Is there no limit to the embarrassment our political “leaders” cause us by turning themselves inside out to avoid any possibility of risk to Canadians in the pursuit of international peace and security? The latest example, in keeping with a well established trend has them musing about helping train new leaders for the Iraqi army — but only if it can be safely done in neighbouring countries.
I’m one of a few Canadians who still admit to supporting the armed removal of Saddam Hussein. Our group gets smaller by the day in spite of the fact that outside of Quebec a number of polls showed a narrow majority of Canadians supported the invasion — until things started to go badly with the occupation. The 1948 UN Convention on Genocide obliges armed intervention when a group of people are being exterminated, “in whole or in part”. Considering that Saddam was wiping out an average of 80,000 to 100,000 of his citizens a year – Kurds, Marsh Arabs and Shiites — he easily qualified to be forcefully removed even if the UN Security Council couldn’t make up its mind (as it can’t today regarding Darfur, but I digress).
No one can argue that the coalition’s occupation of Iraq has gone well. The price paid in blood and dollars has been particularly high for the U.S. Nevertheless, political leaders have to deal with the reality they face — not with how they wish things were. There has been the first of a number of elections this year in Iraq. By all accounts it was a good deal more successful than anyone dared hope for. While the minority Sunnis, albeit the dominating group during Saddam’s reign of terror, only participated in limited numbers, the potential exists for them to play a more active role in the upcoming polls. The reality on the ground justifies some cautious optimism regarding Iraq’s future.
Meanwhile in Ottawa, the late and lamented Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill’s quip that, “All politics is local” rings truer than ever. Fearful of showing some leadership in the face of what they think the public wants, all parties are demanding a guarantee of safety before we dare send a small military contingent to Iraq. Pray tell, who would or could offer such a guarantee? All of this timidity in spite of recommendations by the Canadian military leadership to the contrary.
Mind you, none of this should come as a surprise. In the recorded history of mankind Canada is the first and only nation to fight in three wars — Gulf War 1, NATO’s assault on the Former Yugoslavia/Kosovo and the initial coalition operations against Al Queda and the Taliban in Afghanistan — without sustaining one casualty, let alone a fatality to enemy fire. In no way does this fact negatively reflect on the men and women of the Canadian Armed Forces who participated in those campaigns, but it does strongly indicate, supported by fact, that the governments of the day were obsessively casualty adverse, particularly during Gulf War 1.
For some odd reason this same aversion did not apply to deployments erroneously anointed “peacekeeping”. During a decade of operations in the Balkans, 27 Canadian soldiers were killed and more than 100 were seriously injured. All without fanfare or parades. Perhaps that is why government leaders continue to mislead the public about our current outstanding reputation for “peacekeeping” around the world when in fact we are a bit player, currently ranked 36th in commitments behind countries like Fiji and Nepal. Presumably, our leaders have decided that the loss of life in peacekeeping operations — even if such a title is inaccurate and intentionally misleading — is acceptable. On the other hand, risk in any warlike undertaking is not.
As horrifying as it is for most Canadians, perhaps — just perhaps — George Bush was right! Considering Saddam’s annual killing sprees, and even accepting some of the outrageously exaggerated estimates of Iraqi civilian casualties during the occupation — up to 100,000 in some reports — many more Iraqis would have been killed if Saddam was still in power. Add to this the fact that the killing of Iraqis at Saddam’s rate will not continue for the next decade, and the wisdom of the invasion and the need for the international community to assist with the rebuilding of the country is self-evident.
Just over a decade ago Canada was regarded as a major player on the world’s stage. With less than one per cent of the world’s population we were doing over 10 per cent of the dirty work in Cambodia, Croatia, Bosnia, Somalia, Rwanda, Cyprus and the Middle East. Others marvelled at our omnipresence, our commitment, our influence and as a result, our reputation. Now the writing is on the wall, as the only country saying that about us is ourselves, no matter what our leaders say to the contrary.
If the training of the Iraqi army’s leaders is an important step on the road to enhanced security in that country, thereby permitting the withdrawal of the coalition forces, Canada should be there making a valuable contribution and not peering over the border asking , “Is it safe to come in yet?”.
By Lewis MacKenzie, Maj Gen, SBSTJ, O Ont, MSC, CD