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Why war on Syria should be debated in Parliament (and in the media)

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Update Sept. 1: On Thursday the UK Parliament rejected Prime Minister David Cameron's plans to join the U.S. in bombing Syria, defeating the war plans by a vote of 285 to 272. This, along with renewed anti-war protest globally, has contributed to something of a crisis for the U.S. administration; on Saturday President Obama stated that he would seek the approval of Congress before bombing Syria. A vote in Congress is expected on September 9. Stephen Harper meanwhile, has given no indication he'll recall Parliament, even as the allies with whom he is marching in "lockstep" with on this issue hold debates on Syria amongst their elected representatives. 

If only we could prorogue the war machine.

Stephen Harper and his foreign minister John Baird are proceeding full speed ahead to support, and possibly join in, the apparently imminent U.S.-led bombing of Syria.

Baird has more or less said that Canada doesn't have its own cruise missiles to fire, but will do whatever's asked by Obama and the Pentagon, providing logistical assistance and political cover for U.S. air strikes. Harper spoke to the U.S. President on the phone Tuesday, and they apparently agreed on a "firm response" against the Syrian government.

This is all happening behind closed doors. Harper's spokespeople have indicated that Parliament, which is prorogued until October, will not be recalled to discuss these urgent matters of war and peace. Calls by both major opposition parties to recall Parliament for a debate on Canada's role in an attack on Syria have been ignored by the government.

There's a piece in today's Globe and Mail which examines the legal and political ramifications of Harper ignoring Parliament and going to war. But the article is basically tactical advice, urging Harper to make like his Conservative counterpart in the UK, David Cameron, and actually get a parliamentary stamp of approval.

What's missing in the Canadian media, by and large, is a substantive debate about the issue. Syria was the lead story on CBC's The National Tuesday night. There was only one 'expert' interviewed. You guess it, the expert was a retired Canadian colonel. And -- yes, you guess it again! -- the colonel was in favour of the bombing. The one implied objection that the colonel raised was that the U.S. bombing would only be "tepid."('Good evening, tepid U.S. cruise missile strikes have reportedly killed at least two dozen people in Damascus today, no word yet on whether the casualties were military or civilian...')

We need less colonels and more anti-war voices -- or even just more genuinely informed and critical voices -- represented in the media. How about we hear from anti-war spokespeople just as often, or even half as often, as we hear from a government official or retired general supporting the war? After all, the anti-war movement was right about Iraq and right about Afghanistan. The war makers, of course, prefer not to dwell on these disasters, and seek out older interventions as analogies to make this newest war more palatable. 

An escalation of the war in Syria will have huge regional and global consequences. The mainstream media's treatment of this war as a fait accomplit is leading to ever more idiotic pseudo-arguments in its favour by pundits who know better but simply can't bring themselves to oppose something the powerful have already decided to do. Let's hear less from these fall-in-line types who are jumping on the war bandwagon, and more from people who can actually elaborate on the roots of the present disaster, and on the regional and sectarian conflicts adding fuel to the fire; let's hear from more people who could explain why -- when it comes to the brutal Assad regime and its brutal Saudi and other Gulf regime opponents -- our enemy's enemy isn't our friend. 

Public opinion in the U.S. appears to be firmly against the pending bombing action. The Iraq Syndrome has yet to be overcome. There are very good reasons for this, even though they are so rarely voiced by most of the punditocracy.

As Tariq Ali notes simply in The London Review of Books, "Every single Western intervention in the Arab world and its surrounds has made the conditions worse."

If only Canadians could hear simple observations like that on their television sets or in their House of Commons before their government signs on in support of yet another cruise missile adventure in the Middle East.

The government should not be allowed to go to war without facing a real debate in Parliament and a full, informed discussion in the media. Apparently this is too much to ask or expect of Canadian 'democracy.' 

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