2014 Alternatives for Canada to war fighting against ISIS

Posted: October 7, 2014 in Uncategorized
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Again we find ourselves reaching for a response to war, this time a war waged by ISIS. Again we blindly “go along to get along” with those who prioritize a military response.

First, the reflex to use the language of violence; defining an enemy as intractably evil, and an imminent  threat to ourselves, whether true or significant or not.  Then to claim that there is no alternative; no matter that we have not put any serious thought or debate into finding any alternatives, or any effort to creating any alternatives, or to creating any institutions that can provide alternatives and capacities.

It is time that Canadians stand up to their values of peace making and rethink this slide into war fighting and confrontation as a bedrock of foreign policy and international affairs.

So what alternatives are possible? The first is setting aside the one track thinking we tend to engage in.  In this crisis we only need ask ourselves what is really important, what values are important to us, and do we have the courage to stand by our convictions and respond accordingly.   Simply put, is it more important to destroy ISIS (which may not be possible)  or is it more important to care for the victims  and people of Iraq and Syria, (to build security, to stop the violence, to build peace)?  How do we balance the ethic of justice with the ethic of care?

If the objective is war fighting, or destroying ISIS, this, militarily, means “search and destroy” and going on the offence.  In all likelihood causing a significant destruction of property, and the killing of more civilians than insurgents.  That is the nature of war when heavy weapons and bombs, are used against an insurgency embedded in the civilian population.  We have been there before.  Israel has been there before.

If the objective is peacemaking and the care for the people of Iraq, this means “serve and protect”, a defensive and constabulary operation supported b y military.   This means peacemaking.   This means an approach that seeks to establish safe havens, refugee routes, humanitarian aid, with a constabulary operation, only backed by military as needed.  This means impartiality, being present with these people, prioritizing human rights and non violence, and establishing lines of communication with all parties.  Perhaps the inevitable diplomatic solutions will come sooner than later, if we start now.  With a UN mandate, this we can make a contribution consistent with our values and in concert with the global community.

The war against ISIS should now be a counterinsurgency or constabulary operation and to be successful, will be long and dangerous. The UK would not tolerate the use of 1000 lb bombs in Belfast to fight the IRA; nor would we in our country if we identified a terrorist cell in an apartment building in Toronto.  If so, then how in the name of God can we do this to others?  Is this because they are not our children?

Counterinsurgency is what the UK did in Ireland and Burma, and they understood that risking troops and police is essential to protecting and winning over civilian populations.  The Iraq army or the UN must do this.  Soldiers are trained and equipped to accept risk, children are not.  We cannot prioritize the protection of Canadians by launching bombs 20 kms away, and at the expense of innocent civilians.  This not who we are.  We will bomb for 6 months, do a lot of damage, kill more civilians than insurgents, feel righteous, and come home.  ISIS will still be there when we come back.  Perhaps we will express regret for any harm we did.  We cannot whitewash our conscience by saying it was unintended, if it is totally foreseeable.  CF18s and bombs, in what is now a counterinsurgency operation in built up areas, is just plain irresponsible.

Search and destroy or serve and protect? Peacemaking or war fighting?  Which resonates with Canadian values? We have two Nobel peace prizes to reclaim.

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