Vernon Small thinks the B Team is missing Key:
English’s Monday performance shows just how much National lost when Key quit
If nothing else Bill English’s long – and frustrating – press conference on Monday showed just what National lost when John Key headed for the hills.
For about 45 minutes, give or take a couple of diary items, the prime minister tried to explain why he had decided not to launch an investigation into the 2010 SAS raid in Afghanistan that was at the centre of the book Hit and Run.
But the crucial new evidence was a video he had been shown by Keating that morning that satisfied him that the troops had not broken the rules of war and had complied fully with their rules of engagement.
A brief selection of carefully edited “highlights” shows exactly nothing about anything that might have gone wrong with the mission, I’m not sure why Small regards this as “crucial” evidence. Unless English saw all the footage (he didn’t) he saw nothing useful. Anyway, having described how Key would have let some concrete details slip to appease the press:
In the Hit and Run case, in contrast, English has been over-cautious in keeping the military sweet, leaving too many questions unanswered. Add to that his extraordinary claim that Keating was “independent” and was not part of the operation. He was in essence saying “trust me, because I trust Keating”.
It would never do in any other Government department and should not do for the military either, especially if English is genuinely interested in seeing off the issue and silencing the critics of the raid.
On reconciling the different versions of events:
After all, since shortly after the raid coalition and Afghan authorities were allowing that some civilians may have died (despite Keating coming late to the realisation that his insistence the claims were “unfounded” did not mean the same thing as “possible but unproven”).
But it will require the Defence Force and English to stop game-playing about the affected villages, Khak Khuday Dad and Naik..
Hager and Stephenson made an error locating them on the map – which they have acknowledged – and other location errors in the book flowed from that.
But it is clear they are all talking about the same raid on the same villages. For the Government to say the SAS did not go to the villages identified in the book – but to a village called Tirgiran – is just flam.
You can see why they might be reluctant. Having achieved headlines saying Hager and Stephenson had the wrong location for the villages, they will fight to the last spin doctor standing to avoid a headline that reads: “Defence Force confirms its attack was on the villages of Khak Khuday Dad and Naik identified in Hit and Run”.
In the larger scheme of things it may seem a minor point. But it is that default to “spin” and a reliance on cute semantics that undermines English’s case – and his reliance on the Defence Force.
A “default to ‘spin’ and a reliance on cute semantics” sounds to me like English has learned Key’s lessons just fine.