On the Montreal Gazette’s Editorial about ISIS

“Canada ought to be an active partner in the fight, but Harper also should make good on his promise to hold a full parliamentary debate on Canada’s involvement. And any involvement must respect Canada’s weak combat capacity; under the governing Conservatives, the military has stayed largely intact in terms of the number of personnel, but cuts to equipment maintenance and upgrading have largely degraded Canada’s potential effectiveness.”

  • Editorial: It’s time to do what we can to fight Islamic State, The Montreal Gazette, Editorial Opinion, September 25, 2014

In reading the Editorial Opinion of the Montreal Gazette, I am struck by the lack of foresight. In the Editorial produced by the Montreal Gazette’s Editorial Board, it is rightly pointed out that: “IS may be an ideological abomination. But it is highly disciplined, well-trained, well-equipped — and it is also increasingly wealthy due to black-market crude-oil sales. It is a serious threat to regional and global security.”

However, the same board also noted that “New Democratic Party leader Thomas Mulcair is correct that there is a significant threat of mission creep in any new offensive.” Consequently, one would expect more than an enthusiastic call for action. Or as they put it, “The perverted world view espoused by IS cannot be allowed to proliferate unchecked.”

My problem is simple, where are we going to be after our intervention? The Montreal Gazette says that “Military action should be continued against IS, but with the more realistic strategic goal of destabilizing it while political alliances with moderate Muslims in the Middle East can be transformed into a newer and more powerful ideological force.” Well, that is what President George Bush argued in 2003, when he invaded Iraq. Or as Vice President Dick Cheney said on Meet the Press on March 16, 2003, “My belief is we will, in fact, be greeted as liberators.”

It was Stephen Harpers’ view as the leader of the Opposition. For on March 28, 2003, in a piece for the New York Times, entitled Canadians Stand With You, Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day argued that Prime Minister Jean Chretien had made a “serious mistake” because for the “first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need.” They went onto say that “the Canadian Alliance — the official opposition in parliament — supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values”.

So while I am surprised that Stephen Harper would not ask that question, I am taken aback by the lack of an answer from the Montreal Gazette. For that question was why few elements intervened in the Syrian Civil War in the first place. Think about it, moderate Muslims have never played a role in the Middle East. Since the British and French created most of these countries, moderate Muslims have been side stepped by most players. The British and French – and later the Russians and Americans – did not want to deal with the demands of moderate Muslims. Instead, they would rather deal with puppet, authoritarian or dictatorial regimes that were predictable and easily controlled. When those regimes inevitably fell, and they always do, they fall to violent forces within each country. Given moderate Muslims are usually not violent in their aims, choosing to look at Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr as their examples; most of those violent forces in the Middle East use a variant of militant Islam as their guiding force. This happened in Iraq in 1970s and recently in Egypt and a number of countries who experienced the “Arab Spring”. Consequently, to argue that moderate Muslims, who have been systematically marginalized, should save us, is like arguing for the Commonwealth of Nations to return to its previous incarnation as the British Empire. It just doesn’t make sense.

We as a country have to accept, if we are going to support the fight against IS, we will have to support Assad. For that is who Islamic State is fighting in Syria. Or put differently, until the Islamic Radicals hit the battle field, the “moderate rebellious forces” in Syria were losing their bid to topple the brutally repressive and autocratic Assad Regime. To date, we have not been willing to make that choice.

Additionally, we have to be prepared to deal with the fact that this conflict will be an extended one. Think about 10 to 20 years. For when the US went into Iraq in 2003, they destabilized the entire region. Iraqis –Sunni, Shiite and Kurds – ended up moving inside and outside of Iraq. This led to movements and arguments in a number of countries. Once the poorly named “Arab Spring” happened, countries were shaken. Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and the Occupied Territories were just some of the Polities which were disturbed. So much so, that the Iraqis are having to bootstrap an armed forces together to deal with IS. And the US supposedly pulled most of their troops out of Iraq in 2011. Or put differently, after over a decade of US Military action, Iraq is still as messed up as it was in 2003. Syria is in worse condition. If anyone thinks a couple of aerial strikes will solve the problem is smoking some “good wacky taback”.

This is not to say that I don’t think that we should be involved. I think that we should be involved. We should be trying to put Syria and Iraq back together again. But that means an honest conversation about what needs to happen in Syria and Iraq. It means action of the UN Security Council to authorize a military intervention. While I am not a military analyst, I can see that it will mean an equal commitment to those made by the US in 2003 and afterward. That means 100,000 to 200,000 troops, as a minimum, to stop the violence in both places. It means action of more than NATO. Or if that cannot happen, it means that we should recognize why we are going to ask those men in uniform – our blood and treasure – to risk their lives and it could mean that many of us who sit on our duffs might be asked to make a more serious commitment.

That is a serious understanding of what Syria means, why couldn’t the Montreal Gazette see that?

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