Sunday, October 19, 2014

Chretien reminds us of the noble role Canada once played in the world before Stephen Harper...

There has been much self-righteous and misguided criticism of Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau for his decision to vote against Canadian combat action against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (or ISIL.)

Conservative types with their knee-jerk support for combat and bizarre romanticism of war see this current tragic conflict as an opportunity for Canada to regain its place as a fighter against the enemy.  I have no doubt that Stephen Harper sees this new Iraq war as a chance for redemption for his Canada after our decision in 2003 to refuse to stand next to George Bush and his misguided invasion of Iraq.   

Generally speaking, these war hawks in the Conservative movement are leading a new holy war.  They have described Islamic radicals such as Al Qaeda and now ISIL as grave threats to world peace.  In truth, these extremists are the results of ongoing Western military colonialism in the Middle East.  In truth, conservatives like George Bush, Stephen Harper and many others are the real authors of this never-ending war and instability.   We will never be safe as long as these neo-con ideologues are calling the shots, literally. 

The private media in Canada largely joined forces with conservatives and others by pouring scorn on Justin Trudeau for his more nuanced position.   They emphasized alleged division in Liberal ranks by pointing out a vote abstention by MP Irwin Cotler and public comments in support of air strikes by Lloyd Axworthy or Bob Rae.

But most Liberals, myself included, felt very comfortable with Trudeau's decision to vote against Canada participating in combat against ISIL at this time.   Our view of the world is not ideological and paranoid like Stephen Harper's world view.

Thus, I was thrilled to see former Prime Minister Jean Chretien make a very eloquent public commentary about this issue and come to the defense of Justin Trudeau with his recent article in the Globe & Mail. 

I especially appreciated this paragraph by Mr. Chretien:

"The legacy of colonialism in the Middle East had not been forgotten and was only exacerbated by the Western military intervention in Iraq in 2003, with the consequences we face today. Unfortunately, Mr. Harper did not understand that history in 2003, and he does not understand it today."

Chretien continues:

"...Given the history of the region and the sensitivities to Western military interventions, I believe that any U.S.-led military coalition [today] should be composed mainly of Arab countries, with minimal participation by other Western countries.

"No one underestimates the Islamic State. But the issues are the best ways to combat it and the best contributions Canada can make. ‎If the region sees military intervention as just another knee-jerk Western show of force, we all know what the long-term consequences will be.

"This is why I believe the best ‎contribution Canada can make is by engaging in massive, not token, humanitarian assistance. It is why in answer to the questions asked of me, I support Mr. Trudeau’s position.

"The Islamic State has created a massive humanitarian crisis. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced. Neighbouring countries are dealing with floods of refugees. The World Food Program is almost out of funds and winter is approaching.

"The Prime Minister may believe that not participating in the combat mission means Canada will be sitting on the sidelines. He is absolutely wrong – Canada should be on the front line, addressing the humanitarian crisis.

"For well over 50 years, it has been the Canadian way to open our hearts, our doors and our wallets to victims of great upheavals – Hungarians in the 1950s, Ugandans in the 1970s, Vietnamese boat people in the 1980s, refugees from the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s. And I am always thrilled by the great contribution they make after arriving.

"Here are two concrete initiatives I would recommend for Mr. Harper to put Canada on the front lines of the humanitarian crisis while a U.S.-led, primarily Arab coalition focuses on the military crisis.  First, Canada should offer to immediately take 50,000 refugees fleeing the Islamic State. I hope the government will move on this quickly.  Second, the government should immediately allocate $100-million‎ for the World Food Program, to help feed refugees facing a harsh winter."

Mr. Chretien perfectly articulates the position of the majority of Canadians when he writes these words, certainly the vast majority of Liberals.   We know the knee-jerk militarism of neo-conservatives is a recipe for never-ending instability and war in the Middle East.

Reading Chretien's words, we are reminded of a more nobler Canada, a country that once made us all proud.  Sadly, a country that hasn't existed since Stephen Harper came to power.

But a country that can and will exist again when Justin Trudeau gets elected, hopefully as soon as possible.  And on these important matters of world affairs, I'm very glad that Justin Trudeau seems to be taking his advice from the right people, including Jean Chretien.  

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