I'm deeply confused by the outpouring of sentiment over the Paris terrorist attacks, especially the resounding clamour for prime minister Trudeau to reverse his decision on withdrawing Canada's six-pack of CF-18s from the air campaign in Iraq and Syria. This is a sentiment that seems widely shared among Liberals and Conservatives alike although the Tories, true to form, are decidedly uglier and more racist in their criticisms.
Most of this stuff I just dismiss as the sort of emotionalism that always follows atrocity, excepting instances where our side is at fault (ask Medicins sans Frontieres
if you need clarification). That goes for most of our populist journos also. The Star's Rosie Dimanno is a perfect example along with the editorial staff of the Globe and PostMedia.
I tend to make an exception for people like the CBC's Neil Macdonald
who, in my opinion, seems to bring a bit more reason and balance to his punditry. When it comes to our hapless air campaign, Macdonald boils down the West's options as just keep going (i.e. bombing) indefinitely or leave."Everyone knows airstrikes will not decide this fight. And the U.S.-led campaign to arm and train "moderate" rebels in Syria and troops in Iraq has been an embarrassment, to put it mildly.
"Generally, whenever ISIS or its affiliated extremists have shown up, America's proxies have cut and run, often leaving their U.S.-provided guns and hardware for the enemy to scoop up.
"But disengaging and letting the Middle East sort itself out would involve a hideous price for the populations on the ground.
"ISIS operates by its own grotesque set of the Hama rules, and the massacres that would without question follow an ISIS expansion would validate Pope Francis's observation that what we are seeing today is a piecemeal version of World War III.
"For Washington and Paris and London and Ottawa and all the other coalition members, this is a horrible set of options.
"There is no Solomonic solution available, and, to make it worse, the brutal truth is that America's so-called coalition of the willing, which invaded Iraq on a false pretext, effectively created ISIS (which, unsurprisingly, has several of Saddam Hussein's former generals among its commanders).
"The West sowed dragons' teeth, which grew into armed fanatics now bent on taking the battle back to the West. And ahead of them, massive rivers of miserable refugees are trudging toward Western soil.
"We can pray for Paris to our hearts' content, and light up monuments in the colours of the French flag, and trade peace sign memes of the Eiffel Tower. But what Western militarism created cannot be sung or wished away.
"Hafez al-Assad and his Baathist colleague Saddam Hussein were both monsters. But compared to what the West unleashed on itself, they seem, in retrospect, like incarnations of stability."
Macdonald cites the "Hama Rules." The name comes from a campaign waged by Bashar's dad, Hafez."After surviving an assassination attempt by the militant Muslim Brotherhood, Assad sent out death squads with orders to slaughter every Brotherhood member held in Syria's prisons, of which there were hundreds.
"And he was just getting started. His security forces initiated a lethal crackdown that culminated in February 1982 when Syrian tanks and artillery units arrived in Hama, a Brotherhood stronghold.
"Over the next few weeks, the army destroyed entire sections of the city, killed tens of thousands of people, and bulldozed the rubble flat.
"Hafez al-Assad never had another problem with the Brotherhood."
Such may be the tactical lingua franca
of the battle against Islamist radicals. If you want to win you must be prepared to resort to barbarism an order of magnitude greater than your adversary. You must not hesitate to kill innocents as well as your enemies. Of course it's one thing when it's Muslim on Muslim butchery.
Which brings us to the strategy currently in vogue with Israel's political and military leadership, Dahiyeh
. It's a policy of deliberately targeting civilian populations instead of military units or installations that was widely practiced on all sides during WWII (i.e. carpet bombing, firestorms and, of course, nuclear attack) but which was thereafter outlawed as inhumane. The thinking is that those civilians provide support to the enemy and whether that's voluntary or under compulsion is irrelevant.
This is all well and good except we have forsworn that sort of barbarism and readily condemn it in others (except our ally, Israel, of course). Besides, it's one thing in the Muslim on Muslim context, quite another when it becomes Infidel on Muslim. That might reverberate for a while with unwelcome results.
It would help if we could come to a working understanding of what warfare has become in the 21st century. We go to these affairs prepared to engage in "old war" - the state-on-state stuff with standing armies vying for victory ending in peace on one side's terms. Instead we're embroiled in "new war" in which there's a confusing mix of state and non-state actors, pursuing what are often distinct agendas leading to drawn out conflicts in which there is neither victory nor peace to be had at the conclusion. The age of unwinnable war without end may be upon us. All the King's horses and all the King's men can't be relied upon to produce favourable outcomes.
What is the moral dimension of waging war without end? Where is the morality in going to war until the voters at home finally grow bored with it and the political caste finds it necessary to call the whole thing off? What is our moral obligation to the defenceless hordes we leave in our wake as we depart? How do we deny them sanctuary as refugees?
Is this a function of original sin? You lied your way into this war and now the Pottery Barn rule applies (you broke it, you own it).
I'm hopelessly confused and yet I have studied this "new war" theory and have some grasp on what it portends. It's one of those things that the more you explore it the murkier it becomes. All I've garnered out of those studies has led me to formulate a precautionary rule. Don't get into wars that you're not willing to win and, even then, not without knowing how you will win, how long that will take, at what cost, how you will know if you've won and if you've lost, and how you will get out. Those preconditions all sound so reasonable and yet, if applied to our military adventures in the Muslim world since the turn of this century, we would have stayed home.
Forget this bullshit about moral wars for it's the most heinous, most barbaric side that sets that morality bar in these new wars. There's no moral consolation prize that doesn't leave mountains of suffering and dead in its wake.