Two items in the media caught my eye this weekend:
- A video by Doug Saunders of the Globe and Mail in which he suggests, essentially, that we, the US led West, in general, and Canada in particular, should, more of less, just shrug our shoulders at the carnage in Aleppo and do what we can by taking more Syrian refugees; and
- An article by Christie Blatchford in the National Post in which she blasts Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, in particular, but the whole Trudeau regime because it was complicit when “the international community, including Canada, effectively sat on its hands, occasionally bleating inanities at the United Nations and making useless demands that hostilities cease.“
In fact, the whole of the media was taken with the Aleppo situation, it is something of cause de jour. The Toronto Star described it as a “humanitarian disaster;” it’s a “blow … to the Western conviction that, in foreign policy, values matter as well as interests,” said The Economist; and the New York Times describes the battle for Aleppo as “a showcase for boundless human suffering and Western impotence.”
Ms Blatchford is firmly in the “Western impotence” camp. “I’m not sure what would work,” she writes, “but we sure know what doesn’t: doing nothing. Doing nothing allowed Russia to occupy the space, as British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson put it recently about his own country’s failure to act. Diplomacy hasn’t worked, in large measure because shame doesn’t work with the likes of Assad or Russian President Vladimir Putin. Handwringing hasn’t either.” I will not disagree with her on that. Then she turns to Canada, specifically, and says, “But what is particularly grating is that the Canadian government is openly on the hunt for a new mission for the Canadian Forces … [but] … Just what form it will take, even in precisely what country, isn’t clear, but both Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Sajjan have their hearts set on doing something somewhere in Africa … [because] … As the PM told a group of high school students last month, and as the Toronto Star reported at the time, this mission will attempt to tackle “root causes of conflict” because going to fight isn’t justification enough for deployment.“
Still, Christie Blatchford wants someone, which might be Canada, to do something about Aleppo … “I’m not the one to figure out what that might be,” she says, “But there’s something troubling about a government in search of a place to send its superb soldiers when one part of the planet is in agony right now.“
Mr Saunders, on the other hand, says that it’s hard to find an example of Western intervention in the affairs of Middle Eastern states that has ended well for anyone. I wouldn’t disagree with that either.
Our range of military responses runs from carefully targeted air attacks and drone strikes to “boots on the ground.” The former, as I have said just recently, puts us in a real danger of getting into a “sticky” circle in which we become trapped in a cycle in which we end up creating our own, home based, terrorists. The problem with putting boots on the ground is that, as my friend Professor Bob Martyn put it, “this likely form of warfare seems new but is rather very old low level, endless warfare, often inextricable from political unrest. They will be fuelled by economic inequality, corruption, kleptocracy and class injustices,” and it is the endless nature of it ~ think 12 years in combat in Afghanistan versus just four in “The Great War” ~ and the equally endless casualties that make Canadians reluctant to support such operations.
It explains why the Trudeau regime is still searching for a reasonably safe place to do some “peacekeeping” in Africa … but Minister Sajjan knows that there is nothing of the kind. His military staff is working on Rules of Engagement (ROEs) that will tell Canadian soldiers when it is permissible to kill children. It is very possible, even likely that Justin Trudeau, Gerald Butts and Katie Telford actually believe that old fashioned baby-blue beret style peacekeeping is still possible, and that Canada can send a few hundred French speaking females to protect women’s rights in some tropical paradise, but the reality, as Minister Sajjan and the admirals and generals know is quite different. The UN is asking, even begging Canada to go to some real hell holes in Africa ~ places where Canadian soldiers might do some good, but places where, very often, the UN peacekeepers, themselves, are part of the problem ~ but, my sense, is that Team Trudeau is says, “No, no, no … we don’t want guns and our people people getting killed and, especially, we don’t want to have Canadian soldiers shooting black kids.“
That’s why we, and, in large measure, the whole Western world is paralyzed with fear and indecision about Aleppo, about the Middle East, about Africa, about…. impotent, as the New York Times would have it. everyone wants to “do something,” after the fact but no one wants to do much of anything that might help to prevent the ugly “facts on the ground” in the first place because there are military, social and above all political risks.
So, what should we do?
Well, Doug Saunders is more right than wrong. There’s not much to do now except to cry over the spilled milk. We can, and should, provide some help to the victims … but NOT by bringing more refugees to Canada! We should be sending several battalions of military engineers and hundreds of millions of dollars to Jordan to help King Abdullah to cope with the monstrous refugee crisis that has been imposed on his poor, blameless and friendly country. Of course, we don’t have several battalions of military engineers … maybe we have enough soldiers in the entire field force to cobble together one good sized combat engineer regiment, but it doesn’t have all the equipment it needs. And, of course, King Abdullah is not fighting climate change so he’s unlikely to be a recipient of Canadian aid.
We have a range of options:
- A full scale, massive, Western military invasion of the Middle East that would lead to the destruction of the Arab and Iranian fighting forces, the recolonization of the region and a fifty year plan to bring the Arabs and Iranians, and their neighbours back into the 20th century by wiping out, eradicating the medieval, fundamentalist doctrines that have prevailed for the past quarter century or more. That is, for very understandable political, reasons, very unlikely to happen;
- Continued sporadic air and drone attacks and occasional and usually pointless interventions. This is a low risk and very familiar course of action and it is both ~
- The most likely course of action, and
- Entirely consistent with Einstein’s definition of insanity; or
- Isolate more of the Islamic Crescent to varying degrees. Some regions ~ most of thew Middle East and South West Asia, including Pakistan, being de facto, excluded from the world ~ blockaded and isolated from arms purchases, oil sales, travel and tourism, immigration or emigration and so on. A very few countries ~ perhaps only Israel, Jordan and Malaysia ~ would be exempt; a few more would have less stringent blockades; most would be totally isolated from the world, including Russia and China, until they sort their social, religious and political problems out amongst themselves and to our satisfaction. This is also a highly unlikely course of action.
What will will, more than likely, do is constrained by what we are able to do.
Even America is, militarily, unable to invade the Middle East and defeat the various armies and countries there and fend off the Russians at the same time. An American led coalition that would include Australia, Britain, Canada, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Hungary, and, and, and would still be hard pressed to do that. America is a great naval and air power but its army, while large, relative to its allies, is neither large enough nor easily moved to a theatre of war. Most of its major allies are less strategically mobile. Decades of (mostly unearned and too often too deep) “peace dividends” have rendered us so. This, Ms Blathcfords plea and rant, while, possibly, morally justified, are quite impossible … ditto Kevin O’Leary’s totally daft, actually stupid is a better word, notion, just the other day, to send Canadian troops to Syria within six months. The man is both totally uninformed and delusional, to boot.
The US led West will, as it has since Sykes-Picot, continue to bumble in the Middle East, doing less than is needed and, as often as not, doing what is counter-productive. Some national leaders, like Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, will try to hide from what even many of their own citizens regard as a minimally acceptable response because to respond, correctly, would be politically dangerous. But, this is, likely, just another cause de jour so weak, vacillating leaders will be right to take counsel of their fears.