Tuesday, September 30, 2014

This Is Not The Time For Absolutism

In the absolutist world of Stephen Harper, there are those who wear white hats and those who wear black. No berets (especially berets!) of middling colours are recognized. So when he declares that Canada will not stand on the sidelines on this possibly endless battle against ISIS, King Stephen is positing an absolutist scenario, one that sees military action as the only way to make a meaningful contribution.

It is a blinkered perspective with which not all agree.

Writing in The Globe, a professor of political science, Michael Bell, offers the following observations and reminders:
Western “boots on the ground” in Afghanistan and Iraq have been abject failures, leaving behind a still more profound conundrum. Could this happen all over again?
It is ironic that the American-led invasion of Iraq and the abortive Arab Spring in Syria, albeit the latter a noble failure, combined to let loose the explosive radicalism we are faced with today. The subsequent power vacuum unleashed unchecked ethnic nationalism and extremist ideology. The law of unintended consequences prevails again. Whether “boots on the ground” will ultimately be the answer is more than doubtful.
Roger Barany of Vancouver points out that there are viable alternatives to military engagement for Canada:
The disturbing examples of extremism we have seen (or avoided seeing) from Islamic State are no justification for Canada to be part of a massive aerial bombing campaign that could kill as many innocent civilians as intended targets. And this is assuming that the intelligence is reliable in the first place (For Harper, Decision To Deploy Must Come With Full Disclosure – Sept. 29).

This is not our war, but not being part of it does not mean sitting on the sidelines. Canada will always have a humanitarian role to play. It can start by joining a coalition of countries willing to help deal with the massive refugee outflows and human suffering caused by the air strikes in Syria.

If the Prime Minister is intent on Canada having a direct combat role, the debate should be premised on the worst-case scenario: Canadian soldiers deployed in a long-term ground war in the Mid-east. Then the question should be put to a free vote in Parliament so that MPs of all stripes can vote their individual conscience and that of their constituents.

Today's Globe editorial also warns against hasty commitments:
...sending our forces into combat is not the only alternative to standing on the sidelines and watching. The Harper government is among the world’s most vocal supporters of Ukraine and Israel – but no Canadian troops or planes have ever been involved in the fighting in those countries. Opposition to the IS does not necessarily mean a direct combat role. Humanitarian aid, technical support, financial support, weapons, training – there are ways Canada can participate usefully in Iraq and Syria without intervening directly.
And it warns that once engaged,
no one should believe that this is a battle that will begin and end with a few fighter-jet sorties.
Expect these warnings, based as they are on logic, recent history and reflection, not to be factors in the Harper regime's decision.


  1. Mr. Harper employs white hot rhetoric, Lorne. And then he sends others in to do his bidding.

    1. It is sad that there are always so many so willing to do the bidding of their perceived masters, Owen.

  2. As I argue today, it's high time Canada adopted the "Powell Doctrine". From Wiki:

    The Powell Doctrine states that a list of questions all have to be answered affirmatively before military action is taken by the United States:

    Is a vital national security interest threatened?

    Do we have a clear attainable objective?

    Have the risks and costs been fully and frankly analyzed?

    Have all other non-violent policy means been fully exhausted?

    Is there a plausible exit strategy to avoid endless entanglement?

    Have the consequences of our action been fully considered?

    Is the action supported by the American people?

    Do we have genuine broad international support?[2]

    We have got to stop getting into wars that we have no prospect of winning. We have to avoid wars that offer no exit strategy. We have to realize that there are wars we have neither the means nor the perseverance to wage.

    We are not suited to fighting "New Wars" with their confusing and ever-changing mix of state and non-state actors; strategies, tactics and objectives that can change with the wind.

    1. Thanks to the forces of fear being generated by the usual suspects, Mound, these eminently reasonable questions will not see the media light of day, ensuring that the march to war continues unimpeded.