Fear and Freedom: The premise for war

By Jason McNaught

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets are refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron on October 30, 2014, over Iraq. (Combat Camera).

Royal Canadian Air Force CF-188 Hornets are refueled by a KC-135 Stratotanker assigned to the 340th Expeditionary Air Refueling Squadron on October 30, 2014, over Iraq. (Combat Camera).

Get the gun, Annie! The jihadists are at our doorstep again, waving their black flags and calling out the infidels.

During WWII, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt repeatedly argued that Americans needed to fight the Nazis “over there” before they came looking for a fight on their shores. Throughout the administration of George W. Bush, the U.S. president repeated this mantra, stating, “If we don’t fight them over there, we’ll have to fight them over here” and “if we leave [Iraq], they will follow us home.”

Not long ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper began using the same language to justify Canada’s response to the surge of the Islamic State across Iraq and Syria (ISIS). “When we recognize there is a threat like this that has to be done, and it involves our own interests, we do our part,” Harper said. “We do not stand on the sidelines and watch.”

And Canada had been watching; ISIS execution videos streamed through our social media feeds and churned our guts. ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-Adnani warned us that we “will not feel secure even in our bedrooms.” Another militant threatened, “We are coming [for you] and we will destroy you.”


Selfish Strategists

“Fighting them over there” isn’t really sound logic based on recent history. Iraq, Afghanistan, and Libya provide more than enough evidence to suggest that getting one’s hands dirty in another nation does not contribute to freedom and democracy. Rather, it works against those goals, eroding stability, increasing violence and strengthening anti-Western views.

Islamic militants have been around much longer than the war in Afghanistan or Iraq, and their preoccupation with hating the West is not a new concept. What evidence suggests our law enforcement and intelligence officials — who’ve done a good job at foiling terrorist plots on Canadian soil up to now — won’t be able to do so in the future?  

Canadians are shortsighted, selfish strategists. Just because Canada is a democratic nation, it doesn’t mean that every opinion in Canada is an informed one.

A NANOS poll conducted in October and November 2014 showed that the majority of Canadians supported sending Canadian fighter jets to participate in airstrikes in Iraq, but opposed the idea of having soldiers fight the Islamic State on the ground.

How many Canadians, when responding to that survey, would have been able to find Iraq on a map, let alone explain the various religious and ethnic divides within that country?

Using Canadian polling info to give yourself another mandate for war in the Middle East is a politically safe strategy, but is it responsible?  Do the majority of Canadian’s feel good about our participation in Libya? Better question: Do they care?


Inviting an unwanted guest

Although the West appears to be looking at the crisis in Iraq via the needs and wants of their own countries — and the misplaced fears of their own voters — it is true that Iraq formally requested assistance from the United States to help stem the advance of Islamic State Militants.

“Iraq has asked officially help from the United States of America,” stated Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari,  “…to help in directing air strikes and help on some vital targets of these groups to break their morale and to help the security forces in pushing away the danger of these groups and to start defeating them."

It would be easy to refute the argument against the self-serving nature of our mission in Iraq if it weren’t for the fact that their government didn’t want America’s help until the Islamic State was on Baghdad’s doorstep. Former Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad Allawi was quite clear about the American presence in Iraq following the toppling of dictator Saddam Hussein: “Keeping Americans in Iraq longer isn't the answer to the problems of Iraq. It may be an answer to the problems of the U.S., but it's definitely not the solution to the problems of my country.”

Don’t be fooled into thinking that Iraq wants the West to take over this war in the name of Iraqi citizens. It doesn’t.

After the U.S. installed Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki in 2006, the virtually unknown leader turned against the United States, undermining their interests (and using their money) to create a Shia-dominant government with close ties to Iran. Naturally, many Iraqis think that the United States has an axe to grind, and has created the Islamic State to destabilize the country and capitalize on the chaos.

Whether or not that’s true is being hotly debated on plenty of non-mainstream media websites. The West’s involvement in Iraq is bad medicine for Iraqis, and the fact that we recently stood by during a joint Iran-Iraq effort to free the city of Tikrit doesn’t help the argument that we want what’s best for them.


Watch closely

So let’s review: ISIS sweeps across Iraq and lands on Baghdad’s doorstep. Iraq, who’s fighting ISIS with the help of Iran, calls on the Americans to stop their advance. America calls upon a broad coalition of countries, including Canada, to send in special forces to assist training the Iraqi army and militia groups in addition to mounting airstrikes. Our government — and the media — raise fears that Islamic State militants will begin attacking us on home soil, and Canadians give them a mandate to “kill them over there.”

And then things get more confusing. Many Iraqis (and Muslims across the Middle East) are sceptical about the West’s intentions, and do not want them meddling in the affairs of their nation. And then, in order to assist the Iraqi government, Canada begins helping the Kurds, who aren’t actually fighting for the Iraqi government, but for the security of the own autonomous region, and the creation of their own independent state. The Kurds, while enemies of ISIS, have used the war as a pretence to expand their own territory in the region, taking advantage of a weakened Iraqi government while expelling Sunni Arabs from their homes across Northern Iraq.

Now, as Canada continues past the six-month mark of their mission in Iraq, the allied effort has turned the tables of the war. Instead of expanding their territory, ISIS is now pulling back to entrench themselves in Syria, home of another evil despot, Bashar al-Assad.


To Syria… and beyond

Defence Minister Jason Kenney recently appeared on CBC’s The House and stated that his government would not rule out moving into Syria to chase down Islamic State militants. What he didn’t mention is that entering Syria could also set the stage for the removal of the Assad regime — a two-birds-with-one-stone approach. If that doesn’t seem like an enormous mess already, throwing Russia — a Syrian ally — into the mix probably won’t help. And don’t forget Iran, another enemy of the West, also fighting ISIS, and also a Syrian ally.

One has to wonder where it stops? The United States is already arming “vetted” militia groups in Syria to undermine Assad’s power, and their ally, Qatar, is also pushing hard for the removal of the Syrian Regime. Emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani told CNN this past September, "If we think that we're going to get rid of the terrorist movements and leave those regimes doing what — this regime especially, doing what [Assad] is doing — then terrorist movements will come back again.”

Saudi Arabia’s Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Saud also takes a hard line against Assad, and the protection that the regime is afforded through Iran. “Remove the Iranians and I bet you anything that it wouldn’t take more than a few weeks or a couple of months to bring Assad to his knees… we have to negate Assad’s military superiority because he won’t negotiate until then.”

The West has done a brilliant job at creating power vacuums across the Middle East in the name of democracy and freedom, but everything that’s come out of those conquests has yielded instability and civil war, which Canadians only seem to want to fix when we’re directly threatened by the conflicts.

Following America into Syria has the potential to turn a regional war against the Islamic State into a global conflict — and at the very least, will completely eradicate any structure or governance the country is now clinging to through the Assad regime. And if the United States et al. do not have a plan to prevent that from happening (beyond building U.S. military bases) we shouldn’t think about pointing our guns there.


Understanding the conflict

If we’re not doing this for Iraqis, or for Syrians, then why are we doing it? Can we really believe that our current strategy will discourage Anti-Western sentiment in the Middle East, and eliminate the threat of terrorist attacks from foreign terrorists? Philip H. Gordon, now Special Assistant to the President and White House Coordinator for the Middle East, North Africa, and the Gulf Region, doesn’t think so. In 2007, he wrote that an attempt to eliminate the terrorist threat would only lead to more terrorism, not less. Instead, he argued, America should pursue the reduction of the risk of terrorism to “such a level that it does not significantly affect average citizens’ daily lives, preoccupy their thoughts, or provoke overreaction.”

How does he propose to do this? Gordon explains that victory will only come “when the ideology the terrorists espouse is discredited, when their tactics are seen to have failed, and when they come to find more promising paths to dignity, respect, and opportunities they crave.”

We know that past wars in the Middle East have failed to achieve this, but our strategy doesn’t seem to change. The Iraqis were better off with Saddam. Libya was better off with Gadhafi. Western voters didn’t give their governments the mandate to ensure long-term stability in those countries … and we can be sure that Canadians aren’t prepared to do what is necessary for Iraq, and potentially Syria, once we beat back the Islamic State.  

If Canadians aren’t prepared to commit to the long-term success of the Middle Eastern nations we’re dropping bombs on (i.e., Afghanistan and Libya) we need to take a long, hard look at how we’re involved. 

Shedding our fears about the terrorist threat at home means that we need to stop giving Muslims in the Middle East every reason to hate us.

Writing in his blog about a recent interview with Jordan’s King Abdullah, Fareed Zakaria, a well-known political commentator in the United States, referred to the conflict as a struggle within Islam. “It’s a cultural war that has to be waged by Muslims,” Zakaria writes. “If outsiders such as the United States want to play a role, they should listen to and support Muslims fighting the good fight.” King Abdullah agrees. “It’s not a Western fight,” he says. “This is a fight inside of Islam where everybody comes together against these outlaws.”

If we want to reduce the terrorist threat, perhaps we should attempt to restore our image in the Middle East, not by “killing them over there,” or by refusing refugees based on their religion, but by spending our money on winning hearts and minds through support for Iraqis displaced by the war. What would they rather have? Four of our CF-18s taking pot shots at Islamic State targets, or water, shelter, and food?

Maybe it’s time to ask them.