Reaching out to first nations

ClementTony_CPCLate last year Tony Clement wrote an article in the Globe and Mail, upon which I commented, here, and in that article he asked four questions:

  1. Can Conservatives have a distinctively conservative policy on poverty elimination?
  2. What is the Conservative vision regarding the relationship with indigenous peoples?
  3. How about an environmental policy that is consistent with Canadian values?
  4. Or Internet rights and responsibilities?

downloadNow, Brian Lee Crowley, managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, has taken a stab at answering Question 2 in an article in the Ottawa Citizen which is headlined: How conservatives can talk to Aboriginals.

After noting that the Liberalleft looks mainly in one direction, only: towards the victim/restitution narrative, he suggests that Conservatives “might take an entirely different tack, noting that victimhood focuses on the past, which cannot be changed, and disempowers the victims, who must go cap in hand to the authorities for restitution. In its place can be put a narrative of opportunity and legitimate Aboriginal power that must now be accommodated in modern Canada.”

Dr Crowley then offers some observations about aboriginal entrepreneurship …

First Nations, Métis and Inuit are now striking deals for development of those resources with hundreds of developers and realizing major opportunities as a result. They are an increasingly vocal and articulate voice in favour of the natural resource development the Tories see as key to Canada’s future, just as they hold the power to obstruct that development. Significantly, polling shows that when local Aboriginal groups support development, extreme environmental opposition has difficulty gaining traction.

Within a few years, several Aboriginal development corporations will be among the largest corporations in Canada, with billions in assets. The evidence shows when Aboriginals negotiate benefits with developers, those benefits stay in the local community, benefiting Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal alike.

Then he concludes with a challenge …

A pro-opportunity Conservative Party that embraced Aboriginal Canada as a respected, necessary and welcome partner in unlocking prosperity would find a growing audience in the Indigenous world. And it would have the foundation of that distinctive Tory narrative on social issues that Canadians are looking for.

theresa-spence-1Now Dr Crowley recognizes, I am sure, that the aboriginal communities are deeply divided. Some are, as he says, “open for business,” but the so called “leaders” of other first nations are determined to suck the “victim” teat for as long as they can because it is effortless cash for them, the leaders,  even if it does perpetuate poverty by denying opportunities for most of the people in those communities. Most communities are, of course, somewhere between the two poles. We, Conservatives, have to be judicious in how we engage, but, in general, I agree with Brian Lee Crowley: let us reach out to the responsible leaders of first nations and offer well targeted programmes that reward first nations for looking after themselves. Let us, equally, put pressure back on the crooked and irresponsible leaders and, by so doing, help the people of those first nations empower themselves and break the strangleholds that some “leaders” have on power over them.

I would like to go one step further and examine our “law and order” agenda and first nations: I don’t think anyone disagrees that first nations people, especially young men, are incarcerated in numbers that are way out of proportion to their share of the population. Most are in jail because they broke the law. We need to work with first nations leaders ~ the real, responsible leaders ~ to help them improve education and employment opportunities because those two, together, will break the cycles of poverty, despair and crime and then incarceration and back to despair, poverty and more crime. People with good jobs, jobs that allow them to support families, do not, by and large, do crime and they don’t end up in jail … it’s really deceptively simple. Just sending money doesn’t work; what works are good, useful, productive jobs, jobs to which people are proud to go every day, and with which they can raise families and build communities … and that, by golly, is a Conservative value.

Preston+ManningSo, well done to Dr Crowley, this puts some flesh on  the sort of prescriptive points that Preston Manning offered earlier this year (also in the Globe and Mail) and they are the sorts of points with which Conservatives need to come to grips if we want to return to power in 2019.

Why we need a white paper

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Thanks to The Regimental Rogue for this most timely post.

Good, reasoned and responsible defence policies (the “economical preparation”) save both money and lives. We had only weak, parsimonious policies in 1914 and in 1939, we either relied on others, as we do now, or thought that we just couldn’t afford to be prepared. The cost is still visible …

… how much were their lives worth? How many might have lived, or, at least, not have been blown to pieces, if there had been just a little more preparation in 1910 and 1935?

Maybe we should ask these guys what they think …

 

Australian Defence White Paper

WhitePaper16CoverSo, Australia has published a White Paper on Defence. It is available for download on the Australian Government/Department of Defence web page. “Australia will embark on a decade-long surge in weaponry and military forces to defend its land, sea, skies and space from Asia’s rapidly growing military forces,” says ABC News, [and] … “the 2016 Defence White Paper maps a course towards a total of $195 billion in defence capability or equipment by 2020-21, together with a larger military force of 62,400 personnel, the largest in a quarter of a century.

Key points (from ABC News)

  • Australia ratchets up military spending in response to rising tensions in Asia
  • Spending up by nearly $30 billion
  • Climate change and terrorism also listed as threats
  • Defence spending will rise even if GDP falls

ABC News makes two further point that bear consideration by Canadians:

  1. The Government is aiming to build spending up to 2 per cent of GDP by 2020/21 — earlier than previously promised;” and
  2. Defence officials have told the ABC the White Paper reflects Australia’s “growing discomfort” with China’s military activity.

Now, I expect one part of the the Canadian commentariat to use Australia as a lever to suggest that:

  1. Canada needs a defence white paper, too ~ I agree, but, first, Canada (the Canadian people, the commentariat, itself, and the Canadian government) needs to do some serious thinking about what our strategic interests are and then how we need to defend them; and
  2. Canada needs to spend 2% of GDP on defence, just like Australia has pledged to do and just like we told NATO we agreed to do … once again I agree, but, back in early 2008 I hit on 2% after I made a list of what I though was missing from The Canada First Defence Strategy and then tried to attach some reasonable costs to them and came up with an educated guesstimate that said that, circa 2030, we would need to be spending almost $50 Billion per year on defence, not the $30 Billion the Conservative government projected in The Canada First Defence Strategy, and when I guessed that our GDP, by then, might be about $2.3 Trillion (this was before the 2008 crash, by the way) I came up with a figure of 2.2% of GDP which I told my friends on Army.ca was, absent any real, existential, threat, hopeless.

Any percent of GDP is a measure of a government’s commitment to a certain programme. Australia’s geo-strategic situation is very different from Canada’s. The Australians, quite reasonably, do not believe that America can come running to their aid as part of their own, home defence. America’s heart may be in the right place but its army isn’t. Australians understand that they need to pay for a “better” home insurance policy than Canadians, who live right next door to the fire hall, do.

We might also want to take a serious look at these data: according to the OECD Canada’s General government debt (national, provincial/state and local) was approaching 110% of GDP in 2014 while Australia’s was only nearing 65% …

Government_debt_gdp

… the IMF shows similar ratios in a graphic form. In other words, Australia doesn’t have as many 800 pound fiscal gorillas in its rooms as we do. That is, in my opinion, because in the 1970s and early 1980s, Australia made much better social policy decisions than did Canada … and we are still trying to dig our way out of the mountain of debt that Pierre Trudeau left to us.

We must conclude that Australia has different problems, it lives in a “rougher” neighbourhood, if you like;  and different capabilities, is is in a “better” fiscal position than Canada, so it can act more responsibly.

I think the Australian White Paper is a good, reasoned and reasonable response to the geo-strategic situation that faces a leader in the South Pacific. I think that a Canadian white paper might have a different, even broader, Strategic Outlook (pps 39 to 64 in the Australian document) reflecting our, different geo-strategic reality, and we might well, I’m sure we would, conclude that we need even larger (Chapter 4 of the Australian paper) and more expensive (Chapter 6) forces than Australia envisages for itself.

But how do we get from here …

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… to here …Slide1

… to the reasoned, responsible defence policy Canada needs?

First: I do not believe the Liberals want to go there. If anything, I think they would like to to reissue Pierre Trudeau’s monumentally irresponsible, neo-isolationist 1970 white paper, “A Foreign Policy for Canadians” that, effectively, took us away from both reason and responsibility.

Second, therefore: it is up to the Conservatives to start a “conversation” with Canadians ambrose_0through the media, where there are a few informed voices, in academe and the think tanks, and even in the blogosphere, where there is a small handful of informed, responsible analysts, and in parliament, too. Rona Ambrose, as the Leader of the Opposition, has a “bully pulpit” from which to start the conversation and then she has people, critics in parliament, party staff, and friends who can move the ideas along. The conversation needs to be about the real, global strategic situation and about the threats that Canada does have to face. They may not resonate with Canadians, yet, (and we do not want to be accused of fear mongering) but we want to be prepared so that when, not if, they do arise we can deal with them before they become too serious. In parliament the Conservatives should fight to preserve what the Canadian Forces have even as they argue, more broadly, inside and outside of parliament, for a reasoned, realistic and responsible defence review.

Third: Conservative leadership candidates need to commit to giving Canada back a grand strategy based on fiscal prudence (so that we can afford to defend ourselves), a responsible foreign policy that commits Canada to being a leader amongst the democratic middle powers, and a defence policy that seeks to give us a Triple A+ military to use in pursuit of our vital interests.

Meanwhile let’s all look at the Australian White Paper as the sort of thing that we want from the Government of Canada.

Relationships matter

fraser-david060228-jpgThere is an article, by Murray Brewster of the Canadian Press, in the Toronto Star about retired Major General David Fraser’s views on what we did right and wrong in Afghanistan. Fraser’s comments have been followed up in other newspapers and on CTV News.

I have no comments on the substance of David Fraser’s remarks, and even if I did I would hope that you, dear readers, would look to better, more current sources for informed criticism of our counter-insurgency (COIN) tactics. I retired when Major General Fraser was still a major, serving in Bosnia. I respect him as a soldier, commander and leader, and I respect his views on issues about which he knows a lot more than I. Others may criticize his views on how we should have conducted the Afghanistan mission; I will not.

Two things upon I do feel qualified to comment are: (1) the way we got into Afghanistan; and  (2) how we might have done things somewhat differently.

You may remember that we went to Afghanistan two, arguably three times …

The first deployment (Operation Apollo) was in late 2001/early 02. I have it on extremely good authority that on September 12th, the day after 9/11, the then foreign minister John Manley went out amongst

CP Rail in Calgary, Alberta, Photograph by Todd Korolimagethe more than one hundred thousand Canadians who had gathered on parliament hill and then, shaken by what he had seen and heard, went to see Prime Minister Jean Chrétien to tell him that Canada had to “do something,” quickly. Prime Minister Chrétien took advice from his most senior officials and the chief of the defence staff and we sent one infantry battalion (from 3PPCLI) to Kandahar for one, single six month tour of duty. It was good advice. the Canadian Armed Forces were not in good shape, thanks in very large part to Prime Minister Chrétien’s own policies of starving the military to balance the budget and a longer mission would be difficult He also guessed, correctly, that Canadians’ ardour would cool. Readers might remember that the mission ended, just after four Canadian soldiers were killed in a “friendly fire” incident, in an orgy of anti-Americanism that I understand, also on what I believe to be good authority, was directed and stage managed by Ottawa.

The second deployment (Operation Athena) came, in 2003, when the Americans came looking for moral support, political “cover” in the United Nations, especially, for their invasion of Iraq. Prime Minister Chrétien knew, in his calculating political heart and in his mind, too, that the Iraq adventure was just plain dumb. He, and Canada, was having none of it. Just to ensure that all his bases were covered he sent his defence minister (John McCallum) to Brussels to beg, almost literally, for a major, leadership role in the newly formed, at Germany’s behest, International Security assistance Force (ISAF) in Kabul, thus ensuring that if asked (he likely would not have been) he could say that Canada was already fully committed to the ill-named “global war on terror” in Afghanistan.

The third deployment (Operation Archer) looked, rather, just like a redeployment from Kabul to Afghanistan but, unlike Operation Athena which was an ISAF (multinational) mission, Archer, in Kandahar, beginning in 2006, was a US led mission.

Why does that matter?

Well, notwithstanding the fact that ISAF was a NATO led mission, there was strong US influence everywhere, but, at least, in  ISAF, proper, there was some opportunity for others to exercise some high-level operational influence. It doesn’t really matter what Major General (retired) Fraser might have thought we should have done back in 2006, the US had no intention of ditching Hamid Karzai or of declaring victory and going home. The decision to go to Kandahar forced us to accept an altered command relationship and meant that Canadian strategic/operational opinions would receive less than a full and fair hearing in the corridors of the mighty, because policy was now being made in the Pentagon, for purely US reasons, not in Brussels for US reasons modified to suit the NATO allies. That may not seem like much but it did (and still does) matter. The relationship between the US and its lesser allies and partners, and we are all “lesser” when it comes to military power vis-à-vis the USA, is always unbalanced; the US is always the (much) senior partners and everyone else is a junior partner. It is just the way things are.

PaulMartin2In fact, in my opinion and with the advantages of 20/20 hindsight, what Prime Minister Paul Martin should have done in 2005, when the provincial reconstruction team idea was first floated, was to get 1comdiv-qc3the Australians, British, and New Zealanders together in a room and, quickly, propose to reform the 1st Commonwealth Division and take over a part of the Afghanistan theatre as a unique organization within ISAF. Then Canada’s voice would have been heard, loudly and clearly, as a full (not just junior) partner; General Fraser’s views would have received fair consideration; perhaps he  is right now and was right 10 years ago … we will never know because, in Operation Archer, no one cared what Canada said. Command and control relationships really matter and we ought not to assume that just because the  leaders are our friends and allies that they will share or even want to hear our strategic views.

It’s time to stop campaigning and try governing

In an item in today’s National Post, John Ivison wonders about the turmoil in the new Liberal government. He asks himself if it’s because “ministerial offices are crammed with “kids” who used to work at Queen’s Park, old friends hired by former McGuinty-era Liberals, Gerald Butts, now Trudeau’s principal secretary in Ottawa, and Katie Telford, his chief of staff;” or, perhaps, it is due to the fact that “behind the curtain, things are not quite as fabulous as the Liberals would have you believe … [and] … policy is moving at the pace of coastal erosion and the blame for that is being placed on the slow appointment of staff. The loss of two chiefs in the first months in power has not helped matters.”

While both things are partially true, Mr Ivison gets to the real issue a bit later; it is that: “The Trudeau Liberals have been much more adept at selling their message than implementing it.” There’s a reason for that. Put simply, we don’t have a Liberal government; what we have is a Liberal campaign office installed in the Langevin Block.

Butts-Trudeau-Telford are a formidable campaign machine. And that’s all they really want to do in Ottawa: campaign for Kathleen Wynne in 2016/17/18 and for more of Justin Trudeau in 2017/18/19.

We’re going to be getting another load of this …

the Toronto Gay Pride Parade with attracts a million people who line the route

… propelled along by a good deal of this …

chretien.jpg.size.xxlarge.letterbox

 

 

 

 

 

 

Campaigning is easy, almost second nature for Butts-Trudeau-Telford; it’s easy to make promises and to fling someone else’s money at problems. Governing is much, much harder, eventually one must make choices, even <shudder> unpopular choices ~ and that’s anathema to campaigners. So, for now your Canadian government is focused, mainly, on trying to get pig-lipstickOntario Premier Wynne re-elected ~ a task that, right now, is beginning to look pretty difficult, which explains why it is the top priority task for the Langevin Block. Those “kids” in the PMO are pretty smart, very savvy campaign professionals and they are less worried about glacially slow policy development than they are in putting some much needed lipstick on the Ontario Liberal Party’s pig. But it’s not impossible and the Laurentian Elites are fully supportive, or will be as soon as Bombardier’s bailout is complete … however it is done. The polling I have seen indicates that the prime minister is, still, very popular, as is the Liberal brand in Canada. Canadians remain more than willing to give Justin Trudeau the benefit of the doubt. The only problem is the need to burnish Premier Wynne’s credentials and reputation, and it may well be that will be the focus of the March 2016 federal budget: spending that will help Ontario.

Meanwhile other problems, foreign and domestic, in the economic, social and security domains, are allowed to fester and grow worse because the campaign team …

…doesn’t really want to govern. It’s too hard and it’s a low priority task.

Congratulations, Canada! Almost 40% of the almost 70% of us who bothered to vote, selected Team Trudeau, and now we’ve all got them.

We, all Canadians, need to tell prime Minister Trudeau that it is time to stop campaigning and try governingif he knows how.

 

A Grand Strategy for Canada (2)

I have been worried about a grand strategy for Canada for quite some time. Almost ten years ago I was the lead author of two papers on Army.ca that, even then, at the height of the Afghanistan War, questioned whether NATO was a cornerstone of our foreign (and defence) policy …

Army.ca-Header-01

… or if it had become a stumbling block. At about the same time, still on Army.ca, I was beginning to wonder if we, Canada and, indeed, the whole of the US led West actually understood China and it’s strategic vision and if we understood how to contain China in a new, modern, 21st century way. My conclusion was that we did not really ‘get’ China, much less all of Asia and that we, Canada, needed to shift our focus away from Europe and towards Asia, to “engage China” ~ we needed, in short, a Pacific Strategy.

As I have said in the past, we had a grand strategy, once.

We cannot really count Macdonald’s “National Policy” as a grand strategy because Canada was not, until the 1930s, fully independent, so Macdonald could pursue his protectionist/expansionist policy without having to pay for all the consequences. Laurier proposed reciprocity which was more of a partial strategy. King proposed nothing but cheese-paring and caution. It was, of course, Louis St Laurent who gave us a complete, coherent, integrated grand strategy which, since it enjoyed bipartisan support, endured for about 20 years: from 1947 when he set it forth to 1969 when Pierre Trudeau set about dismantling it.

(Now, it must be said that Pierre Trudeau had a strategy, too, of sorts: a neo-isolationist strategy that called for Canada to withdraw from the world, hide behind America’s skirts, worry and fuss about national unity and take canoe trips in pristine national parks. It must also be said that it, too, had bipartisan support because none of Prime Ministers Mulroney, Chrétien nor Harper really tried very hard, not hard enough, anyway, to dismantle it and to restore anything like the grand strategy Prime Minister St Laurent gave to us.)

A proper grand strategy mixes domestic, foreign, economic, defence and even social policies into one coherent whole. It rests on a foundation of our vital interests in the world. It expresses what we plan to do in cooperation (or competition) with, frequently about, sometimes for, and, occasionally, even to the rest of the world while we pursue our own vital interests. It recognizes that there is very little, from legalizing soft drugs to selling armoured vehicles to hateful religious oligarchies, that doesn’t have impacts on our dealings with several, often many other states. I have, previously, discussed out vital interests, which I have defined as being, broadly, peace and prosperity.

Strategically we want need to be:

  • A nation that is united around a robust, free, liberal parliamentary democracy that rests on respect for the rule of law and equality of opportunity for all;
  • A nation of immigrants that is tolerant of new and ever-changing social values even as it works hard to preserve its own core socio-cultural values;
  • A nation that is “open for business,” willing to welcome foreign investors and, equally, seeking the freedom to invest abroad;
  • A nation that maintains a sound, freely traded currency and an open economy;
  • A nation that is “friendly” to businesses, foreign and domestic, because business creates jobs;
  • A free (or at least freer) trading nation that supports and abides by international trade agreements;
  • A nation that, therefore, promotes and protects the “freedom of the seas” for all trading nations;
  • A nation that supports free markets and the free exchange of goods, people and ideas;
  • A nation that supports promotes and protects liberal, democratic socio-economic and political values for all people, everywhere;
  • A nation that respects the rights of others to follow their own paths to good government so long as those paths do not threaten the peace or the rights of others;
  • A nation that cares for and is prepared to help secure and protect the fundamental rights and  liberty of every person, regardless of race, creed, sex or nationality;
  • A nation that is committed to asserting and maintaining the sovereignty and liberty of its own people in all the territories it legitimately claims as its own; and
  • A nation that is willing to do a full and fair share of the “heavy lifting” involved in countering terrorism, international crimes against humanity, the slave trade, political repression and aggression whether by states or by non-state actors.

Two images should help guide us in the formulation of strategic policy:

The first shows us that we are a major, important trading nation. The second should tell us that, while the vast bulk of our ‘foreign’ trade is with the USA, and is, therefore, not really all that ‘foreign,’ the region with which we need to trade and where we need to invest, more and more, and soon, in order to assure and expand our prosperity, is Asia and the other region with which we need to expand trade and investment, albeit later, is Africa.

This should lead us to conclude that our economic (prosperity) priorities are:

  1. Domestic, of course;
  2. Continental;
  3. Trans-Pacific;
  4. Trans Atlantic, towards Africa; and
  5. With the rest of the world, including Europe, the Caribbean and the Americas.

We should want to expand our trade, globally, so that, in percentage terms, we look more like Germany, even more like South Korea, taking international trade from ¼ of our GDP to something around or even in excess of ⅓ of it.

Doing that will involve being both more “open” to foreign trade and investment, recalling that “trade” implies that I “give” something in order to “get” something else and that in most trades there is some “give” and some “get” for each trading partner ~ a lesson that e.g. Big Labour wants to ignore, and doing a fair share of keeping all markets safe and open and in securing the sea lines of communications that link them.

RM2532_66b

Source: shipping density data adapted from the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis, A Global Map of Human Impacts to Marine Ecosystems [on-line]

Although there are security (peace) issues in Asia, some caused by China, I see the greater threats to peace as being in/from:

  • Middle Easter radical Islam ~ a rather localized, regional threat that, occasionally, will ‘spread,’ sporadically, to Western Europe, Australia, the USA and Canada through acts of terror;
  • African social, political and economic distress ~ also, for now, localized, but in danger of evolving into some sorts of pan-African internecine wars that will, seriously, disrupt Africa’s economic progress and further enrage the African people; and
  • Russian adventurism ~ which poses real threats to Europe, the Middle East, West Asia and even East Asia.

image004Sixty years ago, when Louis St Laurent was formulating the best ~ actually the only ~ grand strategy Canada ever had, the global strategic situation was dominated by one, single image. There was a Soviet counter-image and a real debate about what “containment” really meant,  but the fact was that since 1945 the global, glowering, greedy USSR had been on an expansionist “spree” in Eastern Europe, in East Asia and in the Middle East. The West was, except for America, Canada and Australia, largely a spent force, trying to recover from the devastation of World War II. Russia seemed likely to be able to have its way unless the able and responsible nations of the liberal democratic West stood up to it.  Russia is still a threat ~ nothing like as serious as it once was ~ and it is one which the liberal democracies must still be prepared to counter, but the greater threats are from non-state actors and from the potential spread or escalation of small, local wars into larger, regional ones that can, actually, threaten global peace and security.

In 1948 then foreign minister St Laurent actively supported the first UN peacekeeping mission, in Palestine (1948) and Kashmir (1949). (No, boys and girls, Lester B Pearson did urguhartPicture-Ralph-Bunchenot “invent” UN peacekeeping … it was done by a Brit, Sir Brian Urquhart, whose doubts about “going a bridge too far” are chronicled in Cornelius Ryan’s book and later in the film of that same name, and by his boss at the UN, the distinguished black American scholar and diplomat, Ralph Bunche. That’s why Dr Bunche, a former member of the OSS, the predecessor of the CIA in World War II, won the Nobel Prize in 1950.) There is still room for peacekeeping in a Canadian grand strategy … provided we all understand that the days of baby-blue beret style, so-called Pearsonian peacekeeping, are long gone, never to return. It is now a more dangerous business.

The world is less complicated now than it was circa 1950. The very real threat of global thermonuclear war has receded, the notion that anyone can “conquer the globe” is no longer a reasonable fear. But the world is still a dangerous place and there is still a very real need for able, responsible, liberal democracies like Canada to play a leading role in making it safe for everyone.

To do that Canada needs a new, or maybe just renewed grand strategy based on offering the opportunity to achieve peace and prosperity to everyone, by:

  1. Being a free trader, or, at least a free(er) trader than many other nations; and
  2. Keeping the peace, which may mean making the peace, whenever and wherever required ~ obviously not all by ourselves, but in concert with the United Nations or, increasingly, with ‘coalitions of the willing.’ 

That renewed Canadian grand strategy will, in my opinion, be focused, increasingly, beyond North America and, especially, away from Europe ~ first towards Asia (not just to China, but also towards Malaysia, the Philippines and Vietnam, too) and then towards Africa (for trade, not just aid and peacekeeping).

 

 

The enemy of my enemy is … my enemy, too

I don’t think I have ever agreed with Gerald Caplan but he seems to be trying to make some sense in a column he wrote, yesterday, in the Globe and Mail. Mr Caplan begins by saying:

caplan-headshotIf there’s been a less edifying debate than the one in Parliament last week on Canada’s role in the fight against Islamic State, I can’t remember it. All three parties presented arguments that made little sense, merely reiterating for the thousandth time the same unpersuasive spin lines. Yet I have some sympathy for them. I think what’s behind the unconvincing positions is their difficulty figuring out exactly what’s going on in the region and what outsiders can or should do about it.

Or maybe I’m just projecting. Because I’m certainly having that problem, and in fact my befuddlement just increases as the situation there gets increasingly complex. I try to read widely – although it’s impossible to keep up with the flood of reportage, commentary and fat books – and the more I read the more I learn and the more I learn the more baffled I become.

How true, I’ve been saying for some time that the Middle East situation is hideously complex as the “grids of grievance” show …

… it goes well beyond the “enemy of my enemy is my friend,” which is, more often than not, not true in the Middle East where, most likely, “then enemy of my enemy hates me, too, but for different reasons.” The “friend of my friend” cannot, usually, be our friend because we don’t really have more than one or two “friends’ to begin with and they have nothing but enemies throughout the region.

Mr Caplan bemoans the sheer number of non-state actors now involved in the many and sundry rebellions, revolutions, civil wars and internecine wars in the Middle East and he notes, correctly, in my opinion, that, “Canada is now in the strange position, under the new Liberal policy for the Middle East, to be helping the Kurds become strong enough to break away from Iraq, which will help fracture that fragile entity, with more destabilizing consequences, while alienating our Turkish ally. Does this make sense? Do the Liberals recognize these potential consequences? I believe that the Harper government never understood the messy realities of the Middle East or the ramifications of their meddling. Now it’s growing harder to believe that the Liberal government does either.” I’ve believed, for some time, that this new, Liberal cCTc2xvgovernment’s self described “holistic approach” to fighting Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS is little or nothing more than unfocused campaign rhetoric, quite devoid of any strategic thought. But that doesn’t surprise me, Team Trudeau is, in fact, just a campaign organization masquerading as a government and it will throw the military, the entire national security and defence programme, and sundry ministers under the campaign bus if that’s what it takes to score political points.

In fact, as I just said, what we should, even could be doing in the Middle East, assuming we actually need to do something, which is not a given, seems pretty clear:

  1. Helping Jordan (and Lebanon) to survive and remain independent (and, concomitantly, supporting Israel);
  2. Helping to defeat the Assad regime; and
  3. Helping to destroy Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS.

But Gerald Caplan asks the right questions: “So what exactly is the goal and how can it be achieved? How will we judge when the coalition has succeeded?” And he concludes, with 100% accuracy, that, “No one knows.

Let me quite firmly assert, without fear of contradiction, that President Obama doesn’t know, nor does President Putin, likewise Prime Minister Cameron doesn’t know and it’s ditto for Bundeskanzlerin Merkel; and you can bet your house and car and your first born, too, that if they don’t know then Justin Trudeau doesn’t know either.

What don’t they know?

Hell’s bells, they don’t even know who is on whose side. I’m serious: there is a very good chance that our overt support for the Kurds will turn out to be a major strategic blunder when they, in their turn, decide to play the “empire building” game at the expense of their neighbours.

There is no chance at all of pulling out of the whole region, isolating it (Israel can look after itself quite well enough) and allowing the locals to sort things out in their own ways and in their own good time. For one thing too much of the world needs Middle Eastern oil too much. For another we are, for good or ill, now McLuhan’s global village and we all have interests and connections everywhere. We’re “in,” like it or not.

Since we’re “in” we might as well be in for a pound as just for a penny.

But, quite evidently, that’s not how Justin Trudeau sees it.

I believe he is wrong and I think most Canadians will agree and I hope it will (help) cost him the next election. In fact, I think Justin Trudeau is his own enemy.

Just a little leadership, please

This image, from the International Spectator, is of the Zaatari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan, it is now equivalent to being that country’s fourth largest city:

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The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) says there are about 80,000 people there.

If Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Canadians in general were really interested in helping with the refugee crisis they would have sent a fully equipped regiment (maybe 1,000 soldier) of military engineers to Jordan to work, under the priorities of the Jordanian government, to improve conditions in that camp, and in others.

Of course, our engineer regiments in the Canadian Army are probably at less than half the strength that they ought to be and they are starved for the necessary equipment.

 

But it is not beyond the wit of man nor the means of government to “fix” the Canadian Morneau_Bill _Lib_TorCentre_Gallery5df52fa3-73b2-41b8-bee2-e20d15ed0875Armed Forces so that they can have the people and tools needed to respond to any sort of crisis: humanitarian in Canada or military half way around the world … it only needs money, which this government seems intent on flinging about in any and all directions except at Canada’s own national security and defence, and, of course,  it requires a wee tiny bit of political will and backbone … of something we might just call leadership.

If Canada’s new, Liberal government was intent on really helping Syrian refugees they would focus on doing just one thing:

Remove the threats which force people to flee their homes in fear of their lives.

In the case of Syria that means doing two things, simultaneously:

  1. Removing the Assad regime from power ~ which will require military force no matter what the dimwits in the US State Department and the White House may claim; and
  2. Destroying Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Both require the application of a range of security/military power, covert, unconventional and conventional …

… and that power needs to be, constantly, honed (maintained) for action and upgraded as both threats and capabilities evolve and that requires funding.

I suspect it would be politically impossible for Prime Minister Trudeau’s government to reverse its blunder decision to withdraw the CF-18s from combat operations ~ too many people in the Laurentian Elites just hate the very word combat. It would be very hard, too, to promise to shift Canadian foreign policy in a more responsible (traditional (pre 1967) Liberal) direction, and also hard to commit to rebuilding the Canadian Armed Forces, even by blaming Prime Minister Harper for neglecting defence since 2012. But just because something is “hard,” even “impossible,” doesn’t mean it should not be done.

aattp-obama-vladimir-putin-ria-novosti-alexey-druzhinin-n3Going after both Assad and Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS at the same time would, no doubt, put Canada in some sort of conflict with both Presidents Obama and Putin! But that, being at odds with the leaders of those two powers, is not the sort of thing that bothered real Canadian leaders in the past. Louis St Laurent, for example, was not afraid to disagree, publicly, with both Presidents Truman and Eisenhower and, equally, with US legislators even as he supported the US led West in e.g. forming NATO and prosecuting the Korean War and in resolving (1956) the Suez crisis. Ditto John Diefenbaker, Mike Pearson and Brian Mulroney who, in disagreeing with Prime Minister Thatcher on South Africa, faced a most formidable political foe. It’s just a matter of integrity, of moral courage … just a little leadership, please.

Europe Without Britain?

BorisJohnson2The reports, and there are several, that London mayor and British Conservative cabinet minister (without portfolio) Boris Johnson has broken ranks with Prime Minister David Cameron and will vote for Britain to leave the EU raises the prospects for the success of a Brexit when the referendum is held in June. The “smart money” is still in favour of the UK remaining in the European Union, but Mr Johnson may give the “Out!” side both the respectability and the political ‘heft’ it needs.

I remain convinced that no matter what Britain does or doesn’t do, the current EU royal-wedding-cake-design-for-8-tier-wedding-cake-with-topper-559c7d68947dasuperstructure needs to be reformed. I have used the analogy of a multi-tiered cake: the smallest tier, at the top, would be those countries that would, finally, agree to surrender a good deal of real, measurable sovereignty in order to have the (undoubted benefits) of both the common currency (a reformed €) and of the Schengen Agreement. The big, bottom tier would be those countries that want only a (nearly) free trade area. There would be, presumably, room for tiers in the middle with other “gives” and “takes” for those nations that want more than just free(er) trade but less than the “United States of Europe” model proposes. Some observers, like Wolfgang Münchau of the Financial Times, says that “If the deal” [just negotiated by Prime Minister Cameron and the EU] “is implemented in full, it will end the idea of ever-closer union” [the top tier for all], but I am not sure it would prevent, say, the 17 countries who are, already members of both the €zone and the Schengen Agreement from going the whole hog and forming (the necessary) even closer ties.

The idea of a coordinated EUI foreign policy and a common defence structure have never come close to fruition, and Britain is not the only problem. A Brexit would not make it any harder for, say, Denmark, the Netherlands and Germany to agree on certain foreign and defence policy goals; but France and Italy would still be there, creating their own “drama” and demanding special considerations for e.g. North African matters.

tumblr_o2dch50OeO1rasnq9o1_500Relations with the USA and Canada would be largely unchanged, but Britain might reach out, at the “expense” of the EU and even NATO, to try to tighten the special relationships it has (just thinks (only hopes?) it has) with America and with the “old dominions,” perhaps in an attempt to revitalize the Anglosphere or to make the Commonwealth more relevant, thus giving it another policy influence outlet.

It is hard to forecast what impact a Brexit would have on the European economy, but, as mentioned above, most British business leaders favour the status quo ~ but then, most business leaders everywhere generally favour the status quo. The pound fell on Brexit fears, but, again, the money market is notoriously skittish.

What would change is the balance of power between France and Germany in the EU. Both have tried to use Britain as a lever against the ambitions of the other. They, and not Britain, are, truly, the very heart of the EU and, eventually, one or the other vision must win out. In my personal opinion neither the French nor the German vision is especially “good” for Britain.

article-0-13CB2FDE000005DC-507_306x534Now, Boris Johnson is a charismatic leader, but also a polarizing figure. Despite the image that he, himself, helps to spread, he is anything but a buffoon. He has the capacity to organize and energize the “Out!” side of the debate and he may try to ride that all the way to 10 Downing Street. He is reputed to be very bright but also lazy ~ which makes him, according to German General Kurt von Hammerstein-Equord’s famous dictum, well suited for the highest command (leadership) posts, and he is something of a libertarian, which might make him better suited to lead a Britain that is less constrained by the formal, bureaucratic structures of the EU in 2016. If that is, indeed, his long term plan, then jumping out now to lead the “Out!” side is probably a very good tactic.

There is, also, for Britain, the impact of a Brexit on national unity. There can be little doubt that the Scottish Nationalists would use a vote to leave as an excuse to hold another referendum. Boris Johnson would be, I think, even more than David Cameron, an English rather than a British prime minister.

A Brexit would weaken Europe, at least in the short term. (It might, actually, help Europe to help itself in the mid to long terms.) That would play into Russia’s hands and make it more likely that Russia might do something foolish to try to exploit any small, transitory advantage.