Aux Armes, Canadiens?

After the recent Islamic State (also known as ISIL, ISIS and Daesh) attacks in Paris, France’s atheist President François Hollande was quick to vow to destroy the jihadist caliphate (full French transcript here) by forming “une grande et unique coalition”. France also launched heavy air strikes on Raqqa, the capital of the Islamic State, and dispatched its aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle to the region to facilitate more of the same. This French effort coincides neatly with an intensification of Russia’s separate bombing campaign against the Islamic State, and follows strategically important successes on the ground against the caliphate’s fighters by both Kurdish and Syrian government forces. Even the Americans, in addition to helping out the Kurds, have joined the Russians in directing their bombs at the economically important vehicles and infrastructure used by the Islamic State to extract and transport oil. The Islamic State is coming under more military pressure than it has faced in a while, if not in its entire short and sordid history.

With momentum building against the Islamic State, and the 130 dead of Paris (not to mention 224 on a Russian aircraft, and more than 40 in Beirut) crying out to be avenged, this might seem like a good time to attack with redoubled vigour. In that spirit, the British government is now leaning towards an expansion of its own aerial campaign against the Islamic State from Iraq into Syria.

Canada, however, is moving in the opposite direction. Our shiny new Prime Minister Trudeau the Younger remains determined to withdraw our half-dozen CF-18s from their combat role against the Islamic State, in line with a promise he made during the recent election campaign. Trudeau wants to focus instead on “training of local troops”, whereas Rona Ambrose’s Conservatives would prefer to keep our aircraft engaged in the fight. It’s worth noting that there doesn’t seem to be any particular timetable attached to Trudeau’s plan to have the CF-18s stand down, so they could be continuing their small but hardly negligible role in Iraq and Syria for a while yet. However, Trudeau’s ultimate intentions are clear.

For what it’s worth, I agree with Rona Ambrose and with an estimated 51% of the Canadian public that this is no time to stop bombing the Islamic State. In my opinion, it would make a lot more sense to escalate our air strikes and loosen the rules of engagement, perhaps taking what Conrad Black rather delicately calls (with reference to French and Russian methods in past conflicts) “a more philosophical view of the misfortunes of collateral damage”. France is not just an ally, but also one of Canada’s two European motherlands, and in the face of a brutal terrorist attack in Paris we ought to be fully prepared to help inflict some well-deserved retaliation.

This is not just a matter of slaking whatever visceral thirst for vengeance may exist in France and elsewhere, though I wouldn’t dismiss that imperative – especially in a democracy, people need to feel that their leaders are fundamentally on their side, and prepared to take public sentiment into account in deciding when to resort to force. However, a fierce and well-targeted military response to the Paris attacks would also be a good strategic bet, since it should have a significant deterrent effect and make all the participating countries safer in the long term. I’m not suggesting carpet-bombing the Islamic State or sending in the Van Doos, but stepping up our air attacks would be both proportionate and potentially quite effective in helping France and other countries send a worthwhile message: that slaughtering scores of people in the middle of Paris is asking for the kind of trouble no organization, however devoted to apocalyptic fantasies, could possibly welcome. After all, bombing militant positions and infrastructure around the Islamic State’s capital of Raqqa would hardly fulfill its absurd theological expectation of a victorious clash with “Rome” (meaning the West) at the small town of Dabiq in northwest Syria. As long as we and our allies didn’t get too philosophical about the misfortunes of collateral damage, it’s also hard to imagine that dropping bombs on the Islamic State would create much enmity or resentment among the wider global Muslim population, considering that even conservative Sunni Islamist leaders in the Arab world tend to vehemently oppose the caliphate.

How, and whether, Canada should be contributing to the long-term battle against the Islamic State is highly debatable. But for now, the mayhem unleashed in the heart of Paris demands retribution, and we should be ready and willing to do our part.

24 thoughts on “Aux Armes, Canadiens?

  1. I find it pleasantly refreshing that a politician is not taking the politically expedient course in the face of populist rabble rousing.

    Call me naive but the last several decades of western military intervention in the middle east has not produced one tangible benefit and in fact has led to the rise of ISIS.

    So by all means let’s continue with “fierce and well-targeted military response” because this has always worked so well in the past.

    What’s next, rounding up of Canadians of Muslim background for forced internment and confiscation of the assets ?

    • Excellent!

    • Call me naive but the last several decades of western military intervention in the middle east has not produced one tangible benefit and in fact has led to the rise of ISIS.

      I partly agree, but a lot of that intervention was directed at secular (albeit nasty) dictators, notably Hussein and Gaddafi. Smashing their governments and leaving power vacuums for jihadist movements to fill was a terrible idea, but limited retaliation against a state or pseudo-state that is itself jihadist in orientation would be a very different proposition. Any vacuum created by the destruction or contraction of the Islamic State would almost inevitably be filled by forces that would be less likely to launch terrorist attacks in Western cities.

      What’s next, rounding up of Canadians of Muslim background for forced internment and confiscation of the assets?

      Well, no, unless you think “Canadians of Muslim background” are somehow generally implicated in the attacks in Paris.

      • It was exactly the “imperative” for a “slaking whatever visceral thirst for vengeance may exist” and “take(ing) public sentiment into account” that resulted in the forced internment and theft of assets of Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent in the 2nd world war.

        Canadians of Muslim background are implicated in the attacks in Paris to the same extent that Canadians and Americans of Japanese descent formed a 5th column ready to aid and abet a Japanese attack on the North American landmass 75 years ago.

        • Surely the internment programme in the Second World War was a reaction to a perceived threat, not (for the most part) an exercise in either vengeance or pandering to public sentiment?

          Be that as it may, I don’t think anyone with any clout in Canada is suggesting mass internment of people with Muslim backgrounds. I’m certainly not.

    • Trudeau ain’t afraid of no mooselems. It’s unaccompanied penises that are the real threat! #Because2015

      Note to prospective refugees: forced arranged marriages must be consumated before your request for humanitarian aid will be processed…
      love justin

    • “Call me naive but the last several decades of western military intervention in the middle east has not produced one tangible benefit and in fact has led to the rise of ISIS.”

      Dear Mr. Naive: Do you ever wonder (as I do) if ISIS was precisely the tangible benefit the US was hoping for? Or do you suppose (as I don’t) that a strong and cohesive Middle East is the ultimate goal of America?

      It would be easier to defend America’a actions if America was in danger of military attack (we agree, I think, that 9-11 wasn’t a *military* attack). But America is protected by having the world’s 2 biggest oceans on either side, Canada to the north, and an impassable peninsula to the south.

      America’s only rival is Russia. The ME is not any threat to America that America doesn’t want it to be.

      • Close, but Incorrect. Russia and China for all their bluster have similar interests to the USA. They are simply playing the old game. The ME is a threat to them because the petro dollar rules. Libertarian fools always whine about the loss of the gold standard, but oil and coal are the only real currency now. This is why Saudi Arabia and Israel get bank rolled by the USA, why Russia is in Syria and Ukraine and why China is in Africa. They have no interest in fighting each other, that is bad for business… But.. To the annoyance of the other empires, the American created mess that is Daesh seems to have legs. Competing Dictators and puppets are fine, open rebellion is not good for the status quo.

        • I dunno. I don’t think you’re giving the Middle Eastern players enough credit for charting their own destinies, and I’d say the Islamic State (aka Daesh) is much more than an American creation. American actions may have played a large part in creating the conditions under which the Islamic State could arise, but so did Syrian, Iraqi, Russian and Saudi actions. And another necessary condition, let’s not forget, was the popularity of fundamentalist interpretations of Sunni Islam.

          • Heheh, considering that you are arguing for a more complex understanding of the political angle, I find it amusing that you would use the word fundamentalist with regard to Islam.

            Fundamentalism describes a very specific Christian movement. I know other atheists abuse the term to mean crazy Christian, but there really is no analog in Islam. It’s like calling Wahhabism, Scientology-Islam, or something. Although… Maybe…hmmm

            The Middle East is complex, but American freedom-meddling has been the driving force behind most of the recent problems. If they would just stick to what they were historically good at, propping up pet dictators, our great satan neighbour could get back to the business of profiting on the backs of the poor. But…Maybe I’m just getting cold war sentimental in my old age.

  2. What a dispiriting post. More war. If we haven’t learned from past excursions into the murky mess that is the middle east, from Afghanistan to Syria, we are doomed to find the rule of unintended consequences will bite us in the ass yet AGAIN! Get out of this mess now. Let’s “support” the effort by leading in helping the victims of this tawdry affair, the refugees. Let’s take the lead in taking the Saudis to task and cut the head off the snake by cutting the funding to these ISIL bastards. Let’s take the lead in promoting a psychology of calmness around these attacks and starve the terrorists of their oxygen by not acting and re-acting in TERROR. We can train, as proposed, and we can do things diplomatically like cajole Turkey and other powers in the region to take on the task of policeman. WE have much we can do and active war should be the last of the options. I despise Conrad Black’s glib bullshit: “a more philosophical view of the misfortunes of collateral damage”. Disgusting! When you find yourself on the same side as Rona Ambrose and Conrad Black, you have to ask yourself one important question, “Have I lost my mind?”

    • …the victims of this tawdry affair, the refugees.

      Not the French? I guess it depends on what you mean by “this tawdry affair”, but I was writing about terrorist attacks in Paris. What do we do about those?

      Let’s take the lead in taking the Saudis to task…

      I wouldn’t be opposed, but how? I doubt King Salman would agree to a boxing match. Lecturing by Canadian diplomats and politicians would be blithely ignored by the Saudis, and understandably so. We have very little leverage.

      Let’s take the lead in promoting a psychology of calmness around these attacks and starve the terrorists of their oxygen by not acting and re-acting in TERROR.

      Agreed, more or less. I’m not suggesting we go berserk, just inflict some calculated damage on the Islamic State. Terror has nothing to do with it.

      We can train, as proposed, and we can do things diplomatically like cajole Turkey and other powers in the region to take on the task of policeman.

      Why should the Turks, or any local proxies we might attempt to train, follow our agenda in preference to their own? That’s always been the problem with relying on regional powers and/or militias. They’re not chess pieces to be pushed around the board, they’re players with their own goals and motivations. Turkey, for instance, would probably rather go after the Kurds than go after the Islamic State. How do you propose to “cajole” them out of that strategic calculation?

      I despise Conrad Black’s glib bullshit: “a more philosophical view of the misfortunes of collateral damage”. Disgusting!

      It’s a nice turn of phrase, and it brings up (if a little obliquely) a highly pertinent and realistic point – there’s always a trade-off between avoiding collateral damage and inflicting the kind of deliberate damage that leads to military success.

      When you find yourself on the same side as Rona Ambrose and Conrad Black, you have to ask yourself one important question, “Have I lost my mind?”

      Ambrose and Black have said things you don’t like in the past, so you’re determined to disagree with them about everything? That strikes me as decidedly narrow-minded and anti-intellectual.

  3. Sorry had to add this from Chris Hedges post today on Truthdig,

    “It is nearly certain that we will endure, sooner rather than later, another catastrophic terrorist attack on American soil. The blundering of our military into the Middle East; the failed states that have risen out of the mismanagement and chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan; the millions of innocents we have driven from their homes, terrorized or slaughtered; the bankrupt puppet regimes we have equipped and trained that will not fight; the massive amounts of munitions and military hardware we have allowed to fall into the hands of jihadis—thousands of them carrying Western passports; and the myopic foreign policy whose single tenet is that more industrial violence will get us out of the morass created by our industrial violence in the first place means that we, like France, are in for it.

    All the major candidates for president, including Bernie Sanders, along with a media that is a shameless echo chamber for the elites, embrace endless war. Lost are the art of diplomacy, the ability to read the cultural, political, linguistic and religious landscape of those we dominate by force, the effort to dissect the roots of jihadi rage and violence, and the simple understanding that Muslims do not want to be occupied any more than we would want to be occupied.’

    We can stand with the US and war or stand apart for peace.

  4. Sorry had to add this from Chris Hedges post today on Truthdig…

    No problem.

    However, when Hedges talks about “the mismanagement and chaos of Iraq and Afghanistan” he’s referring to attempts to dominate and occupy whole countries, as opposed to just retaliating in a limited and measured way against a weird little quasi-country like the Islamic State. When he talks about munitions and military hardware falling into the hands of jihadis, he’s referring to equipment that was given initially to trainees and regional partners, like the ones you apparently want to rely on. I agree that nobody wants to be occupied, but I haven’t been proposing an occupation.

    We can stand with the US and war or stand apart for peace.

    I’m suggesting we should stand with France.

  5. I stand by my comment on Black and Ambrose. I find that everything I’ve read or heard from them to be at best neo-con cliché or despicable nastiness, lies and obfuscations. Granted, I have not read or heard everything they have said or read, and I fully admit that I don’t intend to spend time at a scholarly study of their bilge to find that kernel of truth that might exist. However, should I hear some thing resembling intelligence or truth coming from either of them, I will be sure to note it here in this forum as I remain fully open minded to the possibility and would be thrilled to find such a rare bird indeed.

    I stand fully with France by not standing for war, for not being led into the abyss by the American war machine who bomb without a plan (other then throw more bombs), who have no exit strategy (which leads to endless war), who for their lack of foresight are then forced into alliances with despots and tyrants like Irans Mullahs, Assad and Putin. Who spread arms to the insurgency de jour only to go to war with them in the future. Who commit drone murder even now in the Horn of Africa so that we can look forward to even more countries to go to war with. We are complicit in all of this, like the Muslims who remain silent when the terrorists kill our own.
    The terrorism will never end till we stop buying Saudi oil, stop killing innocents in bushel loads and stop the occupying forces we put into places like Iraq and Afghanistan which we were then forced to abandon, contrary to your comment. The idea that we stand with France through war is vulgar flag waving and false patriotism. I take it your children, if you have any, won’t be fighting this in this disgusting display of solidarity.

    You may attack any of the strategies/tactics I propose, I welcome that. Individually, they may have weaknesses and they have their strengths. But in total they present a slate of ideas that obviate the need for the single minded strategy of war that you propose. If war there must be, and France and the US seem hell-bent on lobbing bombs, then let them fight away. Let’s assist in other ways.

    • I stand by my comment on Black and Ambrose. I find that everything I’ve read or heard from them to be at best neo-con cliché or despicable nastiness, lies and obfuscations.

      I don’t know much about Rona Ambrose or her views, but I’ve read a reasonable amount of Conrad Black’s writing and I think you’re being unfair. He may have an overall neoconservative perspective, which I don’t have much more time for than you do, but some of his ideas and positions fall well outside that ideological box. During and after his prison sentence in the United States he argued vociferously for reform of their penal system, which he saw as vengeful and out of control. Admittedly, it took firsthand experience of the tender mercies of American “justice” to get him to adopt that position, but at least he was intellectually honest enough to see that there was a systemic problem extending beyond the way his own case was handled.

      I stand fully with France by not standing for war, for not being led into the abyss by the American war machine…

      Your apparent insistence on denying agency to anyone who isn’t American is odd. The French have their own very respectable war machine, even if it’s not as large and sophisticated as the American one.

      The terrorism will never end till we stop buying Saudi oil, stop killing innocents in bushel loads and stop the occupying forces we put into places like Iraq and Afghanistan which we were then forced to abandon, contrary to your comment.

      I don’t see where in this thread I’ve even addressed the withdrawal of Canadian forces, or other Western ones, from Iraq and Afghanistan. But for the record, I don’t think there was any forced withdrawal, just a growing and quite understandable sense of exhaustion and futility. As for what it would take to “end” terrorism, sure, less meddling in the Middle East would help. That’s not incompatible, though, with retaliating against organisations like the Islamic State when they do launch terrorist attacks.

      I take it your children, if you have any, won’t be fighting this in this disgusting display of solidarity.

      I don’t have children, but if I did I’d be happy enough to see them dropping bombs on the Islamic State. The risks to the pilots are relatively small, which is one reason I think retaliatory bombing would be a good idea.

      You may attack any of the strategies/tactics I propose, I welcome that. Individually, they may have weaknesses and they have their strengths. But in total they present a slate of ideas that obviate the need for the single minded strategy of war that you propose.

      I don’t really see how, to be honest. Cajoling Saudis and Turks is unlikely to lead to real changes in their policies unless there’s some especially forceful method of cajoling that you know about and I don’t. Training and equipping local ground forces just produces well-trained and well-equipped units that will eventually go on to pursue their own interests, which probably won’t coincide with Canadian ones (to say the least). Interfering less in the Middle East would probably be a good strategy in the long term, but doesn’t offer much in the current situation – the aftermath of a big attack in Paris, and now a multi-day state of virtual shutdown in Brussels. Refusing to go after the Islamic State in those circumstances sure as hell doesn’t seem like standing with the French to me.

      • Well we’ve gone around this a couple of times so we should probably agree to disagree but last thoughts. From my perspective not reacting to terrorism steals their oxygen. They have gained recruits from every escalation in their terror attacks and from our belicose reactions. We have not had a succesful war against ideology in my memory (with the exception of the cold war – no shots fired). These wars are very much proxy wars for the US et al. I know it sounds nice to jump in and pump up the volume, but I just see that we have more than enough history to show us how bad the results can be. I would prefer we underplay the impact of terrorism and celebrate France’s joys than suffer her sadness. Let’s all go as tourists and really show solidarity. You can buy me a glass of wine.

  6. I agree with Corwin, only I differ in that we should not only
    act for France but for ourselves. The ISIS bandits will not
    stop their atrocities until they are confronted and defeated.

    They are like the hordes from centuries ago, they will attack
    until stopped.

  7. After France and Russia have completed their police actions and their military retributions, here in North America we will still have the multicultural wrangling over youth education, public worker dress codes and family welfare responsibilities.

    American and European religious franchises will continue to drain Canadian resources and encourage division within our neighborhoods. To this mix of fractious fable ferment we have now added Islam’s ponderous social scholarships.

    It would be nice if the refugees coming to Canada knew what a secular society was and that they readily embraced this concept. Considering the lack of appreciation for secular values amongst our own population, this seems highly improbable. We probably have rules in place to prevent us from knowing about their views on secular responsibilities. I really have no idea how far the ‘right to believe nonsense’ has penetrated the immigration service.

    I don’t see Canada benefiting from any of the likely outcomes in Syria. Ridding our country of Abrahamic abuse will continue to consume a lot of our time and finances.

    Possibly the American plan was to arm the IS by leaving stockpiles of weapons seeded strategically around the area. This would be somewhat reassuring in that it would make the Americans seem to be more in control of their actions. The last time they purposely, or unintentionally, armed the enemy they ultimately got kicked out of Vietnam.

    I don’t see our plan to train any of the factions around that area as a promising strategy. That region is suffering from a mental-illness-like plague. We don’t have the secular psychological resources to treat the violent and dangerous patients over there. Killing them seems to be the most frugal alternative.

    If killing these dangerous creatures is our only affordable alternative, then the French coalition will have to create the effective killing apparatus to do the job. This will likely entail massive ground forces supported by massive close-quarters aerial support. When this is over the overpopulated and poverty stricken area will probably become more overpopulated and more poverty stricken.

    The aftermath in Vietnam included a great increase in their population. The increase was created by the live-for-the-moment psychology within the war zone. We took the Boat People and they still had increased numbers. We will have a population increase thanks to the Syrian refugee project and they will have an even larger population explosion thank to the war zone psychology.

  8. @Joe

    Fundamentalism describes a very specific Christian movement.

    At this point, I think that’s like saying the word “fascism” describes a “very specific” early 20th century Italian movement and should never be used with reference to other times and places. Some descriptors grow beyond their original contexts. The word “fundamentalism” has, at the very least, a well-established and perfectly respectable secondary usage as a label for literalist, originalist, anti-intellectual tendencies within any religion.

    The Middle East is complex, but American freedom-meddling has been the driving force behind most of the recent problems.

    I’d prefer to say it’s been one driving force. The Americans haven’t been the only freedom-meddlers (just ask Tony Blair), and of course there are factions in Middle Eastern countries that would push for liberalism and democracy with or without external encouragement. America also isn’t the only country outside the Middle East that’s been selling weapons and cutting deals in the region, often to the advantage of Arab monarchies and other governments that could hardly be described as being on the side of “freedom”. And of course, America didn’t draw up the zany national borders in the Middle East or create the various religious and ethnic fault lines. Pinning excessive blame on America is unfair to both the Americans (because it exaggerates their culpability) and everyone else (because it makes them seem almost impotent).

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