Canada deserves better

 “We will render you every assistance short of actual help”.

(Reputed to have been said by Robert Kennedy when describing Canada’s position during the Cuban Missile crisis.)

That appears to be the new, Liberal foreign policy, at least that’s what I think I heard Stéphane Dion say yesterday, in response to a question from Conservative front bencher Dr Kellie Leitch.

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It certainly appears that Minister Dion’s only plan is to recycle Stephen Harper’s (and Paul Martin’s and George W Bush’s) 3D “strategy” from the Afghanistan era ~ and 3D was, it seems to me, always more about partisan political rhetoric than about actually doing something to defeat an insurgency.

I think the “war” against ISIL is yet another sort of counter insurgency (COIN) campaign. No two COIN campaigns are alike. The war in Malaysia, in the 1950s and ’60s, was not the same as the war in Vietnam in the 1940s, 50s, 60s and 70s. Both were insurgencies, to be sure, but after that they were more different than alike. Ditto Kenya and Cyprus and, and, and … if you have a good book on counter-insurgency then I assert that it is wrong. It might have been right about one campaign but it’s wrong for the others.

There are, generally, two main reasons why any people follow or obey or support an insurgency …

  1. The insurgents really are “better” for the people than the established government. That was the case in e.g China in the 1940s and Vietnam for all those decades. The current governments in Iraq and Syria (and in most Middle Eastern countries, for that matter) are somewhere between hopeless and terrible but it’s not clear that any alternative, and certainly not ISIL, is any better; or
  2. The insurgents terrorize the people in to obedience.

… very often, even in the “best” or most successful insurgencies some combination of the two is required for the insurgents to win.

In the case of ISIL, right now, it seems to me that terrorism is the vastly predominant motivator. The leaders of the insurgency are not interested in either diplomacy or development. They have presented their “war aims” on video, they are skilled at presenting their “message” on social media to “explain,” to incite, to recruit and to terrorize …

… and their only aim is to bring one narrow, specific, medieval notion of Islam to the region (Iraq and Syria) then to all of the Islamic Crescent and then to the whole world, including Canada. There is, I suggest, nothing to “negotiate,” diplomacy and diplomats can sit this one out.

Of course there is (always and everywhere) some role for development, we could use some “development” (and decent leadership, too) right here at home …

… but that’s a topic for another time.

cart-horseBut, before development, in places like Iraq and Syria, which are the source of so many refugees and so much “need,” can even be attempted, the threat ~ the real, physical threat ~ of ISIL must be, at the very least, weakened and disrupted. Minister Dion and the entire Trudeau cabinet has put the diplomacy and development carts before (the defence) war horse. Before we can do anything useful for, say, refugees in Jordan, we, the big we, the global, civilized “we“, have to do something about ISIL, on the ground, in Iraq and Syria. Sending food and blankets is wonderful, and helpful and necessary, too, but it’s an endless waste unless we, first, send some bombs onto ISIL battle positions and bases in Iraq and Syria.

As I suspected, Prime Minister Trudeau and his team don’t have a strategic plan; what they have is a “Hail Mary” play, more, as I said, political desperation than strategic deliberation, because they are being pilloried by almost everyone except the 10% of Canadians who actually support their “cut and run” position. This new “holistic” plan is just more partisan media spin by a PMO that is, in fact, the 2019 campaign team. Well, Prime Minister, it is time to stop campaigning, for now, and to govern in the national interest.

Canada deserves better, but it deserves that, at least.

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