REPORTS out of Washington last week were that one of the Pentagon's new initiatives in Iraq would involve an increased dependency on ethnic Kurd peshmerga military units to quell the inter-factional violence in Baghdad.
The deployment of up to two brigades of Kurdish troops from the Iraqi army would augment the "surge" increase in U.S. troops in the embattled capital.
The rationale behind this new American strategy is the hope that the predominantly Sunni Kurds would have an affinity with the Sunni Arabs, and since Kurdish militias are already engaging Shiite Arab militias in the northern city of Kirkuk, it would seem a natural extension of the Kurds' areas of operation.
AS THE STORY GOES, Chicken Little was sitting under an oak tree one fine day, when suddenly an acorn fell on her head.
Being young, not overly bright, and just a little “chicken,” our poor heroine concludes the sky is falling and runs cheeping through the forest telling everyone to run for their lives. She eventually manages to gather quite a following of feathered friends, but in their collective panic, they almost let a fox lead them into his den.
Well, an acorn fell on Canada’s head last week, and all the Chicken Littles have come out cheeping. Pundits and prognosticators of every stripe have been shouting from the rafters ever since 17 “terrorists,” most still trying to control their acne, were rounded up last week in an undercover sting operation. Security “experts” puffed up their chests and said “see, we told you.”
Columnists sounded as if the apocalypse was nigh, particularly the ever-shrill Rosie DiManno of the Toronto Star, who broke out her dictionary to find new adjectives to describe the gruesome impact of a terrorist bomb. All had finger-wagging condescension for those who aren’t busy saran-wrapping their homes, turning in their neighbours, or buying the jingoism of Canada’s supposed new war on terror.
Well, before I’m zinged with high-voltage email for equating terror bombings with acorns, perhaps it’s time to put Islamic terrorism in its place when it comes to things that can go thud on our collective heads.
Over the last twenty years, deaths to Westerners (that’s you and me, Ms. Little) by acts of jihadist terrorism have amounted to approximately five thousand. 9/11 and violence in Israel account for the vast majority of this number, but even including them, you have far better odds of dying by lightning strike than meeting your maker by suicide bomb. You have still better odds of dying in your car (3000 deaths every year on Canadian roads alone), of pneumonia and influenza (4000 Canadian deaths annually) or by your own hand (4000 Canadians commit suicide each year). You even have better odds of being trodden on by a horse.
But while you will have to wait until long after the automobile has become a museum piece for stricter laws on drivers, their training, or their manners, there are already shouts for more money for security, and even tougher laws on terrorism.
In a year that sees Canada’s Anti-Terrorism Act and Public Safety Act under review (both knee-jerk pieces of legislation drafted post 9/11 that sent due process and privacy protection to the back of the public policy bus), the timing could not be better for those who view personal freedom as a strategic inconvenience to ratchet things up another notch and lead us down the fox hole.
To his credit, Stephen Harper has kept a cool head in the last week, stating his confidence in his budgetary allocations for security, and the current legislation. But it hasn’t stopped him from demonstrating the inherent irrationality of how we approach the problem of terrorism. For when word came that the alleged terror plot had been foiled, Harper launched into the same old rhetoric about Canada being a target because of “who we are and how we live, our society, our diversity, and our values.”
Perhaps his briefings failed to include the fact that those who apparently wanted to attack us happened to be mostly born-and-bred Canadians, living like us and in our society, if perhaps not particularly sharing our values; assuming there’s a homogenous “us” to compare them to in the first place.
Unfortunately, there’s little doubt that he was properly briefed, and it’s a telltale sign that the lessons of last year’s London bombing have yet to sink in. We continue to embrace the concept of “pre-emption,” trying to stamp out those who might hurt us before it happens, much like keeping cockroaches out of the kitchen by chasing them around the living room with a shoe. But as in London last year, our budding cadre of suspected jihadists are homegrown, and their only connection with the hills of Afghanistan and the Taliban who live there is hatred of what the West is doing there and elsewhere in the Middle East.
It is reasonable to be watchful, even proactive, where a clearly identified threat exists, investigating, monitoring and arresting those who plot acts of terror, just as it’s reasonable to ticket speeders, arrest gunrunners, and have a proper mat in the shower so you don’t break your neck. But fear rarely promotes reason.
Fear will allow our rights and freedoms to be legislatively eroded still further, for Canada to continue and expand an at-best questionable foreign policy, or at worst, one that is not only futile, but fuels the very threat it tries to counter. Reason says for us to take a deep, calming breath, and begin talking about other solutions, be it a serious, real effort to promote Middle-East peace and deal with combatants who have held the rest of the world politically hostage for far too long, or the need for Islamic communities to do more than give a verbal scolding to members who use or advocate violence as a solution.
Or we could all just dive into the fox’s den. The sky is falling, after all.
Published in the Halifax Chronicle-Herald
IN LATE February 2003, the U.S.-led coalition was poised to invade Iraq, and I was attempting to get into the northern Iraqi provinces in advance of the invasion. While stuck at the Turkish border checkpoint, I had a bizarre encounter with a U.S. special forces officer - who wasn't officially supposed to be in that part of the world.
"Good to see a fellow American here," he greeted me. When I corrected him and explained that I was Canadian, he cordially replied, "No difference, we're all in this war together."
I avoided mentioning the fact that at that juncture, people were still hoping that the war could be prevented and explained to the good major that Canada was not part of the Coalition of the Willing. "Oh, but you will be," he continued undaunted. "History will repeat itself. All the holdouts will wait until us Americans have done the heavy fighting and then will jump on board for the victory parade." As a keen student of history, I asked him to back up his claim with a single example where this phenomenon had actually occurred. In anticipating his response, I quickly recapped the major conflicts of the past century. In the First World War, the U.S. entered the fray in 1917 - three years after the carnage began. The Second World War had already been raging for two years before the Yanks were finally provoked by the attack on Pearl Harbour. Korea was a collective UN response from the outset and was fought to a standstill (no victory parade on either side). The Vietnam debacle was a singular American defeat, and the Persian Gulf War in 1991 had been waged by a true coalition of 32 nations.
One can only imagine my amazement when the special forces officer looked at me in utter disbelief and replied, "Pick one example? How about all of them. That's history - America fights wars, America wins wars, world claims victory."
To end the argument, he looked me in the eyes, slapped the back of his hand into the other palm and said, "That's a fact."
Now before everyone goes rushing off to write me an angry letter denouncing me as an "anti-American," let me say in my own defence that this U.S. commando actually believed what he was saying. And in recent weeks, Canadians have become equally delusional about our military commitment in Afghanistan.
Ever since Prime Minister Stephen Harper visited the troops in Kandahar and stated we don't "cut and run," this phrase has been repeated so often that it has simply become a "fact.
However, for one who has closely followed Canadian military events over the past two decades, I know that Harper's claim is not supported by the facts.
Yes, our nation fought both world wars from beginning to end, and the sacrifice of our troops earned us a solid place in the victory parade. As well, those who volunteered to fight in Korea certainly did not "cut and run."
However, on the string of peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations that we've undertaken in recent history, our national policy, due to limited resources and the fluidness of public opinion, and our record is fast becoming one of cutting and running. Sure, we were in Cyprus for over 30 years before we pulled out all but one lonely officer. But the UN observation force is still there, and so the job is not finished.
There is still a major NATO force patrolling Bosnia, but the Canadian contingent has long since departed. In Kosovo, our army maintained only two six-month deployments, but there are still some 20,000 NATO soldiers maintaining a fragile peace in that war-ravaged province.
The reason we couldn't keep rotating into Kosovo was because in 2000, the crisis erupted in East Timor. To appease the public clamour for a response, we dispatched the troops slated for the Balkans to the South Pacific. Did we stay there? Nope, we pulled out after six months even though an Australian-led international force is still deployed there.
Somalia was another six-month campaign that certainly wasn't resolved before the entire U.S.-led force "cut and ran."
If there are valid arguments for extending Canada's commitment to Afghanistan, I've yet to hear them.
However, the notion that we have to preserve a legacy of "finishing the job" simply doesn't wash.
And that's a fact (hand slapping again).
AS THIS IS obviously an incredibly sensitive issue, I wish to state from the outset that I have close contact and a good relationship with a number of senior Turkish officials. Turkish intelligence officers successfully negotiated my release from the hands of Iraqi insurgents in September 2004 and, having visited the Turkish residency in Ottawa on numerous occasions, I consider Ambassador Aydemir Erman a personal friend. The fact that Erman has temporarily been recalled to Ankara in protest over comments made by Prime Minister Stephen Harper has hit close to home. I believe the recent statement made by Harper concerning the Armenian tragedy of 1915 was not only damaging to Turkish-Canadian relations, but unnecessary.
Two years ago, Bloc MP Madeleine Dalphond-Guiral brought forward a bill condemning the mass deportation of Armenians from eastern Anatolia during the First World War that resulted in the death of hundreds of thousands. According to the bill, it was genocide on the part of the Ottoman Empire.
While some may wonder why Canadian parliamentarians would spend their time passing judgment on events 90 years ago in the Middle East, Bill M-380 was passed on April 21, 2004, after a free vote in the House of Commons.
The Turkish government voiced its opposition and offered up its own version of events. While not denying that the Armenians died in droves, the Turks pointed out that in 1915, eastern Anatolia was being threatened by Czarist Russian troops, the Ottoman Empire was crumbling and Armenian nationalists chose to rise up in open revolt. The forced relocation of the potentially hostile Armenian population into northern Iraq and Syria was undertaken by an Ottoman administration so cash-strapped and inept that 80,000 Turkish troops died that year on the Russian front from frostbite and starvation.
The Armenians claim the resultant death of their refugees was genocide, while the Turks say it was a regrettable tragedy exacerbated by brutal wartime conditions.
Realizing that Bill M-380 was an impediment to Canadian-Turkish relations, the cabinet of then-prime minister Paul Martin voted against the motion and the bill was considered non-binding.
In the interim, the Turkish government has proposed a joint commission of historians from Armenia and Turkey to attempt to thoroughly re-examine the past to determine a "true" account of the 1915 tragedy. Although modern Turkey was founded in 1923 from the ashes of the Ottoman Empire, the actions of the former ruling Caliphate leadership still affects the nationalist psyche of the Turks. For this reason, Turkey has agreed to reopen the archives and share the documentation with the Armenians. Surprisingly, the Armenians have yet to agree to participate in the study.
Nevertheless, on April 18, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan forwarded a letter to Stephen Harper urging him to support the study. Instead, Harper reaffirmed his support of M-380 at a press conference the next day. Somewhat prophetically, Erdogan had written warning Harper that "the Armenian lobby has not given up its intention to create problems in Turkish-Canadian relations."
Although the prime minister's official website only briefly displayed Harper's statement concerning M-380, Armenian-Canadian websites continue to post the comments. Turkey responded by temporarily recalling Erman and withdrawing from a NATO fighter jet exercise in Alberta.
While these actions may seem harmless and petty, remember that Turkey is a key NATO ally and a vital partner to the mission in Afghanistan. More importantly, if Stephen Harper is anxious to mend fences with the U.S. State Department, he should have consulted their position on the issue. The U.S. does not insist on using the word "genocide" and is prepared to wait for the study's results. As a secular Muslim democracy that recognizes Israel, Turkey is the cornerstone to America's Middle East policies. Maintaining good relations with Ankara is a high priority for the U.S.
Closer to home, the fanatical elements of the Armenian nationalists have not always resorted to diplomatic measures to bring attention to their cause. In 1982, an Armenian assailant gunned down the Turkish military attache, and in 1985 the Turkish ambassador narrowly escaped when Armenian gunmen forced their way into the official residence.
Historical records are all too often written by the victors at the expense of the vanquished. However, in the case of the Ottomans and Armenians, both sides lost that war and suffered terrible casualties. Clarification of this tragedy needs to be addressed by historians examining the facts, not politicians appeasing a lobby group. Canada's current relations with a vital ally and trading partner should have taken precedence over passing judgment on a 90-year-old incident.