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Alberta Diary

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David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Toronto Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. His 1995 book, A Poke in the Public Eye, explores the relationships among Canadian journalists, public relations people and politicians. He left journalism after the strike at the Calgary Herald in 1999 and 2000 to work for the trade union movement. Alberta Diary focuses on Alberta politics and social issues.

Ten questions about the Harper Government's embrace of war with ISIS

| October 8, 2014
John Baird

Stephen Harper, John Baird, Laurie Hawn and the rest of the boys yesterday finally got the war in Iraq they've been pining for since 2003.

"We should have been there shoulder to shoulder with our allies," Prime Minister Harper, who was still the leader of the opposition, complained back in April 2003. At the time, the United States had just invaded Iraq to punish it for having nothing to do with 9/11 and having no weapons of mass destruction, although we were told a slightly different version at the time.

Well, we're playing with the big boys in Iraq War III now, just as Harper wanted.

Yesterday the Conservative majority in the House of Commons, good soldiers every one, saluted, cried Ready, Aye, Ready, and approved the PM's plan to get Canadian soldiers and airmen officially involved in fighting the so-called Islamic State (also known as ISIL and ISIS) in Iraq, plus maybe Syria, and possibly other places as well. Armageddon?

Not that any of them will be going anywhere near the place, or their kids either, but you can count of it Canada's CF-18 fighter-bombers are already on their way, if they're not in place already.

The War Party in the Commons and the media assured us yesterday they're doing it to keep us safe here in the Homeland. You can count on it they're also preparing for the war that really matters to them -- holding onto the House of Commons -- by concocting a yarn about how opposition MPs are all dangerous wusses, unwilling to deal with a clear threat against Canada and Canadians. You're welcome to tell yourself this story after you've read Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to the kids tonight.

Well, let's hope this war in Iraq turns out better than the last one, which we wisely largely avoided, or the ones in Afghanistan and Libya on which we spent about $20-billion and saw about 2,000 Canadians wounded or killed. Indeed, it can be argued persuasively that what the Americans did in Iraq last time created the problem we're trying to deal with now.

Who knew, when Saddam Hussein promised the Mother of All Battles that we'd still be fighting it in 2014? The secular Iraqi dictator the United States successfully toppled may have gone to his reward, but part of the army he built apparently fights on under the guise of IS.

Given the dearth of information about why we're getting into this fight -- other than the perfectly defensible claim that IS is made up of hideous people who would like to roll back history to the Eighth Century -- about the only thing that we can say with confidence is that we are not being told the whole story.

Indeed, as it has been explained to us, the whole IS narrative makes very little sense. How did these guys spring up out of nothing overnight? Who funds them? And to do what?

And if we have coherent war aims, they certainly have not been clearly explained.

So while we can be certain members of IS are very bad people, and somehow do need to be stopped, we're entitled to be skeptical when we hear Edmonton Centre MP Laurie Hawn, in his new role as caucus Top Gun by merit of his previous job as an air force pilot, telling us on the CBC that if we don’t stop the beheaders in the Middle East, we're going to have to deal with beheaders here in Canada.

Foreign Minister John Baird obviously agreed, as he beat the war drums Monday in Parliament: "If we don't deal with ISIL and its ilk, they will deal with us.”

This is great propaganda, provided to us courtesy of the macabre IS social media team. But it will probably be a while before IS will have chopped off as many human beings' heads as our dear friends and allies in the fight for a freer Middle East, the Saudi Arabians, who removed about 80 heads from human shoulders last year alone, including those of many foreigners. It's only the Saudis, by the way, who have threatened to cut off the head of a Canadian to date.

So this leads to the first of 10 questions I think the Harper Government still needs to answer about this new war we're now in:

Question No. 1: When IS has been defeated, what are the Harper Conservatives prepared to do keep Saudi Arabia from beheading foreigners?

Among the reasons our allies the Saudis give for these grisly activities is that the victims (who the Saudis would insist are not victims, but criminals) are guilty of practicing the wrong religion, viz., "witchcraft."

The Harper Government loudly claims to be big on protecting the rights of people everywhere to practice their own religion. In fact, this is one of their justifications for going to war with IS. So…

Question No. 2: What will the Harper Government do to protect the right of Saudi citizens to practice whatever religion they wish? Even witchcraft. Will they even speak to our Saudi allies about this?

This leads inevitably to a question of who is funding and encouraging IS, and why.

We have been told that they're doing it all themselves through bank robberies, kidnapping ransoms, refinery hijackings and the sale of oil to the Syrian regime, which is secular, and with which IS is also supposedly at war. This strains credulity.

However, there is also credible information that our friends the Saudi Arabians, through the donations of wealthy individuals and the organs of Saudi state security, assisted in the creation of IS to destroy their most hated enemies in the region, members of the Shia branch of Islam. (See Questions 1 and 2 above.)

Question No. 3: What will the Harper Government do to keep Saudi Arabia from financing IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

It is now also clear that our NATO ally, Turkey, has had a hand in supporting IS -- at least by omission and quite possibly by commission as well. This is apparently because Turkey considers the regime of Bashir Assad in Syria to be its enemy. IS is pledged to fight the Assad regime, although it apparently isn't actually doing so because it's making too much money selling it oil.

Question No. 4: What will the Harper Government do to get Turkey to do something about IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

There is also evidence that as recently as last year some of the secret services of our closest allies may have supported the groups that have now patched-over as members of IS in order to get at the Assad regime.

Question No. 5: What will the Harper Government do to keep security agencies of our western allies from supporting IS, which has directly and explicitly threatened Canada?

Alert readers will recall that just last year, the Harper Government was very enthusiastic about knocking off the Assad regime. Now it is very enthusiastic about attacking a group that is an enemy of the Assad regime. (Part of that fight, by the way, is about the fact the Assad family and its supporters and the people fighting it are members of different branches of the same religion.)

Question No. 6: Is the Harper Government proposing to use Canadian F-18s to support the murderous Assad regime in Syria, which is allied with Iran, which we have declared to be a state supporter of terrorism?

Well, it's not at all clear what the Harper Government thinks our role in Syria ought to be, other than possibly bombing IS units and installations.

Question No. 7: Is the Harper Government also proposing to go to war with the Assad Regime?

If we do so, we will in effect be going to war with Iran as well, which sees itself as the protector of the Shia and therefore as the key enemy of IS. At this point, the narrative starts to read like George Orwell's 1984: We have always been at war with Eastasia!

Meanwhile, IS seems to be doing everything it can to goad Canada, the United States and Western European nations to attack it. In this, it presumably has the same goal as Al-Qaeda -- the Saudi-Arabian-financed group that attacked the United States in 2001, prompting the invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with the attack, on the basis of a story that turned out to be fiction.

This is probably why IS is explicitly threatening Canada on social media even though it has no means to carry out such a threat and is tied down somewhere else.

Its leadership -- whoever they are -- seems to think that if they can get us bogged down in a war close to them, eventually they can unite the entire region against the West. It will help their goals spectacularly if we accidentally but indiscriminately kill civilians with our "precision" bombs, which bomber jocks like Hawn always promise will never happen, and which almost always does.

Question No. 8: What will the Harper Government do to ensure no Canadian bombs accidentally kill civilians in Syria and Iraq, thereby helping IS achieve its war aims?

This is not really a question for the Harper Government, but it's also reasonable to wonder if we in the West ought to take the bait offered by IS. It is a fact that virtually nothing the West has done in the Islamic world since 2001 has worked out as promised, or very well at all.

Still, it's fair to ask, even if we can be pretty confident we’re not going to get an answer …

Question 9: Does the Harper Government seriously expect things to work out any better in Iraq this time?

And finally, of course, since they are obsessed with balanced budgets …

Question 10: How much is all this going to cost?

All these concerns stated, it is in fact true that right now we face the most serious foreign threat to Canada in a generation. That is … the Ebola virus.

So I guess we could ask one more question: While we're getting ready to get involved in a long, bloody and expensive war in Iraq and Syria that is almost certain to end badly for everyone, what is the Harper Government doing to protect Canada from Ebola?


This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.



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