Columnists

Duncan Cameron
Partisan military intervention: A first for Canada

| October 7, 2014
Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

Canada is going to war. That we know, and not enough more.

In voicing support for military intervention in Iraq and possibly Syria, the House of Commons divided along partisan lines. The Conservative majority approve military support for the U.S.-led coalition, currently bombing the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. New Democrats, Liberals, Bloc and Green members are against it.

In the past, Canada has not sent military into a war zone without support from the Official Opposition party in the House of Commons. In World Wars I and II, Korea, all UN missions, the first Iraq war (1993), Afghanistan, and Libya, Canadian military action had bipartisan support.  

The war measure presented to the House of Commons is designed to deflect criticisms made by the Leader of the Opposition in question period last week, and in his statement to the House on Friday in response to the call for action from the Prime Minister.

Tom Mulcair wanted to know: how long will Canada be in Iraq militarily? The Conservative military mission was approved for six months.

Mulcair asked: will ground troops be deployed? The resolution says no ground troops.

Mulcair wanted to know how much the mission would cost, but the resolution does not project costs.

The Canadian war party consists of six 30-year-old CF-18 fighters, two reconnaissance planes, one plane for refuelling, and 600 Armed Forces personnel. An advance unit is already in place, and the fewer than 100 military advisers currently serving in North Iraq on a 30-day mission have been re-extended.

Canada is going to war because Canadians are not "free riders," said Harper. In economics, a free rider is someone who "benefits" from something without paying for it -- say, lives in a country, but avoids paying its legitimate taxes. 

As has been well documented notably by Chalmers Johnson, the U.S. constructed a world-wide military empire made up of bases and armed forces. This U.S. empire is being deployed against the Islamic State group, active in Iraq and Syria.

The rest of the world "benefits" from whatever military action the U.S. empire decides to pursue. It does not matter whether people agree or disagree with their actions. Of course, it matters if people think they are protected; or when some are killed, maimed, or lose their homes, belongings, and livelihoods; but that does not change the fact the U.S. commands its military policy on its own terms.

Nobody voted to be part of the U.S. empire, nobody is avoiding paying taxes to support it, and even Stephen Harper is under no illusion that Canada will make a difference to the military conduct of the U.S. If Harper is concerned about "free riding" he should be hiring Canadian tax fraud inspectors instead of laying them off.

The U.S. will do what it wants to do with its bombs, drones and other weapons. Whether Canada helps or not is immaterial to those efforts. We do not offer enough support to make a difference.

Last June the American-sponsored Iraqi army was estimated to outnumber Islamic State fighters 250,000 to 7,000 but has been losing territory, including the major city of Mosul, to rebel forces. 

Insurgents now calling themselves the Islamic State were supported by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrein, and the U.S. before becoming the enemy Canadians are supposed to be fighting.

Incredibly, the very people recruited and supported by the U.S. to fight the dictatorial Assad regime in Syria are now being targeted by the U.S.-led coalition Canada is joining.

No one seriously believes bombing the Islamic State group will end their activities in Iraq and Syria. The history of bombing suggest otherwise. The main thing that has changed since Iraq was first bombed in 1924 (by the U.K.) is that now 90 per cent of bombing casualties are civilian.

A huge humanitarian crisis is left behind every bombing mission. The Libyan bombing left a civil war. Retreating mercenaries recruited to fight deposed dictator Muammar Gaddafi destabilized Mali and Sahel Africa.

The aftermath of successive Iraq wars saw horrendous persecution of Kurds following the 1990 U.S. invasion, and repression of Sunni Muslims by an American-backed Shia regime after the 2003 George W. Bush assault.

The American military-industrial complex is doing great business out of the current Iraq crisis, just as it did in the two previous Iraq wars.

Instead of lending legitimacy to the worst misallocation of resources in human history -- American military spending -- Canada should be working with other states and with civil society groups, especially U.S.-based, to promote restraints on such spending.

Canada can play roles that could make a difference to international security and well-being. Elizabeth May in her speech to the House of Commons, and NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, over this past week have proposed important initiatives for humanitarian aid and peace-making.

Canada could be building international support for arms control. The spread of conventional arms fuelled by great power rivalry is enabling groups like the Islamic State to wage war on innocent people.

Canada could be calling for a regional peace conference hosted by the UN that would not exclude Iran because the U.S. has put it on its enemy list.

No amount of Canadian military intervention can install a democratic regime in Iraq. Without regional co-operation there can be no peace-making process.

While Stephen Harper pursues war without support from any other political party, substantive issues concerning oil politics, arms sales, and Canadian support for authoritarian regimes in the Gulf need to be raised and debated inside the House of Commons, and across Canada.

Duncan Cameron is the president of rabble.ca and writes a weekly column on politics and current affairs.

Photo: Jamie McCaffrey/flickr

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