When the world didn't change — and did

September 9 looms: the official launch of a Helen Clark socialist legacy John Key and Murray McCully have ramped into a national spectacle. Three days later (New Zealand time) is the tenth anniversary of Al Qaeda’s spectacular raid on the United States and the 30th of the end of a pivotally divisive rugby tour.
The world didn’t change in 2001 and won’t change on Friday. Contrast 1981.

Friday’s socialist enterprise, the outcome of Clark’s dash to Dublin to secure the rugby world cup, is a transfer to a business minority from taxpayers, ratepayers and many other businesses. Some 35 per cent told pollster UMR in August they expect the cup weeks to be disruptive.

That the point is business was encapsulated by a Radio New Zealand sports commentator’s objection in late August to the suspension of a star Australian rugby player for misbehaviour. People paid to see the star, not just the game, this commentator said, as opera-goers pay to hear Pavarotti, not just the opera. To deprive them of seeing him just because he was a bad boy was bad business.

Of course, these stars do dazzling things. And the “game” (the showbiz, that is) is a great experience, for itself, for the carnival and as nights out. Clark, misunderstood as just an aesthete, got that.

She also understood the business case: tourists, a unique opportunity to showcase inventiveness and top-end companies and products (including Bluff oysters, to be ravaged by extending the catch season in foreigners’ gastronomic honour) and to open possibilities for investment and foreign exchange earnings.

Clark was tough-minded and tough — tougher, past world cup showings suggest, than most, perhaps all, All Blacks who, Telecom seemed to think, don’t have sex.

Clark’s toughness showed after 9/11 (which was 9/12 here, being 16 hours ahead). She was quick into Afghanistan, earning plaudits as a “very, very, very good friend” of the United States from Secretary of State Colin Powell. But she resisted intense pressure to join George Bush’s Iraq jihad in March 2003, which put her, and us, offside in “with-us-or-against-us” Washington.

It is not clear McCully and Key would have stayed out of the Iraq invasion. Had they gone in, the free trade agreement with China would have been unlikely.

Clark justified her refusal to join the invasion on the absence of a United Nations mandate. Later, when the United Nations mandated reconstruction teams, she quickly sent one. Clark was a much more resolute internationalist than McCully and Key.

The case against Clark’s rationale was that the United Nations is poor at mandates for action. It was paralysed as Rwanda was ravaged. It did finally this year pull out of the bottom drawer its “responsibility to protect” doctrine, to legitimise Nato’s helping Libyan rebels against a regime which routinely abused and murdered its people. But plenty such regimes go unchecked. Syria is a topical example.

Nevertheless, Clark was right to refuse Bush’s summons to Iraq.

The Iraq adventure was not in the 1939-45 frame of liberty versus fascism. It was misdirected revenge for an impertinent slaughter in New York and Washington. It was predicated on non-existent weapons of mass destruction and against a regime where Al Qaeda was unwelcome.

When the United States found, having wrecked the administration, that it must occupy Iraq to establish some order, it claimed a mission to bring democracy to Arabs on the model of post-1945 Germany and Japan — ignoring the fact that Iraq in 2003 bore only a shadowy resemblance to those countries. Moreover, American democracy was already sliding toward its present near-dysfunction.

And 9/11 hadn’t changed the world. For that, Al Qaeda’s act of theatre would have had to have been the flashpoint for Samuel Huntington’s “clash of civilisations” — democracies versus Islam. It didn’t look like that then and it doesn’t now.

Al Qaeda has not gone on to bigger things. The Arab uprisings this year have been driven less by Islam than a wish for a degree of liberty, opportunity and security of the necessities of life. Religion is there — but so it is in the United States’ Tea Party rebellion.

The real change came when rich economies’ bubbles burst in 2007 and the mastermind was a central banker, Alan Greenspan, revered personification of three decades of unfettered finance which rose above its station as indispensable servant of capitalism to its undisciplined and self-reverencing master.

From that destructive perversion will come a form of economic organisation yet to be invented and agreed. The world-order politics will follow in due course.

That happened in miniature here after the 1981 Springbok tour. There could not be another such tour. We had started down the journey to biculturalism. The Treaty of Waitangi process widened soon after. Our little world changed.

Meantime there is a game on. Time to get down to business. That complicates and veils politics for six weeks. Then back to normal, whatever that is.