By Scott Taylor
At every opportunity, the Harper government is ramping up the rhetoric against Russian aggression in Ukraine. The usual media toadies gleefully report that, in order to back up his tough words, the prime minister has put “boots on the ground” to make Russian President Vladimir Putin think twice before trying to seize any more territory.
Unfortunately for would-be sabre rattlers in the Harper brain trust, the 200 combat soldiers deployed as trainers to western Ukraine are but a tiny token in the grand scheme of things.
Following partial mobilization, Ukraine’s armed forces number nearly 270,000 members — the largest army on continental Europe — and that did not give Putin pause for thought before he annexed Crimea.
There have also been reports that another 200 Canadian soldiers were conducting a NATO training exercise in Romania. This too was touted as proof of a further deterrent to Putin. To drive home the point of how serious this was, Defence Minister Jason Kenney told the media that the Romanian exercise was “very real.” As a personal aside to the honourable minister, I would like to point out that an “exercise” cannot be “real.” It is either one or the other.
The very fact that we deployed a token number of trainers into a non-NATO nation that is embroiled in a civil war eliminates whatever moral high ground Harper had when he famously quipped to Putin, “Get out of Ukraine.” If it is morally wrong for Russia to militarily support a Ukrainian faction in this civil war, then it must be equally wrong for Canada to be fuelling the other side.
While on the topic of moral high ground, had Putin been quicker on his feet when confronted by Harper, he could have responded to the “Get out of Ukraine” comment by retorting, “Fix Libya.”
The crisis in Libya can best be described as a failed state enmeshed in violent anarchy.
There are two rival governments — one in Tripoli and one holed up in Tobruk. Neither of these two self-proclaimed administrations has any real authority, as various militias control their own fiefdoms. The lawlessness and abundant weaponry has attracted a cadre of ISIS fighters who have now captured vast tracts of Libya, including the city of Sirte.
Without law and order, human traffickers have run amok. What had previously been a clandestine trickle of illegal migrants has become a veritable tsunami of human beings seeking access into Europe. The overpacked, unseaworthy vessels have often capsized and sunk, resulting in the deaths of more than 1,800 refugees this year alone.
The migrant crisis has become so severe that the European Union has proposed taking pre-emptive military action in the form of sinking the Libyan vessels before they can be put to sea with their human cargo. It is highly unlikely that such a military intervention, aimed solely at stopping the flow of refugees, would be sanctioned with a United Nations resolution. Russia holds a veto as a member of the permanent UN Security Council, and it has already expressed the opinion that destroying the migrants’ boats would be too extreme.
For the sake of historical record, it must be remembered that it was a UN resolution back in 2011 that led to the present state of anarchy. In March of that year, President Moammar Gadhafi had survived an initial rebellion, which had begun in the eastern Libyan city of Benghazi. His loyalists had rallied and the rebels were fleeing in full retreat.
Fearing that Gadhafi would use his air force to punish civilian supporters of the rebels, the UN hastily approved Resolution 1973, authorizing NATO to enforce a no-fly zone over Libya. For the record, both Russia and China abstained from the vote. Canada happily took command of that allied operation, supplying six CF-18 fighter jets, two Aurora maritime patrol aircraft and a patrol frigate in addition to Lt.-Gen. Charles Bouchard, who became the overall NATO force commander.
In the end, Gadhafi never even attempted to bomb his own people, but NATO planners immediately discarded their no-fly zone mandate and instead embarked on a massive aerial bombing campaign aimed at defeating Gadhafi and effecting regime change. That was finally accomplished with Gadhafi’s brutal execution on Oct. 20, 2011.
The problem, which soon became evident, was that no one had given any thought of who would replace Gadhafi. Instead of a regime change, NATO only implemented a “regime removal.” The diverse militias that ousted Gadhafi refused to disarm and immediately began fighting one another.
As much as the Harper government would love to ignore the mess it created in Libya and blame it on someone else, there is no undoing the elaborate victory parade we staged when we claimed credit for the “success.”
Before poking Putin in the chest over Ukraine, Harper needs to consider all the death and suffering that continues as a result of our own blundered intervention in Libya.