• Blog
  • April 20th, 2015

Military spending and the federal budget

The 2015 Federal budget will be released tomorrow.

With the 2015-2016 Federal Budget slated for release on 21 April 2015, have a look at the CCPA’s Alternative Federal Budget 2015 (Alternative Federal Budget 2015: Delivering the Good, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives, 19 March 2015).

With Canadian participation in the war in Afghanistan ending in 2014, the ongoing fight against ISIL in Iraq and Syria, and the military support provided to Ukraine, the cost to Canadians in relation to military spending needs to be understood and justified. Our focus is on the Defence chapter (authored by the Rideau Institute). Here are the CCPA recommendations on Defence:

The AFB will:

    • Take immediate action on veterans and procurement oversight: Former veterans ombudsman Colonel (retired) Pat Stogran has called for a public inquiry as the only way to address the “culture of denial” that plagues Veterans Affairs Canada. The AFB would immediately convene consultations with veterans groups on the mandate for an independent public inquiry into the department’s failure to help Canada’s fallen in need. With respect to procurement, the AFB would revise the DPS to include a single point of accountability. In particular, this would address the accountability deficit in a process with multiple departments and stakeholders.
    • Reduce defence spending over five years: The AFB will reduce the size of the Department of National Defence to its pre-September 11, 2001 level (adjusted for inflation). The 2000–01 DND budget was just under $11.9 billion, or about $16.1 billion in 2014 dollars, which is where it will be again by 2017–18 under AFB plans. As spending is projected to decline slightly in any event, the AFB will further reduce the Department of National Defence budget by $1.5 billion by 2017–18.
    • Fully review Canada’s defence policy: These spending reductions are reasonable but will require hard choices about priorities, affordable force structures, and capabilities. To get there, a “root and branch” defence policy review is mandated to identify and prioritize key defence tasks and roles, and their funding envelopes. This would involve an established democratic practice almost entirely abandoned by the Harper government — the issuance of a Green Paper based on broad public and expert consultation, followed by a White Paper that establishes the government’s new position in light of this input. A central theme to be explored in the Green Paper would be whether it is time to shift Canada’s focus from NATO to UN-led peace and security initiatives. The consultation document would include a proposed Canadian policy framework of guiding principles and considerations for Canadian intervention in military operations abroad. A hard look at the appropriate balance between military and criminal justice responses to the challenges posed by terrorism would be another key theme. This review, together with the recommended spending reductions, would provide urgently needed public dollars for other priorities, boost efficiency in national defence, and lay the foundation for a strong Canadian military that is better capable of protecting Canadians and supporting UN peace operations.

 *DPS: Defence Procurement Strategy

Find the CCPA Alternative Federal Budget chapter on Defence here: AFB Defence Chapter, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Find the full CCPA Alternative Federal Budget here: Alternative Federal Budget 2015: Delivering the Good, Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives

Find the 2015 Federal Budget here: Federal Budget 2015, Government of Canada

Photo credit: 401(K) 2012, Flickr

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  • Blog
  • April 8th, 2015

Poll: Majority of Canadians oppose expansion into Syria

Tim Naumetz of The Hill Times informs us that a majority of Canadians oppose the expansion of Canadian combat operations into Syria
(“Canadian majority opposes Syrian airstrikes: poll,” Hill Times, 7 April 2015).

According to a recent Forum Research poll conducted after the parliamentary vote to extend Canada’s military operations in Iraq and expand them into Syria on 24 March, 55 percent of those surveyed opposed conducting air strikes in Syria. In addition, only 39 percent of respondents were in favour of the Iraq mission being extended, compared to 66 percent support for involvement in Iraq back in November 2014, around the same time the air strikes in Iraq began.

While 48 percent of respondents now oppose the Iraq mission, Conservative Party voters view the mission favourably, with 71 percent approval. Regarding the move into Syria, 62 percent of Conservatives were in favour. New Democratic Party voters were against expansion, with 72 percent opposed. Liberal Party voters were also in opposition, with 65 percent against expanding the Iraq mission into Syria.

Due to civil war in Syria, ISIL has been able thrive while rebelling local factions fight against the Assad regime for political legitimacy. The Forum Research poll suggests that if the Conservative government expects the threat of ISIL terrorist attacks on Canadian soil to be a major concern for Canadians at the polls, they are headed for disappointment.

Read the full article here: Canadian majority opposes Syrian airstrikes: poll

Find the poll here: Minority support Iraq mission

Photo credit: Theo Moudakis

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  • Blog
  • April 3rd, 2015

Peggy Mason: Countering Islamic State: A failing strategy

By Peggy Mason

CCPA Monitor, April 1, 2015

The U.S.-led air campaign being waged in Iraq and Syria against Islamic State features a cast of regional allies, including Saudi Arabia, Egypt and the United Arab Emirates, whose repressive governance, gross human rights abuses and stifling of political dissent fuel the very terrorism the West says it is fighting. The current military campaign is a recipe for a long conflict and further regional destabilization, the very conditions in which violent extremists like Islamic State thrive and grow. What we need instead is a comprehensive political strategy, with regional Arab allies at the core of a solution, that privileges rule of law and governments in the Middle East that have legitimacy in the eyes of their people.

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 our military victory in Libya was a pyrrhic one that paved the way for a civil war that rages to this day. We armed ISIL fighters in Libya in their fight against Gadhafi, and, when the president fell, they got the mountains of weapons released from his arsenal—weapons that helped destabilize not only Libya but the broader sub-region including Mali. We armed ISIL fighters opposing the government of Syria until we realized they were more dangerous than the Assad regime. Now the West is bombing ISIL in Syria, leaving Assad free to bomb our allies, the so-called “moderate” opposition.

While Iran is fighting with Assad in Syria (and therefore against the forces the West backs), the main ground force countering ISIL in Iraq today—all the rhetoric about the Kurdish Peshmerga fighters notwithstanding—is the Iranian-backed Shia militias, necessitating de facto military co-ordination between the USA and Iran.

Does this sound like a winning strategy?

We have to constantly remind ourselves how we got to this point. The West chose war over negotiations. Had NATO not exceeded its UN mandate in Libya (which did not authorize regime change), a power-sharing deal could have been negotiated with Gadhafi, which would have facilitated incremental democratic reform under international supervision, and not left a power vacuum to be filled by violent jihadists including ISIL. And despite Harper’s cavalier denials of responsibility, we now know that Department of National Defence intelligence officers warned his government that a Western bombing campaign against Gadhafi forces could play into the hands of extremists and lead to a lengthy civil war. Journalist David Pugliese reports that some military officers even began to privately joke that Canada’s CF-18’s were part of “al-Qaida’s air force,” but the government was not listening.

Exactly the same argument can be made for Syria. Had the West not insisted on regime change and refused to allow Iran a seat at the table (in deference to regional rival Saudi Arabia), Kofi Annan’s peace plan might have had a chance to take root. Canada’s largely rhetorical contribution to this effort was to help undermine the chances of success by siding with Saudi Arabia, which at the time was actively funding ISIL and opposing Iran’s participation.

So the West, in effect, offered Gadhafi and Assad, in turn, a choice between surrendering or fighting. Rather predictably, they each chose the latter, with utterly devastating consequences for their respective countries.

More than a military organization

As security experts like Paul Rogers of Bradford University in the U.K. and journalist and author Loretta Napoleoni have repeatedly emphasized, ISIL is not just a military organization. It governs the huge areas it controls in Iraq and Syria, providing basic services and collecting taxes. It is organized and coherent, with a well-developed ideology, however abhorrent to the West. The core is made up of seasoned fighters and an extremely motivated leadership with origins in the “dirty war” waged by the U.S. and British Special Forces in Iraq between 2006 and 2009. They survived intense air attacks and relentless special forces operations in Iraq for years.

In early February of this year, Western publics and their governments were rightly outraged by the horrific burning, then burying in asphalt, of a Jordanian pilot captured by ISIL in late December. Yet, it clearly was meant to mirror the grisly and almost certainly illegal “shake and bake” tactics of U.S. forces in Fallujah and other cities, where white phosphorus was used to burn up Iraqi fighters driven into tunnels by the relentless bombing. The orange jumpsuits of hostages held by Islamic State echo another part of the experience of these fighters and their leader, Abu Bakr-al-Baghdadi—their detention in Camp Bucca or another of the black sites run by the United States in Iraq and the region, the squalid conditions of which were veritable breeding grounds for radicalization.

Central to the Islamic State ideology is the belief that the West is out to humiliate and destroy Islam. Western military intervention validates ISIL’s role as would-be saviour of Islam from the “Christian-Zionist” crusade. Incursions, whether ground- or air-based or both, into Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, Pakistan, Somalia, Libya, Mali, Syria and Iraq once again, together with the failure to take any meaningful steps to staunch the open wound that is Gaza and the Occupied Territories, provide ample evidence for the Islamic State narrative of malevolent Western intentions.

Using extremely sophisticated social media tools and psychological techniques, they are instilling fear simultaneously in opponents and subjugated populations, titillating with video images of sadism and violence and promulgating a potent message of a new “Caliphate” to disaffected Muslim youth all over the world. Canadians, with our own “souverainiste” history in Quebec, should recognize the appeal that a political philosophy promising “maître chez nous” can engender.

ISIL capitalizes on local grievances to gain local support. The key to neutralizing its appeal is to begin to effectively address this huge array of legitimate political injustices and marginalization that ISIL so effectively exploits to get and maintain support. Sunnis, who make up 20% of the Iraqi population, were systematically victimized by the Western-supported, viciously sectarian Nouri al-Maliki regime in Iraq between 2006 and his departure in late 2014, and many are now supporting ISIL. For these Sunnis, Islamic State is a lesser evil than the Iranian-backed Shia militias, who see their role not so much in terms of fighting for Iraq as in defending their own long-persecuted Shiite sect.

The unity government now in place in Baghdad has a very long way to go to repair these deep sectarian rifts. Perhaps the best example of this dilemma (and the shortsightedness of a military focus that gets ahead of the politics) is the major Iraqi offensive now underway to push Islamic State out of Tikrit, the birthplace of Saddam Hussein in the Sunni heartland.

So concerned are the Americans about the prominent role of Iran in this military action—with leadership from experienced Iranian commanders and troops composed of mainly Shia militiamen—that the operation is proceeding without U.S. air support. There are huge fears that atrocities will be committed against the civilian population of Tikrit, as has happened in the past in other areas captured from ISIL. The danger is immense of achieving, at best, a tactical military victory, which further deepens the sectarian cleavages, drives more Sunnis into the ranks of ISIL, and further undermines basic security for ordinary Iraqis.

What should Canada do?

Our military contribution to the U.S.-led anti-ISIL coalition, up for renewal in early April, is symbolic at best. This is so despite a very real risk to the 69 Canadian special forces advisors who are “forward deployed” in Northern Iraq and directly engaged in ground combat targeting activities, despite their parliamentary-approved non-combat training mission.

For a government that has turned most serious foreign policy issues into props for pandering to specific voting constituencies, no matter what the cost to the merits of the issue, this is almost the perfect war. It features bloodthirsty bad guys, a reasonably low cost (if only because Canada is dropping so few bombs)—the costs can be completely hidden anyway for “operational security” reasons until the election is safely over—and just enough risk of casualties to keep the “support the troops” mantra in play.

Oh, what a lovely war.

But if the Harper government actually wanted to do something meaningful, it would make a concerted effort to support what actually appeared to be U.S. President Obama’s preferred strategy (before the shrewdly calculated ISIL beheadings of American journalists forced his hand): “no American military solutions in Iraq; only Iraqi political solutions.” The same holds true in equal measure for Libya and Syria, the latter entering the fifth year of a civil war that a new UN report says has plunged 50% of the Syrian population into poverty and reduced the life expectancy by 20 years.

Canada could help find those urgently needed political solutions by getting fully behind the UN-led negotiations in Libya and Syria and by urging other NATO members to do the same. The Americans are apparently now backing Libyan talks but remain curiously ambivalent about the Syrian negotiations, almost as if they feared a solution being found where they were not playing a central role.

Canada’s latest contribution to Syrian peace talks was the announcement on January 21 by then foreign minister John Baird that Canada would not attend a high-level meeting, chaired by his Norwegian counterpart, on the future of Syria at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland—a meeting that included Iran. Happily for those championing a peace deal for Syria, the presence of Iran at the table is far more important than the absence of Canada.

Jason Kenney gave his inaugural speech as the new Minister of Defence on February 19 at the Conference of Defence Associations Institute 2015 Ottawa Conference on Security and Defence. In his closing comment (after remarks that referenced “bombs” or “bombing” in almost every other sentence), Kenney promised that Canada would no longer be an “honest broker as what could be more dishonest than that?”

It seems that the most Canadians can hope for is that the Harper government lets others, like Norway, take on the role of respected peace-builder.

Peggy Mason is the president of the Rideau Institute. This article is an amplification and update of a piece that first appeared in Embassy Magazine in October 2014.

Read the full article here: Countering Islamic State: A failing strategy

Addendum by Peggy Mason: Since this article was submitted for publication, the Harper Government, through its majority in the House of Commons, has obtained Parliamentary approval for an extension by one year of the Iraq mission as well as an expansion of the air combat campaign into Syria. As such, Canada becomes the only NATO country to join the Unites States in Syria in what is unquestionably an illegal bombing campaign under international law.  The other development of note is that, after several weeks without progress in the battle to retake Tikrit from Islamic State, the United States put aside its grave concerns about human rights abuses by Shia militiamen and resumed air strikes in support of the Iraqi forces.


Photo credit: Canadian Forces Combat Camera, DND

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  • Blog
  • March 27th, 2015

Greg Perry: Harper’s Economic Distraction Plan


Cartoonist Greg Perry nails Stephen Harper’s election strategy.

(Reproduced with the kind permission of Greg Perry.)

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  • Blog
  • March 17th, 2015

Can’t tell the players without a program

Iraqi shia militia

Author and former NDP Federal Secretary Gerald Caplan comments on the incongruity of Canada getting involved in a multilayered sectarian war in the Middle East:

March 13, 2015

Dear Mr. O’Malley, or may I call you Peter?

Thank you for your letter and your highly perspicacious questions. You write:

“Harper has now decided that Canada must play an important role in the centuries-long Shia-Sunni war within Islam. Well okay, but I’m unclear which side we’re on. I think we’re now Shias, right?

“Fact is, Canadians need to know the answer here, because under the new laws, if we promote support for the wrong warring Islamic sect, we could be subject to life in prison.

“Perhaps you could explain exactly why the sect we support is terrific, and why the sect we oppose should die.”

I’ve been pondering this very question myself, Peter, and I think I can help.  I’d also add that besides the reasonable fear of imprisonment and perhaps solitary confinement if you (or I) make an honest mistake, there’s another reason we need to know whose side we’re on. The Canadian mission to Iraq is being extended. Canada’s amusingly called “non-risk”, “non-combat” mission is going to be there for the long term, perhaps 12 years as in Afghanistan, and with the same tragic results. The Conservatives in Parliament will ratify this blunder next month.

(A caution, Peter. It may be subversive to say “blunder”.)

Okay, on to your question. Islam, like all religions, is divided. As you observed, there are two main denominations, Sunni and Shia. There are way more Sunni in the world than Shia but lots of the Shia are in the wrong place, like Iran. The western world generally doesn’t like the Shia, often seen as more extreme, so you could say we are pro-Sunni. But both ISIS and al-Qaeda are Sunni, so we must be anti-Sunni. But Sunni ISIS kills other Sunnis by the tens of thousands (plus anyone else they can get their mitts on, especially Shia).  As well, Saudi Arabia is Sunni and anti-ISIS, but so is despicable Iran, which is hugely Shia. This really complicates things. Sunni ISIS and Sunni al-Qaeda also loathe reach other, and both of course hate Shia Iran, and (possibly) vice versa..

Are you with me so far, Peter? No worry. You can rest assured Stephen Harper and his ministers have all this down pat.

Oh yeah, you know who else was Sunni? The late evil Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein! Until the US found it absolutely necessary to invade and kill him and totally screw up Iraq, Saddam, though evil, was actually a friend of the west. Iraq is majority Shia and Saddam, a good Sunni (well, a bad Sunni, I guess), kept the Shia in their place. In fact he waged a terrible 8-year war against the hated Khomeini Shia regime in Iran, in which the US aided their Sunni buddy Saddam except when it also aided despised Shia Iran.

So now thanks to the United States the Shia again rule Iraq, which led  some pissed-off Sunni to form ISIS. Iraq’s Shia militias are killing Iraqi Sunnis in huge numbers, which is making Iraq’s disempowered Sunnis look more favourably on ISIS even though ISIS kills lots of Sunni. Shia Iran strongly supports Shia Iraq, which makes Iran even more dangerous except that it’s really vital to our side in battling ISIS.  Am I going too fast?

So really, Peter, you were kind of right that we are pro-Shia because Shia Iran and Shia Iraq are fighting ISIS, which we hate most these days. But of course we’re anti-Shia because we also hate Shia Iran most because Iran “is the world’s most dangerous country” (See the former J. Baird.). Israel and its BFF, Canada,  also hate Iran and demand that Israel remain the only country in the Middle East to have nuclear weapons. Or else. But of course Israel and Canada are also quietly thrilled that Iran is fighting ISIS.

BTW, Peter, did I mention that Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia are bitter enemies, each determined to be the Big Macher (an Arab term, I believe)  in the Middle East. (Iranians aren’t Arabs, by the way; they’re Persians. And lots of Arabs are Christians. Just saying.) But both countries loathe and fear ISIS so we’re all on the same side, ISIS-wise.

And don’t forget our sometimes allies the Kurds, who are majority Sunni but hate Sunni ISIS and also hate our NATO allies the Turks who are Sunni and also war against ISIS. But Turkey hates the Kurds….Well, that’s another story.

We mustn’t forget tormented Syria, of course, where the murderous President is actually part of a small sect within the Shia, ruling a largely Sunni country. We hate him badly and want to kill him. But now that he’s also fighting Sunni ISIS, we still hate him but hope he sticks around. Now here’s the thing, Peter. We’re staying completely out of Syria even though ISIS is very powerful there. This completely bamboozles me. I haven’t a clue why we’re in Iraq but not Syria. Sorry I can’t help here.

Let’s now turn to Libya and the anarchy and violence that western countries left behind after we helped overthrow their former dictator, Gadhafi, whom we once shunned, then embraced, then killed. Now he was a Bedouin…..

Photo credit: K. Aksoy, Flickr

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