Thursday, 10 September 2009

NOT PJ: Dear Taleban, Enjoy This [updated]

This week Bernard Darnton carries on up the Khyber.

_BernardDarnton In this week’s edition of Fusspot Watch: the Afghan election has been marred by soft drink advertising.

Three New Zealand soldiers (below) are in trouble after sending home photographs of themselves posing next to a 2,000 lb bomb emblazoned with a Demon Drink sticker and the message “Dear Taleban, enjoy this.” Dr Paul Buchanan, on-again-off-again political science lecturer at Auckland University, has claimed that this stunt was irresponsible because it “might lead to reprisals from Taleban fighters.” Because dropping a thousand kilograms of high explosives on someone’s head can annoy him but a snarky remark and a bumper sticker can really send him over the edge.

Were there academics wandering round during World War II warning people not to sing songs about the cardinality of Hitler’s testicles because the Nazis might turn aggressive?

What’s unfortunate about this incident is that it’s not just a bit of innocent fun; it’s some marketing bollocks for an energy drink. A few days ago there was a story about someone putting a traffic cone on top of the Sky Tower. Now, if that was something two pissed blokes had managed one Friday night I would be impressed. Some inauthentic marketing exercise for a product I can’t remember? I’ll need several cans of that over-caffeinated fizz just to stay awake.

Those most likely to be shocked or – worse – disappointed about all this are those who don’t think we should be in Afghanistan in the first place. The Keith Locke types, who would hand Afghanistan back to the Taleban in a breath. Keith Locke’s ideas on good governance shouldn’t be given much credence. He called the Khmer Rouge’s coming to power in Cambodia “a victory for humanity.” With humanity whittled down by two million souls under his erstwhile hero, he admitted his mistake. Backing murderous thugs once might be bad luck. Twice is starting to look like bad judgement.

There are others all too willing to criticise Western excursions in the middle east and central Asia, too. Robert Fisk, for example, isn’t nearly as bat-shit crazy as Keith Locke. He is an erudite and knowledgeable man who has seen all manner of atrocities and is rightly horrified by them. But he’s a pacifist and regards all war-makers as morally equivalent. The problem with pacifism is that it allows the first person who has an axe and wants to grind it to take over the world.

In many ways, America is its own worst enemy in Afghanistan. Because they haven’t decided whether they’d prefer to win the war on terror or the war on drugs, they’re burning the crops of Afghan opium farmers. “Hearts and minds” didn’t guarantee victory in South Vietnam but the Afghan locals will be tempted to continue their tradition of handing foreigners their arses on plates if those foreigners insist on destroying the country’s biggest export earner.

There probably won’t be a day when America and her allies can shoot the last Taleban soldier and declare victory. Stephen Franks recently suggested that allied troops are on a policing mission, that “the SAS are no more likely to ‘win’ [in Afghanistan] than our Police are to ‘win’ in Manukau,” but that it’s still an honourable and important task.

America’s (and New Zealand’s) job in Afghanistan isn’t to hold a ticker tape parade through Kandahar; it’s to make sure there is no repeat of 9/11. If, on the eighth anniversary of those attacks, all we’ve got to worry about is our soldiers’ larking about and sending rude notes to their enemies, then those soldiers are doing a pretty good job.

* * Read Bernard Darnton’s column every Thursday here at NOT PC * *

UPDATE: Paul Buchanan and the Greens’s Frog Blogger respond in the comments on behalf of himself and Keith Locke respectively.


  1. What a silly comment to end with. We're not told half of what goes on over there. New Zealand soldiers shouldn'teven be there, in an illegal, unauthorised war.

  2. And hasn't the Keith Locke / Khmer Rouge one been done to death. Keith Locke stated in Parliament in 2005:

    "Thirty years ago, in 1975, the brutal corrupt regimes in Saigon and Phnom Penh, backed by the American government, were overthrown by insurgent forces.

    Most New Zealanders who marched against the Indochina war, which included many MPs currently in this House, myself and Helen Clark for example — welcomed the collapse of those regimes because it heralded the end of a very bloody war.

    The hope of antiwar New Zealanders (including myself) was that the new governments in Saigon and Phnom Penh would be better than the regimes they replaced. We thought it would be hard for them to be worse.

    No distinction was made between the new Vietnamese and Cambodian governments, and many thought the Khmer Rouge were an adjunct of the Vietnamese communist forces.

    Some time later the world found out that there was a difference and that the Khmer Rouge were acting in a genocidal way and we started to hear the name Pol Pot."

    At that stage Locke began to actively oppose the Khmer Rouge regime - unlike subsequent National and Labour governments that continued to support (and officially recognise as a legitimate government) the Khmer Rouge right through the 1980s.

  3. So it's ok to support regimes that kill people cos you can always say sorry later?

    I'm looking forward to you lot saying sorry for the global warming swindle in a few years time.

  4. Yes, the Khmer Rouge & death does have an ongoing ring about it, Toad. Can't imagine why.

    "At that stage Locke began to actively oppose the Khmer Rouge regime .."

    Really? How so?

  5. Ryan and toad: Your enemy's enemy is NOT your friend.

    No doubt you dislike America - for whatever reason. But the Taleban are far, far worse - vastly, unimaginably worse - and they're prepared to export their medieval death cult to New York, London, Mumbai, and elsewhere.

    Regardless of anything else our various governments get up to, having the US Marines, the NZ SAS, and others keeping the Taleban in check is a good thing.

  6. Much as I despise the Taleban's oppression of Afghanistan, I don't think they were the ones responsible for 9/11! They may have aided and abetted the culprits, and if you draw a long enough bow you can sort of see a justification for invasion. However, 8 years later, this war has nothing whatever to do with 9/11 or terrorism. In fact, it is breeding more terrorists by the day.

    New Zealand can make far more significant and lasting contributions to fighting terrorism than being America's poodle in a lost cause civil war.

    We followed the Americans into Vietnam after the French occupation failed and it was a disaster. Once again, we follow them in after a Soviet occupation.

    This has long since stopped having any relation to 9/11 whatsoever.

    When you convince me that removing reconstruction troops and replacing them with combat troops helps to build peace and stability, I'll have time for this stupid policy change.

  7. Ryan , you stated that the war was unauthorised. Who authorised wars? Since you're too dumb to dig info and learn whether the war was illegal, I'll say this to you. The war was perfectly legal, because was acted on self-defense. That country harboured the mastermind of the attack, therefore it gave the US a legal mandate to bomb those fuckers in that country into oblivion and back to the dark ages.

    How about you go and do some self-eduction and reading, because the internet gives you instant information.

  8. Paul G. Buchanan10 Sep 2009, 13:51:00

    Bernard and PC:

    I suggest you read the full thrust of my comments about the photo stunt over at (as opposed to excerpts the reporter decided to publish). Otherwise you leave an erroneous impression of my position.

    The problem, in a nutshell, is that shilling for a commercial entity is a breach of military professionalism; sending unauthorised photos to commercial entities is a breach of communications security; and since the NZDF PRT in Bayiman (where the pictured soldiers are assigned) is supposed to be involved in non-combat reconstruction efforts, the bomb photo compromises the security of that mission. That is, the photograph belies their purported role and therefore makes them more likely targets as a result.

    Finally, I am not "on again, off again." I am on research leave.

  9. You may be an academic Paul, but surely even you can realise that the chance of this having any effect whatsoever on the security of the troops or the efficacy of their efforts is infinitesimal?

  10. Frog/Toad/Bernard: In fact Keith has already backed murderous things more than once, as I point out if you follow the link in the post above:

    Soon after the act of war that was September 11, Keith Locke spoke at a meeting in Rotorua on a platform with Annette Sykes, at a meeting called to protest the liberation of Afghanistan. As Keith sat there smiling and nodding his head in agreement, Sykes told the audience (as transcribed by a member of that audience):

    "When I first saw the planes fly into the towers I jumped for joy, I was so happy that at long last capitalism was under attack. Until, it suddenly dawned on me, what about all those poor pizza delivery boys, those poor firemen, those poor policemen, those poor lift-operators, all those poor cleaners, all those other poor workers who are forced to work for and were trying to save those greedy and horrible capitalists!? My heart and head was so confused - happy that some capitalists had been killed and very, very sad for all those who had died while working for them."

    Keith neither challenged nor questioned Sykes’s rant; instead he sat there and smiled and nodded and then led the applause when she finished. Nice chap. Good company he keeps. I raised this matter on the Frog Blog back in May 2005, at which time some discussion ensued.

  11. Paul G. Buchanan10 Sep 2009, 14:21:00


    I do not think the chances are infintesimal. There have already been a half dozen attacks on NZDF personnel in Bayiman, before the photos. Dissemination of the photos--they are already circulating abroad--will at best be construed as another reason to continue such attacks. At worst it will be an incentive to increase them.

    The real problem is the NZDF image in the eyes of its allies. Just a few months ago several soldiers were sent home for cannabis/hashish use while on duty in Bayiman. Now this stunt. Both demonstrate a lack of discipline that is bound to cause concern amongst allied forces who must work with the NZDF.

    Bottom line: the photos focus Taiban attention on the Bayiman PRT at the same time that it reinforces allied perception of a lack of professionalism amongst its (enlisted) ranks.

  12. It sounds like they don't need any incentive to increase attacks, and putting soft drinks advertising on a missile is hardly likely to change the Taliban's opinion of us from nice guys to infidels who need to be exterminated. It would be very naive to think that the Taliban don't have a good idea of who is doing what in Afghanistan, so having a picture of soldiers with a bomb is not earth shattering news.

    The fact remains that the Taliban would exterminate every non-believer at one fell stroke if they could. The fact that they don't is down to opportunity and resources, and the appearance of a photo is not going to increase either of those. They should also not be underestimated and treated like they don't know what they are doing. They may be annoyed by every slight they receive, but they are still capable of analysis of where their efforts are best directed, and are not necessarily going to waste their bombs and people in a fit of pique.

    The proof of the pudding is in the eating of course, and this one is easy to settle. I'm very willing to bet you one turnip and a public admission of being incorrect, that there is not a statistically significant increase in Taliban attacks on NZ soldiers following the publicising of this photo.

  13. Paul G. Buchanan10 Sep 2009, 15:00:00


    The "Taliban" are a heterogenous mix of tribal, nationalist and religious fundamentalists groups, not the homogeneous religious fanatics you make them out to be. Unfortunately, air strikes do not discriminate between them or the civilians among whom they shelter. Association with the latter venture can and will be seen as tacit complicity, and therefore worthy of a response in kind.

    I have a counter-bet: I bet that force protection measures have been increased significantly in the Bayiman PRT as a result of this incident. If so, that would indicate that the field commanders agree with my assessment.

    I do agree with you that the relative low level of attacks on NZDF personnel is as much a function of (limited) Taliban logistics and focus elsewhere as it is of NZDF defensive measures and the nature of its mission in Bayiman.

  14. Interesting. How would you obtain the information to settle the bet?

  15. Paul, I've read your piece on Kiwipolitico. I agree that soldiers taking part in marketing stunts is unprofessional but it's also trivial.

    You note that the SAS won't be affected by this but that the provincial reconstruction team in Bamyan might be.

    I agree that it doesn't put the SAS in further danger and I doubt that there'll be any effect on the PRT either.

    If there is some blowback on the PRT that would seem to be a feature of the NZ Army's schizophrenic mission - some NZ soldiers blowing away the bad guys, others claiming to be neutral?

    Are we on someone's side or not?

  16. "That is, the photograph belies their purported role and therefore makes them more likely targets as a result."

    And I'd suggest that's nonsense, given the fact that islamists have a history of targeting teachers, doctors, journos and any other soft targets of opportunity.
    Their purported role won't keep them safe from primitive murdering thugs--what will keep them safe is access to massive retaliatory strikes and/or the perception that there are higher value targets to pursue.The Taliban don't have unlimited supplies and manpower, whatever the MSM would imply.

  17. Paul G. Buchanan10 Sep 2009, 17:54:00


    This is actually a legacy of the 5th Labour government wanting to have it both ways. Just like the military engineers in Basra (and the reported presence of NZSAS there), the rationale was to provide reconstruction teams to work with UN civilian nation-building efforts while quietly sending the SAS to work with NATO allies in combat operations. The "dual purpose" strategy provided a diplomatic fig leaf for the PRT team while the combat element went largely unnoticed because of the "neither confirm or deny" policy still in force.

    The ruse has actually worked pretty well, but the photo could undermine that, especially if disgruntled Afghans in NZ (and I personally have had dealings with a few) decide to alert acquaintences back home about the stunt. The picture has already made the European press, so even a retaliation outside of Afghanistan is not inconceivable. That, and the reasons I have given here and over at kiwipolitico, are why I do not think that the issue is trivial.

  18. Paul, the more I think about it, the less I think your argument is valid. The Bamyan field commanders may have other pressure (particularly political) to increase force protection measures, so this would not necessarily mean they agree that the photos have measureably increased the danger for the soldiers. I think the men on the ground are well aware of what young men are like when they become soliders, and hardly expect them to be robots. As others have pointed out, soldiers have been decorating their bombs since bombs were invented, and many would say the morale boost from being allowed to do this far outweighs any small chance of the enemy starting to not like you any more.

    Overall, I think the only valid measure of whether this has increased the danger to troops is actual evidence of increased attacks, and I maintain that this is unlikely.

  19. I think it is a ridiculous move recalling NZ troops when more are required over there to win this war. It’s quite funny how Demon drinks are now seen now an "evil" company because they did the honourable thing of supporting our troops overseas. I wonder how this would have played out if the Taliban wrote a message to our boys in Bagram on one of the many rockets they fire at them?
    Would immigration now be opening our doors for those enemies to claim asylum and live here permanently?


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