Almost a year ago I wrote about what I see as the real challenge in the refugee policy domain: preventing people from having to flee their homes in fear, rather than figuring how where and how to settle them after they have fled.
My answer, as you might expect, involved having a principled foreign policy, and the means ~ military muscle ~ to back it up and, thereby, play a useful, leadership role in the world.
It remains my firm belief that we, Canadians, are a principled people, that we want to “do the right thing;” it also remains my considered, somewhat experienced opinion that neither the United Nations nor our general, across the Western world, UN approved approach to preventing refugee crises has worked in the past or is working now.
I think, for example, that we, the UN and, especially, the US led West, bungled Syria. I believe we are guilty of feeling both too much guilt about events of 100 years ago (the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Sykes-Picot, and colonialism) and too little about the real suffering of people under e.g. the Assad, père et fils, regime. We also “over-thought” the issue: it is not, in my opinion, as complex as many, many Western analysts want to make it appear. Ever since 1946, when the French mandate for Syria ended, successive US and French presidents and UK and Canadian prime ministers, and others, too, have tried to steer a middle ground between rising Arab nationalism and extreme anti-Western, anti-democratic tendencies in some of the regional leaders. The very existence of Israel and, especially, its triumph in the 1967 “Six Day War,” complicated the issue, but not beyond the wit of men and women of good will, intelligence and principle. It became obvious, by the 1980s, that Hafez al-Assad was both a monster and a fascist. We knew, from recent experience, how to deal with both … but, instead, being weary and wary of wars, we tried red lines and lines in the sand but all that did was embolden the fascists in the region ~ there are many more, besides the Syrian rulers ~ and some outsiders, too.
We were, still are afraid of being accused of being “crusaders,” but we are also finding it somewhere between difficult and impossible to cope with the flood of migrants who are arriving precisely because no one is willing to help them to throw out the tyrants ~ kings, emirs and presidents ~ who are the real problem.
Instead we appear willing, even content to accept this:
I think the world, especially the “world” in Africa and the Islamic Crescent notices that we were able to act on our principles in the 1940s, even in the 1950s, but, now, we seem only able to act when our oil supplies are threatened.
I do not suggest, not even for a µsecond, that sorting out the fascists and tyrants and, yes, monsters in the world, not even in one region or even in one country would be easy or without HUGE costs in blood and treasure. But I do suggest that the consequences of not “doing something” are also high, in treasure, at first, in blood, later and, eventually, in the very fabric of our societies and cultures.
The Responsibility to Protect (R2P and the Will to Intervene (W2I) both emerged, in some part, from the horrific experiences of one Canadian in Rwanda. But despite all the rhetoric our global, multi-national response has been muted, to be charitable. Part of the reason is the UN, itself. Groupe Afrique, the bloc of 50+ African UN member nations, is, broadly and generally, opposed to anything that smacks, even remotely, of “interference” by the West (except for sending cash, of course) in the “internal affairs” of African states. This, almost exactly, mimics long standing Chinese policy and they are encouraged, in the UN, by China to maintain this policy position. We, in the US led West, have found this broad, general, anti-neocolonialism rhetoric to be a convenient excuse to do nothing and then pat ourselves on the backs for ignoring real, preventable, human tragedies.
What should be do?
Obviously, in my opinion, we, the US led West should live up to our own standards and should act on our own principles and be Responsible and Willing to act to Intervene and to Protect those who cannot protect themselves. Many kings and presidents, sheiks and emirs and other assorted tyrants would shout and scream and pound the tables … and would vote to deny us a temporary, second class seat, worthless seat at the Security Council table.
In my opinion, again, Canada, as one of the leaders of the R2P movement, should also play a leadership role in trying to turn the Western ship away from the course upon which it has been headed since about 1960 and on to a new, responsible, principled course. I acknowledge that will not be easy; perhaps it is just far too much to ask of progressive Canadians who, like most Liberals, subscribe to the Laurentian Consensus; perhaps it will even be too hard for some Conservatives to swallow. But I ask them, all who support the status quo: how long should we, can we tolerate all this?
When do our morals, our values, our standards kick in again? When do we say “enough is enough?”
But, what can we do?
It might be easier to start off with what we, Canada, cannot do … we cannot, not with a military of only about 60,000 “effectives” and a defence budget of 1% of GDP, do much of anything on a unilateral basis. We cannot, ourselves, overthrow Assad nor, I suspect, even Africa’s longest serving dictator, President Teodoro Obiang of the tiny (population about 500,000) Republic of Equatorial Guinea. Our military is, as I have explained, been hollowed out until it is little more than a Potemkin Village. Our foreign policy is no longer in the “golden age” when diplomats like Hume Wrong, Gordon Robertson and Lester Pearson were welcomed, respected, even admired, and listened to in capitals around the world; and our political leadership has declined steadily since the days of Louis St Laurent.
But, not much ≠ nothing.
We can, as I have suggested before, pick an African partner that is, honestly, interested in improving the lot of its own people and, (of necessity) outside of the United Nations’ framework, work with it to solve its security, institutional and commercial problems.
While we are starting small, about the only way we can start if military-security operations are part of the equation, we can and should be rebuilding our national defences, but, only after we have cut away, carefully, with a surgeon’s scalpel, the bureaucratic fat that encases our too small, but quite good, combat forces.
But, again, what will we do?
I’m not sure that Principles, Responsibility and Will can be easily reconciled, or reconciled at all, for that matter, with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s (and the Laurentian Elites’) green, feminist and “sunny ways” world view and agenda. It’s also not clear to me that most Canadians actually want us to act responsibly, on our principles … not, at least, if it is going to mean spending money on defence rather than on, say, social programmes, health care and the environment.
My guess is that Team Trudeau, acting for purely partisan, selfish, political reasons will most likely, commit too few, ill-prepared (despite the best efforts of General Jonathan Vance, et al) to a quagmire mission in Africa from which we only extract ourselves after we have taken too many casualties ~ especially mental casualties resulting from situations and actions that are beyond the imagination of 95% of Canadians. Our soldiers will see and do things that no human should be asked to see and do, things that can never be forgotten, and things for which some, even many, will never be able to forgive themselves … we know that’s going to happen because it’s happened before: to Canadians, in Africa, on United Nations missions.
What do we need to do?
That’s fairly simple, in my opinion: we, the government of the day, needs to develop and enunciate a grand strategy that makes sense to Canadians in and for the first half of the 21st century. That grand strategy needs to be grounded in our national vital interests and it needs to explain to Canadians how a suite of domestic, economic, fiscal, foreign and defence policies will all fit together to protect and promote Canada’s vital interests at home and around the world. It has to say what we plan to do with, for, about and, occasionally, to other nations and why we plan to do those things. It also has to say how we will tax Canadians to pay for all that and what benefits ~ social and economic ~ we expect to gain from doing those things.
Before that can happen I suspect we need one (or both) of two things:
- A revolution in the Liberal Party of Canada that will upend 60 years of (mostly) misguided, selfish, narrowly focused politics; or, more likely
- A new, Conservative government, led by someone very like Erin O’Toole.