Weaponizing Refugees Part II

Corporealism XIX: Body Politics in the Middle East

Weaponizing Refugees Part II

by

Howard Adelman

Yesterday I set forth General Breedlove’s thesis that Russia deliberately instigated the flow of hundreds of thousands of refugees into Europe to destabilize the EU and weaken its resolve in countering Russia’s expansionist aims.

What are the facts? First, as of about six months ago (September 2015), approximately 4 million refugees were produced by Syria in addition to another 7-8 million internally displaced, about half the population in the country. This was before the significant. Russian intervention that began at the end of September last year. Can the main cause of the displacement of about half a million more Syrians since September, and expectations that in 2016 we will see even more Syrians flooding Europe than the record number of about one million seen in 2015, be traced to that Russian intervention? And even if it can be, can that result be connected to a deliberate attempt by Russia to use the refugees to destabilize Europe?

There is a correlation between military attacks and displacement. In March of 2012 when we witnessed the first really large waves of refugees since the civil war began a year earlier, 2,000 fled to Lebanon after the attacks on Homs. Up to 20,000 arrived in Turkey and, in anticipation of tens of thousands more, Turkey built refugee camps in Hatay, Kilis, Gaziantep and Sanlurfa. Already 80,000 had arrived in Jordan. With the April 2012 offensive by the Syrian army before the first of many UN-sponsored peace plans went into effect, 25,000 Syrian refugees arrived in Turkey in just over a week. The total number of refugees in Jordan increased by a whopping 50,000, from 80,000 to 130,000.

The refugees then were mostly women and children as the younger men mostly stayed behind as volunteers to fight Assad. As the numbers mounted by ten thousand a month, by August we recorded the first refugees getting on boats to reach the EU. Between August and December, the number of refugees quadrupled so the numbers were beginning to approach a million.

Russia was nowhere in the picture then, other than as a contractual supplier of weapons to the Syrian government. Russia’s exports of arms to Syria – roughly 1.5 billion dollars per year, including MI-25 helicopter gunships, the Buk-M2 air defense system, Yak-130 jet trainers – represented 10% of Russia’s military export trade. Amnesty International charged Russia with being complicit in crimes against humanity. Does anyone believe Assad had forced a million people into exile to undercut the unity of the EU?

In 2013, 2,000-3,000 refugees left Syria every day so that, by the end of the year, there were a million more refugees escaping violence and chaos, searching for shelter, food, water and medical supplies. Double that number simply went to other safer parts of the country, at the time, relatively untouched by the war. America, not Russia, began its meagre military contribution to the Syrian rebels. During that year, almost 5,000 refugees crossed to Italy.

Sweden offered 8,000 Syrian refugees permanent residence and family reunification for asylum seekers. However, the EU and state governments largely ignored warnings that such moves would both create a pull factor and lead to the creation of smuggling operations by organized criminal units. As is typical in countries of first asylum, each in turn developed compassion fatigue and tensions arise in each of the countries as the intake was not matched by any even modest orderly departure and resettlement programs by the West or even in any reasonable sharing of the humanitarian burden.

At the very same time, in September of 2013, Russia in a diplomatic initiative, perhaps more to prevent an American air intervention than for any humanitarian considerations, initiated the diplomatic move to destroy Syria’s chemical weapons. At the same time, The New York Times published Vladimir Putin’s op-ed (12 September 2013) urging the U.S. not to intervene unilaterally in Syria and to seek a negotiated settlement. Russia argued all along that any effort to promote domestic reforms in foreign states based on ideological preferences (whether communist or liberal revolution) usually resulted in disaster rather than progress.

But the crisis only grew as a million more refugees were produced in 2014, now coming primarily from areas captured by ISIS, which suddenly emerged as a potent force in mid-year. Can anyone rationally claim that Russia was really the invisible hand behind the rise of ISIS? The number of Syrian refugees totalled about three million.

During 2015, another million refugees fled largely to Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Turkey opened its exit gates and, by the end of the summer, over 303,000 asylum seekers had flooded Europe; almost 90,000 arrived in Germany alone. By the end of the year, the number of refugees reached 4 million and at least one million had fled to Europe, most after the Russians intervened at the end of September. Did Russia intervene to instigate a greater flight to Europe with the purpose of undermining the EU? Or did the milquetoast support of the rebels by the West over the previous few years influence the rapid exodus over the last two years? Did Western weak support reach an apex when 60 U.S. trained Free Syrian army fighters entered Syria from Jordan and were quickly decimated by the al-Qaeda affiliate, the al-Nusra Front?.

Compare that to the robust intervention by the Russians, approved unanimously by the Federation Council (Russia’s equivalent to the American Senate) – 12 Su-25 ground attack aircraft, 12 Su-24 interdictor aircraft, 6 Sukhoi Su-34 bombers, 4 Su-30 combat aircraft, 15 attack and rescue helicopters, surface-to-air antiaircraft systems, BM-30 missile launchers, surveillance drones, 6 T-90 tanks, 15 large pieces of artillery, 35 armoured personnel carriers and an initial instalment of boots on the ground in the form of 200 marines, all serving to help revive Assad’s prospects. That alone made many Syrians give up on the idea of ever returning home. The lesson: if you are going to intervene militarily, don’t simply stick a pinkie in the cauldron.

If Russia all along had a secret plan to destabilize Europe by producing millions of refugees, why did it lead the world in efforts to end the Syrian civil war in 2012 and put pressure on Assad to agree to reform the constitution and the electoral process?  Why in April 2012 did Russia agree to a UN draft resolution to provide UN observers to monitor the cease-fire with Assad agreeing to return his troops and heavy artillery to their bases? Russia’s bottom line throughout the war was that Assad had to stay in power, presumably under a reformed system, otherwise a vacuum would be created for an extremist Islamist takeover of Syria, an outcome absolutely antithetical to Russian interests.

Since there is no evidence whatsoever of Russia intending to produce more refugees or intending that those refugees head for Europe, or even envisioning that 1 million refugees among a population of 350,000,000 could break the back of Europe, why would anyone even entertain a hypothesis of the “weaponization of refugees” when there are much easier explanations, all much more compatible with the facts? Unless the charge is really not intended to explain the movement but distract attention away from the West’s role. With the exception of Sweden and Germany, there is virtually no significant evidence of Western states engaging in any responsible large scale burden sharing.

Without widespread political leadership championing a humanitarian approach, again with German Chancellor Angela Merkel being the exception to show most leaders up, there is no one to combat the usual widespread populist insecurities that accompany wide scale immigration into a country, especially when it is uncontrolled migration. So right- wing parties thrive and states, beginning with the right-wing government in Hungary, close their gates to refugees. The backlash was in full swing. That cannot be blamed on Russia, even though Russia played a significant role in perpetuating the war and exacerbating the fears.

At the end of February 2016, there were almost 2.7 million Syrian refugees in Turkey, 1.2 million in Lebanon, 630,000 in Jordan, a quarter million in Iraq and absolutely zero in any of the Gulf Arab states. It cost Turkey alone $8 billion a year in humanitarian assistance, with only 60% of that amount promised to be offered for distribution among all the first asylum countries in 2016. As ruthless and self-serving as Russia has been throughout the crisis, while offering zero opportunities for resettlement (though some Circassians managed to get back to their original homes almost a century earlier in the Caucasus), how is it possible to ascribe the blame for this crisis to a deliberate plan of Russia? Frankly, it is a preposterous thesis!

Given the extensive bombing, strafing and counter-attacks by the newly-equipped Assad forces on the ground and air strikes from the sky, it should be no surprise that an additional half a million refugees were the result. But was that the prime goal of the bombing? Was the increased record flows from Turkey into Europe, at a pace exceeding even last year’s, a result of this increased intensity in the fighting? Or had the refugees concluded that the civil war had been lost, a by-product of a conviction that Assad, with Russian backing, would not fall, and that territory controlled by the “moderate rebels” now would be re-captured? This belief was reinforced when the Americans would not even introduce a no-fly zone to protect the moderate rebels. Besides civilians getting out of the way of the battle, most had finally lost all hope of a succession by a more liberal regime. The rise of ISIS had not helped, but in various interviews it has not been hard to detect that the refugees had given up on Syria as their home and that they merely wanted to live somewhere else in relative peace and security.

Yet the “weaponization of forced migrants” thesis has received some high level support. Senator John McCain, a former Republican candidate for president in the U.S., has adopted Greenhill’s position. He claimed that President Vladimir Putin “wants to exacerbate the refugee crisis and use it as a weapon to divide the transatlantic alliance and undermine the European project.” That Russia wants to expand its presence and influence in the Middle East is, I believe, incontrovertible. That Russia rejoiced at the disarray currently in Europe over a humanitarian approach to the Syrian refugees is likely. But that Russia intended precisely such a result, that long preceded its own large ramped-up involvement almost six months ago, is barely credible even when endorsed by an American air force general charged with the responsibility for the military defence of Europe. Turkish Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoĝlu joined the chorus. Russia is “behaving like a terrorist organization and forcing civilians to flee” by carrying out air strikes “without any discrimination between civilians and soldiers, or children and the elderly.”

Fabrice Balanche, from the University of Lyon, argued that Russia’s and Assad’s forces have together devised a “conscious strategy of ethnic cleansing” against Sunni Arab tribes and other groups who oppose the Syrian regime. Sunnis have been a specific target of the Assad regime. In what has been by and large a sectarian conflict between the ruling minority Alawites, a Shiite offshoot supported by Iran, and the Sunni majority, the exile of one group or the other, depending on who was winning, was to be expected. But why have so many other minorities fled, minorities that had not been persecuted by the Assad regime, but, in fact, often enjoyed the protection of that regime? Why have Armenians, Assyrians, Yazidis and other Christians, Druze, Ismailis, Palestinians and Mandaeans fled, and Circassians even returned to the North Caucasus of Russia? Were Assad and his Russian backers simply indifferent to producing refugees since they seemed to readily attack and bomb even hospitals? Balanche argues that hospitals have been deliberately targeted to force people to move.

I cannot believe that scholars, political and military leaders have bought into such a flimsy thesis! But, after all, the leading Republican candidates for president in the U.S. have spouted such extreme nonsense as to make Breedlove’s claim even seem sensible. Senator Cruz, the only remaining candidate who has even a slight chance of beating Trump in the race for a majority of delegates for the Republican Convention, at the end of last year tabled the Terrorist Refugee Infiltration Prevention Act barring any refugees coming from countries where territories are controlled by terrorists, Ted Cruz claims that 77% of the refugees “pouring into Europe right now” are young males. 63% are, not 77%. Further, single males frequently precede their families to mitigate risk and prepare a place for resettlement.

Donald Trump (17 November 2015) is far more outlandish, blaming not Russia but the Obama administration for planning to take in 100,000 to 250,0000 Syrian refugees (instead of the meagre 10,000 approved for 2016, though Trump’s imagined number would be a more responsible figure) and deliberately resettling Syrian refugees in states with Republican governors so as not to destabilize Democratic-governed states and to destabilize Republican ones, as well, presumably, to produce a constituency that will vote for the Democrats. Facts: 31 of 50 states have Republican governors and they have received two-thirds of a tiny number of just under 2,000 refugees, 41 refugees on average for Republican states compared to 36 for Democratic states. All refugees were distributed among states by NGOs, not political bodies. The intake of refugees is often a tribute to the generosity of small town America with no political role in the decision whatsoever.

Such are the extremes that the projection of illusionary and phantasmagorical intentions can reach.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Weaponizing Refugees Part I

Corporealism XIX: Body Politics in the Middle East

Weaponizing Refugees Part I

by

Howard Adelman

Today’s blog deals with “the weaponization of refugees.” This is an aside, but is relevant to the point I want to make about Canadian defence and foreign policy and the recent radical shift in Canadian policy where Canada has deliberately accepted a challenge to resettle a significant number of Syrian refugees to help play a part in easing the humanitarian crisis in the Middle East.

In that context and in the context of my writings on the Middle East, I received an e-mail from a CBC researcher/journalist asking if I was available to go on the Current, CBC’s morning current affairs show, on Thursday to discuss General Phillip Breedlove’s contention that the West had to develop a coherent policy about the “weaponization of refugees.” Breedlove is NATO’s top commander in Europe. I was not available because of a prior commitment which I could not change. This blog, hopefully, will serve somewhat as a substitute.

The phrase “weaponization of refugees.” has three different meanings. One interpretation of that phrase is about Daesh sending trained fifth columnists hidden among the refugees flooding into Europe (the returnee problem) as well as recruiting from alienated believers in Islam from among the dispirited refugees as well, presumably, from alienated Islamic youth raised in Europe. A second meaning refers to the militarization of refugees in camps which are used for raids on the country from which they fled.  The camps are used for many purposes, including R&R for militants, before launching another attack. Armed refugee camps usually de-stabilize the country in which they are located as well continue violence along the border of the country from which they fled. Sarah Kenyon Lischer produced an excellent report for the Mellon Foundation on militarized refugee populations using the refugees from former Yugoslavia as a case study.

However, there is another meaning – the use of coerced migration itself  to sow discord among other countries aside from the countries of first asylum. Philip Breedlove issued a warning in his oral testimony before the U.S. Armed Services Senate Committee last week (1 March 2016) claiming that Russia and Syria were using the pressure of massive numbers of refugees to disrupt the West, sow discord and division in Europe and weaken the Western alliance. NATO’s 28 member military defence alliance of Western nations. Given his status, Breedlove’s claim must be granted an initial credence. So his claim cannot be easily discounted as that of a crackpot.

The claim was made in his oral presentation and was not part of his written submission. I believe the written contentions are unassailable. In that written submission, he took up the issue of the first meaning of the “weaponization of refugees”, the seeding of terrorists from the refugee population flooding Europe and the recruitment of new members from susceptible youth. Breedlove pointed to three dangers. First, the threat of recruitment. “There is a concern that criminals, terrorists, foreign fighters and other extremist organizations will recruit from the primarily Muslim populations arriving in Europe, potentially increasing the threat of terrorist attacks.” Second, there is the threat from the backlash. “[L]ocal nationalists opposed to a large-scale influx of foreigners could become increasingly violent, building on the small number of attacks against migrant and refugee housing observed to date.”

Third, there are native-born and/or raised Islamicist extremists who volunteered to serve in Syria and have returned with military experience, training and enhanced ideological beliefs. “Foreign terrorist fighters remain a key concern for EUCOM and our foreign partners. Over 25,000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria to enlist with Islamist terrorist groups, including at least 4,500 Westerners. Terrorist groups such as ISIL and Syria’s al-Nusra Front (ANF) remain committed to recruiting foreigners, especially Westerners, to participate in the ongoing Syrian conflict. The ability of many of these Europe-originated foreign fighters to return to Europe or the U.S. makes them ideal candidates to conduct or inspire future terrorist attacks.”

However, a main thrust of his oral presentation focused on the third meaning of the “weaponization of refugees.” What were his arguments? At its core, it is simple. Russia in alliance with Syria is deliberately forcing Syrians into becoming refugees. The two countries are doing this with only one single purpose in mind – not to get rid of supporters of the opposition to the Syrian regime, not simply to expunge other minorities at odds with the Alawite-dominated regime, but to weaken Europe, to send massive and continuous waves of refugees fleeing westward. In their desperation for security, for safely, for shelter, for food, for medical treatment, refugees will overwhelm European structures and undermine the European resolve to resist Russia’s geopolitical aims in Eastern Europe, specifically the Donetsk region of the Ukraine and Moldova, as well as in the Middle East. Putin has once again made Russia a power broker in the Middle East. The flow of refugees has been a prime weapon of choice, hence, “the weaponization of refugees.”

The barrel bombs raining down on Syrian cities and towns where the opposition gained some strength is not just intended to degrade that opposition, but to produce a massive exodus. That exodus has a much larger political goal. “These indiscriminate weapons used by both Bashar al-Assad, and the non-precision use of weapons by the Russian forces – I can’t find any other reason for them other than to cause refugees to be on the move and make them someone else’s problem.” As if the use of barrel bombs has only been a recent development in Syria.

According to Breedlove, Russia entered the Syrian theatre with enormous resources this past year, in the fifth year of the Syrian War, not just to buck-up the Assad regime, nor just to secure its naval position in the Mediterranean and its base in Tartus, Syria. (Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov, however, on 26 June 2013 had once announced that the base was superfluous to Russian needs and no longer served any strategic military role for Russia.) Refugees flooded Turkey, not just to humiliate Turkey, an old adversary, but to suck in Turkey as an instrument of Russian policy to open the gates between Turkey and the EU in both revenge for the EU’s hard stance against Russia over the Ukraine issue, but also as a long term policy to fundamentally break the back of Europe by setting its path towards unity in a number of areas into reverse gear.

Breedlove went even further. “Russia,” he said, “poses a long term existential [my italics] threat to the United States.” Existential threat!!! One listens to Breedlove’s words and cannot help but think of Abraham Lincoln’s oft quoted famous first public speech at the Lyceum in Springfield, Illinois, called, “The Perpetuation of Our Political Institutions.” I quote at some length, even if only to read such inspiring rhetoric. Lincoln said:

We [the American People] find ourselves in the peaceful possession, of the fairest portion of the earth, as regards extent of territory, fertility of soil, and salubrity of climate. We find ourselves under the government of a system of political institutions, conducing more essentially to the ends of civil and religious liberty, than any of which the history of former times tells us. We, when mounting the stage of existence, found ourselves the legal inheritors of these fundamental blessings. We toiled not in the acquirement or establishment of them–they are a legacy bequeathed us, by a once hardy, brave, and patriotic, but now lamented and departed race of ancestors. Theirs was the task (and nobly they performed it) to possess themselves, and through themselves, us, of this goodly land; and to uprear upon its hills and its valleys, a political edifice of liberty and equal rights; ’tis ours only, to transmit these, the former, unprofaned by the foot of an invader; the latter, undecayed by the lapse of time and untorn by usurpation, to the latest generation that fate shall permit the world to know. This task of gratitude to our fathers, justice to ourselves, duty to posterity, and love for our species in general, all imperatively require us faithfully to perform.

How then shall we perform it?–At what point shall we expect the approach of danger? By what means shall we fortify against it?– Shall we expect some transatlantic military giant, to step the Ocean, and crush us at a blow? Never!–All the armies of Europe, Asia and Africa combined, with all the treasure of the earth (our own excepted) in their military chest; with a Buonaparte for a commander, could not by force, take a drink from the Ohio, or make a track on the Blue Ridge, in a trial of a thousand years.

At what point then is the approach of danger to be expected? I answer, if it ever reach us, it must spring up amongst us. It cannot come from abroad. If destruction be our lot, we must ourselves be its author and finisher. As a nation of freemen, we must live through all time, or die by suicide.

America has never been really challenged by an existential threat, a threat to its continued existence as a state, by any external power, even in the surprise attack by the Japanese against Pearl Harbour. The threat, whether in the approaching civil war in the mid-nineteenth century, in the rise of McCarthyism and dealing with the communist threat after WWII, and currently in the fear generated by extremist Islamicist terrorists, has never been existential. America’s greatest threats have always come from within.

Breedlove’s claim, though always presented in the most calm and considerate manner, is so hyperbolic that it is hard to offer a dispassionate and detached consideration of his claim that:

  1. Russia and Assad are deliberately producing a mass outflow of refugees;
  2. The sole and overtly intentional objective is to sow discord in Europe;
  3. Weakening Europe in this way poses an existential threat to the S.

“Russia is eager to exert unquestioned influence over its neighbouring states in its buffer zone… so has used military force to violate the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, Georgia and others, like Moldova.” True enough. Further, Russia exceeded any indication of the extent of its intervention in Syria when Russia indicated that it was only bringing in a few men and some material. Again, true enough, verifying the first rule of war is deception.

The phrase “weaponization of refugees” or “weaponization of mass migration” did not originate with Breedlove, but with Kelly Greenhill, an Associate Professor at Tufts University and a Research Fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. He wrote a book called, Weapons of Mass Migration: Forced Displacement, Coercion and Foreign Policy. It is no accident that “weapons of mass migration” resonates so well with “weapons of mass destruction.” For the former is viewed as a developed twenty-first century exacerbation and inflation of a technique the author dates back to WWII and that has been used almost sixty times in the aftermath of that world war.

Essentially, Greenhill argues that engineered forced migration is a strategic tool used by governments to extract concessions from other governments. Turkey when it opened its gates to allow Syrian refugees to flee westward may not have used forced or coerced migration, but it did use induced migration to extract $3.3 billion in refugee aid from the EU as well as a promise by the EU to develop an organized and coordinated resettlement program for some of those refugees.

But was this instrumentalization of migration the Syrian intent? Was this the Russian intent? And was it used, not primarily for blackmail to help out an ostensible partner with a serious domestic problem of crisis proportions, but as a tool of foreign policy to weaken and even undermine an alliance that is viewed as a threat? Was it a primary goal for either party? And to what extent is it a threat to the EU and, by extension, to North America?

Tomorrow: The Response

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

Corporealism XVIII: Body Politics in the Middle East

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

by

Howard Adelman

If I have characterized Daesh with reasonable accuracy, how should the West best fight this menace? Daesh is ensconced in eastern Syria and in western Iraq separated from the Turkish and Iranian borders by Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq controlled by Iraqi Kurds and its Peshmerga forces. Daesh also has a presence in an oil rich small area of Libya. Daesh first captured Rojava after the Syrian army retreated in 2012. The great victory was the capture of Mosul that allowed ISIL to declare a caliphate established in the summer 2014.  This key victory included the defeat of the Iraqi army which literally turned tail.

Since then, ISIS has suffered setback after setback and the number of militants identified with its cause and fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria is now estimated to have fallen from 31,500 to 25,000 altogether. (“The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria – based on an earlier assessment – was up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world.  There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters.”  U.S. White House Press Secretary John Earnest 2 February 2016)

The key force that has limited the expansion of Daesh and that has itself expanded to fill the vacuum has been that of the Kurds of Northern Iraq and Syria who have won back Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit. Within Iraq, the Kurds now control disputed Kirkuk completely. In northern Syria, the Kurds much more than ISIS are being attacked by Turkish jets.

ISIS has been pushed back. The question is not its defeat but when and how and what part Canada and other countries in the West should play in its defeat. For the dilemma is a matter of “boots on the ground.” The West has relied on the Kurds with 120,000 experienced, battle-trained and determined fighters, largely equipped by the U.S. The other force countering Daesh has been a reconstituted Iraqi army, also trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies. In the meanwhile, Russia and Iran are supporting Assad and his re-equipped army with Russian air support. Those forces have captured large swaths of territory from the American-supported Syrian rebels who lacked any air support or significant amounts of updated equipment.

In this multi-faceted war with multiple sides with some parties on the same side really engaged in supporting opposite strategies on the ground – the Turks and the Americans. The point is that the defeat of Daesh must be seen within a much larger context. The thirty million Kurds have been seeking an independent state since the end of World War I where, in the divvying up of the Middle East among the Great Powers, they were left divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and to a small extent, Iran. They now have de facto independence in northern Iraq and in parts of Syria. They are also the major boots on the ground responsible for the pushback of Daesh. But what is in it for them to combat Daesh in Mosul? It is not a Kurdish city. So the Allies are buying time to retrain and strengthen the Iraqi army. But a strengthened Iraqi army to the south of the Kurds endangers their quasi-independence. So if ISIL totally loses, they are likely to lose the strategic advantage they enjoy currently.

The other major concern is Turkey, which views the rise of the Kurds as the greatest threat they face, not Daesh. Turkey is involved in widescale bombing of Turkish Kurdish territories as well as Kurdish-controlled area in Syria under the guise of the war against ISIL. This is the paradox. The boots on the ground best able to defeat Daesh supplied by the Kurds and those supported by the Turks respectively, each for very opposite reasons, has no reason to destroy Daesh. At the same time, the Kurds in Syria have consistently ignored Turkey’s threats – such as when Turkey insisted that the red line of the Euphrates was not to be crossed by Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. The Kurds, like the Russians subsequently, ignored Erdoğan’s bluster, even when they were attacked by Turkish jets. In fact, in the battle over the Menagh airbase, the Syrian Kurds defeated the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has been a proxy on the ground for Turkey.

The problem is not the defeat of Daesh, but the political order that the allies want to emerge out of the wreck in Iraq and now the even much worse wreck in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurds are at their peak now. If the allies build up the Iraqi army now to defeat ISIL, then what will almost certainly follow eventually will be a war between the central government in Iraq and the Kurds. And the Kurds fear being abandoned once again by the West after they have done the main dirty work in stopping and pushing back Daesh.

If the Iraq situation were not complicated enough, the issue of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds exponentially increases the problem. When the revolution in Syria broke out in 2011, Turkey envisioned extending its influence southward. But Turkey has been thwarted at every turn – the rise of the Kurds in power in key parts of Syria along half of the border between Turkey and Syria, the increasing weakness of the rebels against Assad, the Russian support for Assad that has brought the two powers close to war with Turkey effectively now breaching Turkish air space almost with impunity.

More on the Kurds. They are not natural allies of the West; they have been allies of convenience. Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), may have been in jail since 1999, but he not only remains the titular head of the PKK in Turkey but the de facto head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) based in Rojava, Syria and in Kobani, Syria where the Kurds delivered a resounding defeat to Daesh. The Kurds even captured Tal Abyad on the Turkish border and sent chills up the spine of President Erdoğan. Turkey may be an ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO, but the Kurdish boots on the ground fighting ISIS, whatever their skills, courage and determination, have been helped enormously by American air cover, the very air cover the Canadian CF-18s have now backed away from providing. Further, the main spotters have not been the aircraft that Canada and other coalition partners have left in the air – they mainly confirm reports from the ground that come virtually exclusively from the Kurds who then mop up after the fighter jets have destroyed the identified targets.

The Tories have been dead right. The air strikes against ISIS have been highly effective. It is estimated that in the battle for Kobani, air strikes, leaving aside injuries inflicted, killed over 10% of ISIL militants on the ground in the months of fighting for Kobani. But that does not mean that Canada should continue participating in the air strikes. Or, for that matter, even advising and training troops on the ground. It depends on what Canada envisions as the outcome it favours and whether there is a realistic prospect of bringing about its preferred outcome.

The key factor is the de facto new quasi alliance between Russia and the U.S., two world powers that seem to once again dividing up the Middle East as spheres of influence by either side. Will the cease fire they have organized bring peace to Syria and on what terms? Shades of the end of WWI and WWII! The situation will become even more destablized when, as I anticipate, Turkey implodes under all the competing pressures and the series of failures in Turkish foreign policy under Erdoğan, matched by even greater political and economic crises at home. Kurdistan, with its apparent stability, is also seething underneath in a general context of a recession instigated in good part by the dramatic decline in oil prices compounded by corruption and nepotism.

I could go on. But my purpose here is not to lay out a political-economic and military analysis of that part of the Middle East, but merely to point to three main themes:

  1. The defeat of Daesh is not the main problem – that will come; it is just a matter of when, where and how.
  2. The defeat is not a matter of destroying an insurgency in a battle for hearts and minds, but destroying the army of a quasi-state.
  3. The main problem is regional stability; right now it is a balagan, in Hebrew, an absolute and total mess.

Begin with the immediate problem, the coming battle over Mosul and even perhaps Raqqa, the presumptive capital of the Caliphate. It is no secret that the coalition forces will be attacking Mosul, likely in the spring and certainly by summer. Will Daesh stand and fight to the last man and woman? Hardly likely. They have not done so thus far. And their sending out signals that they will is but the first rule of warfare – deceive your enemies. When claiming that you will stand to the last militant, plan a careful retreat, first of the political leadership and then of the military leadership, and finally, whatever militants can be saved while leaving enough to sacrifice as many civilians as possible in Mosul. Evidently, the political leadership has already relocated to Libya in anticipation of the next defeat. For the second rule of warfare is, when you know you have a significantly inferior force, evade direct conflict with the enemy.

Whatever Daesh suffers on the moral front, they clearly understand the basic laws for conducting war. The fact that they are ethically challenged is not only revealed in their cutting off of heads and the severe repression they practice about dress and social behaviour, but also in the moral deterioration already underway as the leadership deserts and the militants resort to corruption and smuggling civilians out of Mosul for US$500 a person. Daesh will leave behind sleeper cells to work behind enemy lines. For they realize they are at the mercy of fighter jets in the air and have to avoid open battles lest their backs be broken by the jet-fueled falcons and hawks patrolling the skies that will break their backs if they appear openly. Hence the rapid decline in missions and the ability of the coalition to release Canada from its commitment to supply six CF-18s.

In the battle against Mosul, the coalition partners have much to learn from the Israeli battles in Gaza with roughly the same population. However, the coalition has one major advantage. It can conduct a pincer movement as Kagame did in 1994 in Rwanda and allow the enemy to escape. I am convinced the allies will follow this pattern otherwise the costs to civilian lives in Mosul will be too high. A third law of warfare is that the best victories are based on building a golden bridge to allow your enemy to retreat. When they cross that bridge, attack them from the air on the other side.

The problem, to repeat once again, will not be to defeat ISIS in battle, but to win the war. And I have not read anywhere what a victory at that level will look like.  Further, unless victory in the war is envisaged, the battle may be won, but the losses will be much greater as has been the pattern in so many American wars from Vietnam on. The key problem is not victory in the battle over Mosul, but victory in the war in the Middle East. And the wars fought there, whether under a Democratic or a Republican commander-in-chief, have been disastrous because battles are being fought, not wars.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Israelis, it may be impossible to fight a real war because of diplomatic and other considerations. But that does not seem to be the case with the Americans. Except they no longer recognize what war they are fighting and what they are fighting for. Stopping ISIL is the least of their worries. The problem is that the lack of clear direction from the Obama administration is certainly far better than the mass hysteria, currently being whipped up by the Republican Party front runner. And it is not just The Donald that is the problem. He is just the loudest barker by far in the current American political circus on the Republican side. After all, it was overwhelmingly Republican state governors who announced that they would not permit Muslim Syrian refugees to enter their states. It was these Governors who initially completely ignored the laws of the United States and the Constitution.

I wrote on Friday that a core of politics is not inflaming emotions and passions. On shabat, on the day dedicated to peace, the real purpose of fighting any war has been determined. Further, the precedent must be set for skill, understanding and judgment to rule the roost. Instead, all three appear to be totally invisible on the Republican side and just barely on the horizon in the case of the current American administration in spite of its enormous efforts to reign in the war hawks.

So the coalition lacks strong and wise leadership that allows us to discern the overall goals and strategy. The U.S. was correct to release Canada from its responsibilities to continue contributing CF-18s from the war in Iraq and Syria because those jets were, in fact, no longer what was really needed. But why train Iraqi soldiers unless we want Kurdistan in Iraq eventually to be significantly reduced in size and even eliminated, and, if the course as set continues to be followed, eventually ending the dream of an independent Kurdistan. The chance to redeem just one of the major errors from WWI will be lost.

Should Canada back the Kurds, not just opportunistically as the Americans currently appear to be doing, but long term? I do not know. I am, however, convinced that unless we answer that key question, we cannot have a judicious and intelligent foreign policy in the area backed up by the limited military forces we are able to contribute. What about Turkey? Should we continue backing our formal ally Turkey which, under Erdoğan has been practicing a vicious anti-democratic policy over the last few years and one even far more dictated by a combination of whim and hysteria than even the U.S. Republicans are promising.

ISIS may be a much bigger threat than either al-Nusra and al-Qaeda because it is driven by a war strategy and not an insurgency, and it has brought sabotage and not just terror to the home fronts of its enemies. So ISIS as an organization needs to be extinguished. But let us not exaggerate the threat as U.S. Air Force General Phillip M. Breedlove, the supreme allied commander in Europe who dubbed ISIS an existential threat. The real threat is that America may be in the process of blowing up whatever degree of sobriety there is left in America and setting off a really-out-of-control wildfire. Do not light matches at home on shabat if your eventual goal is peace.

On the other hand, ISIL terrorists are not just out-of-control testosterone driven thrill-seeking teenagers. Their average age is 26. They are dedicated and sober, even if truly psychopathic martyrs for their cause. But the West in warfare can take advantage of that wish to die a martyr by making it convenient for them, without sacrificing a sense of security and swaths of civilians in exchange. They have largely been nihilistic mass killers alienated from institutions of order and cool rational judgment who use Islam as justification for their heated madness and cold compassion.

What about the NDP’s proposals to concentrate on cutting off the financing of ISIS and acquiring more intelligence on the movements of volunteers for ISIS? The latter is declining anyway. On gathering intelligence overseas, Canada lacks and in-depth capacity. As for cutting off financing that has already been underway led by the Americans and Canada is a bit player in that game.

What about the push to increase humanitarian and development aid even further? The reality is that Canada under the Liberals by ratio to population already contributes roughly the highest amount in both categories compared to the $5.1 billion in total dollars committed by the U.S. to emergency aid, the $3.3 billion EU, $3.6 billion from Germany, $1.75 billlion from the U.K., etc. As my opening paragraph indicated, the replenishment of fighters has largely been effectively staunched and ISIL which is no longer able to replenish its losses. I think these NDP suggestions look more like panic in search of a policy and a strategy, though the NDP is the only party calling for a consistent policy within an overall plan.

The real larger issue is how to contain the enormous ambitions of Iran and Russia, which has already checked Turkey. Obama has been counting on diplomacy since he is unwilling to contribute more American troops on the ground to the fight. In the meanwhile, Assad’s forces, reinforced by Iranians and Hezbollah volunteers and resupplied by Russia and provided air cover by the Russian air force, has been able to recover control of a great deal of territory and even totally encircle Aleppo, which had been under the control of America’s Syrian allies according to a study by the Institute for the Study of War in its 5 February Report. In addition, the military pressure on Kuweires Airbase has been relieved and the threat along the Mediterranean coast to the Russian fleet has virtually been eliminated, at great cost to the Turkish strategic aim of bringing down the Assad regime. Russia has emerged as a “hero” against Turkish military intervention in Iraq. Thus, Turkey’s ambitions in Iraq have been set back considerably.

The Russians and their allies conducted a very strategic operation to suck the rebels and other militants from urban areas into the open and to destroy them there, indicating that the rebels were more committed to saving civilian lives at the cost of strategic advantage, especially in comparison to Daesh. The biggest winners over the past year have been Assad, the Russians and the Iranians, though the losses on the ground for both the Iranians (143 officers alone from the rank of captain up) and their cannon fodder from Hezbollah volunteers has been huge in addition to the huge cost in dollars, which Iran could ill afford at this time, estimated at $6-12 billion per year, after having lost $450-500 billion since the sanctions took effect and while costs rise for its support of the Houthis in Yemen as Saudi Arabia directly supports the other side.

In my estimation, the current “peace” efforts offer an opportunity for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to recuperate and regroup from the recent strenuous efforts and unrestrained attacks on civilian populations, a justifiable concern that handicaps the West in the type of warfare being fought in Syria. There is clearly no comparable effort by the Western coalition to counter the Syrian-Iranian-Russian partnership and that coalition, not Daesh, has been the major victor over the last year of the war. The peace talks look to me more like a front to confer de facto victory to Assad and his backers.

So where does this put the various parties in the Canadian parliament, ignoring the separatist party in this assessment. The Tories appear to want to fight last year’s battles. The NDP seems determined to be irrelevant. And the Liberal policy may be the most delusionary since this is not a war for hearts and minds, but a typical power play by regional and international actors. If this assessment is anywhere near correct, how does it affect the development of an overall Canadian defence strategy and our deployment of troops in the Middle East? In the next blog, I will deal with the need for a revitalized defence policy and intervention policy for Syria and Iraq. Clearly it will be a sketch only since I have merely provided a caricature of what has been going on in Iraq and Syria rather than a detailed area by area analysis of this multi-sided competition for power and control in the region.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

Populism and Leadership: VAYAK’HEIL, EXODUS 35:1–38:20

by

Howard Adelman

How many times has it been pointed out to you in a discussion criticizing Orthodox Judaism or how many times have you yourself stated how absurd it is that you can put on your shoes and socks and tie your laces on shabat, but you cannot light a match or flick a switch that will turn on the lights? Yet it is the primary example of how shabat must be observed. Exodus 35:3 reads: “Ye shall kindle no fire throughout your habitations upon the sabbath day.” Why is not the first instruction about keeping shabat not about picking up an axe and hewing wood or pulling a plough? The verse immediately prior to the instruction not to kindle a fire, is the commandment to keep shabat.

35:2 Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you a holy day, a sabbath of solemn rest to the LORD; whosoever doeth any work therein shall be put to death.

Flick a switch and you’re dead. Pretty heavy! Then the next three chapters, verse after verse, are all about work, sacred work, the work of two great craftsmen in making everything that goes into the mishkan. Does it not seem odd that a parsha that begins about the sacredness of shabat and how lighting a fire is the worst desecration of the shabat should then be followed by sixty or so verses about crafting all the items in the mishkan?

But the parsha does not begin with the commandment about keeping shabat. It begins with the following:

And Moses assembled all the congregation of the children of Israel, and said unto them: “These are the words which the LORD hath commanded, that ye should do them.”

There had just been a populist rebellion led by Moses’ older brother, Aaron, a High Priest. Three thousand are killed. The rebellion is repressed. And then what happens? A reign of terror? Tyranny and repression? Not at all. All the congregation of Israel is called together, the 597,000 survivors of the rebellion, in an assembly and they are commanded to keep shabat and not light a fire. They are then asked to contribute materials and help the lead craftsmen to make all the accoutrements for the mishkan. They are commanded to keep shabat. They are commanded not to light a match or flick on a switch, but they are asked to contribute the precious materials and linen and jewels to enrich the mishkan.

Does not this echo what took place in the previous portion when Aaron solicited gold and precious metals to make the golden calf? What is the difference?

  1. And they came, every one whose heart stirred him up, and every one whom his spirit made willing, and brought the LORD’S offering, for the work of the tent of meeting, and for all the service thereof, and for the holy garment.
  1. And they came, both men and women, as many as were willing-hearted, and brought nose-rings, and ear-rings, and signet-rings, and girdles, all jewels of gold; even every man that brought an offering of gold unto the LORD.
  1. The children of Israel brought a freewill-offering unto the LORD; every man and woman, whose heart made them willing to bring for all the work, which the LORD had commanded by the hand of Moses to be made.

Your heart had to be stirred. You had to be “willing-hearted.” The gifts were “freewill-offerings.” Moses did not stir the passions of the people. Moses did not appeal to their resentments and discontent. The instruction not to light a fire is an instruction not to stir the passions of the people, not to bring the fire of anger to the temple, not to construct a community based on fear and anger. Bezalel was filled with the spirit of God, “in wisdom, in understanding, and in knowledge and in all manner of workmanship.” (Exodus 35:31) The model for the polity was not the demagogue as leader, but the craftsmen, dedicated to applying his skill and knowledge to making the world a better place, not to “making a deal.”

Wisdom of the heart not the passions of the gut. Making the polity requires wisdom, requires understanding, requires knowledge, requires skill. This is the lesson of shabat. Bracket your passions and your furies. Make the final day of the week a beacon for the week so that the light of that day can illuminate and inspire the work for the week that follows. Be wise-hearted not dumb-heated.

“[P]ut wisdom and understanding to know how to work all the work for the service of the sanctuary,” for the service of the whole community. (Exodus 36:1)

A populist leader – whether a Mussolini, a Hitler, a Franco or a Perón – says I am “il Duce.” I am your leader. Moses is learning to be a leader, not by saying I will it and therefore it shall be, for it is obvious that he was ill-equipped to be a leader in oratorical skills that can be used to arouse the passions. “They’ll waterboard them because I tell them to do it.” That’s what a demagogic leader says. That’s not how a wise leader leads. That is how a demagogue performs. A dictator is not bound by the law. A dictator is contemptuous of the law and only reveres authority and obedience. A demagogue is not respectful of knowledge and the wisdom that comes through understanding and empathy with others. A demagogue appeals to insecurities and fears. A demagogue does not respect the detailed workmanship of a dedicated craftsman and artist but instead loves the flash of the golden calf. A demagogue is careless, even disrespectful of truth, for verity does not interest him or her. A demagogue stirs up violence and uses it to exercise control for his own purposes. A demagogue feeds on abuse not on reverence.

Moses was a very handicapped leader who had to grow into his job. He himself was full of wrath which he let out in his youthful resentment by killing one of the Egyptian overlords. In his maturity, and in the face of demagoguery, he failed again. He broke the tablets of the law. He ordered the death of three thousand of his own countrymen. But he was never a narcissist who worshipped himself. Beware, not so much the worshipper of the golden calf but the leader who sees himself as a golden calf, the leader who says, my way or the highway. Moses was modest. He lacked any sense of his own importance let alone an exaggerated sense. Nothing proper was done in his name, all for the sake of a disembodied spirit who served and saved the people.

Moses was dedicated to having as many people as possible contribute to a sanctuary that was not grandiose but was grandiloquent, that spoke and reflected a respect for detail and craftsmanship, a respect for skill and work. Moses recognized his limits and lack of skills and never tried to represent himself as having a record of spectacular achievements when any examination of his historical record would show the incongruity between any grandiose claims and his own personal results. A demagogue covers up such discrepancies or dismisses them as irrelevant. A true leader knows himself or herself, recognizes shortcomings and asks others, not to do his bidding, but to participate in an enterprise of communal creativity.

Was Moses preoccupied with an obsession to be known as a strong leader or was he preoccupied with his own inadequacies and those of his people who so easily surrendered to one who skilled in self-advertisement and his own fantasies about his own supposed brilliance and the beauty of his own hands that have never been used to make an artefact or a piece of art. Moses welcomed the criticism of his father-in-law. A demagogue rejects any criticism and evades comments on his shortcomings by insult and bullying and belittling any challengers. A demagogue projects onto others worship of himself and a willingness to get on their knees and ask his favour. A demagogue is arrogant and haughty. Moses, though raised in a royal household, went forth and became a shepherd. His compassion for others was his strength. His easily stirred ire was his great weakness. Moses was never patronizing but always appreciative of skills and talents he himself did not possess.

There is no self-content in Moses, but a discontent with his own shortcomings and those of others. He loses control when under pressure and is decidedly not cool. He was not ambitious for himself and became resigned to never getting himself personally to the promised land instead of being determined to do so no matter what the cost. His centre of attention is the mishkan, not himself. Most of all, he lacked colour. He is the very opposite of Joseph with his multi-coloured coat.

So the next time you flick on a switch or light a match on shabat, think about what it is really about. Observing shabat entails reverence for a peaceable kingdom, respect for skill and craft, for knowledge and wisdom, for the warm-hearted and not the hard-hearted, for an absolute rejection of the politics of rage. Don’t light the match that can set the world on fire.

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – Defining the Enemy

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

D. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – Defining the Enemy

by

Howard Adelman

Sūn Zǐ, a 6th century BCE, Chinese general and author of The Art of War, wrote, “It is said that if you know your enemies and know yourself, you will not be imperiled in a hundred battles; if you do not know your enemies but do know yourself, you will win one and lose one; if you do not know your enemies nor yourself, you will be imperiled in every single battle.” The Greek philosophical motto from Socrates was, “Know thyself!” The complementary practical motto may be equally or even more important. “Know thine enemy.”

Characterizing ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria), ISIL (Islamic State in the Levant) or Daesh as evil incarnate and adding to it adverbs and adjectives like vicious, as the Conservatives, Liberals and, on occasion, the NDP even did, may be accurate bit it is not much help in understanding ISIS. It may help rally the forces on one’s own side, by representing the target in absolute moral language, but limiting oneself to condemnatory language does not help us develop the skills of defeating an enemy in war. By using verbs like extinguish, exterminate, eradicate, we forget that the object of all war is the defeat of the enemy not elimination. Cockroaches and termites need to be exterminated. Enemies need to be degraded and decimated as a fighting force. War is a noble enterprise. Genocide, even of a horrific enemy, is not. In my next blog, I will focus on the art of war, on the means of defeating ISIS, ISIL or Daesh. In today’s blog, I will characterize the enemy and not simply brand ISIS with colourful moral language.

It is not as if there is any shortage of scholarship on Daesh or on terrorism more generally. There is, in fact, a plethora of material. As one example, Peter Bergen, Courtney Schuster and David Sterman wrote, “ISIS in the West: The New Faces of Extremism,” for the think tank, New America (November 2015), a long essay or study of home-grown Islamic extremists who have gone off to join ISIS and whose return may pose a hidden danger to the U.S., Canada and the West more generally. David D. Kirkpatrick, Ben Hubbard and Eric Schmitt wrote a journalist piece called, “ISIS’ Grip on Libyan City [Surt] Gives it a Fallback Option” (28 November 2015). That essay describes the strategy and many of the tactics used by Daesh. More generally, there is the journal of an old friend, Alex Schmid (if you are reading this, I recall very fondly staying in your house in Holland). Alex edits, Perspectives on Terrorism put out by the Terrorism Research Initiative in Vienna, which he directs. The journal has published a number of issues filled with excellent analyses of different aspects of terrorism. His edited 2011 volume, The Routledge Handbook of Terrorism Research is a “must read” and, while terrorism is neither a legal term in international law nor a scientific classification, Alex brought together a number of depictions arrived at through examining the various uses of the term in academic literature. They are quoted in the edited volume in twelve points. I offer a pitted version.

Terrorism is primarily political in its motivation and its societal repercussions as a fear-generating coercive tactic either 1) by individual perpetrators, small groups or diffuse transnational networks to resist the real or alleged illegal use of state power, or 2) by repressive states and its spies and proxies to carry out illegal state repression. [States may practice terrorism, but states are not terrorists.] Terrorism is “a conspiratorial practice of calculated, demonstrative, direct violent action without legal or moral restraints” aimed at larger audiences and leaders utilizing shocking  brutality and  lack of discrimination,  carried out for dramatic or symbolic quality in total disregard of both the rules of warfare and of punishment. Terrorism targets mainly civilians and non-combatants for propagandistic and psychological effects on various audiences and conflict parties, assisted by the media, to instil fear, dread, panic or anxiety through threat-based communication processes to demoralize, fracture or even destroy constituencies. Terrorist tactics do not constitute war, though such acts are part of irregular warfare, but are single-phase, dual, triple or a series of acts of lethal violence – bombings, armed assaults, hijacking, disappearances, kidnapping, secret detention, torture and murder and other forms of hostage-taking for coercive bargaining. Terrorism sews insecurity and is intended to terrorize, intimidate, antagonize, disorientate, destabilize, coerce, compel, demoralize or provoke a target population and, thereby, manipulate the political process.

On 24 May 2014, a man wearing a dark baseball cap and carrying several bags walked into the Jewish Museum of Belgium in the centre of Brussels. It was 10 minutes to four. The man pulled out an AK-47 and started shooting. Ninety seconds later, three museum visitors were dead; a fourth, critically injured in the attack, would later die of his wounds. The shooter managed to escape on foot and was captured six days later, after a nationwide manhunt. He was revealed to be Mehdi Nemmouche, a 29-year-old French national who had traveled to Syria and served as a jailer for the Islamic State. When arrested, he was carrying a bag containing a Kalashnikov, a .38, cameras, a gas mask, and about 330 rounds of ammunition. Nemmouche, we now know, wasn’t working alone. He was part of a network run by his friend Abdelhamid Abaaoud, a Belgian who had traveled to Syria and became an ISIS “Emir of War” in the Deir es-Zor governate. Like Nemmouche, Abaaoud, too, returned to Europe with the intention of pursuing jihad. His efforts were more successful than his disciple’s, leaving 130 people dead in a series of attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. (Liel Leibovitz, Tablet 1 December 2015)

My friend, Raphael Cohen-Almagor, an Israeli academic now based in Britain, sent me a note promoting his own work on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. I extract from it.  “More violence. More blood. No leadership. On November 22, 2015, Hadar Buchris, 21, was murdered. She was the 22nd victim in this wave of terror attacks that has swept Israel during the past two months. 192 other people were injured in the stabbings, shootings, and car runovers of innocent bystanders. More hatred. Polarization. The radicals are dictating the agenda. Sad.”

Violence targeting civilians characterizes both acts of terror. But there is a difference. The latter, though stimulated and encouraged by a general atmosphere and positive reinforcement from the society from which the terrorist emerged, is really a random act by a random perpetrator against a random target. The former is an agent of a political entity known as ISIS or ISIL which occupies a swath of territory in Syria and Iraq as well as a segment of a splintered Libya. The first attack was subversion behind enemy lines. The second attack above took place in the heart of the land of battle for a century, the former Mandate of Palestine. Nenmouche was an Emir of War. The murderer of Hadar was a volunteer martyr without any command and control operation. To call them both terrorists defines the act taken not the agent behind the act. For the agents are radically different in the two cases.

My purpose here is to characterize ISIS more than the form of terrorism it practices. Yet ISIS is defined precisely by the way it uses terrorism, so it is incumbent to characterize the type of warfare being conducted by ISIS. In both of the above examples, the terrorists were driven by a cause that included the destruction of an enemy. In both cases, there is an asymmetry in power between the two sides, the terrorists coming from a much weaker side. The unique characteristic of ISIS is that it engages in conventional warfare rather than just asymmetrical warfare. But, like all terrorists, whether engaged in individual acts of terror, insurgency or regular warfare, the power of initiative belongs to the terrorists. Those fighting terrorism are by and large in a reactive role, certainly initially. Since in the debates, the warfare practiced by ISIS was referred to as an insurgency, it may be helpful to distinguish between the type of warfare practiced by Dsesh in contrast to an insurgency.

  1. Insurgency Warfare is revolutionary and looks towards a radically changed future. Daesh warfare is not just counter-revolutionary, it is reactionary and harks back to a past, in this case that of the Caliphate in which all Muslims were under a singular Muslim leader answerable only to Allah so the association with Islam is built into the terrorism.
  2. Insurgent warfare is clandestine; Daesh warfare depends also on wide publicity.
  3. Insurgent warfare depends on winning the support of the civilian population, hence the need for a hearts and minds campaign; Daesh warfare, on the other hand, simply wants to win command and control of the population; fear, rather than serving as a supplement, becomes the prime means of expressing its authority.
  4. Insurgent warfare depends on propaganda and an educational program to indoctrinate the local population into a new set of values, beliefs and practices; Daesh warfare appeals to a “pure” version of existing traditional values, beliefs and practices.
  5. Insurgent warfare demonizes those who hold existing political, military and economic power; Daesh warfare demonizes all other groups, not just those in power, such as Assyrian Christians, Yazidis, Chaldeans, and readily attempts to exterminate these alleged “non-believers.”
  6. Insurgent warfare operates by surreptitiously infiltrating the local population; Daesh warfare, though it may also do the latter, operates, not like traditional armies attacking and destroying the centres of political and military power of those defined as the enemy, but by attacking often disparate sources of economic power in territories it seeks to conquer, creating in the process few if any good options to destroy ISIS without destroying a good part of the civilian population and the economic assets, oil terminals and transportation routes, being held hostage.
  7. The prime targets for insurgency warfare are chosen to expand control of territory from a base and extending from there the control of more territory; the prime targets of Daesh hybrid warfare are centres of natural resources – primarily oil – which, when it captures such resources, sells the oil on the black market to fund its military operations.
  8. Insurgent warfare to succeed usually requires a patron, whether near at hand or distant – Russia for China, the USSR for Cuba – while Daesh warfare prides itself on self-sufficiency.
  9. Insurgent warfare relies on youth, but ISIS, though it recruits many teenagers, has a more mature human resource base whose average age is 26 years among males, many of middle class backgrounds with post-secondary education as well as, and unusually, many women, especially in the underground overseas.
  10. Insurgent warfare, while flouting the importance of its ideology, really depends on the weakness of the existing regime, its corruption, its internal divisions and its inherent contradictions; Daesh hybrid warfare depends more on the extension of the above so that a vacuum in the centre seems more relevant than just the traditional weaknesses, particularly when the centre of power favours one previously repressed group (the Shiites in Iraq) and the insurrection favours a previously powerful group now relegated to the margins so that the politics of resentment becomes preeminent.
  11. In insurgent warfare, intelligence primarily focuses on the militant strategies and tactics being used by the insurgent group; in Daesh warfare, intelligence primarily focuses on the supply of arms, recruits, the sale of oil and the location of its leaders and infrastructure.
  12. Defeated leaders in insurgency warfare are often executed for crimes against the people after a preemptory military trial; Daesh captives are beheaded and literally the heads are “posted” as an integral element of the politics of fear.
  13. Insurgency warfare relies on traditional propaganda based on the print media; the internet and social media are integral elements of the propaganda campaign of ISIS and subsequent propaganda campaign after a victory attack suppresses entertainment and substitutes messages that extol the organization, Allah and then the Caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
  14. When suffering defeats in their home bases, Daesh militants shift their focus to attacking the home ground of the enemy militants – Paris this past November in revenge for France increasing its aerial attacks in Syria and Libya, and a Russian airliner taking off from the Sharm el-Sheikh International Airport in Egypt in response to stepped-up Russian bombing raids in Syria.
  15. When pressed and territory is recaptured, instead of increasing its calls for recruits, Abu Mohammed al-Adnani, the ISIS spokesman, calls for Muslims to stay home and launch attacks from there “in any manner or way.” (e.g. Michael Zehef-Bibeau, a recent convert who killed a Canadian solder at the Cenotaph on Parliament Hill.)

Given this characterization of the enemy, assuming it bears a resemblance to reality, in the next blog I will explore the strategy and tactics necessary to combat Daesh.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

 

Next Blog: Strategy.and Tactics for Confronting ISIS

C. Confronting ISIS – Opposition Party Critiques

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

C. Opposition Party Critiques

by

Howard Adelman

Though the exchanges over differences between the Liberals and the Tories over the withdrawal of the CF-18s were more heated, they also lacked much substance because the differences were tactical more than strategic. In contrast, the differences between the Liberals and the NDP loomed larger because they are strategic differences and they help to make the picture both sides took that much clearer. But first we begin with the similarities. Like the Tories, the NDP agreed with and supported a number of the Liberal initiatives:

  • the increase in humanitarian aid, but based on three fundamental principles: neutrality, independence, and impartiality incompatible with an intervention mission
  • welcoming refugees into Canada
  • enhancing diplomatic engagement
  • engaging in the interdiction of both arms and funds as the critical factors in eliminating the threat and scourge of ISIS
  • make sure that Canada is the kind of country where everyone feels welcome, thereby ensuring that no Canadians would ever consider joining ISIL
  • robust intelligence capabilities
  • robust training and advising, but not in combat zones
  • a radical separation of humanitarian assistance and the military mission lest humanitarian workers be put in harm’s way
  • development aid, specifically for the Iraqi government’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts in regions liberated from Daesh

However, the NDP

  • accused the Liberals of reneging on their election promise that they would end the Conservative government’s mission
  • does not want military engagement; does not want the Liberals to follow the Conservatives in asking Parliament to approve the deployment of Canadian troops in active conflict zones while defining the mission as a non-combat one; “We in the New Democratic Party believe that this is entirely appropriate, as there are few other decisions that governments make that could be more important than placing Canadian troops in harm’s way. Yet, public debate seems to have veered into a narrow cul-de-sac over this question of whether or not this is in fact a combat mission.” The Liberals have muddied their own promise to draw “a clearer line between combat and non combat.”
  • In addition to the withdrawal of the CF-18s, opposes Canada remaining (“fully”???) part of the allied bombing mission with Canada continuing to contribute two Aurora surveillance planes, a refuelling plane and now, in addition, four helicopters to fly missions over Iraq and, with the surveillance aircraft, help paint targets on the ground for the allied bombing missions
  • “Canada could be providing a leadership role in cutting off the funding, the arms, and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.” (Randall Garrison, Esquimalt–Saanich-Sooke), particularly the $1 million to $3 million a day in oil being sold by ISIS on the world market
  • In a multilateral military mission, Canada should only participate if it has the mandate of the United Nations
  • wants figures on the proportion of trainers, now tripled, who would be in the front lines and under what guidelines
  • wants the training to include human rights and international law components
  • wants projections of the casualty count
  • wants weapons provided to Kurdish forces tracked and their use monitored
  • wants Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty
  • wants an exit strategy lest Canadian men and women in the Armed Forces are interminably put in harm’s way
  • wants criteria to determine whether the approach taken is the correct and want measures to assess the results
  • wants an overall review of defence policy in general without waiting two years to arrive at one
  • domestically, wants Canada to develop a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging based possibly on the model of Regroupement interculturel de Drummondville, but the Liberals reiterated that, while developing a de-radicalization in Canada, the primary focus would be overseas on preventing the recruitment of foreign fighters, who may be Canadian, and enhanced capabilities and measures to counter those recruitment efforts; the Liberals focus more on fighting radicalization in that region to stifle the terrorist group’s perverse and diabolical propaganda so that nobody else thinks they will go to heaven by murdering their fellow human beings.

The NDP made it clear that they did not support the withdrawal of the fighter jets or oppose the deployment of the other aircraft or additional advisers and trainers on the ground because the NDP doubted the capabilities or willingness to fight or stand in harm’s ways, as required, in the service of Canada and world peace, nor even the characterization by the Canadian Armed Forces of the mission as a hybrid one, somewhere between traditional combat and non-combat missions, but opposed misleading Canadians and calling it a non-combat mission. The NDP hammered away at the supposed record in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and queried in what way what Canada is doing in Iraq differs very much from what Canada did in Afghanistan. The NDP kept stressing the absence of clear goals and boundaries for this “combat” operation, even though Canada was in an advisory role in such battles, and, like the Tories, but for very different reasons, reminded Canadians of this past December when Canadian Armed Forces personnel became engaged in a firefight with Daesh forces.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (the Conservative representative from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) repeated the point that, “the families of soldiers well remember the 2002 friendly fire incident when U.S. jets fired on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four of them.” Of course, she used the point for the opposite rationale, to justify keeping the CF-18s in Iraq and Syria. “Our CF-18s would have known they were Canadian boots on the ground, and now we are back to relying on other countries for air cover.” She also asked whether the Liberal government was introducing anti-armour in the ground equipment to make up for the absence of the CF-18s. In another example of, what proved to be, bad questioning, Dan Albas, the Conservative member from Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, suggested that since the Liberals were now deploying four Griffon helicopters to medically evacuate people, was that not an admission that more casualties could be expected because the CF-18s had been withdrawn?

These are two of many examples of the Tories asking questions where the questioner was not prepared for an answer that would undercut rather than advance their position. As I pointed out in the last blog, this happened when the Tories insisted on blaming ISIS for genocide, only to have the Liberals endorse that description of ISIS. The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, replied to the first query above that the anti-armour capability should have been provided before the Liberal government was elected. Further, “in inclement weather, the air strikes cannot take place. If there is a threat that can only be taken care of by anti-armour capability, we need a portable system to do so, and that system is not in our inventory any more.”

 

It is not as if the Tories could not ask questions that could elicit gaps in the Liberal policy. For example, Mr. Todd Doherty, the Tory member from Cariboo-Prince George, insisted that, “If we are putting our forces in the line of fire, we want to ensure that they have every tool to be effective and ensure that they come home safety,” and asked, “Does the hon. member not believe that we should be making sure that our forces should have access to all tools to ensure they come home safely?”

Similarly, when Tom Kmiec, the Conservative member from Calgary Shepard, cited the names and numbers of all the ISIS commanders killed by Canadian air strikes, Sajjan replied, “that is exactly what has happened. The air strikes were effective and targeted, but the enemy also learns from our lessons. I remember when I was serving, I had a rule. When we were in some intense combat, we could never use a strategy twice because the enemy would always learn from it. When we looked at the analysis with our military commanders, we looked at where the mission was at, where the evolution of the enemy was at. When I asked the ground force commander, General Clark, what he needed, the first thing he said to me was ‘intelligence’. The enemy is getting smarter because of our effectiveness in the past. We need to increase our intelligence capability. Why our Canadian intelligence capability? It is effective. Why do we need to increase our training capacity? This is what is needed on the ground. This is to defeat ISIS. It can only happen with troops on the ground. It cannot be done from the air.”

So many times the Tories asked questions and only fell into traps. As well, Tories often tried to score points with irrelevancies – the 1990s role of peacekeepers was catastrophic for Canada, especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed because our soldiers were powerless to intervene. In addition to being irrelevant, the point was factually incorrect on a number of points

    1. Other than the Commander (Roméo Dallaire) and a communications unit, very few of the peacekeepers in Rwanda were Canadians
    2. The 800,000 were not killed because Canadian soldiers were “powerless to intervene” but because UN and powerful states like the U.S. would not authorize intervention.

The Liberals notably, on a much more macro level, attacked the Conservatives for losing Canada’s reputation internationally because they distanced Canada from responsible international engagement, avoided many international talks (e.g. climate change), for being forced to step out of the running for a position on the United Nations Security Council, all emphasizing the Liberal primary goal of rebranding.

The Conservatives not only attacked the Liberals for withdrawing the fighter jets and for adopting a liberal brand with a stress on the use of diplomacy internationally, but insisted that these moves were totally out of synch with Canadian opinion polls even though the Liberals won the election with a clear majority.

  • an Angus Reid poll  of February 2016 indicating that 63% of Canadians want Canada to continue bombing ISIL targets at the current rate or to increase the number of bombing missions conducted against ISIL
  • 47% believe that withdrawing our CF-18s will harm Canada’s reputation abroad
  • only 18% of Canadians polled thought that pulling our jets from the fight would have a positive effect on our international reputation
  • two out of five people, 37%, believe that Canada should continue with the current number of bombing missions against ISIL; one-quarter, 26%, believe that .the number of missions should be increased
  • 64% believe that the threat ISIL poses has increased
  • half of those people (about 30%) believe that the threat has increased significantly
  • 33% believe that Canada should increase its involvement in the fight against ISIL.

The Tories also indirectly criticized the refugee resettlement program and stressed the humanitarian aid for the refugees in the camps (Pierre Paul-Hus, member form Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles), as if the Liberals did not announce an even larger humanitarian program. Further, the Tories characterized the withdrawal of the CF-18s as a retreat rather than acknowledging an increased presence on the ground. The rebranding became the main target of the Tories who kept insisting, implausibly, that the Liberals had made a decision “not to deploy our military” (Rona Ambrose), a gross distortion. A number of valid criticisms for keeping the CF-18s in the war were missed in a continuing effort to make political points instead of analyzing and criticizing in depth the Liberal shift in policy.

The substantive Conservative Position entailed:

  • keeping the jets in theatre on the grounds that they were needed for cover for 75 troops on the ground and, if tripled, need more cover
  • even if Canada only carried out 2.5% of the strikes, Canada was one of the five countries that were bombing targets effectively
  • By withdrawing the CF-18s, Canadian troops on the ground will be relying on allies to do the heavy lifting.

The problem is, as the NDP pointed out, Canada was not cutting its military and abandoning its allies. Further, no one asked to substantiate the Liberal claim that

  • sufficient air cover exists with interoperability and communication with the ground whatever the source of the troops
  • deployment in Afghanistan did not have air cover
  • the battle requires far more robust engagement, but by a different contribution
  • the coalition has significant capability to maintain the gains the jets have achieved.

Further, the Tory claim that the policy had alienated Canada’s allies seems to have been refuted by a number of American military experts. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (the American mission), said that, “everybody likes to focus on the air strikes, right, because we get good videos out of it and it’s interesting because things blow up—but don’t forget a pillar of this operation, a pillar of this operation, is to train local ground forces. That is a key and critical part.” James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, “Now I understand you’re going to shift from doing training, which is… perhaps the most important of all. So I applaud the fact that our Canadian military and NATO colleagues will be working on the training mission with the Iraqi security forces, potentially with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north because we don’t want to send 100,000 troops or 150,000 troops like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did the Tories not have any authoritative sources to back their claim that America resents the Canadian shift?

What most surprised me about the debate, other than the even greater ineptitude than I imagined of the vast majority of Tory politicians who spoke, and other than the by-and-large enormous civility of the debate, was the number of parliamentarians who served in the Armed Forces or in overseas missions. They may not outnumber the lawyers, but there were a large number, more that I, for one, ever expected. I have not undertaken a count for the current parliament, but I am convinced from reading Hansard that the total numbers would approach that of the last parliament where 1 in 13 had military experience, “over 50 having served either in the regular forces or in reservist organizations, representing military service in a variety of operational theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.

 

Tomorrow: D. Defining the Enemy

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

A. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – an Introduction

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

A. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – an Introduction

by

Howard Adelman

Last week and the week before, the parliament of Canada debated Canada’s role in the fight against ISIS. The focus during last year’s election and the beginning of this year has been the Liberal Party pledge, executed on 15 February 2016, to withdraw six Canadian CF-18 fighter jets from combat in Iraq and Syria. Before I analyze the debate itself in the context of the larger war against radical Islamic terrorism or Islamicism, more specifically against ISIS, ISIL or Daesh, I offer a brief introduction to the formal status of the debate in the House of Commons and some historical background to the current debate.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s motion about Canada’s contribution to the fight against ISIS (17 February 2016) was not a motion asking the House of Commons to authorize the Liberal Policy. For one thing, the revision was a fait accompli. The acting leader of the Conservative Party, Rona Ambrose, contended that the introduction of the motion after the fact was disrespectful of parliament, but a motion after the decision had been made was consistent with Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s motions when he deployed Canadian military forces in Iraq in 2014 and 2015. Further, the Liberals had offered much more parliamentary time to debate the issue. Third, the government was simply asking the House of Commons “to support” a decision already made. It was a support rather than authorization motion. The authority to deploy military resources and shape goals and modalities of the military mission belongs to the Federal cabinet, not parliament. To repeat, support, not authorization, was being sought.

The motion begins, “That the House support [my italics] the government’s decision to broaden, improve, and redefine our contribution to the effort to combat ISIL by better leveraging Canadian expertise while complementing the work of our coalition partners to ensure maximum effect…” The motion was not simply about a new policy; it was comparative. The new Liberal policy was broad; the old Tory policy was narrow. The new Liberal policy was an improvement on the older, inadequate policy. At the same time, the new policy was not radically different; it was merely a redefinition. The new policy is still to combat ISIL. Was it simply to degrade, or was it to destroy? It had two key characteristics according to the Liberals. The policy leveraged Canadian expertise. The policy complemented rather than simply duplicated that of Canada’s allies.

The debate is rooted in Canada taking exception towards perceived American military adventurism. When U.S. President George W. Bush invaded Iraq in 2003, Liberal Prime Minister Jean Chrétien acted consistent with the Canadian attitude to refusing to participate in the Vietnam War rather than Canada’s participation in the Korean War, the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War and the Afghanistan War. In the latter three, Canada was a very active participant. The refusal to join the Americans in Vietnam and in the second Gulf War without the endorsement of a UN resolution was a statement about Canada’s mode of taking military action in the international arena. Though years later he would admit the war was a mistake, in 2003 Stephen Harper, then leader of the Opposition Canadian Alliance Party, in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal co-authored with Stockwell Day, the Conservative foreign affairs critic, wrote, “This is a serious mistake… The Canadian Alliance – the official opposition in Parliament – supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values.”

On 4 September 2014, when Stephen Harper was Prime Minister, he announced that Canada would be deploying up to 100 Canadian special forces in Operation Impact (compared to Operation Inherent Resolve for the American mission, Operation Chammai for the French, Operation Shader for the British and Operation Okra for the Aussies), but it was defined as a training rather than a combat mission. On 3 October, Canada assumed a combat role as well, not with boots on the ground, but with jets in the air. Harper announced the deployment of six CF-18 fighter jets, a refueling aerial tanker and two CP-140 surveillance aircraft for the war in Iraq. Air strikes commenced on 2 November 2014. On 7 October 2014, in almost similar wording to the motion passed last week, Parliament voted on party lines to “support” the Harper mission by a vote of 157 to 134. The NDP then leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, accused the government of setting off on a course of mission creep without either clear goals or an exit strategy. Justin Trudeau urged humanitarian aid instead and rather flippantly criticized the Conservatives for macho behaviour and “trying to whip out our CF-18s and show them how big they are.” In March 2015, the Canadian deployment was renewed for another year by a vote of 142-129. Targets were expanded to include ISIS operating in Syria.

The motion tabled in the House of Commons on 17 February reads:

      That the House support the government’s decision to broaden, improve, and redefine our contribution to the      effort to combat ISIL by better leveraging Canadian expertise while complementing the work of our coalition partners to ensure maximum effect, including:
  (a) refocusing our military contribution by expanding the advise and assist mission of the Canadian Armed Forces (CAF) in Iraq, significantly increasing intelligence capabilities in Iraq and theatre-wide, deploying CAF medical personnel, offering to provide the Government of Iraq ministerial liaison personnel to the Ministries of Defence and the Interior, enhancing capacity-building efforts with our defence partners in Jordan and Lebanon to advance regional stability, and withdrawing our CF-18s while maintaining air force surveillance and refuelling capability;
  (b) improving the living conditions of conflict-affected populations and helping to build the foundations for long-term regional stability of host communities, including Lebanon and Jordan;

 

  (c) investing significantly in humanitarian assistance while working with experienced humanitarian partners to support the basic needs of conflict-affected populations, including children and victims of sexual and gender-based violence;
  (d) engaging more effectively with political leaders throughout the region, increasing Canada’s contribution to international efforts aimed at finding political solutions to the crises affecting the region and reinforcing our diplomatic presence to facilitate the delivery of enhanced programming, supporting increased CAF deployments, strengthening dialogue with local and international partners on the ground and generally giving Canada a stronger voice in the region;

 

  (e) welcoming tens of thousands of Syrian refugees to Canada;
  that the House express its appreciation and pride to the members of the CAF, diplomatic and intelligence personnel for their participation in the fight against terrorism, to Canadian humanitarian workers for their efforts to provide critical support to conflict-affected populations, and reconfirm our commitment to our allies in the coalition against ISIL; and

 

  that the House note the government’s resolve to return to the House within two years with a new motion on Canada’s contribution to the region.

The debate could only proceed after Trudeau paid homage to Canada’s armed forces personnel who served with such courage and dedication. The homage was repeated by many parliamentarians on both sides of the House, But Trudeau and others could not possibly outdo the remarks during the debate of James Bezan, the PC member from Selkirk and defence critic. “I understand the incredible risk that our military services, either in the regular or reserved forces, are willing to undertake to protect Canada. Everything that we hold dear in here, our democracy – our freedom of speech, our rights and liberties – are only possible because of the incredible sacrifices made by members of the Canadian Armed Forces and the veterans who came before them. I want to pay tribute to every member who is currently serving in the Canadian Armed Forces, whether they are in the Royal Canadian Navy, the Royal Canadian Air Force, the Canadian Army, in reserves or regular forces. I thank them for keeping us safe. We do not even realize the incredible efforts they take 24/7 to keep us safe in Canada. They are the eyes of Canada on the world. They are standing on the wall to keep evil out and they are always prepared to go where no one else will go. They run toward danger. Their commitment is something each and every one of us in here should pay great respect for and thank them profusely.”

Though many tried in the debate, no one was nearly as effusive as Bezan,

“Broaden,” “improve,” “redefine,” these were the key buzzwords in shaping the program. “Comprehensive” (aiming for a durable result and utilizing the various means to achieve it), “integrated” (with allies and various other approaches), and “sustained” (i.e. multi-year), these were the key words in characterizing the design of the program. “Robust,” “comprehensive,” and “effective,” these were the key words depicting the execution. Better leverage of Canadian military assets and expertise while complementing the work of its coalition partners – that was the frame.

But what did that mean in practice?

  • Expanding the advice and training mission for the Iraqi “boots on the ground”
  • Increasing intelligence capabilities both in Iraq and the larger Middle East theatre
  • Deploying CAF medical personnel
  • Military and diplomatic liaison with the Iraqi Departments of Defense and Interior as well as with Jordan and Lebanon
  • and, the contentious issue with the Conservatives, withdrawing the six CF-18s.

The rest of the motion had to do with enhanced humanitarian aid, development aid re governance and Canada’s refugee resettlement program. What the latter had to do with a military deployment overseas became clear in the debate, a debate that began as I indicated above with Justin Trudeau offering plaudits to Canadian men and women in uniform and compassion for the family of Andrew Poiron killed by friendly fire almost a year earlier.

During this week, if I am able to stick to my plans as I write each morning, I will try to proceed according to following plan:

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – The Liberal Policy

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

B. The Parliamentary Debate over Fighting ISIS – The Liberal Policy

Justin Trudeau positioned the Liberal Party stance between the NDP, insisting on no combat role whatsoever, and the Conservatives, insisting on the retention of the air fighter jet contribution. The Canadian contribution by the Liberals was set within the context of a humanitarian operation and the larger goal of fighting ISIS in a battle for hearts and minds, of which the military role was an adjunct rather than front and centre. “When we talk about the fight today, it is not just a military fight; it is a fight for the hearts and minds of those who are under pressure to join the Islamic State.”

The issue was how best to leverage Canadian military assets. The policy was broad in its geographical application – Iraq and Syria, Lebanon and Jordan (border security, border monitoring, providing technical equipment and training facilities) – broad in the set of tools brought to the task – military and training, humanitarian programs ($870 million in aid over three years and resettlement of 25,000 Syrian refugees through government sponsorship alone by the end of 2016) and intelligence operations (re chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear security), diplomatic coordination and development aid ($270 million over three years for promoting gender and sexual equality, protecting minority rights, mine and explosive clearance, etc.). The central message – a combat mission if necessary (versus the NDP), but not necessarily a combat mission for the fighter aircraft had been taken out of the equation (versus the Tories).

The Conservative response (to be explicated at greater length tomorrow) offered a great deal of humanitarian aid and helped refugees (???), but asked, why change the military mission in the sky? Air attacks have been successful, restricting ISIS to 25% of the territory it once held in Iraq. ISIS is weaker, more isolated. ISIS is also a threat to Canada. So the direct application of force is necessary, desirable and effective.

The Liberal response to the deployment of six CF-18s: perhaps before when ISIS was spread out; perhaps before, but not when Canada is only flying 2% of the missions; perhaps before, but not when the missions have been cut by a half or two-thirds; perhaps before, but not when the next major battle is for Mosul, a very large city totally infiltrated and controlled by ISIS in which aerial bombardment would be too costly in civilian lives. And perhaps never, for the major battle is not a military one, though a military one is necessary, but one best fought on the ground with well-trained and well-equipped local troops. The central battle is psychological, sociological and political. It is one for the minds and hearts of Iraqis, especially young ones, who are attracted to joining ISIL. As one Liberal member who has coached sports teams for a number of years, argued, you have to adapt the strategy to the current field conditions.

Trudeau also argued that Canada should concentrate on its expertise in advice and training developed from ten years in Afghanistan. Trudeau implied that, even though other countries desired primarily to play a training role, Canada was one of the best countries to fulfill it. To say, as Trudeau did, that Canada does not “have any troops on the ground in the front lines,” is very misleading, for in insurgency warfare, the enemy comes to you from the side, from the back, from underneath, from within. The battlefield does not have a front line by definition.

If the Liberals were engaged in a massive rebranding operation to portray Canadians as much more on the side of the angels involved in a hearts and minds fight rather than a direct combat role, why not go all the way? Why a hybrid mission with a scanty skirt of possible and risky combat training? If political stability is key, why get involved in the killing at all? The answer was there in the debate, but indirect and not really articulated very well by Justin Trudeau or other Liberals. It depended on how you characterized the enemy. It depended on how you characterized the means to combat the enemy.

On the question of the typology of the enemy, the Tories and Liberals were on the same ground, though the Tories used more fiery and unequivocal language. Daesh, ISIS, ISIL was evil incarnate, vicious. The militants in ISIS were “homicidal maniacs.” John McKay, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Defence Minister, called Daesh, “evil, brutal, and a completely ruthless collective of organizations that specializes in the use of terror to accomplish its aims. ISIL seeks to conquer and subjugate, with the interest and intent of establishing a quasi-nation state.” Stéphane Dion, Minister of Foreign Affairs, not to be outdone by the Tories, said, This is certainly a horrible group, and no word, be it ‘genocide,’ ‘massacre,’ or ‘terror,’ is strong enough,” thereby contradicting Tony Clement’s claim that the Liberals were reluctant to characterize ISIL’s treatment of the Yazidis and the Christians as “genocide.” “This group is driven by a perverse and terrible ideology that makes young people think they will win salvation if they murder everyone who does not believe what they believe and if they kill men, women and children. We must do everything in our power to fight it.”

Dion added, “It is important that we do everything to eradicate this group.” Not defeat! Not vanquish! Eliminate. Exterminate. Eradicate. When is the last time you heard such language applied to an enemy? Daesh was characterized as perverse and diabolical by both the Liberals and the Tories.

On the question of the utility of the air strikes, they may have not only prevented Daesh from taking more territory but they helped push back the militants by providing air cover to the Peshmerga Kurdish forces. The Tories could have quoted Falah Mustafa Bakir, the top diplomat for the Iraq Kurds in the north, who said, when he toured Canada three months ago, that, “the Kurds would prefer Canada continue air strikes in Iraq and Syria.” Perhaps the Tories did not quote him because he put the position gently and added that, if Canada chooses to take another course, then the Kurds hoped that other forms of support (political presumably as well as economic and humanitarian) would be forthcoming. Fighter jets were helpful, but not absolutely necessary, was his message. The Tories tended only to generalize about the first half of Bakir’s remarks.

The smartest response to the Tory criticisms came from John McKay. “The Conservatives agree that we should triple our advise-and-assist mission. The Conservatives agree that we should double our intelligence mission. The Conservatives agree that a helicopter component is an important component to these two missions. The Conservatives agree that we should have a medical component to this mission. The Conservatives agree with the upping of the amount of money for humanitarian assistance. The Conservatives actually agree, reluctantly may I say, with the resettlement of refugees here in this country. The Conservatives kind of reluctantly agree, as well, that diplomatic re-engagement is a good thing. The only thing they disagree with is our opposition to the bombing mission continuing.” On that question, the core argument was not over past effectiveness but, given the changing circumstances, whether a re-evaluation should take place and, if so, whether the evaluation recommended ending the air mission.

That was the nub once it was agreed that a combat mission was not ruled out in accordance with NDP preferences. And the Liberals were vulnerable on this question. First, they had campaigned on withdrawing the six fighter jets, not on re-evaluating whether the continuing deployment of fighter jets should be part of the Canadian contribution. The books seemed to be cooked before the Liberals took office. They did undertake that re-evaluation when they had access to all the requisite evidence. Secondly, a number of reputable scholars on defence matters, while welcoming the overall package of changes, argued that the continuing deployment of the jets was important for the following reasons:

  • training Canadian pilots in actual combat situations
  • the need to continue the degrading of ISIL
  • the need to have air cover for troops on the ground when training missions took them into combat zones
  • the preference for Canadian jets supplying that ground cover because direct communication was better, compatible communication equipment was in play and, hence, a more rapid response could be expected, one which decreased the possibility of friendly fire on one’s own troops.

The options had to be weighed against alternative uses of resources, the significant decline in the sorties for those jets, questioning the results in the use of such expensive equipment relative to costs and whether other resources in the air from Australia, Belgium, Denmark, Jordan, Netherlands, U.K., Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and UAE could readily fill in the gap while Canadians contributed in other ways.

After reading the debates, I became convinced that the main reason for withdrawal of the six jets was not an exercise in cost effectiveness or effectiveness more generally, or whether the Canadian contribution was essential or could be made up by others given the diminution in the number of sorties. The main issue, I believe, was rebranding and the complementary strategic stress on giving priority to a hearts and minds campaign over the military one without compromising those military goals. Since neither the Conservatives (at least, on record) nor the NDP objected to either the rebranding and the new emphasis on the hearts and minds campaign, the only question, setting aside all the irrelevancies about past performance of the jets and the other errors and faults of Liberals over the past two decades, was the question of whether the withdrawal of the jets compromises a) either the overall military effort of the consortium of sixty-six countries or b) compromises Canada’s relationship with its allies or c) is the best approach given the nature of the enemy and the relevant strategies available.

Since the answer to the first two questions, as I piece it together from the replies and remarks elsewhere, seems to be “No,” no to compromising the overall military effort, and no to putting Canada offside with its allies, then the whole debate comes off as blather when it comes to Conservative-Liberal differences, all steam and smoke but a product of hot air rather than fire. The blessing was that it was conducted with great civility, a complement to the new mood of parliament, even when John McKay called Obhrai’s verbose speech “entertaining,” to which Obhrai took offence.

Obhrai, exasperated, just protested that the change was “at the expense of the most effective weapon we have in destroying ISIL.” So why did he not spend his time piling on one piece of evidence after another to try to prove that point instead of going off into a multitude of tangents? Why did he not quote from allies that “the coalition forces are a little disappointed in the Liberal government?” But more on this tomorrow. It may be true that, to the best of one’s knowledge, the CF-18s have never attacked civilian targets and have destroyed infrastructure, fighting positions, training grounds and weapon caches. The actual record after their final mission has been:

  • 251 airstrikes, only 5 in Syria
  • dropping 606 bombs
  • destroyed 267 ISIL fighting positions
  • destroyed 102 vehicles or other pieces of equipment
  • destroyed 30 improvised explosive device factories or storage facilities

I do not know, and I could not find anything to tell me, whether this was an efficient or inefficient use of resources, assuming all claimed successes are correct. I could not find any strong arguments, pro or con, to help conclude whether, going forward, the deployment of jets would be the most efficient or effective use of resources.

On the matter of allied criticism of the change in policy, on  8 February Justin Trudeau claimed that he had spoken both to President Barack Obama and Chancellor Angela Merkel and both expressed understanding of Canada’s change in policy and did not condemn it. Canada was asked to continue its refueling and reconnaissance roles and Canada complied. Bruce Heyman, the U.S. Ambassador to Canada, in his statement not only called Canada’s contributions “significant,” not only noted that Canada was among the first to join in the fight against the Islamic State, but affirmed that the new Canadian policy was “in line with the Coalition’s current (my italics) needs.”

The NDP objected to any combat role or risk of a combat role for the Canadian military. Further, when it came to repeated questions about the Arms Trade Treaty, the Liberals either obfuscated or simply went on to answer an imaginary question on another matter. According to UNODA (United Nations Office for Disarmament Affairs),

Under the landmark Arms Trade Treaty (ATT) countries regulate the international trade in conventional weapons – from small arms to battle tanks, combat aircraft and warships – and work to prevent the diversion of arms and ammunition.”

The treaty has 131 signatories, including Canada, but Canada is among the fifty countries that have yet to ratify the treaty. Yet no explanation was offered when the NDP used this debate to raise the issue. Of course, it fits in with the NDP’s major point that the prime thrust of policy in dealing with ISIS should be cutting off its access to recruits, arms and funds. But, again, more on this tomorrow.

Other than the withdrawal of the CF-18s from the air mission, what changes were being made on the ground? According to the Liberals, Canadians realized that our efforts to help the local government win could best be served by increasing the amount of resources and troops who contributed to the training mission and to intelligence, provincial reconstruction, and actual regional stabilization. From about 2005 to 2010, this transition was under way and applied with great determination and skill, by not only the Canadian Armed Forces personnel, but indeed by all those who contributed to a so-called “whole-of-government” approach.

Sven Spengemann (Mississauga—Lakeshore, Liberal), who once served as a UN official with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Baghdad, put it this way: boots on the ground were absolutely necessary. However, the great shortfall is in training indigenous forces. What was needed was boots on the ground who were:

  • the best trained
  • local
  • had the best intelligence.

The Liberals wanted local forces to fight ISIS. The ground seized by Daesh, displacing millions of refugees and throwing the region into turmoil, will, the Liberals argued, only be taken back by efforts on the ground. To retake that ground, local allies need better training and support to take the fight to Daesh directly and allow people to return to their homes. To that end, Canada needed to train, advise and mentor them. The Canadian complement of military personnel taking part in Operation Impact will increase from approximately 630 to 850 focused on operational planning, targeting, and intelligence. The size of Canada’s training, advice, and assist mission will also be tripled and will include equipment, such as small arms, ammunition, and optics to assist in the training of Iraqi security forces, to boost local security forces’ independence. Consistent with international law, Canada would provide training in the use of that military equipment supplied by the Government of Canada.

The Liberals promised to provide additional intelligence resources in northern Iraq and theatre-wide to better protect coalition forces and those of the host country and enable the coalition to develop a more detailed understanding of the threat and improve its ability to target, degrade, and defeat ISIS by choking off the flow of supplies, money and personnel in an “observe, detect, orient, and react cycle.” Canada’s air mission would not end entirely. The Liberal government continued to support coalition operations using the Canadian CC-150 Polaris aerial refueller and two CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft.

However, the new emphasis was not on the military, but on humanitarian, development and diplomatic assistance. In recognition of the worsening humanitarian crisis, Canada will undertake an $870 million three year commitment, 30% more than the previous three years, for humanitarian aid to support the basic needs of conflict-affected areas. Assisting Syrian refugees to resettle in Canada is an integral part of that humanitarian program. Canada will welcome 25,000 Syrian refugees by the end of February and 25,000 government-sponsored refugees by the end of this year.

In the area of development assistance, as stated above, Canada will spend $270 million for development and resilience aid over three years, double the amount of the previous three years, to improve the living conditions of conflicted populations, and help to build the foundations for long-term regional stability of host communities, including Lebanon and Jordan, and work with local partners to build the capacity to provide basic social services, and foster inclusive growth and employment:

  • help create jobs by, for example, supporting Jordan’s commitment to put in place conditions that will create jobs for Syrian refugees in exchange for greater targeted development aid and better access to foreign markets for Jordanian exports
  • ensure that people have access to essential services
  • teach local officials how to operate water supply, water treatment, and sanitary facilities to prevent water-borne diseases associated with unsanitary conditions.
  • increase children’s access to education
  • provide a safe and healthy learning environment for the children of the local populations and the refugees
  • renovate schools
  • advance inclusive and accountable governance.

The education component is crucial. In hundreds of schools in Jordan and Lebanon, school has been shortened to half a day to permit refugee children to attend in the afternoons. Two million children in Syria and 700,000 in the camps no longer attend school. An entire generation is missing an education, with enormous long-term human and economic consequences. After all, education is the cement in order to build a democracy and maintain peace as well as provide the foundation for economic growth.

Since the solution to the crises in the region is first and foremost political, the diplomatic component will also be bolstered by additional staff in Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. Diplomats will work for a political solution to the crisis in Syria by supporting the UN-sponsored peace process as well as the reconciliation efforts of the Iraqi government and other crises in the region.

 

Tomorrow: A detailed critique from the Opposition parties

 

With the help of Alex Zisman