Learning from experience? The case against Canadian military engagement in Iraq/Syria

The government has announced that it will table a motion in Parliament to extend and expand the bombing, training and special operations mission in Iraq. Syria may now also be included.

Joining this mission was unnecessary; continuing and expanding it will compound the costs.

Canada need not participate in this campaign. Following are five reasons why the application of armed force is ill-advised:

It doesn’t work. Look no further than the disastrous results of recent Western military interventions. Afghanistan, where support for the Mujahidin gave way to the creation of al-Qaeda, is fractured and failing. Libya, where conditions of life once topped the African continent on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, is imploding. In Iraq, the current problem with ISIL is a direct result of the security, governance and justice vacuum engendered by the ruinous US-led invasion and occupation 2003-11.

Blowback, big time.

It plays into the hands of ISIL strategists. Recourse to high-tech violence is counter-productive and bolsters impressions of Western imperial bullying. Equally important, in a communications environment dominated by social and digital media, the recorded carnage (from barbaric executions to dead children, urban devastation, ruined schools and hospitals) provides the raw material which facilitates domestic Jihadi recruitment and the virtual formation of extremist communities world-wide. Anti-western attitudes, especially in Arab and Islamic countries, are reinforced and hardened.

It spoils the Canadian brand. Within international organizations and among members of the NGO set, Canada is already seen as a retrograde player. Participating in US-led wars undercuts what remains of Canada’s international reputation as a force for peace and progress, while exacerbating the threat to domestic security and the safety of Canadians abroad. How many red maple leaves you noticed on backpacks lately?

It reinforces the gross imbalance in the distribution of international policy resources. With the military enjoying the limelight and adulated as the instrument of choice, diplomacy and development are suffering. DFATD, the combined department now responsible for bringing coherence and direction to these portfolios, is rudderless and marginalized. Diplomatic initiatives – once a hallmark of Canadian foreign policy – are non-existent, and our ineffective aid expenditures test OECD lows.

It is militarily insignificant and wasteful. At a time of shrinking revenues and cutbacks, Canada’s expensive and purely symbolic contribution is making no measurable difference to the conflict’s outcome. If demonstrating alliance solidarity – rather than playing warrior nation wannabe – is the underlying objective, then there are preferable options.

What might constitute a better way forward? A national debate on all elements of international policy – defense, diplomacy, trade, aid and immigration – is desperately needed. One of the government’s most disturbing tendencies is its insistence upon on muzzling, message control and the centralization of all communications. It is time to open the floor.

Secondly, our Middle East policy needs drastic re-orientation, moving away from unconditional support for Israel – something even the US is now reconsidering – to a balanced and comprehensive regional strategy. Civil society support, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to Iraq, coupled with working towards a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria, would be cornerstones.

Finally, at a time when terrorism is again being trumpeted as the greatest threat to Canadian security, Canada should publically withdraw from the ill-starred Global War on Terror and redeploy resources to address more profound global challenges. Our increasingly heteropolar world is riven by a host of wicked, complex, transnational issues, including climate change, environmental collapse, diminishing biodiversity and resource scarcity. Each is immune to military solution and imperils the entire planet. The inordinate emphasis on countering terrorism is a distraction which feeds the politics of fear.

To conclude. Staying on in Iraq and expanding the mandate to include Syria will deepen the damage already inflicted by Canada’s disastrous nine year folly in Afghanistan. Much explaining remains to be done regarding the failures of leadership, analysis, and judgement which led to so many bad decisions and such high casualties.

Rampant boosterism, martial cheer leading, wasting of billions, ignorance of historyAfghanistan was all of that.

But worse. Beyond garden variety naiveté and inexperience, there was serious negligence and incompetence at the most senior levels. Criticism and dissent were stifled. The misadventure became a cancer on governance, a ticket-punching promotional opportunity for ambitious careerists and a cash cow for frequent flyers.

From the treatment of Richard Colvin, to stonewalling the MPCC enquiry into Afghan detainees, to refusing to investigate possible violations of international humanitarian law, to proroguing Parliament… these have been dark days for democracy and justice.

Fast forward to the government’s chilling determination to grant more power to the security services under bill C-51. All part of the same agenda, and another big hit on legal rights and civil liberties.

Iraq is the latest blunt instrument being used to inflict trauma on the quality and integrity of Canadian politics and public administration – not to mention our international security, reputation and influence. The institutional corrosion resulting from the policy of militarization has generated grave and enduring costs.

It remains to be seen whether or not the transformation is reversible; the forthcoming election may provide an opening.
Evidence of lessons learned?


Canada now knows to put out fires – with gasoline.