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A Troubled Path To The War Against ISIL

The people can always be brought to the bidding of their leaders. All you have to do is tell them that they are in danger of being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger.
Hermann Goering

Many, many years ago when I first read The Rise and Fall of The Third Reich by  William L. Shirer, I remember wondering how so many Germans could have been lulled into following Hitler down the road that led to the Holocaust. I have a better understanding now as I watch many of my fellow Canadians allowing willful blindness to lead them down a similar path.

It is a path filled with stereotypes, simplistic accusations, polarized opinion and division. It is a path followed by many who are so afraid, they want to believe that a leader they follow will keep them safe regardless of his decisions or actions. They tune out any opposing point of view as they eagerly grasp the illusion that he can protect them and make things right once again no matter how often he has failed.

It is becoming increasingly evident as our government moves to not only extend but to expand Canada’s role in the coalition against ISIL. Instead of laying the case before Canadians, instead of trying to build consensus and unifying Canadians to stand together, the government has once again hurled insult and defensive accusation against any who don’t support their decision and many have rushed to join sides rather than staying focused on the real issue.

 I don’t for a minute believe that Canada’s Prime Minister can be compared to a psychopath like Adolph Hitler or that the other party leaders are merely playing politics.

I want to believe that the political leaders of all parties actually have some level of principle but it becomes increasingly difficult when you see the lack of civil debate over an issue as important as war.

And make no mistake about it. Even though our contribution to the coalition in the Middle East is quite small, Canada is at war and it is too serious an issue for electioneering politics. I want to believe that it is a situation that our political leaders understand and respect.

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to hold to that belief.

The world has become a very dangerous place and we are not well-positioned to deal with that danger. Our political leadership is so partisan that it can no longer respect that some issues require a focus that transcends party politics.  Our enemies are more focused and committed than we and as a result, our efforts to date have been relatively ineffective. One only has to look at how NATO member countries have handled the mess with Russia to confirm that lack of efficacy.

The Middle East is in chaos despite the West’s military interventions in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya. North Africa is under increasing threat from terrorist organizations like Boko Haram and Ukraine has not only lost Crimea but descended into a bloody civil war.

We may not have initiated the conflicts but our handling of them has not been our leaders’ finest hour.

The issues facing us with regards to terrorism generally, and the Middle East specifically, are both complex and frightening. Many among us have chosen to hide their confusion and their fears behind false bravado while others want to avoid facing reality by rejecting any action against the enemy at all. But we have no choice. We have to defend our national interests which extend beyond mere economic consideration. Terrorists kill indiscriminately and what is happening in the Middle East is a threat beyond that region. It isn’t enough to simply tell ourselves that the government has it all under control. The government, my friends, is us and we must face the realities rather than the illusions of our circumstance.

Consider some simple facts about the war against ISIL.

Sixty countries have formed a coalition to destroy ISIL. According to Global Firepower.com those sixty nations have a combined military force that totals approximately 15 million personnel, more than 20,000 tanks, more than 22, 000 fighter and bomber aircraft and enough missiles and heavy artillery to blow the world to hell and back a couple of times over.

ISIL has somewhere between 20,000 and 30,000 fighters, a few jets that they have yet to fly, fewer tanks and some heavy and light artillery. In other words, they have one third of the Iraqi force that faced Operation Desert Storm in the first Gulf War. That war ended in six months with the defeat and collapse of the Iraqi armed forces. We are being told that the war against ISIL will take years.

You might ask yourself why and it is a legitimate question; a question that the Opposition parties in Canada are asking but a question for which the government is unwilling or unable to provide an answer. Do we really believe that ISIL is three times better than the Iraqi military was back in Desert Storm? Apparently some of us do but I believe that the truth is not found in ISIL’s strength but in the weaknesses and disorganization of the coalition.

The coalition is not a unified military force with a unified strategy. The member nations have not made a definitive collective commitment as to the level of their contribution and it lacks a central command structure. The coalition is a collection of countries – some of which don’t trust, or are unwilling to work with, each other, acting in an ad hoc manner when war demands a focused and concentrated effort.

Turkey, for example, refused to help the Kurds in their battle for Kobani because Turkey doesn’t trust the Kurds. America wouldn’t provide air support for the first assault on Tikrit by the Iraqi military because Iran was also providing support and the United States doesn’t trust Iran. American forces are providing support for the second assault which prompted Iran to immediately withdraw its support.

Yemen is falling to Huthi rebels, an Iranian-backed affiliate of Al-Qaeda. Saudi Arabia has attacked the rebels in Yemen but Iran has already issued a warning against further action. Iran is an informal coalition ally against ISIL in Iraq and a supporter of Al-Qaeda, an ISIL affiliate, in Yemen. The Taliban hides in Pakistan after making forays into Afghanistan and Syria continues to be a slaughterhouse; a bloody conflict between rebel forces, terrorist groups and the regime of Bashir Al-Assad.

Most of the coalition Arab countries refused to fly missions in Iraq just as Canada refused to fly missions in Syria.

Eighteen months ago, Canada’s Prime Minister supported Barack Obama’s intention to bomb Bashir al-Assad forces in Syria in retaliation for his use of chemical weapons. When Britain and Germany refused to participate and the American Congress refused to support the action, Obama changed course. Now, Stephen Harper wants to expand Canada’s role in the Middle East to include air strikes in Syria which will help the same al-Assad he once labeled a terrorist cling to power.

Not only is that supporting a possible outcome that will be no better than the current situation, it is also stretching our limited contribution too thinly and that is never a good tactic in a war.

The simple fact is that despite all of the talk of standing with our allies, it is not always clear just exactly who they are. Is Iran and enemy or an ally? What about Turkey, a NATO member that has refused to help the coalition’s Kurdish allies? Yemen was an ally but it is being torn apart by Al-Qaeda and apparently we are not going to stand with them. It’s a similar situation in Libya where affiliates of ISIL are threatening the fragile democracy built from the ashes of the civil war NATO supported.

Approximately 80% of the Iraqi force that has been involved in the fight for Tikrit is comprised of Shia Militia. They have announced that they will withdraw if coalition air strikes continue. One went so far as to say that he would shoot down a coalition aircraft if he saw it.

These are not only our allies, they represent the bulk of the coalition’s ‘boots on the ground’ in Iraq but how any sane political leader believes it is possible to conduct an effective war under these conditions continues to elude me.

And just today, the Palestinian Authority announced its support for the coalition against the rebels in Yemen. Wasn’t it just yesterday that we considered the PLA to be an enemy?

Increasingly, we cherry pick who, what, where and when with an inconsistent set of objectives and values. Today’s friend is tomorrow’s inconvenience and yesterday’s enemy is today’s momentary ally, no matter how odious that might be and without much thought about tomorrow.

As for the enemy, the thought that it is only ISIL is a dangerous self-deception. The reality is that terrorist groups across the region and North Africa are uniting to swear allegiance to ISIL which means that the Islamic State is expanding rather than being contained and yet, the coalition has no overall strategy to deal with that expansion. Al-Qaeda, the Taliban, Boko Haram, el Shabob and countless smaller groups have all affiliated themselves with the Islamic State. In fact, some 18 countries are now providing ISIL with both direct and indirect support but the coalition has no strategy for dealing with it.

The coalition’s primary response has been to continue flying missions and dropping bombs; a somewhat pointless show of force which has done little to stop ISIL’s influence or growth.

Under those circumstances, it is particularly unhelpful when the government of the day falls back on political attacks and misinformation to support its position rather than showing Canadians the respect they deserve by providing them with a comprehensive case for expanding and extending the mission.

Simply chanting slogans about “you’re with us” or “you’re with the terrorists” does nothing to unify a nation facing war. The government should be working to unite Canadians not demean those who disagree with it.

Defense Minister Jason Kenney stated yesterday that expanding the mission was necessary because Canada and the United States are the only two nations in the coalition that have smart weapons. He was wrong. Both Saudi Arabia and the UAE have been using smart bombs and missiles since 2008 and have used them in their air strikes against ISIL. As Defense Minister, he should be fully aware of the defense capabilities of our allies before he speaks.

It’s bad enough when the government plunges into an expansion of a poorly conceived military coalition but when the information coming from that government is at best obscure and at worst simply wrong, it is dangerously careless at best.

Unfortunately, too many among us are prepared to accept the political rhetoric the leadership of both the government and the opposition parties throw out and that, my friends, is precisely how the German people found themselves trapped in a hell of their own making.

It is uninformed partisanship that trivializes not only the current situation but its potential outcomes. It is too often based on the absurd belief that doing something no matter how poorly thought out or ineffective is better than doing nothing and is little more than just one more unsubstantiated and vain hope.

We are not well-served by it. If we must contribute to a war effort, we have a right to expect our Prime Minister to speak directly to all Canadians and make the case for expanding the mission rather than talking ‘at’ us through poorly-informed spokespeople or making cheap, sneering comments in the House of Commons.

There are more than just the two options of being ‘with us’ or ‘against us’ and a responsible political leadership and its citizens understand that. Both the government and the people must have all of the facts which includes an honest evaluation of the effort to date before making a decision how best to proceed.

Since the coalition was first formed and started conducting air strikes against ISIL, the United States has conducted more than 5000 missions – Canada as of the beginning of this week had flown only 53. As of the end of January, the Arab member countries in the coalition had conducted 79 strikes.

When the media report about air strikes they usually refer to the coalition but the simple truth is that the United States has conducted approximately 90% of all of the strikes against ISIL. That means that this war is being fought primarily by the Americans from the air and by Kurdish and Iraqi forces on the ground.

I believe we have a role to play against ISIL and I further believe it is both a military and a humanitarian role but in both cases, it must be clearly defined, carefully thought out and planned. It cannot be what we have now which is nothing more than chaos impersonating strength.

Our political leadership have made The West look weak and indecisive. Collectively the coalition represents an overwhelming military strength and yet a small force of barbaric fanatics are holding it at bay. Our leaders have already announced that it will take years to defeat ISIL and that does nothing except to send a strong defeatist message to the enemy which will continue to encourage them in their efforts.  .

It’s small wonder so many are joining the Islamic State. They are demonstrating to others like them that we are impotent. We bluster, we bomb but we are afraid to meet them on the ground and incapable of effectively stopping them.

War is unpredictable at the best of times with uncertain outcomes. Our political leaders have all but guaranteed that the worst is yet to come. Recent events have shown that they are ill-prepared for many of those outcomes. They can’t see beyond the politics and politics, my friends, is not much defense against terrorists armed with AK47s.

If Canada is going to extend its mission in Iraq, this Prime Minister has an absolute obligation to speak directly to the Canadian people and lay out his case rather than making crude jokes about it in Parliament. When our nation goes to war, we are all Canadians before we are Conservative, Liberal or otherwise. It’s not only time that our Prime Minister remembered that but that many among us did as well.

Otherwise, we may be asking ourselves the same questions so many Germans asked of themselves and each other after the insanity that was WWII finally ended.

Like so many of them; I’m increasingly afraid many of us won’t like the answer.

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© 2015 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear  – ivmaki@sympatico.ca

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  • Hanamanganda

    As a CPC supporter and member, I think us getting involved in bombing Syria is madness. Harper appears to have learned nothing from the mess WE helped create in Libya, and the mess that has become of every intervention in the middle east Further, for those cheering on this war, are you ready for the tide of middle east refugees that will inevitably follow (When we intervene, we always inherit a bunch of refugees).

  • charlie98

    ISIL is not so much a state or nation as it is an ideology, an extreme version of Islam. Uprisings in the Middle East are about religious differences and oil. Picking sides in a religious war, such as Canada apparently has done, requires an explanation of how we made the choice.

    The only difference between Roman Catholic vs Protestant and Shia vs Sunni is one has been solved peacefully while the other continues violently. Why we want to get in the middle of this escapes me and I really want someone to explain what our national interest in this is.

    • MaggiesBear

      You’re quite right about the religious divide in the Middle East but ISIS is less religious than political. They seek to establish a new Caliphate using Islam as the justification but there is precious little about ISIL that is Muslim. And I do agree with you, we deserve a better explanation than the political talking points and posturing we’re getting our government.

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