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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.

Russian boots on Syrian ground create new reality for Canadian leaders, whether they discuss it or not

| September 29, 2015
Vladimir Putin

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As the three principal contenders for the job of running the country were sparring entertainingly over the mostly insignificant differences among their platforms and trading slogans designed to obfuscate rather than illuminate -- "the threat we face today is not CSIS, it's ISIS" -- other actors on the geopolitical stage are creating new realities.

In fact, it would tell us voters a lot about how much of a threat the so-called Islamic State phenomenon is likely to actually present to Canadians if we had some idea of how Conservative Prime Minister Stephen Harper, NDP Leader Thomas Mulcair and Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau propose to respond to the efforts of the nations with troops on the ground in Syria, beyond the RCAF's occasional and apparently ineffective bombing raids in the neighbourhood, but the topic barely came up amid the posturing.

That's probably because the only people seemingly prepared to take on ISIS in a meaningful way are the Iranians -- who make the leaders of any country as closely allied with Israel as is Canada extremely nervous -- and the Russians, about whom all three Canadian prime ministerial candidates apparently share an identical harshly negative view.

Yet it is the Russians who have rolled up their sleeves and sent ground troops and fighter-bombers to the region with the intention of actually taking on ISIS -- causing a great deal of nervousness for some reason in the capitals of the West.

I say "for some reason" rhetorically, of course, since in part the objective of both the Russians and the Iranians is to prop up the shaky regime of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, which, it's pretty obvious the leaders of all the Western coalition members along with Turkey and Israel would very much like to topple.

I may be the only Canadian it strikes this way, but it seems weirdly ironic to me that in order to effectively fight ISIS -- which we Canadians and our Western allies are not doing with very much evident success -- the Russians had to sneak their ground-attack fighter-bombers past the U.S.-led coalition in the region into Syria.

You'd almost think the Western Powers -- their domestic rhetoric about the dangers of ISIS notwithstanding -- were more intent on getting rid of the Assad Regime than getting rid of ISIS, given the nervous outrage with which they responded to the successful Russian effort to land a force in Syria, including, we're told, some of the same "polite green men" who secured Crimea and its strategic naval assets for Russia last year.

Who knew Russian President Vladimir Putin was a student of Karl Rove, or whichever unnamed advisor to President George Bush it was who made the famous remark about creating new realities -- "when we act, we create our own reality… and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."

So while the West's leaders have been talking up a storm, supposedly about ISIS, as Canada's were last night, Putin has been creating a new reality in Syria.

That, presumably, would be why U.S. President Barack Obama told the United Nations yesterday he is now willing to work with Russia and Iran to destroy ISIS. If Obama is anything, he is a realist, so he might as well salvage the best thing he can from the West's ambitions in Syria, to eliminate ISIS.

With a small investment, the Russians seem to have gone a long way toward eliminating the Western threat to Syria, at least in the immediate term.

So are our leaders willing to work with Russia and Iran toward this goal? We couldn't know from anything that was said last night. If they're not, though, it would certainly suggest they view ISIS, as horrible as it is, as less of a threat than they want us mere citizens to do.

Is that possible? If it were so, it would tend to support the narrative -- widely believed in Russia -- that ISIS is a Western creation, which if it is not stopped in the Levant will menace Russia next along its predominantly Muslim southern flank.

As for how much of threat CSIS turns out to be to Canadian citizens, that remains to be seen. It is certain to be less bloodthirsty than ISIS, but, enabled by Bill C-51 and encouraged by another Conservative government it could still turn out to present a significant threat to our liberties.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.

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