A Case Against Canadian Military Involvement in Iraq and Syria
by Peter Ewart
Back in 2003, as leader of the Opposition, Stephen Harper was a prominent cheerleader for Canada to join U.S. president George W. Bush’s “coalition of the willing” to invade Iraq. At that time, luckily for us, he was unable to convince the Canadian parliament to participate in that disastrous war.
What would likely have happened if Canada had participated? Undoubtedly, many hundreds of our troops would have been killed and thousands wounded or permanently disabled. In addition, hundreds of millions or even billions of government funding would have been diverted from much-needed health, education, and social services in Canada and poured into war spending. Indeed, in the annals of history, Canada would have been numbered among those countries held responsible for a criminal act, the launching of an unprovoked war, one that, along with other actions, has wreaked havoc, death and destruction on a sovereign people and has spread chaos throughout the Middle East.
Flash forward to today. Unfortunately, Stephen Harper, using his Conservative majority in parliament, has finally got his way. Canada will be expanding its role and sending combat forces, not only into Iraq, but also possibly Syria, supposedly to fight the forces of the latest terrorist threat, ISIS. Although the mission will be limited to air strikes (at least for now) and has a six month duration, it is not minor. Forces will include 10 aircraft, including 6 CF-18s, and 600 aircrew and support personnel. This is in addition to the 26 non-combat military advisors already in Iraq (footnote 1).
But just who is this ISIS? Much has been made in the news media and by politicians of some sensational Youtube videos showing ISIS combatants beheading a couple of captives from the U.S. and Britain. As horrific as these videos are, since when are beheadings and other atrocities new in the chaotic Middle East (footnote 2)? Saudi Arabia, a supposed U.S. ally, beheads many dozens of its own citizens every year. And just a few days ago the Taliban in Afghanistan beheaded over 25 villagers. For that matter, U.S. military personnel have been implicated in a whole number of atrocities, including torture and killings of civilians, in the past dozen years in Iraq.
The utter incoherence of U.S. policy regarding ISIS was revealed in the last several days when U.S. Vice-president Joe Biden acknowledged that close allies of the U.S. – Saudi Arabia, Turkey and the United Arab Emirates had been pouring “hundreds of millions of dollars and tens of thousands of tons of weapons” into the hands of ISIS and ISIS-connected groups that are operating under the banner of opposition to the Assad government of Syria (footnotes 3,4,5,6).
What Biden failed to acknowledge is that the U.S. itself has been doing the same for the last several years, even going so far as to train militants who have gone on to join ISIS in its terrorist war against the Syrian government (7,8). As some observers note, the so-called “moderate rebels” that the U.S. have been supporting with arms are largely a fiction, and that many of these arms eventually ended up in the hands of ISIS connected groups (9).
Now ISIS, this horrific creature nurtured into being by the U.S., Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and the UAE, has turned on its sponsors, at least for now, which is very convenient for those Western powers who have long wanted a pretext to escalate intervention in that part of the world against Syria, Iran and other countries. In that regard, ISIS is a very convenient “all-purpose” terrorist group (10,11). On the one hand, it can be used to destabilize countries not part of the U.S. “coalition.” On the other hand, if it gets out of control, as it is now, it can be used as a pretext for intervention or invasion.
For example, just as the 9/11 attacks by Al Queda terrorists back in 2001 were used as a pretext to invade Iraq (a country that had nothing to do with the attacks), many observers fear that the ISIS intervention will eventually morph into an escalated war against the Assad government of Syria, which has long been in the cross-sights of the U.S., Britain, Saudi Arabia and others. In that regard, the British establishment newspaper, “The Independent”, published an article in its October 2nd edition, claiming that such plans to use the ISIS crisis as a cover to overthrow the Syrian government are already well underway by U.S. and British intelligence forces (12).
Similar tactics were used to overthrow the sovereign government of Libya several years ago. While U.S., Canadian and European airforces dropped bombs on Libyan government forces, various Al-Queda connected forces on the ground were provided political and logistical support. It is interesting to note that many of the current ISIS personnel are made up of these same Libyan forces that only yesterday were being hailed as freedom fighters by Harper and Obama. In that regard, U.S. general Thomas McInerney has acknowledged on Fox News that the U.S. “helped build ISIS” by supporting ISIS personnel in Libya and allowing arms to be smuggled into Syria (13).
And what has happened since the Libyan government was overthrown? What was once one of the most prosperous countries in North Africa has been reduced to chaos and destruction, becoming a dysfunctional state overrun by numerous warring factions.
It is clear that some dirty business is afoot in this latest Iraqi and Syria intervention. Yet Prime Minister Harper appears obsessed with dragging us into the quagmire. As a result, besides only making a bad situation worse, he exposes our soldiers and military personnel to prolonged and unnecessary danger (some observers say the conflict could go on for years), as well as leaving our country open to possible “blowback” from terrorist forces as a result of our intervention.
Who should deal with ISIS? Well, first of all, the countries in the Middle East region who spawned it, starting with Saudi Arabia and Turkey who both have powerful, well-equipped armies. Turkey in fact has the second largest army in NATO (600,000 in total). If these countries are truly serious, they should cut off all under-the-table assistance and “safe haven” to all the rebels and work in a common front with Syria, Iraq and Iran and other countries already fighting ISIS. In the final analysis, Middle Easterners must be the ones to sort out Middle Eastern problems.
The Opposition parties in Parliament were right last week not to go along with Harper’s latest Iraq adventure. But they should stiffen and expand their opposition, and not support military aid of any kind including providing “military advisors” to this or that faction in the shifting sands of the Middle East.
As the old saying goes, “Fools rush in, where angels fear to tread.”
Peter Ewart is a columnist and writer based in Prince George, British Columbia. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Payton, Laura. “ISIS in Iraq: 5 things we learned about Canada’s mission.” CBC News. Oct. 3, 2014.
- Simpson, Jeffrey. “Our Mideast mission implausible.” The Globe & Mail. Oct. 3, 2014.
- Tanis, Tolga. “Biden says Erdogan admitted ISIL mistake.” Daily News. Oct. 4, 2014.
- Brookings Institute. “Playing with fire: Why private Gulf financing for Syria’s extremist rebels risks igniting sectarian conflict at home.” Analysis paper, Number 16. Dec. 2013.
- Cockburn, Patrick. “How the US helped ISIS grow into a monster.” Mother Jones. Aug. 21, 2014.
- Rogin, Josh. “America’s allies are funding ISIS.” The Daily Beast. June 14, 2014.
- Reuters. “Americans are training Syria rebels in Jordan: Spiegel.” March 10, 2013.
- Klein, Aaron. “Blowback! U.S. trained Islamists who joined ISIS.” WND. June 17, 2014.
- Reynolds, Ben. “There are no moderate Syrian Rebels.” Counterpunch. Oct. 3-5, 2014.
- Glazebrook, Dan. “This war is not aimed at ISIS, but at Assad.” Counterpunch. Oct. 3-5, 2014.
- Nazemroaya, Mahdi Darius. “Fighting ISIL is a smokescreen for U.S. mobilization against Syria and Iran.” Strategic Culture. Sept. 26, 2014.
- Sengupta, Kim. “War against ISIS: British troops likely to train Syrian rebels nearly three years after similar plan failed.” The Independent. Oct. 2, 2014.
- Watson, Paul Joseph. “U.S. General: ‘We helped build ISIS.” Global Research, Sept. 3, 2014.