Now that the House of Commons’ Conservative majority has clinched a year’s extension to the stout but middling Canadian Forces role in the U.S.-led coalition targeting Abu-Bakr Al Baghdadi’s genocidal “caliphate” in that vast and ancient landscape where the Iraqi-Syrian border used to be, there is only one important question that has gone wholly unanswered.
It isn’t one of those clever-sounding “exit strategy” questions. Here’s why: Our troops board a Royal Canadian Air Force CC-150 Polaris, it exits by taking off and flying through the air (I know, amazing isn’t it), and in no time they’re all back in Canada. As for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair’s “dangerous new escalation,” here it is: On the Combined Joint Task Force chalk board, the RCAF has been shifted to the column of countries intervening in both Iraq and Syria, from its previous place in CJTF’s Iraq-only column. That’s it.
While the Conservatives are being unaccountably taciturn about cost-forecasting the year’s extension, the Parliamentary Budget Officer has addressed conspiracy theories about the operation’s occult costs to date. The high-outside estimate for the six months so far: $166 million. By way of comparison, the anticipated cost of police and security operations for this summer’s two-week Pan Am and Parapan Games in Toronto: $239 million.
The one big unanswered question wasn’t raised by anyone in the Opposition. It was instead put directly to the Opposition, by National Defence Minister Jason Kenney, this way:
“In the last two days we have been visited in Ottawa by leaders of the Canadian Iraqi, Syrian, Chaldean, Yazidi, Kurdish, Shia, secular, Sunni Arab communities, all of whom have enthusiastically endorsed the motion before the House on the extension and expansion of the Canadian military operation against this genocidal terrorist organization. I emphasize the word genocidal.
“There used to be a time when the NDP, representing the Canadian left, supported efforts to combat genocide. Whatever happened to that NDP? Whatever happened to the NDP’s commitment to the international convention on the prevention of genocide? Whatever happened to its support for the concept of the responsibility to protect?”
While we’re at it, the NDP was once ardently committed to the 1968 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, too. Whatever happened to that?
The Iranian regime’s subversion of that most necessary of anti-war covenants is what U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry has been endeavouring to reward with a plausibly deniable combination of amnesty and absolution. Having already dashed the hopes of an entire generation of liberal reformists and revolutionaries across the Middle East, U.S. President Barack Obama’s cynical pursuit of rapprochement with the Khomeinist butchers now appears to contemplate a nuclear bomb within the ayatollahs’ reach. You’d think the NDP might have at least gotten up a leaflet.
In any case, NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar took the opportunity of Kenney’s question to get all choked up about how beastly Prime Minister Stephen Harper had been to poke fun at Mulcair’s bombshell revelation that before shifting the RCAF to Column A from Column B, Harper had neglected to fill out the proper form implied by the provisions of Article 51 of the UN Charter.
Article 51 is the successor to the 1648 Westphalian concordat between the ruling classes of Europe’s imperial powers. Article 51 is the instrument the UN’s member states employ to absolve themselves while delivering “never again” speeches in the General Assembly at such awkward times as Pol Pot’s mass murder of roughly two million Cambodians during the late 1970s, the hacking to death of 800,000 Rwandans in 1994, and only a decade later the perishing by genocide of perhaps a half-million people in Darfur.
When the most vile aspect of the world-order establishment status quo is what matters most to the vanguard of the Canadian “left,” it should tell you something about how the shrivelled “world stage” pacifism of the NDP — the champion of the little guy, of the persecuted and the put-upon — has ended up functionally indistinguishable from the cold, solipsistic isolationism that proper socialists once recognized as the standpoint of the far right.
There is intelligent life on the left, though. In the lead-up to the House of Commons vote, Sweden’s Left-Green coalition government was beefing up its contingent of military advisers in Iraqi Kurdistan, where Canada’s Special Operations soldiers are working. While Harper was being hectored for his utterly mundane observation that the niqab derives from an “anti-women” culture, Sweden’s feminist foreign minister, Margot Wallström, was excoriating the medieval brutality and misogynist misrule of Saudi Arabia’s niqab fetishists and child-bride enthusiasts.
Owing to Wallström’s alleged “disrespect” of Islam, the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Co-operation suspended Swedish business visas and the Saudis recalled their ambassador. Swedish progressives rallied to Wallström’s side. But in Canada, in an outburst indistinguishable from the insinuations the Saudis and the OIC had directed at Wallström, Mulcair and Liberal leader Justin Trudeau accused Harper of Islamophobia.
The evidence was not important. The “narrative” is all that matters. If evidence mattered, the NDP leadership would have to admit that Syria is now riven by the same sort of jihadist psychopathology that Canada helped to smash in Afghanistan by making sacrifices that the NDP leadership insisted were wasted on the Afghan people. Rather than face the shame of that, the NDP resorts to the alibi of its professed “anti-war” virtue. That’s how it becomes “progressive” to protest any Canadian Forces involvement in the one lousy shot at salvation that Syrians and Iraqis are being offered at the moment.
If evidence mattered, the NDP would have to confess that it has been just as disgracefully wrong about Syria, from the beginning. The moment the fascist tyrant Bashar Al-Assad opted for ceaseless mass murder as his response to a non-violent uprising in the cause of democracy, the NDP threw itself behind a calamitous peace-talks rigmarole led by the very same Arab League alumni that former NDP leader Jack “Troops Out” Layton had anointed to lead his proposed capitulation to the Taliban in Afghanistan. Assad was pleased to play along.
Having been spared the NDP’s pacifist formulae, Afghanistan is now flourishing magnificently compared to Syria, where nearly a quarter of a million people have been killed over the past four years. Roughly three million people have fled the country as refugees. Almost half the country’s 20 million remaining people are cowering in the barrel-bomb rubble that Assad has made of Syria’s ancient cities. It is from those suppurating wounds that the gangrene of jihadism has spread.
If Harper were to conclude from the counsel of the brave Liberal dissenter Irwin Cotler that RCAF fighter jets would be put to better use in a punishing enforcement of the no-fly zone that the Syrian people have been begging from us from the beginning, the entire NDP front bench would be having aneurisms.
Any honest NDP answer to the question Kenney put would require the New Democrats to possess a defensible and genuinely progressive alternative to the Conservatives’ Syria-Iraq agenda. The NDP doesn’t have one. That’s the answer to Kenney’s question.
There’s nothing left.