Wars need propaganda, which needs the demonization of the enemy, which is not difficult with the Islamic State jihadists who are brutal, barbaric, psychopathic murderers, ethnic cleansers, etc. But there are several such groups, or worse, across the globe. There are even countries that kill civilians with abandon. Yet we are not at war with them — Canadians are not the John Wayne vigilantes of the world.
The war on the Islamic State is not authorized by the United Nations.
Nor was NATO’s 1999 bombing of Serbia on behalf of Kosovo, you say. But that was justified as the “first humanitarian war” to save a people from their own government under the then nascent Canadian doctrine of Responsibility to Protect (R2P), which has since been adopted by the United Nations.
George W. Bush’s 2003 unauthorized war on Iraq was rationalized as pre-emptive self-defence against weapons of mass destruction.
The war on the Islamic State is framed by Stephen Harper as both an act of self-defence (the group has “specifically targeted Canada and Canadians”) and a humanitarian undertaking (to save religious and ethnic minorities such as Christians, Yazidis and others).
But we have little evidence beyond some imbecilic audio recorded threats from the jihadists. The CIA doubts if the group even has the capacity to mount attacks abroad. As for the fear of foreign jihadists returning to their homelands and mounting terrorist attacks, the Harper government has assured us, as he did in the Commons Friday, it would prevent their re-entry into Canada. It has already started revoking their passports and may even strip some of their citizenship. Besides, we need to have confidence in our security establishment that has stood on guard for us admirably well since Sept. 11, 2001.
As for our humanitarian impulse, Harper, Barack Obama, David Cameron et al. have sat silently by for three years as Bashar Assad has killed 20 times more people than the Islamic State and displaced at least six million. Yet Obama has steadfastly refused to intervene militarily in Syria or even meaningfully help moderate anti-Assad forces. And Harper has refused to sponsor any more than 200 Syrian refugees, though the UN’s refugee agency asked us to take at least 10,000 refugees. He has also refused to allow a mere 100 children from Gaza, victims of Israeli bombings, to be brought to Canada for desperately needed medical treatment and rehabilitation. His sympathies are selective, mostly ideologically and politically driven.
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Shedding crocodile tears for the victims of Islamic State is just another piece of the war propaganda — unless one wants to argue that western public opinion is more easily rallied against a beastly “Islamic” group than against the beastly “secularist” regime in Damascus or others, such as the Democratic Republic of Congo, where more than five million people were killed.
If the Islamic State poses as great a threat to civilization as Harper makes it out to be, why is it that he is not going all-out to crush it, including committing Canadian troops? He concedes that military action won’t eliminate the group. Even in the limited mission to “significantly degrade the capabilities” of the group, Canadian planes, unlike the American bombers, would not go into Syria without the permission of Assad. How thoughtful. Harper wouldn’t go after an evil entity without the permission of a more evil entity.
Harper has lined up with Obama on this war, though he’s no admirer of the president. Is that because he feels — like Britain as well as Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and other vassal states of the United States — that Canada must go along to get along, a principle Harper otherwise abhors? Or is it that he is gung-ho about this war because he is always gung-ho about war?
NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau did well to remind the prime minister how misguided he had been in enthusiastically endorsing Bush’s 2003 invasion of Iraq and demanding as opposition leader that Canada enter that war.
Mulcair was also right to point out that the Islamic State is a direct descendant of the militant groups unleashed by that American invasion and occupation and that the U.S. has spent nearly a decade unsuccessfully fighting such groups, which pop up under different names and iterations.
It is tough to oppose a prime minister hell-bent on going to war on a beastly group against which Canadians want action, any action. But Mulcair and Trudeau, especially the NDP leader, registered their democratic dissent forcefully.
They need to stick to their guns when the government motion to authorize war comes up for debate Monday in the Commons.