On Why Pundits and Politicians need to make arguments: A Response to Warren Kinsella

“At what point, exactly, do you finally admit you were tragically, fundamentally, historically wrong?

(Reuters) – Islamic State militants are selling abducted Iraqi children at markets as sex slaves, and killing other youth, including by crucifixion or burying them alive, a United Nations watchdog said on Wednesday. Iraqi boys aged under 18 are increasingly being used by the militant group as suicide bombers, bomb makers, informants or human shields to protect facilities against U.S.-led air strikes, the U.N. Committee on the Rights of the Child said. “We are really deeply concerned at torture and murder of those children, especially those belonging to minorities, but not only from minorities,” committee expert Renate Winter told a news briefing. ‘The scope of the problem is huge.’ ”
– Warren Kinsella’s blog

So let me start with a simple statement: I am no friend of ISIS/ISIL. I believe that their acts are disgusting and that the Government of Canada should use every available tool against them. However, I am also cognizant of a simple truth: Canadian Politicians are not ready to admit to make that brave declaration. While the Prime Minister uses war rhetoric, he cannot bring himself to mobilizing more than 69 troops, 4 CF-18s and the necessary support staff for both. This is hardly a radical or war-like footing.

In joining the Persian Gulf, Prime Minister Mulroney sent 24 CF-18s, the First Canadian Field Hospital and two ships. With a peak force strength of 2,700, this was a substantial commitment. It is important to note that at the time we were only fulfilling a UN mandate and not at war. As Yugoslavia crumbled, Jean Chretien sent our forces over in various ways. Over 2,000 soldiers were on the ground in various places, while in 1999, 18 CF-18s took part in the Kosovo campaign.

We sent upwards of 1,400 military personnel to participate in the Somalian Peacekeeping mission and had a peak force strength of 2,300 in Afghanistan. While the 69 troops are seeing combat in Iraq, we are hardly at a war footing. So whenever the Harper Government says that ISIS/ISIL is a serious threat to our way of life I ask one question: if we are threatened with a serious crisis, why don’t we act seriously about it? Why don’t we have a serious and credible plan and not try what the Americans did for the earlier decade? For if one remembers, two American Presidents failed to create a force which could repeal forces like ISIL.

Frankly, this is why I am frustrated with Warren Kinsella’s piece. For it makes the most simplistic and disingenuous argument: ISIL is “evil” and we need to do something about them. We all agree that these people are despicable. No Canadian Politician has argued otherwise. What many people have criticized is the game plan. Some, like the NDP, have argued that Canada should fill in other roles.

In my case, I have argued that if ISIS/ISIL is really that big a threat, then we should send in ground troops. For Western History – wars in Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea and Iraq as well as the disintegration of Yugoslavia – has taught us that ground troops are required to eliminate ISIS/ISIL and Iraq doesn’t have a mature military to deal with it. Either way, both sides are not asking for appeasement, they are just asking for a viable plan: A plan that no political leader – Harper, Mulcair or Trudeau – wants to be responsible for.

But I digress. For, the simple truth is that if ISIL’s evilness alone requires our intervention, then by Mr. Kinsella’s argument, the Canadian Army should go into battle in Nigeria, Somalia and Syria as well. As the two Jihadi Islamists in Canada were inspired by ISIL, the Canadian Government has indicated that there was no formal command and control relationship. Therefore, the two Jihadi Islamists could have equally been inspired by Boko Haram in Nigeria, the Syrian branch of ISIL, or Somali Islamists who have also used the same techniques. So maybe we should go after them too.

Is Warren Kinsella arguing that Canadian Special Forces should go to every country where children at markets are sold “as sex slaves, and killing other youth, including by crucifixion or burying them alive”? Or every country where boys younger than the age of 18 “are increasingly being used by the militant group as suicide bombers, bomb makers, informants or human shields to protect facilities”?

If that were the case, our troops would be deployed more often. In 2013, Canadian Special Forces were training troops in Niger and Mali. (Canadian Special Forces on ground in Mali, sources say, CBC.ca, Jan 28, 2013 3:20 PM ET) Should they have fought the Malian Islamists – like the French – who briefly seized power? Should we send Canadian troops into the Philippines because some of the Muslim Insurgents there have declared the allegiance to various ISIL factions? Will we send troops to help the Russians in their questionable actions against Muslim Communities in various Caucasus areas? How about Thailand or Egypt? By using Warren Kinsella’s broad definitions, one could justify sending Canadian troops to all sorts of far flung places with little benefit to the Canadian people.

Don’t believe me? Just look at the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Also known as the Lord’s Resistance Movement, it is to Christianity as ISIL is to Islam. A militant Movement, the LRA twists Christianity into anything it wants, to achieve political ends in northern Uganda and South Sudan. If Warren’s words were to be used, we would find ourselves in battle in yet another place. In fact, drug lords in South American have been known to use the same tactics as the LRA or ISIL. While this might seem extreme, it is not. As I have travelled, I have learned that the world is not a perfect or safe place. In this world, we need to make decisions which leave all of us safer and which bring the world to a better place. In making these decisions we need to find solutions which provide the most benefit to the most people, while defending the rights of minorities. We need to find objectively balanced answer which can take the facts on the ground into account and make the best answer.

For me, I am courageous enough to say that sometimes a half assed solution is the worst one. As the Americans found out in Vietnam, and both the Americans and Russians found in Afghanistan, sometimes interventions don’t change a thing. Sometimes, it just makes a bad situation worse. Ask the Israelis’ about their experience in Lebanon. If the best answer is a full invasion, it doesn’t flow that the next best answer is a halfhearted attempt at containment and this is important to realize. Do you remember Libya? Because I do. I supported a long term commitment to the country starting off with the bringing down of Kaddafi. Yet, we sent CF-18s without providing the long term commitment. Libya is now a disaster.

Today, there are a number of different Special Forces units in Iraq that are being asked to train various Iraqi Security Forces. If one needs reminding, from 2003 to 2011, the US and their allies tried to do this. Just to bring some perspective to this issue, at present, 1,500 American Special Forces are being joined by 300 to 500 British, Australia and Canadian compatriots to do what 100,000 to 300,000 troops could not do: build a stable Iraqi Defence Force.

This lack of foresight will cause us to spend money and lives in a fruitless fashion. Like the Libya mission, we have sent our troops – some of the best in the world – to a far off land to drop bombs and accomplish little. For, the Harper Government has not learned that interventions don’t lead to long term solutions. While interventions may be ideologically pleasing solutions, they are really successful unless they are followed up by an effective effort to build civic society. Without institutions like non-violent political parties, NGOs and an active democratic activism, the intervention fails. In this case, as in so many, a pragmatic solution is often most successful. Or put differently, while the former Yugoslavia had many of the same factors as Iraq does today, one of the most important differences was the on the ground activity of Blue Helmeted UN Peacekeepers and the active support of the UN and NGOs. Consequently, to Mr. Kinsella and so many others, I have only one thing to say: please provide a coherent policy and not a sound bite. For while convenient, a sound bite is rarely thought out and will always lead us to ruinous actions and, consequently, disastrous outcomes. Therefore, please provide us with coherent though and not just sound bites.

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