Harper’s Iraq plan may make matters worse, says former ambassador

Baird and Harper - PMO photo

by Peggy Mason, Defence Watch guest writer

Originally published by David Pugliese in Defence Watch


Prime Minister Stephen Harper will put Canada’s proposed combat military mission in Iraq to a vote on Monday. Recent polls have suggested that Canadians slightly favour the bombing mission to confront the threat posed by the extremist organization, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). It comes as no surprise that Canadians want to help and “do something.”

But Harper’s plan to send Canadian warplanes to join the U.S.-led coalition’s bombing of Iraq may just make matters worse.

Stephen Harper and his allies are underestimating their opponents as a bunch of religious extremists bent on spreading wanton mayhem and terror. Islamic State may be brutally ruthless, but they know exactly what they are doing.

Their core is made up of seasoned, motivated fighters and an extremely experienced leadership that go back to the “dirty war” waged by the American and British Special Forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2009.

ISIL is playing a strategical game of chess with its every move, while the West is playing military tic-tac-toe.

ISIL is not just a military organization, it is a political movement with a well-thought-out ideology, however abhorrent it may beto the West. It governs the huge areas it controls in Iraq and Syria. Ruthless in eliminating any potential opponents, it also provides electricity, food and other vital services for ordinary people in the areas it controls.

That is why American air strikes against ISIL recently targeted not only oil and gas facilities but also grain elevators – a highly problematic course of action in both legal and humanitarian terms, particularly if the conflict is to be a long one.

To date Western military action has been disastrously counterproductive.

Prime Minister Harper says “we” are not responsible for the chaos in Libya. Yet it is absolutely clear that the NATO-led military victory in Libya was a pyrrhic one which paved the way for the civil war that followed.

We have to remember how we got to this point. Time and again in the past, we have chosen war over negotiations.

Look at the lessons of Libya. Had we not exceeded the UN mandate in Libya (which excluded regime change), we could have negotiated a power-sharing deal with Gaddafi that would have promoted incremental democratic reform and not left a power vacuum to be filled by extremists, including ISIL.

Exactly the same lesson can be learned from Syria. Had the West not insisted on Assad’s immediate departure and refused to allow Iran a seat at the table, Kofi Annan’s power-sharing arrangement within a transitional government would have paved the way for incremental democratic reforms in Syria and, once again, would have left much less room for extremists like ISIL to operate.

A UN mandate privileging inclusive governance and democratic reforms in concert with robust military support has been central to recent progress in Somalia and Mali. A UN mandate is also possible for effective intervention in Iraq and Syria if all necessary players, including Russia and Iran, are brought fully into the negotiations, and Turkey, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states are at the core of the political strategy, not just token participants.

A comprehensive, broadly supported and UN-mandated approach is long overdue in the heretofore disastrously counterproductive war on terror. Let this enlightened approach be the basis for Canadian action in Iraq and Syria.

Ambassador Peggy Mason is Canada’s former UN Ambassador for Disarmament and advisor to then External Affairs Minister Joe Clark. She is now the President of the Rideau Institute on International Affairs.

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7 Responses to “Harper’s Iraq plan may make matters worse, says former ambassador”

  1. Ann AndrewsOctober 7, 2014 at 8:51 pm #

    At last, some common sense, but now it may be too late, We have to get rid of Harper, he is indeed a narcissist and is dragging Canada down internationally and at home by his determination to promote his egotism, He has lied to the Canadian people time and time again and this military action is based on yet another lie.

  2. PJOctober 6, 2014 at 10:40 am #

    Good for Peggy Mason: at last a thoughtful response to a complex question. What will Canadian bombs achieve on top of US bombs? More devastation, a greater humanitarian crisis, more innocent lives lost, more innocent people displaced, more jihadists flocking to the cause of terrorism.

    What does Harper care about humanitarian crises or the slaughter of innocents (e.g. Israel versus the Palestinians)? Everything about Harper is self-serving and calculated for political gain. His combat mission is no different. It’s red meat for his conservative core, and intended as a distraction from his multiple failures at home and overseas. An attempt at showing leadership, which is fake like everything else he says and does.

  3. dimitriOctober 5, 2014 at 9:41 pm #

    Ambassador Peggy Mason’s approach to ISIL and all the other ruinous escapades makes far more sense than what is and has been promulgated by the West, including our deviously America-loving PM Harper. The war on terror is not necessary, horribly inhumane and produces an immense hate for the USA and its willing partners.

  4. toby dentOctober 5, 2014 at 6:27 pm #

    I think Harper’s proliferation of weapons as well as his war agenda
    is just another opportunity for him to try to stay in power by scaring people into voting for him in ‘times of war.’ He has never been interested in fostering people’s needs at home or abroad. He is a narcissistic corporate business man who has been bought off by multinationals like China who want to plunder the earth for profit and sue us when they feel short changed by environmental considerations or people’s health. Wars waged by the US and others have only created worse problems like the death of innocent people, refugees and more radical fighters.
    Send Harper to Iraq instead. Then we’ll see how eager he is to fight ISIL.

  5. Carol OddyOctober 5, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    I have always believed that Canada has always been a peaceful country, we should not have been in the past war, never mind this one. way to many of our soldiers lost their lives in the last one all of them were young men,(boys) 18yrs & up. We as a country should be helping out on the land with people who have been displaced or hurt by the war not throwing bombs on them!!

  6. paul r maasOctober 5, 2014 at 11:55 am #

    At last, some workable ideas about peaceful ways to work with dictators (who brought education and health care to their populations) but persecuted minorities. Peggy Mason ‘s ideas “might” have created more equal societies without all the killing. They were at least worth a try. Of course they would not have satisfied the U.S aim of controlling all the worlds energy (as adumbrated in the PNAC document) nor would they have strengthened Israel’s power.

  7. JocelynOctober 5, 2014 at 11:31 am #

    Any Canadian that lives that supporting Harper’s war mongering will be beneficial to Canada (or any other country for that matter), has no idea about what war is about, nor what Harper’s goal is. It certainly is NOT about helping anyone in Iraq. It is all about the big bucks that we will keep shovelling into his personal bank accounts, while we as taxpayers foo the very hefty bill.
    War begets war; killing begets more killing. This affair is no business of ours and we can do nothing to “eliminate” the twisted and murderous beliefs systems of a violent and self-righteous religion gone wild. In fact, it is just a another version of the Spanish Inquisition and with such history as this attached to religion, no one is ever right.