in China “are better now than they were when my old friend Keith Locke was an enthusiastic supporter of the Chinese regime”.

The clear implication of what he was saying was that Keith supported the regime of Chairman Mao, one of the 20th century’s true villains. (Incidentally, this implication is quite untrue. Anyone who knows anything about New Zealand left-wing politics knows that the Socialist Action League, of which Keith was a member up until the mid-80s, was a Trotskyist group, and attacked all the Stalinist regimes, in Peking, Moscow and all of Eastern Europe, arguing for multi-party democracy.) Winston then jumped in, adding NZ First’s often-repeated but completely fallacious claim that Keith is a former supporter of Pol Pot.

The fact of the matter is that Keith, as did anti-war liberals throughout the West including the United States, welcomed the toppling of the corrupt US-backed dictatorships in Saigon and Phnom Penh in April 1975, which heralded the end of the Indo-China War. They hoped the new Vietnamese and Cambodian Governments would be better than the brutal regimes they replaced. In 1975, the Khmer Rouge was generally seen as an adjunct of the Vietnamese Communist forces. Subsequently, of course, they turned out to be quite different – in fact, genocidal. At the time, Pol Pot wasn’t even known to exist. His name and crimes didn’t emerge for some time.

But how did they emerge? Well, because the anti-war left of which Keith was a part (John Pilger, anyone?) uncovered Pol Pot’s insanity, brought it to the attention of the world, and tried to get Western governments to put diplomatic and other pressure on the genocidist.

However, when Pol Pot was overthrown by a Vietnam-backed regime in 1979, and the genocidist had to flee into the countryside, the Western establishment decided it would continue to recognise Pol Pot’s regime as the rightful government of Cambodia. Why? Well, because he was aligned to Peking, rather than Moscow, the West’s main enemy at the time. A sonofabitch, but our sonofabitch.

Did these Western governments continuing to recognise Pol Pot as the legitimate ruler of Cambodia include New Zealand’s? Why, yes. In fact, they included the Muldoon Government of which Winston Peters was a member between 1978 and 1981.

Indeed, if Winston wants to go digging into the Cold War past, let’s give it a go for him too. The Muldoon Government of which Winston was a part was a staunch ally of the US, and supporter of its foreign policy. Is Winston an apologist for the atrocities committed during the 1978-1981 period by the US or the US’ client states in, say, Iran, Nicaragua or Panama? Who knows? But it would make more sense to slander him by association with those crimes than to slander Keith by association with the crimes of Pol Pot because Winston has not, to the best of my knowledge, spoken out about Iran, Nicaragua and Panama in the way Keith has against Pol Pot.

Whatever. We can expect this kind of hatchet job from Winston Peters. That’s just what he does. What we shouldn’t expect is for Michael Cullen, who so often has to bear the brunt of the Opposition’s personal attacks on Labour MPs, to hold hands with Winston and jump into the gutter with him. It is ungracious and unfair and not a constructive way to build relations between our parties. As David Farrar has noted, this came the day after the Greens had saved Dr Cullen’s bacon by pledging support for the Government’s Prisoners’ and Victims’ Claims Bill. Well, I guess this is the thanks we get.

It was an astonishing display from Dr Cullen. Labour has been beset by scandal after scandal this year. Doone, Benson-Pope, Tamihere, etc. Have the Greens joined the Opposition pack dogs and descended to the politics of personal destruction with Winston, Don, Rodney, et al? Nope. We’ve held our tongue, and even in some cases spoken out in defence of Labour’s actions. It thus beggars belief that Dr Cullen would decide to collude with Winston Peters to smear the good name of one of our MPs.

Thankfully for all of us, the Greens are rather better at turning the other cheek than is the Acting Prime Minister.

8 thoughts on “Of stress and slime

  1. As I said it was a most surprising attack from Labour. You deal quite well with the context around Pol Pot, but haven’t dealt with Keith’s equally controversial remarks in favour of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan.

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  2. David, Locke will say it was all the Americans fault. It’s amusing to hear this “I was a Trotskyite not a Stalinist” line. Trotsky was part of the Soviet government when major social engineering was instigated resulting in millions of deaths. It’s like a fascist saying, “I didn’t support Hitler, just Goebbles”.

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  3. Keith’s has for a long time said that he was wrong to take the position he did on Soviet rule of Afghanistan. He said in the House in 2001:
    “The politics I espoused in the Socialist Action League, 16 and more years ago, are quite different from the Green politics I espouse today. In particular, I no longer hold the views I expressed in an article in 1980 reflecting the Socialist Action League’s position on Afghanistan.

    “I was wrong to endorse a position supporting the invasion of another country. I was also wrong to think that this invasion could in any way stop Islamic extremist groups, who abuse human rights, coming to power. I now believe that by violating the sovereignty of Afghanistan, the Soviet invasion actually helped Islamic extremist groups get greater popular support.”

    A look at Wikipedia’s brief history of Afghanistan tells us about the period in question: “The last period of stability in Afghanistan lay between 1933 and 1973, when the country was under the rule of King Zahir Shah. However, in 1973, Zahir’s brother-in-law, Sardar Mohammed Daoud launched a bloodless coup. Daoud and his entire family were murdered in 1978 when the communist People’s Democratic Party of Afghanistan launched a coup and took over the government.

    “Opposition against, and conflict within, the series of leftist governments that followed was considerable. In August 1978 the American government commenced funding anti-government mujahideen forces with the intention of drawing the Soviets into intervention; with the government in danger of collapse, the Soviet Union intervened on December 24, 1979. Faced with mounting international pressure and losses of approximately 15,000 Soviet soldiers as a result of mujahideen opposition trained by the United States, Pakistan, and other foreign governments, the Soviets withdrew ten years later in 1989.”

    So, this was a case of the United States and the Soviet Union fighting over Afghanistan. We now know that the mujahaideen forces funded by the US turned into some pretty odious individuals (Osama bin Laden, anyone?). This doesn’t make Keith’s position at the time right, of course. He has already said that he was wrong. What it does mean, though, is that those who attack Keith for his position at the time should reflect on the consequences of US actions at the time, which (presumably) most of Keith’s attackers supported.

    Again, I can make the same point: Mr Peters was a member of the Muldoon Government which was a staunch ally of the US at the time of US funding for the mujahaideen. Has he ever resiled from that support? If not, why not?

    As I think I said a little while back, the Cold War made a fool of many of us…

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  4. bin Laden was never funded by the US, he used his own money. Not everything is America’s fault. And why did Locke oppose military intervention to stop Melosecvic?

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  5. Frog –

    With all due respect, I don’t find the picture of Cullen cracking under the strain of the ‘politics of personal destruction’ entirely convincing. He’s done more than his fair share of lowering the tone of Parliamentary debate — but I guess snide personal attacks are “caustic wit” as long as they directed elsewhere.

    But I agree with you on one point – if you’re going to play patsy with Winston Peters, it’s worth remembering this proverb: “When you lie down with dogs, you get up with fleas.”

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  6. Sock thief: Well, I disagree with you on this point of fact. See here: http://www.msnbc.com/news/190144.asp?cp1=1

    Nobody is claiming that everything is the US’ fault. If you go back and read what I wrote above, you will see that a lot of bad stuff, in Keith’s view, was the fault of Stalinism.

    As to Milosevic, you can go read this press release from Keith in March 1999: http://www.greens.org.nz/searchdocs/PR3781.html. In it, he echoes Helen Clark’s opposition to Nato bombings, arguing that they would be counterproductive and that instead negotiations under the auspicies of the UN and involving Russia should be pursued. Of course, what drove Milosevic from power was not the bombings (which actually helped his popularity), but rather the democratic will of the Serbian people.

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  7. I felt Cullen’s Trotsyite comment was a cheap shot. He should be cut no slack for this sort of childish ad hominem attack.

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  8. good rebuttal and follow-up frog..now if we could only distill it all down to a snappy phrase or two..

    how about..

    keith gets asked about his past views..he replies as you said..”i was a trotskyist..we opposed stalinism, maoism, and all forms of dictatorship..
    we supported multi-party democracy as the political ideal”

    that and examples of the cold war making fools of all could just about take care of that clutch of questions..eh?

    btw..keith rocked on breakfast tv the other morn…i blogged it and gave him 8/10

    phil(whoar.co.nz)

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