Hesitation Stockings, Hestiation Shoes

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

still works

Yes, it seems this still works.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Canada and ISIL - Part 2

A number of people have advised me that they reject (often strongly reject) my position that it is appropriate and supportable that Canada should join the ad hoc coalition and take military action against ISIL.  The objections to my position are various, including:

- the current action against ISIL is being lead by the US as part of its continuing failed policy since 2003 of military intervention in Iraq; this policy is wrong (if not criminal), and it is therefore wrong for Canada to participate now;

- any military bombing of ISIL will very likely create high rates of civilian causalities, meaning that Canada would be participating in a war crime, or some similar international law violation;

- the emerging international law convention regarding the responsibility to protect (that is, that the international community has a responsibility to intervene in the internal affairs of a country when genocide/crimes against humanity are being carried out and the local authorities are unable or unwilling to prevent it) on which I largely base my support for Canada's action against ISIL is not consistently applied, and, therefore, it does not support Canada joining in military action against ISIL; further, this line of argument continues, intervention in Iraq is only motivated by concerns regarding oil, while atrocities in places with less economic significance (such as Sub-Saharan Africa) are treated with little interest by western powers.

While I agree that there is some force in each of these arguments, they have not caused me to change my position. I explain why below.

Part of Continuing Failed USA Policy in Iraq

If the 2003 US invasion of Iraq had not taken place - that is, if Saddam Hussein was still in power in Iraq - it is very clear that ISIL would not exist. I agree. I guess my response is, from the prospective of the Kurds of Kobani (and other innocents in other minorities across the region), so what? They should die, be raped, ethnically cleansed from their homes, and condemned to forced conversion to extreme Sunni fundamentalist Islam because the US was wrong in 2003? I cannot now, and never will, accept that argument. Our obligation - and is so radical an idea - is always to protect the innocents of the earth.  

There are good reasons to hesitate and think twice before committing the Canadian military to combat in the Middle East.  And the outcomes of such an action is bound to be mixed, possibly even disastrous. There are no easy answers here. I accept that. But those people who oppose Canadian action against ISIL never mention the innocents who are doomed to be ISIL's next victims unless action is taken to stop the expansion of ISIL.  Until they do, they are unlikely to convince me to change my mind. Nor, it seems, the majority of Canadians.

In addition, this point of view ignores the changes in US foreign policy since President Obama took office in 2009.  The respected PBS show Frontline, that aired this month, and which examined the rise of ISIL, makes the point that President Obama can be criticised for leaving Iraq too soon. The weakness and sectarian orientation of the Iraqi government under PM Malaki (combined with support related to ISIL's activities in the Syrian war) allowed ISIL to grow and expand.

President Obama is a careful and cautious man. Some say too careful and cautious. As far as I can see, he is only returning, in a limited way, to military action in Iraq due to four factors: (a) the murderous nature of ISIL, (b) the necessity to protect the remaining US facilities in Iraq, (c) prevent the catastrophic instability in the region that would result if ISIL were to overrun the rest of Iraq and possibly Syria, and (d) respond to the domestic political feeling in the US.  Probably the last factor is the most important. Again, so what? From the prospective of those civilians in Iraq about to die, and who (I am assuming, on reasonable grounds) will be saved by military action against ISIL, why should they care? There are mixed motives in everything, everywhere. I do not base my support of Canadian action against ISIL on US purity. So to me, to point out the numerous ways in which the US is largely responsible for the terrible situation in Iraq now, is largely to make a number of correct but irrelevant points.

Civilian Deaths in Bombing

I do not doubt that there will be civilian deaths in any bombing action against ISIL. There always are civilian deaths in war. But I believe that our Canadian armed forces will act within the conventions of war and do everything possible to reduce those civilian casualties.

In addition, it is important to note that the action against ISIL is not a continuation of the US program of drone strikes against the leadership of deemed terrorists living amongst a civilian population.  ISIL is now approaching the status, size, and equipment level of a regular army. It has, at times, massed military formations. They are not able to threaten Kobani and Baghdad, which are defended by considerable military forces, without itself attacking in something like conventional military units. This is what makes military action by bombing both necessary and reasonably effective, and reasonably free of the threat to civilians.

Lack of Consistency in the Application of the Responsibility to Protect

I should first say here that the emphasis on the incipient international law concept of the responsibility to protect is mine alone. To my knowledge, neither Prime Minister Harper, nor President Obama, nor any other international leader, has relied on this concept. I'll return to consider why that might be below.

Although it is not recognized as such, in my view, the successful NATO intervention in Kosovo in 1999 was the precursor of the doctrine of responsibility to protect. Responsibility to protect is generally understood to include the following elements: each sovereign state has the responsibility to protect its population from genocide, ethnic cleansing, and so on; the international community has a responsibility to assist states in carrying out this obligation; and finally, where a state cannot it or will not meet this obligation, then the international community has the responsibility to intervene to prevent genocide, ethnic cleansing, etc.

I choose, in part, to support Canada's military actions against ISIL on the basis of the responsibility to protect in order to strengthen the doctrine. An international law convention emerges from repeated use.

In regard to the failure to apply the norm of responsibility to protect consistently, I am willing to accept that this might be the case. But, again, the question - so what? Because some people have been wrongly exposed to death or ethnic cleansing in, say, the Central African Republic because the international community would not act, this is some rational basis to allow, wrongfully, the civilians of Kobani to be slaughtered? I cannot agree.

Moreover, as I say, repeated reliance on an international law norm strengthens it. To the degree that we can formulate the action against ISIL as a manifestation of the responsibility to protect, not of great power self-interest, the more we can insist on its use in the future.  This is, I suppose, why neither Harper or Obama have relied on the concept to date.  Supporting the military action against ISIL on the grounds of responsibility to protect is, in my view, quite properly understood as a progressive move, and one that will, to a small degree, undermine arbitrary great power action in the future, and strengthen civilian protection against genocide, etc., in the future.

As to the importance of oil, this seems to me an overly simplistic explanation. If getting Iraqi oil to market was the prime motivator of US foreign policy, then the 2003 invasion of Iraq was a self-defeating move. Saddam Hussein would gladly have flooded the world with Iraqi oil to the end of his days.

I do agree that, in terms of geopolitics, the Middle East is very likely deemed to be higher importance than sub-Saharan Africa.  China, of course, is expanding into Africa in pursuit of its own economic goals. No doubt China gets more economic advantage out of winning mining concessions, etc., from African states that the US gets from expending billions of dollars on military action. But that is another topic.  


Saturday, October 11, 2014

Canada and ISIL

The international community has a "responsibility to protect" when it comes to civilians facing a real threat of high level human rights abuses or crimes against humanity. The evolution of the responsibility to protect is, in my view, a great advance in international law. We now have a theoretical/jurisprudential basis for international action to stop genocide such as what happened in Rwanda in the 1990s. Canada has a history in Rwanda and it is entirely appropriate that Canada should take a key role in future actions further to the responsibility to protect. One might well say, at the risk of some oversimplification, the responsibility to protect is the great victory of liberal humanitarianism over the conservative Realpolitik of people like, say, Henry Kissinger.


In the short-term, the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) needs to be militarily prevented from expanding. This is for two reasons.

The first reason is that it is clear that ISIL carries out murder and ethnic cleansing against civilians in the areas they take control of where the civilians do not share ISIL's exact fundamentalist religious orientation. The more territory they control, then the more civilians they will kill. Clearly, this is the classic situation where the responsibility to protect is triggered.

The second reason to prevent ISIL from expanding is that it is a destabilizing force in the middle-east, a region that is already very unstable. While I believe it is unlikely that ISIL can ever be entirely rolled back, it is vital that they come to accept that they are not going to be able to expand indefinitely. Once that happens, the nature of the organization will eventually change and it will become more amenable to normal types of diplomacy. That is to say, while they believe that God is supporting their advance, then religious fervour will be more important than pragmatism and normal political calculation.

If international military action to stop the expansion of ISIL is valid and necessary, and I believe it is, then it is entirely appropriate for Canada to join its allies in this action. Indeed, as I'm sure Romeo Dallaire would agree, Canada should be a leader in the expansion and application of the responsibility to protect.

I do not believe that, as the government of Canada alleges, ISIL has any particular reason for attacking Canada or Canadian civilians.  The current government is alleging this so it can move forward with action against ISIL while still clinging to its conservative credentials.

It is unfortunate that the opposition parties in the Canadian House of Commons have chosen to oppose the government's actions against ISIL. This allows the current government to put its own conservative spin on this action. I do agree with the opposition parties that there are dangers in any intervention, and there should be objective triggers and bench-marks regarding when the intervention should end, but I think opposing the intervention is an unfortunate step, both morally and politically.

In the long-run, ISIL is a political and geopolitical reality that will have to be accepted. The concept of the nation of Iraq (and possibility Syria) is at an end. ISIL (or some related body or structure) will be very likely have to be part of whatever comes later. Although ISIL currently has a strong aspect of civilian suppression based on conservative religious dogma (and this, as I said above, is a reason for military intervention, it would be a mistake to suggest that it, and the political and social forces it represents, amount solely to a "death cult".  Once ISIL is stopped from expanding, it will have to be dealt with.     

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Bad To Worse

Priya's name wasn't Priya. Otherwise she was perfect.

Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Churchill and Poison Gas

“I do not understand this squeamishness about the use of gas. We have definitely adopted the position at the Peace Conference of arguing in favour of the retention of gas as a permanent method of warfare.  It is sheer affectation to lacerate a man with the poisonous fragment of a bursting shell and to boggle at making his eyes water by means of lachrymatory gas.

“I am strongly in favour of using poisoned gas against uncivilized tribes. The moral effect should be so good that the loss of life should be reduced to a minimum.  It is not necessary to use only the most deadly gasses: gasses can be used which cause great inconvenience and would spread a lively terror and yet would leave no serious permanent effects on most of those affected.”


Monday, April 22, 2013

Christ In The Rain

Christ In The Rain

I was born Christ in the rain
You know, the low misty rain that eats the horizon
As male as the back of the pale green leaf

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Lines on The Occassion of a Last Love

I see the water in the white stream bed.
The water running is a sound I have heard before.
Though the phone I hold is never answered,
I know upstream they bob,
caught in the snags
and battered in the falls and rapids
waiting for the release of putrifaction.
While downstream is the last sleepy ocean.
From the stream bank of safety I survey it all.

If I was brave enough to wet my legs again,
if I threw tobacco and tin into the death white foam,
would the colour of winter melt away one last time?