Major General (retired) Lewis MacKenzie, of Sarajevo fame, has written a perceptive article in the Globe and Mail. It may not be enough to persuade e.g. James Bezan, the CPC‘s shadow defence minister to stop complaining that “Mali is a war zone,” and “there is no peace to keep,” which, while quite true, is also totally irrelevant. The Canadian Forces exist, primarily, to go into war zones and take risks. Peacekeeping has been, since its modern inception in 1948, an entirely political notion about putting troops at risk ~ a very, very thin blue line ~ between hostile factions to give those factions an excuse to step back, to calm down and to stop fighting … that’s what Canadians did and continue to do in the Middle East (UNTSO, since 1948) and on the India Pakistan border (UNMOGIP, since 1949) ever since UN peacekeeping began 70 years ago.
“So,” Major General (ret’d) MacKenzie says, by way of background, “the United Nations has officially requested Canada provide helicopter support to its floundering “peacekeeping” mission in Mali. Okay, but that is not the full story – far from it. You see, the UN never makes a formal public request for support from a country that is turned down. This would be too embarrassing for both parties … [and] … In this case, Canada spent an enormous amount of time and effort to study, research, liaise, travel and debate internally before it publicly promised to contribute a modest force of some 600 souls to help out somewhere in the multitude of possibilities in Africa. The UN was pleased with the expectation that a small battalion of our highly capable soldiers would be sent to one of the three major UN missions to augment the Third World contingents currently doing the dirty work on the ground. After months of inexplicable foot dragging, the private negotiations with the UN resulted in Canada agreeing to a formal request for some helicopters. The UN was disappointed, but at least it was an actual commitment somewhere on the horizon … [but] … Once the modest pledge had finally been announced, the subsequent public political pronouncements contributed even more to embarrassing our country at home and abroad. Having taken more than a year to come up with the commitment, we were told ad nauseam that while Mali was the most dangerous of the UN missions in Africa, our folks would be safe by avoiding the IED threat and ambushes by the insurgents.” My suspicion is that people like General Jonathan Vance, Canada’s Chief of the Defence Staff, knew, as soon as Prime Minister Trudeau was elected, that his people ~ our sons and daughters ~ would be tapped, sooner or later, for a useless, hopeless mission in Africa while the government was in hot pursuit of a worthless, second class, temporary seat on the meaningless UN Security Council. But he will, of course, send the best possible people and equipment into harm’s way ~ even as he, not Justin Trudeau or Harjit Sajjan, takes every possible, sensible measure to mitigate risk ~ because that’s his and their job.
I also suspect that the various factions in Mali will step up their efforts to attack the UN base in Gao, which is, I believe, where the Canadians will be based, to send a message to the Canada, and to the West and the whole UN that this is Africa’s business.
The important question, which Major general (ret’d) MacKenzie gets, is: why?
Lew MacKenzie gets straight to that point: “Now,” he writes, “I come to the crux of the matter: risk. In any sane planning process involving deployments into hostile territory, the first question that needs to be answered is, “What is the aim of the mission we are about to join?” The second question must be, “What is the chance of success?” When those two questions are answered in a positive, satisfactory manner, then planning for the Mali mission should continue. However, the misleading answer to the first question has been, “to contribute to the peace process,” which is ridiculous in the extreme, as there is no functioning peace process. With regard to the second question, the answer is “absolutely none” … [thus] … When the aim becomes clear and is determined to be in Canada’s best interests – including the ethical issue of protecting innocent victims who need our help – then proceed. Gaza, Sinai, Cyprus, Cambodia, Sierra Leone, Central America and Sarajevo are but a few examples of missions where risk was accepted as a given … [but] … In the case of Mali, our government’s obsession with avoiding risk and actually advertising such is a clear indication that the decision makers do not believe the objective is achievable. Regarding the chance of success, the predicted end to the Canadian mission is our own self-declared end date of one year – no matter how serious the situation is on the ground or in the air at the time. Success has nothing to do with our departure.” But, with all possible respect to the good general’s analysis, thats because ALL peacekeeping missions are ALL about politics. Only when the situation gets too serious, as in did in the Balkans while Major General MacKenzie was there or as it did in Afghanistan in 2002, does the United Nations step aside and ask a military coalition of the willing to take over and make peace: like KFOR in the Balkans and ISAF in Afghanistan. Taking the UN out of the process enhances ~ but by no means guarantees ~ the prospects of success … IF success is a political consideration. I agree with Lewis macKenzie that this government has no interest in “mission success,” it just wants to put another tick in another box as it prepares for the 2019 election campaign: promise made; promise kept.
“Mali,” Lewis MacKenzie explains “is a classic dog’s breakfast. In fact, it’s a dog’s breakfast discovered after he’s been sick. First, there is the on-again, off-again civil war that’s been raging since the coup born of NATO’s ill-founded attack on Moammar Gadhafi’s forces in 2011. Second, there are competing insurgencies and terrorist groups sometimes fighting each other and other times linking up to advance their own short-term self-interests. There are multiple international missions operating in the country with different aims, some of which are actually achievable: the mission of the effective French operation is to kill as many of the insurgents as possible. For others, it’s to protect some isolated communities vulnerable to attack. Some are not sure what the aim is, and hunker down in their base locations. The compelling and illustrative fact is that none of them want or will agree to operate under UN command and control, realizing that the UN is experiencing serious challenges in leading its own force of 16,000.” That’s all true, all, I’m sure, completely accurate but, equally, in political terms, wholly irrelevant, again … Team Trudeau doesn’t give a damn about peace or Mali, its focus is only on that worthless seat on the useless UNSC which will ensure that some Canadian diplomats are invited to a better class of cocktail party.
Finally, Lewis MacKenzie get to what I think is the key issue: “Before Canada deploys to Mali, let’s be told what the actual objective is.” That’s the simple question James Bezan should be asking: what’s the AIM? Why are we, Canada, sending our sons and daughters to a dirty, hopeless, war torn “shithole country,” in President Trump’s terms.
Major General MacKenzie opines that “If it’s to support the so-called stalled peace process, that’s not good enough. If it was to be the protection of a small geographical populated area under threat, than fine, deploy Canadian boots on the ground to do so. If it’s to win some UN brownie points with a modest, low-risk contribution for future consideration when it comes time to seek a non-voting seat on the Security Council, than stay home. Soldiers aren’t political pawns – at least they shouldn’t be.” Sadly, in 21st century Canada, as in the 20th and 19th centuries, too, the reasons that we put Canadian “boots on the ground” in the worst places are too often “not good enough” but if they achieve popular political goals then they are considered, by enough voters, to be sufficient … and “peace” has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it?
One a personal level, and here I break ranks with General MacKenzie, I oppose putting any Canadian “boots on the ground” on any current peacekeeping mission, UN or French, anywhere in Africa ~ because the UN has no hope, ever of doing anything right in military operations and France is acting in pursuit of its own national objectives which are not ours.
If, and it is an almost unimaginable if, a suitable coalition of the willing (almost certainly involving at least three of the four CANZUK nations) can be assembled that, with the blessing of the UNSC but with absolutely zero UN interference, is bent on making peace in one or more African countries ~ a job that will, almost certainly involve an awful lot of dead black men ~ then I would agree that Canada should send a battle group and more and seek to play a leading role. Until then I have supported the idea of an air support mission in Africa, even for the UN, but I continue to believe that it should be Canadian led, centrally based and providing support to several missions … that’s not what the UN wants to hear. This ~ helicopters to Mali ~ need not be a “bad” (think Rwanda) or an overly dangerous mission but, in my opinion, it is neither well conceived nor likely to do much good … but then that’s to be expected given who is deciding on it.
I think that, politically, Andrew Scheer, James Bezan and Erin O’Toole need to hammer, Prime Minister Trudeau, Defence Minister Sajjan and Foreign Minister Freeland …
… with three questions:
- Why are we going to Mali? or What is the policy aim?
- What are the measures of success? and
- Is that all there is? or Is there another shoe to drop in case this is not enough to get that worthless, temporary seat on the UN Security Council?
Those are the things that Canadians have a right to now.
This, any government has a prerogative to send troops into harm’s way for its own policy or political reasons. This one will not be first nor the last to do that … but Canadians are entitled to know why the government send Canada’s men and women into danger and the opposition is charged with trying to make the government account for its decisions.