Trotter on the Shearer backstory

December 28th, 2012 at 9:00 am by David Farrar

Chris Trotter looks as the backstory, and while it is one I approve of heartily, he seems less enamoured:

Some political observers have drawn comparisons between Mr Shearer and his chief antagonist, Prime Minister John Key. The young Labour activist, Connor Roberts, summed up the pair’s similarities and differences with his now famous quip: “John Key went overseas and made fifty million dollars; David Shearer went overseas and saved fifty million lives.”

This focus on Mr Shearer’s and Mr Key’s “overseas” experiences has led many to assume that both men were out of the country during the pivotal years 1984-1993. In Mr Shearer’s case, however, this is untrue. For nearly the whole period of the Fourth Labour Government (1984-1990) he was here, in New Zealand, studying, teaching and consulting. If he was a Labour Party member at any time during those tumultuous years, then he was a very quiet one. He certainly wasn’t among the ranks of those who fought against Rogernomics. He has, however, often spoken to journalists about his admiration for David Lange’s speeches.
 
This inability to get worked up about the core elements of neoliberal “reform”: labour market flexibility; privatisation; deregulation; monetary and fiscal discipline; explains his rather odd belief (for a Labour leader) that the contest between Left and Right is “a phony debate”. Such ideological agnosticism – explained away as good old Kiwi pragmatism – does, however, offer us a way into the most unusual and contradictory aspect of Mr Shearer’s entire career: his support for mercenary armies, or, as they prefer to be known these days: private military and security companies (PMSCs).
That reference I covered in Kiwiblgo in 2009 here and here.
That impression was intensified by Mr Shearer’s experiences three years later as the UN’s Senior Humanitarian Advisor in the West African nation of Liberia. Just across Liberia’s northern border, in the ravaged state of Sierra Leone, the PMSC known as Executive Outcomes had been employed under contract to the Sierra Leone Government. Shearer was deeply impressed by this mercenary army’s lightning-fast defeat of the Liberian-backed forces assailing the ruling regime.
A year later, in 1996, Mr Shearer was advising the UN in Rwanda. It was here, just two years earlier, that a brutal genocide had taken place while the United Nations watched – and did nothing. Trying to stitch the rudiments of civil society back together after a disaster on that scale cannot have been easy.
I think it is a good thing that Shearer used his experiences to learn that the private sector can have a key role in activities normally reserved for states.
This was followed by what might be called the John Le Carré phase of Mr Shearer’s career; his two-year stint (1996-1998) as a research associate at the International Institute of Strategic Studies (IISS) in London. Like its sister institute – The Royal Institute of International Affairs, also known as Chatham House – the IISS has always laboured under strong suspicions of being a sort of “front organisation” for Britain’s foreign affairs, defence and intelligence “community”. This was most clearly illustrated in 2003 when the IISS released a report strongly favouring the UK’s participation in a US-led invasion of Iraq. Like the infamous “sexed-up” report released by the Security Intelligence Service (MI6) just two weeks later, the IISS also warned against Saddam Hussein’s (non-existent) “weapons of mass destruction”. Since 2003 the IISS’s Director of Transnational Threats and Political Risk has been Nigel Inkster – formerly the Deputy Director of MI6.
Sounds a cool place to work.

By 2003 Mr Shearer was back with the UN, this time in the Middle East. As the Head of OCHA in Jerusalem and then as the UN’s Humanitarian Relief Coordinator during the Israeli assault on Southern Lebanon and Beirut, he distinguished himself as a fiercely independent upholder of the UN’s mission. Few were surprised, therefore, when, in 2007, after four years of negotiating his way through the labyrinth of Israeli-Palestinian relations, the UN Secretary-General, Ban Ky Moon, named David Shearer as his Deputy-Special Representative in Iraq. He was also appointed Head of the UN Development Project Iraq. Holding these two very senior roles in the United Nations Mission in Iraq (UNAMI) Mr Shearer was almost certainly “in the room” when decisions about the use of PMSCs were being made. 

Lou Pingeot, author of the New York-based Global Policy Forum’s June 2012 publication Dangerous Partnership: Private Military and Security Companies and the UN, has compiled some useful statistics on the amount of money spent on PMSCs by the UN. “Using the highest available numbers,” he writes, “there is a 250 percent increase in the use of security services from 2006 to 2011.”
 
The numbers for UNAMI are particularly interesting. In 2007 UNAMI spent zero dollars on PMSCs. In 2009, when its former 2IC was back in New Zealand campaigning for Helen Clark’s old seat of Mt Albert, UNAMI also spent zero dollars. In 2008, however, the amount spent by UNAMI on PMSC’s was US$1,139,745.
Excellent – he practises what he preaches.

Mr Shearer’s position has been explained away as just another case of a good Kiwi bloke, impatient to get the job done, and not being particularly fussed about how things are made to happen – or by whom. And if the universal experience of mercenary involvement in “peace-making” was as positive as Executive Outcome’s foray into Sierra Leone, the argument might have some force. In reality, however, Executive Outcome’s success in Sierra Leone stands out as a very lonely exception to a much darker rule. 

The actual, on-the-ground, operational conduct of PMSCs over the past decade has demonstrated to the world just how dangerous it is to entrust the delivery of deadly force to individuals and corporations whose primary motivation is profit. Yet even in the face of the PMSCs’ appalling conduct in the Balkans and Iraq, Mr Shearer remains sympathetic towards private armies and .
 
The Labour Leader’s on-going support for these private-sector problem-solvers speaks volumes – and very little is to his credit.
I disagree. Just because some private mercenary armies have done bad things, is no reason to have an ideological opposition to all private mercenary armies. We should judge them on outcomes.
UPDATE: A staff member in David Shearer’s office (Mike Smith) has complained at The Standard that a commenter there has referred to the Trotter story:
A good example showed up in the same Open Mike, where Karol referred us to ’s latest post on Bowalley Road, titled “Who is David Shearer?”, promising a post of his/her own on the matter.
I’m not sure it is a great strategy to try and tell readers off for what they mention in the general debate or open mike threads.
Trotter’s post reprises an old canard, obviously a product of the National Party opposition research team. that was first put up by David Farrar on Kiwiblog in 2009 when Shearer first emerged as a candidate for Mt Albert.
Mike is wrong here. The information on Shearer’s writings did not come from anyone in National, but in fact a leftwing (is there any other sort?) academic.
So we have Chris Trotter from the non-Labour left dredging up an old story originally planted on National’s behalf by Farrar’s Kiwiblog, and recently linked to by National’s Whaleoil. Now Karol, also from the non-Labour left, is apparently going to join them in another futile attempt to discredit Labour’s leader.
Oh dear, now Mike is sounding like a certain Labour MP who used to rant about the non-Labour left.
None of them have the interests of Labour at heart. It is an old problem for Labour, when the outside left links with the far right to drag Labour down. The right at least know that their only real opposition as a government is Labour; who would know what the others’ motive is.
Never mind that Chris Trotter actually campaigned for Labour in 2008. I saw him wearing a Labour rosette. But now it seems that the “non-Labour left” are akin to Judean People’s Front.
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33 Responses to “Trotter on the Shearer backstory”

  1. JC (958 comments) says:

    Hmm.. Trotter’s “attack piece” looks to me like the best CV for a Labour leader since Seddon!.. and if one didn’t know better one might think Mike Smith knows it and doesn’t want anyone else to know.

    JC

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  2. kowtow (8,512 comments) says:

    What’s this all about ? There’s so little difference between Labour and National that all this seems to be academic.

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  3. Reid (16,491 comments) says:

    From The Stranded:

    Trotter, Farrar and Slater’s story is link journalism at its worst. In political terms, it’s an old-fashioned smear. In my view the Standard should have no part of it.

    Leaving their “smear” hypocrisy aside, this is so funny I can’t stop laughing. They’re so blind they just can’t see there’s a serious point being made here: is Shearer, that nice young man, actually a vicious warmonger? It would appear that he is.

    Oh dear.

    Let’s hope the MSM picks up Trotter’s piece so more than the beltway actually gets to read it, since it really does go to the heart of your average potential Liarbore voter. Imagine if lefties are no longer able to smear Key for his banking background, on the grounds that their own leader also has a very large unmentionable skeleton in his closet. Oh the humanity.

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  4. Peter (1,712 comments) says:

    Splitters!

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  5. expat (4,050 comments) says:

    David, that should read the Judean Peoples Front. Do try to be more careful with discussions about the feral left in future.

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  6. chunky55 (1 comment) says:

    Kowtow please get a new line. Here are 5 key differences between the Tories and the Reds:

    Privatisation
    Charter Schools
    Tackling Unemployment especially youth
    High Dollar approach
    Carbon Emissions

    Oh and the major one right now is one has a leader that is well respected for leadership & the other lets just say is less thought of than “print money for Africa Russell Norman.

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  7. Paulus (2,631 comments) says:

    I have the greatest repect for Chris Trotter’s writings.
    Whilst probably diametrically opposed to his underlying political views, he often appears the only position of considered reason.
    He is not a hell bent lefty – he more often comes from a balance view, so desperately needed in Labour.
    I shall continue to read his Bowally Road comments, and others.

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  8. Yoza (1,879 comments) says:

    “I disagree. Just because some private mercenary armies have done bad things, is no reason to have an ideological opposition to all private mercenary armies”

    Mercenaries are vermin and one of the very few reasons the use death penalty could be justified. This is just another nail in Shearer’s coffin, no sane person could justify the use of killers for hire and continue to lead a charade masquerading as a viable progressive alternative to the current bunch of corporate facilitators whom we have currently managing the population.

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  9. Pete George (23,591 comments) says:

    A comment on a recent thread:

    SorryDavid(1) Says:
    December 27th, 2012 at 6:53 pm

    Mike Smith here. Helen Clark had nothing at all to do with the start of the Standard, nor did anyone in her office. Nor was it authorised by the Labour Party – it was started by and still is run by a group of individuals with an interest in the labour movement.

    That may be factually correct but it doesn’t address whether any Labour or union office has been involved in managing or authoring at The Standard.

    And in fact it looks like Mike is acting on behalf of David Shearer or party leadership to try and bring The Standard into line after Clare Curran’s recent own goal failure.

    But Mike is again not getting a good reception. He is trying to impose caucus control of an independent(ish) blog that mostly represents the left of the Labour party and is often antagonistic towards the centre left.

    This highlights several things:
    – the battle between caucus and grass roots Labour for control of the party
    – the battle in Labour between the caucus (which is more to the centre) and the blog activists (more to the left)
    – the attempt by Labour (caucus and possibly Labour Party leadership) to control The Standard like they have controlled Red Alert

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  10. bhudson (4,740 comments) says:

    He is not a hell bent lefty – he more often comes from a balance view, so desperately needed in Labour.<

    Paulus,

    Such as his stance on “noble corruption” (or, to put it another way, his [published] view that corruption is ok as long as the Left are doing it to get back into, or to retain, power)???

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  11. Grant Michael McKenna (1,160 comments) says:

    Judean People’s Front, the Judean Popular People’s Front, the Campaign for a Free Galilee, and the Popular Front of Judea… I’m backing the Romans.

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  12. ChardonnayGuy (1,207 comments) says:

    I think the problem that many people on the centre-left have with Trotter is his almost complete lack of strategic nous and his blinkered view of what constitutes modern social democracy. He hasn’t come to terms with the fact that the centre-left has plural constituencies within a range of social movements and regards anything outside trade unionism as ‘identity politics’ or ‘social liberalism.’

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  13. ChardonnayGuy (1,207 comments) says:

    Bhudson- that sounds rather like Leo Strauss on the neoconservative *right*, je pense. Let’s face it, though, New Zealand does tend to be far less corrupt than many other western nations, regardless of who’s in government. Especially state governments across the Tasman…

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  14. Yoza (1,879 comments) says:

    ‘I’m backing the Romans.’ In the end the Romans lost.

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  15. Michael (910 comments) says:

    Mike Smith and Labour are paranoid if they think that the National Party, yourself, Cameron Slater and Chris Trotter are working together. Next we’ll have accusations that John Banks and Russel Norman are planning on eloping after the Gay Marraige Bill becomes law.

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  16. Ancient Dan (47 comments) says:

    Whole political parties
    ===============
    The New Zealand future Party
    Future New Zealand
    New Labour Party
    Parts of the Alliance
    Some Greens
    A goodly number of the ACT Party

    She had removed the party from most working New Zealanders who realised that the Labour Party had become a lot of spoiled children who pose as advocates for the poor but are not their Representatives

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  17. Ancient Dan (47 comments) says:

    Trotter campaigned for Labour as far back as the 80’s and perhaps even in the seventies

    He was I think a member of the New Zealand Council at one time
    until he resigned to join Anderton and McCartney in the New Labour party.

    In a touch of irony he was replaced by Gene Leckie if I may say so Chris Trotters
    antithesis on the political spectrum

    Labour has got rid of a lot of heretics

    Ministers of Labour Governments removed from the Party
    ============================================
    Hon Peter Dunne
    Hon Richard Prebble CBE
    Hon Ken Shirley
    Hon Sir Roger Douglas
    Hon Mike Bassett
    Hon Ralph Maxwell
    Hon Peter Neillson
    Hon David Butcher
    bugger this this is a whole essay
    about five pages
    see http://www.radiodaniel.com
    Ancient Dan

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  18. hj (7,031 comments) says:

    I think smart labour realises is that we all compete with each other in the economy (as in a game), but we need to focus on the rules and who we let join our exclusive club; the far left (“progessives of the internationalist tradition”) and rent seeking right want open borders (“let’s all enjoy over population”-and the diversity dividend to boot).

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  19. backster (2,174 comments) says:

    I wonder if Shearer was ‘ In the room’ when the decision was made to admit Clark to the UNDP trough.

    ]DAN….maybe you aren’t that ancient what about John A Lee.

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  20. kowtow (8,512 comments) says:

    chunky ……..privatisation? bwahahahahaha

    Retaining 51% ain’t privatisation. It’s called gutless bollocks.And proceeds will be blown on ? Welfare.

    Do not call this National Party “Tory”. And even less so once a significant section supports Labour private members’ business in the form of marriage “equality”.

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  21. IHStewart (388 comments) says:

    The problem with Trotter’s objections to using the private sector is illustrated by developments ongoing in the DR Congo. The situation in Goma when M23 forces took the city from government forces backed by UN forces is a good example in the sense that rebels were able to walk into the city unopposed.
    The DR Congo troops fled to Goma indulged in 3 days of looting and rape and murder under the noses of the UN.
    The UN in the meantime set up to defend the city from M23 by placing all their forces on the main rd into the city rom the north. The rebels went around them.
    The UN forces mandate is to protect civilians they get 5 million US per day to do this. They couldn’t be fucked. Chris Trotter can try and paint Shearer as an advocate of private armies but after the UN’s latest fuck up in Goma it would seem to me Trotter should examine the morality of his position.

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  22. elscorcho (154 comments) says:

    Dear Mr Farrar

    I usually enjoy your analysis, despite being a filthy leftie, but you are DEAD WRONG on private military forces.

    First of all, the ethical approach: the state has a monopoly on violence (I recommend you study a range of political philosophers to understand that), and to then *extend* that monopoly to *private companies* motivated solely by profit is unethical and immoral. I do not mind being shot by a member of the Wehrmacht, but if some mercenary killed me I’d rather hope my entire family (extended and future) would wage an unending blood feud on whatever private company was inmvolved.

    Secondly, the utilitarian. In simple terms, Mr Farrar, mercenary forces *cannot* stand the field against state or tribal (or whatever political group is involved) armies. Your wonderful neoliberal world of private military forces being paid for outcomes actually existed once – back in the 13th-16th centuries there were large mercenary bands all over Europe, the most famous of which was the White Company. Unfortunately for their employers, profit does not make good soldiers, and these professionals proved rapidly obsolete. No soldier motivated by nothing more than a pay packet will crawl under barbed wire and lift it for their mates.

    Despite being a filthy leftist, I can see some sense in *some* privatisation. Not in the military, however. No mercenary goes forth unto the breach once more. No mercenary could ever have raised the flag over the Reichstag.

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  23. lilman (960 comments) says:

    YOSA ,I dont agree with your tag “mercenarys are vermin”.
    I have seen SOME groups of mercinaries working in hot areas that are disclipined and well drilled and work well with authorities and government forces to achieve real results.
    Money is a great motivator but achievable life is the real driver for more than most.

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  24. IHStewart (388 comments) says:

    Hmm.

    http://congosiasa.blogspot.co.nz/2012/12/the-delusional-peace-how-has-un-failed.html

    Read it and weep.

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  25. BeaB (2,125 comments) says:

    Shearer is a man well suited to working in a big bureaucracy that has no responsibility for raising funds or accountability form spending them. He would be a disaster as PM.

    And as for Somali warlords! Google them and you will see a scruffy crew – hardly towering Goliaths for little David to face down.

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  26. snice1 (27 comments) says:

    A question that has sprung to my mind while thinking about David Shearer and his UN work.

    As UN pay is tax free, had DS divested of all his NZ assets while overseas or did he hold onto them (I’m guessing he had some property) and declare his income and pay tax. Worth someone who has the time to look into.

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  27. hmmokrightitis (1,590 comments) says:

    snice1

    He had investment property, and has since sold some. Thats about as much as I know. He had had the one I know of for a while.

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  28. elscorcho (154 comments) says:

    “YOSA ,I dont agree with your tag “mercenarys are vermin”.
    I have seen SOME groups of mercinaries working in hot areas that are disclipined and well drilled and work well with authorities and government forces to achieve real results.
    Money is a great motivator but achievable life is the real driver for more than most”

    <– if they have military skills and talents, why are they not in the military forces of whatever nationality they are? Because they value gold over the flag and are filthy traitors.

    The only thing that should motivate a soldier is the nation… Bonaparte understood this. Dying for a few dollars is pointless.

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  29. Reid (16,491 comments) says:

    I have seen SOME groups of mercinaries working in hot areas that are disclipined and well drilled and work well with authorities and government forces to achieve real results.

    That’s not the point to me, elscorcho. To me the point is they currently undertake more than mere security. If they only ever did that both for VIP protection and for convoys etc that would be fine. But they do other things in addition to that which results in civilian casualties and it’s one thing if an occupying country does something like that because there are official processes for dealing with it, but when a commercial corporation from that country does something like that a whole new ballgame arises because quite frankly, no fucking corporation has the “right” to come over and kill my daughter or son or sister or brother. It’s bad enough if a country does it but having a corporation do that? What sort of look does that present to those living in the occupied territory?

    That’s why IMO they should not be allowed. If the army can’t provide everything they need up to and including security like they always used to do up till when the war on terror began, then find a way. It’s too late now for Iraq and Afghanistan, that genie’s left the bottle. But don’t do it next time you invade someone and never do it again.

    If a state doesn’t have the resources to manage an occupation that it itself initiates, then it’s a pretty stupid state, isn’t it.

    I suppose it has occurred to all of you that this “technique” of using all sorts of corporations to do everything from provide merc services to base construction to catering and more, has been extraordinarily lucrative to the companies involved, who curiously happen to be the very same companies that people like Cheney and Bush 41 have been deeply associated with during their careers. And not just them, either. But hey who cares, it’s only taxpayer money, isn’t it. It’s probably a damn good thing all those hundreds of billions of US citizen’s money have been channelled to Bechtel etc. Long may it continue. But bottom line on this issue is, it’s an ethical question as to whether they should be involved, and given what these people have done, the interests of the civilians in the occupied territory who are subjected to their actions, should be factored into the equation.

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  30. clockie (1 comment) says:

    @ JC (683) “Trotter’s “attack piece” looks to me like the best CV for a Labour leader since Seddon!.. ”

    You do realise that Seddon belonged to the Liberal Party which collapsed, split and contributed to the formation of the National Party??

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  31. elscorcho (154 comments) says:

    Reid, lrn2quote.

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  32. Reid (16,491 comments) says:

    Que?

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  33. OECD rank 22 kiwi (2,752 comments) says:

    “The Expendables” is a great film.

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