Monday, March 30, 2015

Figuring Out My Syria Stance

I was on the radio this morning talking about the Canadian parties and where they stand on Syria/Iraq and the expansion of the mission.  I indicated that the Liberals are in a difficult spot, stuck between a Conservative party that is pushing for force to be used and a New Democrat Party focused on non-violent means.  The Liberals want voters next fall from the right and the left, and any move here will antagonize one side or another.  Sucks to be in middle.

But to be fair, this is a really hard policy problem: should Canada be dropping bombs on Daesh in Iraq and Syria? To what end?  I have been ambivalent so I am using this post to figure out my stance.  The focus here is on expanding to Syria, as it is the real question du jour, but many of the arguments apply to bombing Iraq as well.

  • Striking Daesh (ISIS/ISIL/IS) in Syria will make it harder for them to expand their territory in both Syria and Iraq. 
  • Causing Daesh to lose some territory is a major defeat for them as their rhetoric and strategy have focused on momentum and inevitability.
  • Helps US with "low density, high demand" assets.  Not the CF-18s but the Auroras and refueling aircraft.  Helping an ally in difficult times is a good thing.
    • But it is not going to get Canada anything in its relations with the US if there are offsetting domestic dynamics--Keystone pipeline, for example.

  • Hurting Daesh in Syria helps Assad.  So, hurting one set of genocidaires assists another.  
  • The risk that a plane might get shot down or fail, leading to the capture of a pilot by ... barbarians.   
  • Syria has air defenses that have not been knocked out.  
    • So far, Syria has implicitly cooperated with the US and its Arab allies. No reason to see this change. If it does, Canada can leave Syrian air space.
  • Being so very visible in this fight (only non-US Western country striking Syria) probably makes Canada a more likely target for terrorism by Islamist extremists.
    • To be clear, I don't believe that Canada's foreign policy should be held hostage due to fears of retaliation.  It is a con, but not one that is large in my calculus.
  • Money spent on this effort means less money for the Canadian Forces to do something else.
    • What else?  Training and maintenance. Harper is not sending the CF to do peacekeeping someplace else, so no false choices between this and DRC or whatever.
  • Responsibility to Protect [R2P] is kind of moot here.  Why?  Because it would imply helping the Syrian people with their biggest threat--Assad!  Um, yeah.  Even Lloyd Axelworthy, father or patron saint of R2P, is not saying that R2P applies in Syria.
  • Talk of victory via bombing (by Canadian Minister of National Defence Kenney) is silly.  We cannot bomb Daesh into defeat.  That is the job of people on the ground.  
  • International law?  I am not an expert on such stuff, but I have never found compelled by the argument that one needs a UN Security Council resolution for doing something serious in the world. Why? Because it means that one's foreign policy is subject to vetoes by Russia and China. 
  • Exit strategy is missing?  Yes, in the case of Syria, there is no clear strategy to win.  Bombing
    will not do it.  In Iraq, one can hope that the Shia government finally figures out that lasting stability requires a credible arrangement with the Sunnis.  If the Sunnis switch sides, then Daesh will have a very difficult time.   In Syria?  Not so much.  But it is very easy for Canada to leave.  Canada can say it has done what it can and put the 69 SOF back on a plane home. The logistics people are in Kuwait and can come and go at the government's whim.  The planes can obviously fly home.  This is not Kandahar.
  • Mission creep?  Yes, expanding to Syria is some creep, but it is not a radical expansion of effort.  So far, no more SOF, no more planes.  So, this is a re-allocation of effort and not an increase in the personnel or expenses.  The risk is somewhat larger but not radically so.  This is not an enduring ground campaign.
Ug, no wonder I have been reluctant to take a definitive position on this.  I do think containing Daesh is worth some effort, and this is what Canada is doing--making some effort.  The risks and costs are real but not large.  The Daesh vs. Assad problem is real, but even if you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice (all Canadian strategy should be based on Rush songs). So, count me in favor of Canada's continuing/new mission to engage in air strikes and provide key "enablers" (SOF in Iraq, Auroras and refueling over both Syria and Iraq)

1 comment:

Susan Watson said...

Military force is an antibiotic... It provides temporary relief by killing the 'bad' bugs, but the wasteland left behind can be recolonized by an even worse infection. Timely probiotics and a healthy immune system provide the only sustainable health.