I am a great admirer of George Orwell, the man whose quote has provided the title of this post. The first and last part of it are, sadly, greatly applicable to the situation we now find ourselves facing.
Since the 1950s, the Western World has found itself clenched in the jaws of the Military-Industrial Complex; an idea so insipid that former General, and outgoing President, Dwight D. Eisenhower found it necessity to condemn it to Americans in his final televised address. Learned men who fought wars, from Eisenhower to Confederate General Robert E. Lee, often found it necessary to condemn the very nature of war after experiencing it.
And yet, time and time again, nations find themselves at the eventual mercy of the 'war hawks'. Men and women who believe, one way or another, that their nation must face the task of inevitable war. That eventually an enemy arises that must be faced with extreme prejudice; one that cannot be allowed to fester, regardless of their proximity, and one that will pose an unquantified but undeniable threat to the safety and security of another nation.
In the past, this sort of distinction was much easier. It was nation states who posed the threat; from territorial annexation and empire expansion (as seen in WWI by the movement of Austria-Hungary to secure Serbia), to the unspeakable acts of genocide and mass extermination (as seen in WWII and the events of the Holocaust), it used to be a much clearer distinction of who the 'bad guys' were.
But now, everything exists in a shade of grey.
Since September 11, 2001 a new sort of mentality has taken over the approach to war. It is no longer a nation fighting a nation, but rather a nation fighting groups within another nation. The lasting effects of 9/11 is the surviving mentality that "we must fight them over there, so we do not have to fight them over here."
And so, when we find ourselves looking at a potential threat, the same old platitudes that rose from the birth of this new form of warfare are trotted out again by those who are all too eager to commit us to war. I speak, of course, about the current situation in Iraq. As of the time of writing this, it had been announced that Canada would hold a debate about a combat mission to be undertaken in Iraq come Monday, October 6.
Much like Thomas Mulcair, I'm find myself thinking that this debate and vote will be nothing more than a farce. It has been clear for quite sometime that Prime Minister Harper is more than ready to commit Canada to combat operations in Iraq, and nothing that will be said or done in the next few days will change that. One need only look to the 'he said, she said' debate of whether the US approached us or we approached the US to offer further assistance to see where the Prime Minister stands. Harper has gone as far as to say that action in Iraq is "noble and necessary."
Buying further into the mindset that 9/11 helped to foster, we are already seeing the arguments form that to have peace we must engage in war; hence the first part of the Orwell quote of the title. ISIS has made the monumental mistake of vowing to engage in acts of terrorism, even specifically naming Canada as a target, hence perhaps the reason why the Prime Minister believes Canadians are more than willing to take up arms.
And yet, it comes off as more grandiose bravado than an actual threat. It is at this time that I would remind the world to look at several nations, some of which no longer exist: North Korea, Saddam Hussien's Iraq, Ahmadinejad's Iran, and Kruschev's Soviet Union.
Looking at this list, do you know what they all have in common? At one point or another, they all threatened North America or the United States. Their leadership would stand up and proudly announce that they would 'destroy', 'obliterate', 'crush', or any other synonym thereof the western nations that they saw as 'decedent', 'godless', 'Satanic', and so on and so forth.
Furthermore, the number of assaults that these 'great leaders' actually carried out were pretty much zero. The Soviets get partial credit for spy rings and things of the sort, but they weren't actively carrying out attacks on infrastructure and people. The point of mentioning this is to remind us all that posturing and bravado is part of the 'appearance' of strongmen.
It's one thing to claim you will attack and assault a country, it's quite another thing to actually do it. In the days of digital surveillance, we are indeed capable of being very well informed of credible threats. And as far as we've been told, which granted is not a lot, there's been no indication that ISIS is even capable of following through on their threat and attacking on an international level.
And this is where the third part of the Orwell quote comes in. As of now, Harper and his government have done very little to explain to Canadians why we need to become involved in what will evolve into another Middle Eastern ground war.
There's been no credible threat presented. No smoking gun that shows we need to act immediately. They point to several Canadians who have 'defected' to ISIS and left the country to be trained and wage war on their side...But this is not a new occurrence. After 9/11, numerous Americans and Canadians left North America to join to Al-Qaeda. In the 1950s and onward, numerous Americans and Canadians defected to the Soviet Union. Effectively, disturbed citizens of any nation are always going to find an outlet/group that fits in their world view and rush off to join it.
So, if ISIS poses no immediate and direct threat to Canada, why are we in such a rush to declare war?
That brings us to the so-called 'feel good' argument.
ISIS is being presented to us as cold-blooded, genocidal, women-hating, children killing, serial rapist monsters. Not that it isn't true, ISIS' reputation and actions indeed prove all of these points. They have committed genocide against the Yazidi people. They have a long record of crimes against women, including sexual slavery and forced marriages. They have murdered children.
With a history like that, even the most peace loving amongst us would be quick to say that something must be done about a group like that. The problem, however, is that these features are not unique to ISIS. Fighting in the South Sudan, which has gone on since 2013, has seen many of the same problems: abusive crimes towards women, murder/execution of civilians (including children), and a genocidal bent between different ethnic-linguistic groups.
Yet, there has been no 'noble and necessary' call to action in South Sudan.
The same can be said of the Central African Republic; where UNICEF noted that attacks against children were becoming more brutalized, and that New Republic has declared it 'Africa's bloodiest fight'.
Yet there has been no 'noble and necessary' call to action in the Central African Republic.
This is always the oddest of arguments to have when confronting those whose minds are made up towards war. There is always a reason why this battlefield is different from the others; some misaligned morality that justifies intervention in one place but not in a similar other place. From declarations of "it's not our fight" or "not our business" or so forth, war hawks manage to evade taking action in a place as bad or worse than the one they actively seek to target.
We cannot call a war 'noble and necessary' when we look the other way at situations elsewhere in the world that mirror another.
And that brings me to the second part of our Orwell quote.
It is a long standing convention, through observation, that democracy cannot be forced upon another country. In every single historical case where it has ever been tried, any attempt to establish a democracy from without has always ended the same:
The fledgling democracy set up by the conquering heroes is immediately wiped away by a rising strongman who centralizes power; or numerous regional strongmen rise to power and fracture the country, usually along ethnic-religious lines.
Democracy is only achieved when the people of a nation, not the will of another nation, rise to the challenge and demand it. Of course, this also has a chance to fail massively. One need only look to Egypt and the problems of the Muslim Brotherhood and the eventual rise of President al-Sisi, whose commitment to maintaining democracy remains to be seen.
But getting back to Orwell, this quote is actually quite paramount in understanding how organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda have been successful at recruiting and growing. ISIS managed to capture several important oil refineries and fields on their march to power. In fact, it is being argued that ISIS is likely the world's richest terrorist organization.
And in addition to using that money to purchase weapons and pay soldiers, they've also set up a very comprehensive social service system that is designed to win civilians to their side. Propaganda, for sure, but it seems to be effective propaganda. After all, we need to keep in mind the conditions that existed in Syria and Iraq prior to the rise of ISIS.
They would hardly be called ideal, that's for sure. And after all, in the eyes of some Sunni Muslims, isn't it worth sacrificing conventional freedom (also known as not living according to Sharia Law) in exchange for infrastructure investment, jobs, food and numerous other improvements to daily life?
It's not that the people of Iraq actually like the extremist views that ISIS is espousing, it's more so that ISIS is improving the quality of life in these areas. I want to be clear here, however: ISIS is not improving life for all. They are certainly committing genocide against ethnic and religious minorities and committing numerous other crimes against humanity.
But to the average, Sunni citizen of Iraq they are offering improvement at the sacrifice of personal freedoms. And that, perhaps, is what we need to keep in mind when we consider military action against such an organization. It is not just those diehards who are already members of ISIS that are part of the problem, it is also those who are accepting them as a better alternative to the current situation.
And this is where the war hawks really begin to fail.
It is not enough to simply bomb ISIS into oblivion, or march troops into Iraq to take them out. That in and of itself is not an ends, nor should it be the only objective of any military operation. It is not enough to simply knock something down, you must build something in its place.
And that is something we haven't heard from our government or any of the other nations ready to march on ISIS. The Iraqi Government has clearly shown that it cannot control its country, or secure it's borders. Our solution cannot be to wipe out ISIS and hand the area back, since it would likely just lead to ISIS 2.0 taking over the territory.
Yet, no leader wants to admit that 'mission creep' will occur. No one wants to commit to long term, boots on the ground. But if we knock out ISIS, we can't just declare mission accomplished and leave. Terrorism has always proven itself to be a hydra, when you cut off one head two more grow in its place. Stopping ISIS will not stop whatever organization rises from its ashes, nor the organization that will rise from their ashes, and onwards and so forth until the end of time.
Air strikes are just the beginning. And any sane, rational world leader should recognize this.
And troops on the ground means a long, prolonged conflict. But, of course, the war hawks do their best to avoid this unavoidable truth. After all, in 1914 the Great Powers were convinced 'the boys' would be home by Christmas.
There has been no talk, none, of how to defeat ISIS and what is to replace them when they're gone. The parts of Syria they control can't be handed over to anti-Assad rebels without committing to arming them long term and risking a repeat of the Mujahidin aftermath that was seen in Afghanistan. And as mentioned, I'm sure no one will rush to immediately return control of the area to an Iraqi Government that has proven ineffective at securing its borders thus far.
I can only repeat: no sane, rational, intelligent world leader can have overlooked this fact. If we strike ISIS, it will not be enough to simply rain down an air war upon them. We will reach a point, if only in the name of stability for the region, when troops must be on the ground. And if we are not able to provide a better standard of living, while occupying this area, then we are going to be there for a very long time.
And seeing the 'bang-up job' America did in the aftermath of the Second Gulf War, there's absolutely no reason to believe that we will improve upon the results of last time. Democracy will not come if the average citizen in the street doesn't embrace it. It will not come if we allow 'democratically elected' governments to live in unparalleled corruption, all while siphoning as much money and power as they can for themselves. The truth is, stopping ISIS is our only current objective, but it is not an ends to this situation at all.
For those reasons alone, war is not a great option to this situation.
This war may begin with air strikes, but it certainly won't end there. And until we know what we're asking Canadians to put their lives on the line to achieve, knowing that by itself the defeat of ISIS is not an objective, then we need to take a step back and not be so ready to rush in head first.
ISIS is, without a doubt, an evil organization. But ISIS grew out of the aftermath of the Second Gulf War because the United States did not fully have a plan or answers to the question of what comes after. That should give anyone pause to think what may follow ISIS if we commit to a half-baked, short sighted idea.