The Dim-Post

July 3, 2014

Deep state syndrome

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:09 am

The fiasco over the Malaysian Diplomat seems pretty typical of what happens when you get organisations like MFAT – elitist, pointlessly secretive, largely unaccountable. The incentive is for officials in these departments to act in their own short-term interest, which then gets conflated with ‘the national interest’. After all, are they not our intellectual elite? Do they not know best? Thus it was in the national interest for an alleged attempted rapist to just quietly leave the country, because the alternatives would have been really awkward and meant a load of extra work for everyone in the protocol department.

As usual the Minister responsible is claiming ignorance. If there’s anything happening inside the Labour Party these guys are always all over it, happy to relay rumours and disinformation to the media, but if anything important happens in, say, the GCSB or the Ministry of Foreign Affairs – for whom government Ministers are the only oversight function – they never know, not their place to know, not their job, not their problem or responsibility.

Update: Via Toby Manhire:

mfat

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43 Comments »

  1. Could it also be that McCullys reforms have left the dept under staffed with newbies. Pressure + inexperience = major mistakes.

    Comment by Northshoreguynz — July 3, 2014 @ 9:32 am

  2. I find it hard to believe that MFAT acted without having a clear understanding of what the minister wanted.

    Comment by Deborah — July 3, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  3. Assault with intent to rape is not “attempted rape”. Both are serious, but attempted rape is a more serious charge.

    Comment by Graeme Edgeler — July 3, 2014 @ 9:39 am

  4. McCully hand picked John Allen to ram through “reforms” of MFAT that saw a huge loss of institutional memory and experienced diplomats. Morale plunged, and the lightweights who came onboard did what inexperienced n00bs everywhere do when they are thrown in the deep end with no support – adopted a culture of obsessive secrecy, fudged lines of responsibility and blame shifting.

    Murray McCully is a notorious micro-manager. His department is either:

    1/ So dysfunctional and useless that even an obsessive mico-managing minister is unable to stay on top of things, or

    2/ A significant portion of his employees loath McCully so much they are orchestrating shadowy combinations against him (the bonkers Kiwibog favourite and included here for completeness) or

    3/ It is a ministry that does exactly what it thinks it’s rigidly hierarchy wants, with independent thought strictly verboten, and common sense something that’ll attract the ire of Muzza.

    Whatever, McCully is guilty of presiding over systemic failure and worse – he misled the teflon God himself, John Key. And in this government, you can be as cronyist and fast and loose as you like with the conventions of the civil service and you’ll be fine. But denting the cult of Key? Well…

    Comment by Sanctuary — July 3, 2014 @ 9:40 am

  5. I go for MFAT over-weighting on the wider ‘foreign affairs’ family and allowing ‘face saving’ by diplomats (hence the MFAT staff mixed messages outside the formal letter) over how the NZ public would react. Because to the MFAT family its the long term external relationships that matter – Ministers and government come and go. Hence MFAT doesn’t have a good internal radar going “How would this look on the front page of the Herald/Dominion Post”.

    Comment by WH — July 3, 2014 @ 9:46 am

  6. Could it also be that McCullys reforms have left the dept under staffed with newbies. Pressure + inexperience = major mistakes.

    Oh, FFS… I’m sorry but how many staff do you need, how much bloody experience is required to come to the conclusion that an alleged rapist facing a military tribunal in a foreign nation just shouldn’t have been an option? And with no due respect whatsoever, it’s entirely possible to believe MFAT fucked up horribly and inexcusably AND The current Minister of Foreign Affair is an utter numpty. At least, it works for me.

    Comment by cranapia — July 3, 2014 @ 9:50 am

  7. Whatever, McCully is guilty of presiding over systemic failure and worse – he misled the teflon God himself, John Key. And in this government, you can be as cronyist and fast and loose as you like with the conventions of the civil service and you’ll be fine. But denting the cult of Key? Well…

    Not to worry, McCully can now gracefully step aside in East Coast Bays, having sustained the kind of damage the doesn’t preclude being sent off as High Commissioner to somewhere. as John Lennin once put it, every clown has a silver lifeboat.

    Comment by Joe W — July 3, 2014 @ 9:57 am

  8. There’s a lot of jumping to conclusions. Let’s wait til we know just what the informal discussions were.

    I can think of senarios where misunderstanding occurred which don’t entail the sort of instructional self protection described.

    Comment by Neil — July 3, 2014 @ 10:29 am

  9. Institutional, not instructional

    Comment by Neil — July 3, 2014 @ 10:41 am

  10. @Neil: “There’s a lot of jumping to conclusions. Let’s wait til we know just what the informal discussions were.”
    Goodness me Neil. How clever to be cautious in your judgement. How fair. How non-judgmental. Your mercy falls as gentle rain upon we mortals.
    Hang on! Isn’t it Neil who rushes to condemnation and anger when the Labour Party is under the hammer? Must be a different chap.

    Comment by xianmac — July 3, 2014 @ 10:43 am

  11. The incentive is for officials in these departments to act in their own short-term interest, which then gets conflated with ‘the national interest’. After all, are they not our intellectual elite? Do they not know best?

    Have you not just described the left wing in general, so ably represented here on this forum? Why shouldn’t the institution you worship above all else, the state, not reflect your most salient qualities?

    Something morally and ethically bad has happened at the hands of intellectual elites in government who know best and whose self-interest has not been eliminated but merely channelled into different areas of human desire. Perhaps the question that really needs to be addressed is why the left wing are continuously surprised at such a turn of events?

    Comment by Tom Hunter — July 3, 2014 @ 10:43 am

  12. @ Tom Hunter,

    Not really. Danyl’s criticism is of state institutions that are exempted from the forms of political scrutiny and accountability, so that there is no real check on their actions. Other state institutions are different. Lumping all of them together seems a bit silly.

    Furthermore, insofar as large organisations fuck up and treat the people they have power over as means to an end, is there really that much difference between “the state” and “not the state”? Consider Facebook’s decision to run psychological experiments on its users, for example.

    Comment by Flashing Light — July 3, 2014 @ 10:56 am

  13. Furthermore, insofar as large organisations fuck up and treat the people they have power over as means to an end, is there really that much difference between “the state” and “not the state”?

    Or for that matter left wing or right wing. It’s also not restricted to the power locus of intellectual elites.
    The abuse of power and self-serving arse covering conflated as ‘national interest’ would equally apply to utter Neanderthals if they happen to have their sweaty mitts on the levers of power – the only difference would be that the expression of power would likely be more obvious.

    Nice trolling attempt anyway though, Tom.

    Comment by Gregor W — July 3, 2014 @ 11:47 am

  14. All about dodgy deals to sell stuff. I wonder how many of the companies mentioned here:
    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/business/news/article.cfm?c_id=3&objectid=10668561
    donate to the Nats and go to Cabinet Club.

    Comment by richdrich — July 3, 2014 @ 1:19 pm

  15. Other state institutions are different. Lumping all of them together seems a bit silly.
    In this case we’re talking about a branch of government that even Libertarians would not object to: diplomatic relations between nations. If even that core function is lacking in “forms of political scrutiny and accountability” what the hell else is going on in newer, fresher fields of government work? If the core is so stuffed it would actually be very silly not to at least to think that the fringes might be in worse shape.

    …is there really that much difference between “the state” and “not the state”? Consider Facebook’s decision to run psychological experiments on its users, for example.
    Which is why I never joined Facebook and am urging my nearest and dearest to run fast, run far from the reach of Mr Zuckerberg. I will also be choosing to have nothing to do with MFAT from now on and …. oh wait!

    The abuse of power and self-serving arse covering conflated as ‘national interest’ would equally apply to utter Neanderthals if they happen to have their sweaty mitts on the levers of power
    I agree. But the default position of leftists is that if only we put really smart people into power, people from Harvard or the Sorbonne – The Smartest President Evah, for example – things will be different and better.

    My argument is that our society could do with a lot fewer levers of state power for either Neanderthals or Top Men to grab hold of.

    As far as trolling is concerned – and although I appreciate your appreciation, we will have to agree to disagree – I thought my comments go to the very heart of this clusterfuck and Danyl’s take on it.

    Comment by tom hunter — July 3, 2014 @ 1:51 pm

  16. Tom – Both, knuckle dragging idiots, know it all intellectuals and secretive, authoritarian elites can be found under many different rocks – even the ones with libertarian written on them.

    Comment by framu — July 3, 2014 @ 2:18 pm

  17. But the default position of leftists is that if only we put really smart people into power

    So, pretty much the entire NZLP shadow cabinet?

    Comment by Gregor W — July 3, 2014 @ 5:38 pm


  18. In this case we’re talking about a branch of government that even Libertarians would not object to: diplomatic relations between nations.

    What sort of libertarian blithely accepts the notion of “nations” that have “diplomatic relations” with each other? Get away, you statist oppressor, you.

    It’s not a question of how old or established the department is, but rather how well overseen and accountable it is. And here we have one doing things that the Minister didn’t think it appropriate to involve himself in, and if you try to ask questions of it as to exactly what went on, you’ll have s.6(a) thrown in your face. So … not like other, “newer” government departments at all, really.

    But the default position of leftists is that if only we put really smart people into power, people from Harvard or the Sorbonne – The Smartest President Evah, for example – things will be different and better.

    Not a particularly “leftist” trait. Remember the “Chicago Boys” in Chile, while Pinochet was busy executing his opponents and dumping bodies in the sea?


    My argument is that our society could do with a lot fewer levers of state power for either Neanderthals or Top Men to grab hold of.

    Power is power. Read some Foucault.

    Comment by Flashing Light — July 3, 2014 @ 6:12 pm

  19. Power is a category. Read some Wittgenstein.

    Comment by Neil — July 3, 2014 @ 6:43 pm

  20. If even that core function is lacking in “forms of political scrutiny and accountability” what the hell else is going on in newer, fresher fields of government work?

    Don’t worry, other fields of government work haven’t been personally restructured by Murray McCully, so can be assumed not to be completely fucked until proven otherwise.

    But the default position of leftists is that if only we put really smart people into power…

    Maybe some cross-communication going on here. The default position of nice, well-off, middle-class types like me is that we should put really smart people into power, sure – but the default position of leftists is that we should overthrow power and devolve authority to collectives of the working classes, which may or may not involve smart people to any particular extent. I certainly wouldn’t go that far…

    Comment by Psycho Milt — July 3, 2014 @ 7:08 pm

  21. All of you, read some Nietzsche:

    My idea is that every specific body strives to become master over all space and to extend its force (its will to power) and to thrust back all that resists its extension. But it continually encounters similar efforts on the part of other bodies and ends by coming to an arrangement (“union”) with those of them that are sufficiently related to it: thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 3, 2014 @ 9:26 pm

  22. Nietzsche understood particle physics before there was particle physics.

    Comment by Neil — July 3, 2014 @ 9:44 pm

  23. Power is not a thing, it is a chain of active relationships that has to be maintained constantly by human and non-human agents. Power is the effect of collective action, it is not the cause of it. Read some Latour!

    Comment by Higgs Boatswain — July 3, 2014 @ 10:09 pm

  24. Maybe some cross-communication going on here.
    Cross-communication? My god man, what you go on to describe is full blown schizophrenia!

    thus they then conspire together for power. And the process goes on.
    Oh great. Just what I need to be thinking about as I cast my ballot paper this year.

    Comment by tom hunter — July 3, 2014 @ 10:20 pm

  25. Being just contaminates the void.

    Comment by Joe W — July 3, 2014 @ 10:38 pm

  26. “MFAT – elitist, pointlessly secretive, largely unaccountable”

    Strong words here. What, in Danyl (or anybody else’s) opinion, could be done by a Green government to reform MFAT and make it egalitarian, transparent and accountable?

    Comment by kalvarnsen — July 4, 2014 @ 1:41 am

  27. What could be done to improve MFAT kalvarnsen? Easy, clean out all the Political Science graduated, time-serving, mealy mouthed , socialist Labour supporters and replace them with Political Science graduated, time-serving, mealy mouthed , socialist, even more left-leaning Green supporters. Job done, next task please.

    Comment by DavidW — July 4, 2014 @ 9:10 am

  28. Strong words here. What, in Danyl (or anybody else’s) opinion, could be done by a Green government to reform MFAT and make it egalitarian, transparent and accountable?

    I’m all for judicious use of the strappado in situations like this.

    Comment by Gregor W — July 4, 2014 @ 9:18 am

  29. Way cool, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Strappado
    But not sure how it could be applied judiciously.

    Comment by northshoreguynz — July 4, 2014 @ 9:41 am

  30. @DavidW: If there’s anywhere where a Political Science degree is useful, it’s at MFAT.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — July 4, 2014 @ 9:57 am

  31. But not sure how it could be applied judiciously.

    Well, you can’t use it every time you want to encourage behavioural change. It pays not to be overzealous.

    Comment by Gregor W — July 4, 2014 @ 11:05 am

  32. The bungling wasn’t anything to do with junior or inexperienced staff. Mary Oliver has been at MFAT forever.

    Comment by RogueState — July 4, 2014 @ 11:10 am

  33. Gregor W wrote “I’m all for judicious use of the strappado in situations like this.”

    you are entitled to your opinion, Gregor, but this is not something the Green Party would do to reform MFAT. The Green Party’s disciplinary culture consists of the person to be punished spending 14 hours at a time in a ‘hearing’, being talked to seriously about how they should reflect on the consequences of their actions. The person being so punsihed cannot leave, because of the woman at the door who will strike them down with a most hurtfully disapproving look if they try. The only Green Party operative who has managed to survive such a speaking-to intact is Mojo Mathers, who was unable to lip-read what the denouncers were saying, because they were wearing Guy Fawkes masks.

    The only reason the Green Party would kill someone is to use them as feed for an endangered carnivore.

    Comment by kahikatea — July 4, 2014 @ 12:06 pm

  34. I’m sorry but how many staff do you need, how much bloody experience is required to come to the conclusion that an alleged rapist facing a military tribunal in a foreign nation just shouldn’t have been an option?

    He’s not an alleged rapist, nor is he an attempted alleged rapist. Now that’s cleared up, the issue of diplomatic immunity is a curious thing. I recall earlier this year an Indian diplomat was charged with fraud in the US but was given diplomatic immunity.

    http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jan/10/devyani-khobragade-to-leave-us-under-diplomatic-immunity

    Comment by Ross — July 4, 2014 @ 12:31 pm

  35. Danyl

    Before you leap to criticise the character of people you don’t know, you should stop to consider that the facts of the case as presented in the media may not be accurate.

    Bear in mind that the officials concerned are not permitted to speak in their own defense.

    A.

    Comment by Antoine — July 4, 2014 @ 1:07 pm

  36. He’s not an alleged rapist, nor is he an attempted alleged rapist.

    Quite right. He’s an accused assaulter with intent to rape. Which is much better.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 4, 2014 @ 1:20 pm

  37. Quite right. He’s an accused assaulter with intent to rape. Which is much better.

    Seeing as the maximum prison time for rape is 20 years, compared to a mere 10 years for assault with intent, yes it is “better”.

    Comment by Ross — July 4, 2014 @ 1:34 pm

  38. So I’m no lawyer type but it seems to me that someone who (allegedly) intended to rape but was prevented from doing so and someone who (allegedly) saw their rape plan through to completion is on the same very-fucking-low rung of the scum ladder.

    I think the difference in maximum sentences reflects the fact that in one case rape actually took place while in the other it didn’t, nothing more.

    Comment by Rob — July 4, 2014 @ 7:10 pm

  39. I know I kind of started it, for which I apologise, but maybe we should all think hard before a bunch of us guys embark on a long comment thread discussion of degrees of rape badness? It can’t lead anywhere good, and there’s real people with more direct experience of the issue who may be reading this.

    Comment by Andrew Geddis — July 4, 2014 @ 7:19 pm

  40. @Antoine

    I was surprised that there were no voices calling for a little withholding of judgement.

    A lot of issues spring to mind but one is a sort of logical fallacy – one mistake becomes the central definer of the situation rather than the thousands of events handled correctly.

    OMG MFAT have fucked up! Let’s look for some one to blame. They’re incompetent, I have a theory that explains their incompetence.

    And on this situation if was resolved and quite quickly and I think the true test of diplomacy is how things are handled when things go wrong.

    That’s more a test of competence.

    Comment by Neil — July 4, 2014 @ 7:44 pm

  41. @Neil

    I normally think of Danyl as a good bloke, but to say (without a shred of evidence) that MFAT officials wanted “an alleged attempted rapist to just quietly leave the country, because the alternatives would have been really awkward and meant a load of extra work for everyone in the protocol department” is incredibly shabby.

    Danyl put yourself in the shoes of the relevant MFAT staff, some of which are just as smart and well intentioned as you (if not more so), and picture how they would feel reading this stuff. Bearing in mind that they are not able to correct any errors of fact in the public eye.

    A.

    Comment by Antoine — July 4, 2014 @ 8:39 pm

  42. “I think the true test of diplomacy is how things are handled when things go wrong.”

    McCully, Key and John Allen appear to think that the best way to handle this is to throw a junior official under the bus. A potent mix of psychopathic incompetence will lead you to that conclusion I’m guessing.

    Comment by Judge Holden — July 4, 2014 @ 8:49 pm

  43. @Antoine: For some reason, the narrative that a government department is eye-wateringly incompetent is something that seems weirdly reassuring to a lot of people.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — July 5, 2014 @ 2:53 am


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