Unravelling the nightmarish Gordian knot of Syria

On Tuesday, February 23rd, 2016 in Articles by Elizabeth, Island Tides
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The Liberal government has followed through on its campaign commitment to pull Canadian CF-18 fighter jets out of Iraq and Syria.  Simultaneously, Prime Minister Trudeau announced that we will be leaving planes for reconnaissance and one capable of mid-air refueling of other nations’ fighter jets.  The focus of Canada’s efforts were announced to be shifting with $1.6 billion over the next three years for humanitarian assistance, while also increasing the number of Canadian troops in the region.  Tripling the number of armed forces personnel to over 800 people, the new focus was announced as training for the Kurdish forces.  Canada will also be providing weapons to the Kurdish Peshmerga forces.  Flanked by his ministers of international development, foreign affairs and defence (Marie-Claude Bibeau, Stephane Dion and Harjit Sajjan) Trudeau stressed Canada wanted to balance our military role with greater diplomatic and development efforts.

So what are we to make of this?

My starting point is that in engaging on foreign wars, as in medicine, the injunction should always be “first – do no harm.”  The intractable mess we face today is virtually entirely due to Western nations, primarily the United States, wading into the region with disastrous results.  Among the many disasters inflicted on the Iraqi people primarily, but on the rest of the world, was a rise in religious fundamentalism.  Saddam Hussein, while a brutal dictator, was a secular dictator.  His cabinet included women and had no Islamist doctrine.  His Sunni leadership and the Baathist party kept things relatively calm in the simmering Sunni-Shia divide. But after the US invasion, the “shock and awe” campaign and US puppet governments put in place, the Baathists were banned from working in government, from being in the army.  The US created a vast cadre of unemployable people with skills.  They knew how to run an army, fight a war, run a government. Shunned from any role in the future government, previously secular Baathists were hired by ISIS.  Some Baathists became radicalized. Iraq became the breeding ground for a group with dangerous ambitions.

Canada’s actions in Libya contributed to another failed state.  And we – knowing that al-Qaeda forces were among the rebel groups – still recognized them as the legitimate government of Libya. And then we stood by as all of Colonel Gaddafi’s warehouses of armaments were shipped out to terrorists.

Syria is a giant mess of competing nasty forces.  The government (if one can still call it that) is run by a brutal dictator Bashar Al-Assad.  Assad is supported by Iran and Hezbollah, while Al-Qaeda, al-Nusra, and ISIS want to over-turn Assad. Saudi Arabia is reported to be supporting ISIS. Russia supports Assad and is using its access to bombing, legitimized by US and its allies own bombing campaigns, to hit hard at Assad’s enemies – whether they are ISIS or not.

Why is Canada training Kurds?  Because in a vast network of unappetizing choices — legions of killers no one can support, no good guys — at least the Kurds have a clear agenda.  They are motivated by an intense desire to have their own country.  So while it may help stop the advance of ISIS in Syria to train and arm Kurds, there is no question that the long-range impact will stretch beyond Syria, to fuel Kurdish dreams of a homeland in Iraq and Turkey.  And our allies will not be so happy then.  And, the Kurds when gaining ground against ISIS may not meet our standards of respect for human rights.

As long as the mission is described as “getting rid of ISIS” we have the wrong mission.  If we could re-cast it as “advancing peace and stability in the region,” we might have a hope. To do so, we should press Iraq to lift the ban on hiring former members of the Baathist party.  To achieve peace in the region, we need a coordinated effort engaging all our allies – including Russia and China.

For that, I do appreciate that the new government speaks of enhancing our humanitarian and diplomatic roles.  We could do more to stop the flow of weapons and money to ISIS through its black market activities.  We could invite all the key governments with a role to play to a conference – hosted in Canada – with the goal of finding and plugging ISIS’s financial networks.  This we could do.

We could back the United Nations process.  We could establish the right kind of coalition.  We should call for an end to airstrikes.  We might anger allies who like bombing missions, but they inevitably kill more innocents. I believe that what critics are calling an incoherence in the new Trudeau policy comes from a desire to pull out of airstrikes, while trying to support allies, like the United States, that will continue with bombing. Bombing missions will not stop ISIS.  And they cannot bring peace and stability to the region.

Only cease-fires and negotiations can do that.

Originally published in Island Tides.

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  • peter rueschmann

    we should get out of these countries we should never stick our nose into other countries affairs.the usa starts all these wars we don’t need to assist these money hungry roaches.

    • Gordon Martin

      Well expressed Elizabeth! Keep up the good work!

    • OwlRol

      That’s the NDP position, possibly correct. There are better ways to whittle down ISIS, but bombing has not so much succeeded over two years except in the open plains, desert and oil fields,

      Members of ISIS can hide well among civilians, perhaps that accounts for some of the Russian indiscriminate bombings, or at least their excuses for such. But we know little of the western allied bombings, other than the so-called official reports.

      6 fighters withdrawn compared to the recently introduced British and French Eurofighters, never mind massive US aircraft and drone capabilities. These 6 were only symbolic, likely for political purposes.

      Of course the Cons are pulling on the nationalist draw, “Why do we have these fighters if we won’t use them”? A definite link but much more palatable than the Republican Trump or Cruz argument, “Why do we have nuclear weapons if we won/t use them?”

      Help the Kurds or stay out of it, interesting options. Probably more going on than we are being told. Connecting the dots is tricky. Seems the Chinese chose the former option, to mostly stay out of it.

      • Le Franco Nord Américain

        Allies have also killed innocent civilians witht their bombings. U.S. Report indicated Canada killed some 25 or so back in January/15. U.S. has also killed its fair share right across the Middle East. Ask Médecins Sans Frontières about hospital in Afghanistan. We should keep Churchill’s comments in mind when he said: “During times of war, the truth is so fragile it must be defended by a bodyguard of lies.” Well said Elizabeth.

        • Frank_Reminder

          Wow! I think you just compared Elizabeth May too that miserable old warmonger Churchill, do ya figure?

          • Le Franco Nord Américain

            think again

          • Frank_Reminder

            Fair enough but I do find the quote to be entirely applicable to E May’s article. Not sayin she doesn’t mean well or that she doesn’t offer helpful suggestions. Problem is, all of our politicians are afraid to tackle the underlying issues.

        • OwlRol

          No such thing as a smart bomb, in a plane, drone or suicide vest. Such would refuse to explode if it was smart.

  • riccotelaly

    Well said.
    From Pearson through Chretien, Liberal or Conservative, Canadian P.M.’s understood US foreign policy was never about democracy building but was actually the opposite. We as a country should delicately (ever fearful of regime change) put our position out there and refuse to support US imperialism. Harper being a man of no moral centre and only driven but profit, engaged in or openly supported immoral invasions and interference.
    The US’s foreign policy is disastrous and at this point in history it creates mayhem by design. Canada should pull out completely and lobby hard against US imperialism.
    How can we stand with Turkey who openly supports terror? How can we stand with US who supports the Muslim Brotherhood, Al Qaeda etc… and S.A who is the leading financier of terrorism.
    Canada should explain the facts clearly and then demand answers and then in the absence of any truthful/cogent response ,withdraw from the conflict.

    We should say we will continue to offer safe haven for the victims of our allies missteps but we will no longer engage in doing harm.

    • OwlRol

      Agreed in part, but as a nation, we aren’t that clean. We just sold $7 billion of LAVs to Saudi Arabia, not to mention modern sniper rifles manufactured in Winnipeg, captured by Yemeneze rebels from Saudi troops in that nasty civil war.

      We really ought to have legislation to prevent any exports of military equipment, except perhaps under specific circumstances in times of major wars that we are fully involved in. That is not the current case.

      But the integration with US military manufacturers, notably in the aerospace industries, makes that incredibly complex. Recall Harper’s argument in favour of those pathetic F35s due to all the Canadian jobs it would create manufacturing various parts and components for that aircraft?

      • riccotelaly

        I agree completely. Indiscriminate murder is OK because it creates jobs is about as low as one can go.
        The notion we need jobs (fracking) over clean water etc is obscene. In fact the cost of the damages created by those jobs we all pay for. No one is entitled to a job if it harms someone else.

      • Elaine Hughes

        But, now we can create a ‘monitoring’ sub-committee to make sure that only ‘trusted’ countries get use Canadian arms to kill other people’s kids! See: [ http://www.ceasefire.ca/?p=23218 ]

        • OwlRol

          The suggestion above is that we don’t export arms at all, to no one, except under circumstances such as the preamble to WW2. Help those weapons supply companies to channel their expertise into non-military purposes.

          Trouble is that it ain’t gonna happen with any political party under the demands of nationalism, job creation and capitalist growth.

          • Frank_Reminder

            How bout like now, the preamble to ww3?

          • OwlRol

            We’re not there yet.

            ISIS is puny compared to the Third Reich, and that ISIS, Kurdish, Assad, Suni, Shia battle is already taking place.

            Much more like the Spanish civil war. A few hundred Canadians didn’t make much of a difference then and they won’t now either.

            To turn it into anything bigger, as suggested by some big power war hawks, is incredibly foolish.

          • Frank_Reminder

            Who’s talkin about ISIS? I’m talkin bout the proxy war in the ME. I don’t know where the endgame leads but the possibilities are mindless.

          • OwlRol

            Not going too far unless the christian zionists get stupid. Bush wars unless you live there. Certainly no excuse to export Canadian weapons for profit.

          • Frank_Reminder

            Certainly, and if we are headed for ww3 than even more certainly. By the way, the Christian Zionists are stupid!

    • OwlRol

      Supporting both the Kurds and Turks is puzzling, except that both are ISIS opponents.

      6 fighters withdrawn compared to the recently introduced British and French Eurofighters, never mind massive US aircraft and drone capabilities. These 6 were only symbolic, likely for political purposes.

      Of course the Cons are pulling on the nationalist, we are important, draw, “Why do we have these fighters if we won’t use them”? A definite link but much more palatable than the Republican Trump or Cruz argument, “Why do we have nuclear weapons if we won/t use them?”

      Help the Kurds or stay out of it, interesting options. Likely more going on than we are being told.

      Seems the Chinese chose the former option, to mostly stay out of it. Smart. But they have their own disagreements with Japan, Taiwan, Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Myanmar, etc. to keep them busy.

      Connecting the dots is tricky, but avoid those conspiracy theories, real evidence is required and needs to be fully verified.

      • Frank_Reminder

        We know we won’t be getting any real evidence from the MSM and any independent truth tellers won’t survive long in the hot zone so I think we’re gonna have to put our thinking caps on. There are a lot of clues as to who is up to what if we look at recent history, say in the last 20 years.

        • OwlRol

          It’s that media literacy thing here. We try to get news and opinions from many different sources and see how the pieces fit together. The MSM often let’s slip little bits, mostly unintentionally, that can be useful or start a line of thought.

          You know, that validity, reliability, bias, corroboration, contradiction; into the possibility bin, the probability bin, the most likely bin, but like detective or scientific researchers, up to 99% but no absolutes. Then analysis and critical thinking can get us close to the truth.

          But you’re correct, access is problematic to get the big picture.

          Unfortunately most people make up their minds on insufficient information. The rise of Donald Trump supporters is a currently prime example.

          • Frank_Reminder

            Re MSM letting things slip; I was grilling a reporter on how they could rationalize there job since they were obviously muzzled. This person looked at me incredulously and said well doesn’t everyone realize that we can only drop hints and you have to put the picture together yourself? Sad really.

    • Frank_Reminder

      Hear, hear!

  • Lightning1945

    Elizabeth makes so clear sense of things. To start, her “first – do no harm” is as far as we need debate this, and western countries, after so many wars since WWII, should recognize how they have been wrong on most of these. Yes, there probably is a time for war and a time for peace, but this isn’t the former, so let’s get back to our role as peacekeepers and peacemakers.

    • OwlRol

      Peacekeepers, yes, peacemakers, no, peacemaking is often a very violent, biased and top down operation. Diplomacy is very different from military peacemaking. Dropping a nuclear bomb can be considered peacemaking by some.

  • OwlRol

    What a quagmire.

    Canada is helping the Kurds, who are actually found in the hub of NW Iran, N Iraq, W Syria and SW Turkey. Turkey, Iran and the former Iraqi governments had problems with the Kurds for a very long time and none recognized Kurdish independence.

    The Ottoman Turkish and Russian empires have been enemies since at least the mid 1800s Crimean war. The Ottoman empire ruled south into the Saudi peninsula and all the way east to Persia (Iran), but it went into steep decline prior to WW1, although in European history the focus was much more on the troubled Balkans.

    Nonetheless, the French and British drew a few lines on a map to divvy up the region with no consideration of the people and their cultures living there. ISIS has pointed to these acts as part of their local propaganda. All that set the post WW2 oil hustle, the investment of the pro west Saud family, the installation and overthrow of the Shah of Iran, the arming of Saddam by the US until Kuwait, all this culminating with the ill advised W. Bush invasion of Iraq. All about oil and western capitalism with little regard for religion and other cultural factors.

    The Kurds were never considered as part of a cohesive group in these big power schemes, perhaps because for the most part they are not a single organization but several tribal groups, but they are all single minded about having their own national homeland. If the Armenians to the north can have it, why not the Kurds?

    Because of the Kurdish PKK rebels (terrorist?) activities in eastern Turkey, the Turks bomb the Kurds in Syria even more than ISIS.

    The Kurds will fight hard and well for their cause, a thorn in the side of ISIS, but they will probably not invade into what they consider Arab lands. They’ll leave that up to the Sunni and Shia combatants, backed respectively by the Saudis and Iranians.

    So supporting the Kurds is only one piece of the puzzle, perhaps clearer than the rest. The western support to the much fractured rebels to try and oust the Assad, government, the Russian support of said govt., same for Iran although they are strongly anti ISIS, those bad boys involvement, nearly on the fringe of this Syrian conflict, but much bigger players in Iraq. And yeah, it gets still more complicated in Syria.

    Bin Laden would be thoroughly enjoying himself seeing the anti-refugee sentiment in the USA and parts of Europe, even though he likely never anticipated it. The US military should never have stationed troops in Saudi Arabia to attack Saddam, that got him started with Al Qaeda. Bush senior took the warnings not to invade Iraq, but junior ignored it with disastrous consequences.

    Undecided, but perhaps the NDP are correct in saying that we shouldn’t even be there militarily, be damned a non-UN alliance that began the quagmire, much like the post WW1 ignorant drawing of lines on a map.

    • Richard Weatherill

      http://www.wrmea.org/1992-june/the-kurds-in-iraq-iran-and-turkey-three-kurdish-perspectives.html
      IMO, Turkey is the least “valuable” member of NATO, and should be drummed out of that organization – especially as it is complicit in acting as a conduit for ISIS oil sales. And then there is Israel:
      http://www.globalresearch.ca/israel-is-the-main-purchaser-of-isis-oil/5493738

      • OwlRol

        Good articles. Knew about the Kurdish history, although not all the details, somewhat dated for current analysis. Got friends in the N. Vancouver Kurdish community,

        The oil route to Israel was suspected, but how reliable is the news source from the “Russian Insider”? Needs better vetting. Of course our MSM doesn’t help one iota on this one (but please no more sources on this, getting tired).

      • Le Franco Nord Américain

        What would be most valuable is the dismantling of NATO.

  • Peter

    Elizabeth May makes some good points and seems to have an enlightened, while incomplete, grasp of the geopolitical situation in the Levant. She fails to mention that Canada’s involvement in Syria, Iraq and Libya is illegal under international law; past and present Canadian leaders, bureaucrats and military personnel may find themselves at the Hague.

    • OwlRol

      Might be a proper notion, but it ain’t gonna happen as long as the US and NATO rule that roost. Kissinger will be long gone, while Rumsfeld, Cheney and W will never show up there, likewise Harper & friends. As to Assad, Putin and all the other tin pot dictators., nah.

  • slsunfrog

    Violence solves nothing. Stop the violence, stop enabling the continuation of war, stop supporting the manufacturing and use of weapons to kill people. It’s all so insane. Is there any sanity in the world anymore?

  • Bob

    I agree whole heartedly with Peter. Elizabeth May has made a more sensible and accurate statement regarding the middle East situation than I have seen from any Canadian politician. she still falls far short of describing what is in fact going on in that arena, whether through lack of time to do a more thorough search of available sources, or being in fear of damaging political opportunities. an example would be her statement, respecting certain forces ” not meeting our standards of respect for human rights”. What standards? Murder of leader of foreign countries? Killing of 10′s of thousands of innocent civilians? Indiscriminate spreading of uranium on battlefields? Just a few examples from rent activity.
    For all that I applaud Elizabeth opening the door a crack regarding the truth respecting the events she describes.

  • Frank_Reminder

    The “brutal dictator” Assad allowed a few million refugees from Iraq and Palestine to find shelter in Syria. I suppose that is the problem, anyone who sides with Israel’s victims must be a bad guy.

  • Jacob Rempel

    There is much talk and writing about killing innocent civilians. Many soldiers are also innocent brothers and fathers conscripted to abandon families being bombed, home cities being destroyed, homeland countries being destroyed, sending millions of refugees to all the neighboring countries, a few even to far away Canada. The current series of wars, after Yugoslavia, once again are all illegal wars of aggression by “our side”. Not one soldier from one victim country has attacked Canada or the USA or any NATO country. WE are he aggressor nations.

  • tom

    great speech . peace and diplomacy are the only way to end wars. killing does not. bravo for mrs, may’s informed speech! I will only be a proud Canadian when we resume only with peaceful missions.. I never want my taxes to pay for the killing of anyone, as that makes me guilty and complicit. and I feel like shit right now!

  • Jules44ca

    Miko Paled said something that really stuck with me: We, the developed nations of the world, could agree to an arms embargo. The UN could issue an arms embargo to the region. Any country or benefactor found to be arming anyone in the region could be brought up on trial for war crimes in the Hague. When the tanks break down, and the bullets run out the region would require other means to solve their problems. There is a solution to the Syrian conflict. We must stop believing this problem is too complicated to solve. Fuelling and arming armies does not end a war. It does not bring about peace. We must stop CHOOSING war.

    • Frank_Reminder

      Nice idea, do you have any evidence to suggest that the USA and the Israelis would stoop to taking orders from the UN?

      • Jules44ca

        Let’s face it. The USA is the CEO of the UN. My point is less about what may or may not happen. My point is more towards changing our consciousness. To me, the war in Syria looked hopeless and complex. The fact of the matter is, the solution is simple. We just never choose it. Fuelling jets is not a choice for peace. I would much rather take more refugees in favour of peace than continue to fuel war. We cannot control the actions of others. (apparently we cannot control the actions of politicians either). We can beat our own drums though and send out a consistent message. Let’s stop accepting the answers our politicians come up with because they are not acceptable and do not begin to address the fundamental problem. The Syrian People are under siege because outsiders enable it and are not held accountable. We do not need to choose a side in this war. We do not need to choose among the “vast network of unappetizing choices” {Love that}.

  • Firefly

    I like the thought of plugging up ISIS’ cash flows as much as possible. That’d be more effective in fighting them than any military missions would be. And we definitely need a new approach. Fighting in the Middle East is very much one of those situations where you cut the head off the beast and 8 more grow in – we won’t do much good by just bombing one group of “bad guys”.

  • Anti

    All these wars wont stop until we eliminate the Zionist Banksters who promote and push wars to pad their greedy inhuman pockets, whilst deverstating peoples lives and destroying livelyhoods and countries. ..

  • bcguy

    You are wrong about Assad, he is not a brutal dictator those are all lies from main stream media to support the invasions of sovereign countries , He was democratically elected i the last election. 78% voter turnout with over 80% in favor of his re election. Those so called freedom fighters he has to fight are just another terrorist group, they use 8 year old children to fight and strap bombs on them, they scream Allah Akbar. The main stream media shows fake hospitals being bombed.

    Don’t believe me? why dont you go ask a Canadian like Eva Bartlett who was just there. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bUyJV6YaSWY

    Stop supporting the NATO Turkey west coalition Zionist owned mainstream media, end the wars and support Sovereignty of nations, regardless if you dont like their leaders or not, the innocent will continue to be murdered until we stop supporting the lie.

    Kerry wants a cease fire, he knows it wont work, its all just a way to to get an oil line built to the sea by carving up another sovereign country into pieces and the people of Syria are just in the way, collateral damage, expendable.

    YOU WANT TO SUPPORT THE SYRIAN PEOPLE THEN SUPPORT THEIR DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED GOVERNMENT and stop supporting the lies and the BS narrative.

    Here in Canada after bill c-51 and the lies in our Parliament white washing and lying about the BDS non violent movement, calling supporters as Anti-Semites, the absolute joke is Palestinians are Arabs, that’s what a Semite is. These Canadians are being condemned and our Freedom of speech enshrined by our constitution is being denied. It is no different than our Sovereignty being taken away by the secrete TPP so called trade deal that has little to do with trade.

    • Terry Lawrence

      Completely agree, fellow bcguy.

      I posted a link to an interview with Assad made a few months ago and covering most aspects of the war, including how it started. It was up for a couple of days, but I see it has been removed. Apparently somebody moderating the Green Party website doesn’t want people to hear both sides of the war in Syria. As Assad asks, “Suppose the US succeeds in overthrowing me? Then What? How did that work out in Iraq and Libya?”

      I’ll try posting it again.

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wELCDCPsw6M&spfreload=10

  • riccotelaly

    Withdraw all military support and allocate that money to Jordan to help with the 2 million refugees. Canada needs to shame NATO.

  • Curt Gesch

    I am firmly of the opinion that comments should only be published on this page if the name of the person accompanies them.

  • mia

    The US backed by NATO is a relentlessly destructive force in the world. US and NATO military ‘interventions’ ignore the UN charter, and disrespect the sovereignty of other nations . The US and NATO are responsible for dramatically increased tensions in the world, and the destabilization of many regions. They are responsible for death and suffering on a colossal scale. The lies that they are somehow ‘helping’ are not believed by anyone with even a passable interest in world affairs and can read. It is Imperialism at it’s ugliest. With friends like the US and NATO, we don’t need enemies; we are the enemy. NATO needs to disband.

  • Monika Schaefer

    See the following article by Eva Bartlett
    http://ahtribune.com/in-depth/658-elizabeth-may.html
    My comment was this:
    Thank you Eva Bartlett for the excellent and enlightening article on Syria, and thank you for saying it how it is with Elizabeth May. I ran in 4 elections as a Green Party candidate, but no more! When I finally woke up about the false-flag nature of 9/11, I tried to educate Elizabeth May about it. Though she tabled the 9/11 petition upon my urging, she put it on the public record that she disagreed with it. When she distanced herself from 9/11 truth even when confronted with the evidence, I knew she was a “controlled opposition” politician. Your statement that she is potentially more dangerous to Canadians than “the more easily detestable politicians” is correct. Many highly intelligent and well-meaning people are putting a lot of energy and time into the Green Party thinking they are making a positive difference for this ailing planet, and it turns out we have been misled.

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