On Leadership and ISIS

“Tragic failure to respond ‘There are pictures now of ISIS flag flying over part of Kobane…. But town in more jeopardy than ever.’”

“It is a time of ruthless beheadings – and ill-conceived responses. Many Western commentators seem confident that the atrocious behaviour of the Islamic State is certain to build, legitimize and strengthen the anti-IS coalition, while weakening the authority of the IS itself. Such thinking, though, reeks of Western bias. What is reasonable or viable or even rational to us may not be, indeed is likely not, how the IS sees it; and, I’m afraid, not how many others in the world will see it, particularly throughout much of the Muslim ummah.

We got it wrong in Iraq, then again in Afghanistan, then in Egypt, then in Libya, and since the outset in Syria. Our values are not their values, nor are they universal (which is why Stephen Harper’s and John Baird’s trumpeting of a “values-based foreign policy” is ignorant and pretentious).”

  • Half measures in fight against Islamic State will only make matters worse, by ROBERT R. FOWLER, The Globe and Mail, Published Friday, Oct. 03 2014, 6:34 PM EDT



Canadian Prime Ministers have shown real leadership in hard times. Since Confederation, Canadian Prime Ministers have made hard decisions. Sometimes, this has meant appointing MPs and Party Leaders into the Privy Council. Sometimes, it means compromising with the House.

Take Sir Robert Borden. In an attempt to avoid the Conscription Crisis, his Conservative government invited the Liberal opposition to join a Government of National Unity. While Sir Wilfrid Laurier and many Liberals refused, some individual Liberals crossed the floor to form the Union Government. Through that compromise, the Union Government defeated the Laurier Liberals in the fall 1917 election and it showed that leadership and governance is as much about humility and grace, as it is about strength and fortitude.

But this is not the only example in Canadian History. Liberal Prime Minister Mackenzie King sought Parliamentary Approval before entering World War II and a national referendum on the issue of Conscription. Prime Minister Joe Clark informed Opposition Leader Pierre Elliot Trudeau that his government was acting to assist a number of Americans during the Iranian Hostage Crisis. Leadership often requires more than just bravado.

This is why I am dismayed by the decision of the House of Commons to go into Iraq because the Prime Minister and the three leaders of the Opposition have shown no leadership at all. The Prime Minister has not shared information with the House or Canadians, while the Opposition has been unimaginative. For example, the Opposition could have shown their opposition in a number of imaginative ways. Either party could have presented a real plan to deal with ISIS. For as more than one person pointed out, it is very hard to provide military or civilian aid in a war zone. Any Opposition Party, if they truly were opposed to the conflict, could have walked out of the House on mass. Thereby forcing Conservative MPs to make up quorum and vote alone for the Mission. Opposition MPs could have even noted that Stephen Harpers’ previous military mission – the mission in Libya –  five years on, after the Canada jets helped bring down Mr.Gaddafi, is more like Somalia than Pakistan, Morocco or any developing Islamic State. But that did not happen. Instead, we have a number of politicians positioning themselves for the next election. Conservatives, Liberals, NDPs and Greens all positioning themselves so that they can say I told you so.

I have never been that way, so I will not start now. What I will do is suggest a solution. That solution though has to begin with a very “un-liberal” concept: defeating ISIS will likely involve military force. It is not popular and it is not easy to say. For Iraq, Libya and Afghanistan have all been poor examples on how to use force. However, force is required.

The reason is simple: ISIS will not negotiate, they will not surrender, they have indicated that they will continue to expand and destabilize the Middle East, and they will not play by international norms. Consequently, force is the only thing that is left. However, as I have learned from my support of the Libyan mission, air power alone will not solve the problem. The recent conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya have taught us three things: overwhelming force and boots on the ground are necessary to win any battle. Primarily because of one thing: Boots on the ground alone, allow a military force to identify the civilians from the non-civilian actors. Or put differently, in each of those three wars, Western Forces easily took over. However, those same forces found it hard to retain territory because they had insufficient ground troops. Consequently, ground troops can tell you if an area needs to be bombed and once an area has been bombed, ground forces can keep the area.

But this is not enough. For each of those conflicts also taught us that winning the war is easy but securing the peace is hard.  In each conflict, the West was not interested in spending the ten to twenty years in these countries. The West was not interesting in spending the time, effort and capital necessary to build up States that could carry on the battle.  As a result, the governments were neither seen as legitimate or could hold sway over the areas they are supposed to be governing.

We know that we have failed because in the past we have secured the peace. The Marshall Plan did that in Western Europe. The US provided the equivalent of 2% of its GNP to Europe to rebuild it. Japan also received loads of money. “Japan’s Strategic location meant that the US continued throughout the 1950s to spend over $500 million a year in Japan on military related orders”. Between 1953 and 1969, South Korea received over $4.2 billion in economic Assistance and $4.1 billion in military assistance from the US. That meant that the US financed the equivalent of 70% of total imports and 80% of fixed capital formation between 1953 and 1962. Put simply, the US bought peace. However, today as Japan, Germany and Korea are among the titans of industry, we can also say that the US built countries. We can do the same again.

And this gets to my disappointment. We could destroy terrorism. We could end it, if we were prepared to rebuild these countries and spend decades there. We could do it if we were prepared to engage the various ethnic groups in Syria and Iraq and come up with new governing arrangements. For as Lt.-Col Stephen J. Day (ex-Commander of Canadian Special Operation Forces) noted on the House on October 11th, terrorism isn’t an instant phenomenon and requires political, economic and military factors to solve it. In other words, today’s Islamic Terror threat – in Lt.-Col Day’s mind – started with poorly drawn borders in 1919 which created domestic and regional tensions which various players liked. Over time, domestic, regional and international actors/powers sought advantage and the end result was simple:  autocratic governments, terrorism and lack of liberal democratic influence in the Middle East.

If we want to change, we have to be prepared to make a decade long or decades long commitment to the area. While, this is my opinion, it is also the opinion of experts like as Lt.-Col Day and Robert Fowler (an ex diplomat in the area). If we are not prepared to do that, we should be honest with ourselves and others and do nothing. As we have seen in Vietnam, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, Lebanon or many other conflicts; a half-hearted effort only leaves a bad history which takes decades to overcome. Dropping a few bombs is such an effort and the Harper Government – and the leaders of the Opposition – in failing to show real leadership are only creating a bigger mess that will have to be cleaned up years after they leave office. Don’t believe me, remember this. In 1979, in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, the US, Pakistan and a number of other countries started funding and supplying military equipment to a broad based opposition. They were known as the Mujahedeen. After the defeat of the Soviet forces and collapse of the communist Najibullah government, the Mujahedeen then turned on each other. The most powerful group once the smoke cleared was the Taliban aided by a group called al-Qaeda.

This story is not unusual. In 1982, Iraq was supported by the US and various Western Governments. Yet, by 1991, it was the subject of a UN sanctioned Policing Action. The solutions that we try today can and will create tomorrow’s problems. Consequently, I would rather be all in as we were with World War II – using military, political, diplomatic and economic tools – than agreeing to the arbitrary and problem inducing solution that this Conservative-dominated Parliament sanctioned.

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