Why do we have troops in the Middle East? Didn't we say NO to this in 2003? What's changed since then? Did the government ask if we were on for this action?


Rivers 100x100By Ray Rivers

September 12, 2014



Didn’t we have the debate already? I mean about sending soldiers to Iraq?  Jean Chretien settled it in 2003, I thought. We weren’t going to participate in the illegal US invasion of Iraq – or its aftermath, something we’re seeing now. The Pottery Barn rule – if you break it you own it – applies.

NATO has lost its way. Of all of its interventions, only Kosovo and Bosnia were in Europe, and neither came even close to falling within NATO’s mandate of keeping the Russian Bear at bay. But Afghanistan, Libya, and now Iraq – really? And when it comes to actually standing up to the Russians, it’s all talk.


That Russian bear has to be fed – constantly.

Our Prime Minister has been outspoken on Ukraine and Russia. So perhaps that is why president Obama shut him out of the meeting with some European leaders and the Ukrainian president. As in so many things, the US leads NATO, but Obama has displayed incredible incompetence on this file. And old Europe is still in shock at the upheaval of the world order they thought would go on forever. So NATO is adrift In the midst of the biggest crisis since the cold war ended.

Obama has displayed incredible incompetence on this file.And our own Harper, forthright in characterizing this issue from the start, has only provided a financial package and a few plane loads of non-lethal aid. It will take more than night goggles and bullet-proof vests to halt the onslaught of Russia’s modern army. Don’t we still have surplus tanks from our Afghan adventure?

ISIS is a nasty organization but hardly a NATO problem, posing no credible threat to the security of Europe or North America. Still Obama has thrown us in it, ordering Harper to send our special operations forces to train the Iraqi Kurds how to kill – something they could probably teach us. What the Kurds really need , like the Ukrainians also under siege, is lethal arms to counter the invading horde. And unlike Ukraine, it appears the Kurds will be getting modern defensive weapons.

Harper should have said ‘NO’ to sending troops to clean up America’s mess in Iraq. Certainly not without a parliamentary vote, and maybe even another discussion among Canadians. And Harper should not have left the NATO meeting without ensuring there would be provision for defensive weapons for Ukraine. That is, if he wants us to believe that all those words he has been uttering on their behalf are not just empty rhetoric.

He should have walked out of the meeting and told the rest of NATO to call him when they had found their intestinal fortitude. If they won’t even supply defensive weapons to help Ukraine, a NATO partner (though not full member), what will they do for us when Canada needs to defend its arctic sovereignty from a Russian intrusion. And that day won’t be far away as we watch Russia preparing its arctic military bases.

Better we go it alone if all we are going to get from NATO is lip service. The resolutions coming out of the meeting in Wales were pathetic. New bases are to be established in eastern Europe, but without any troops to ‘man’ them. Another rapid-action force is being created to replace the one that has remained on paper for nearly two decades. And nothing was done to defend against actual Russian aggression, which everyone concedes is taking place to a sovereign European state – the raison d’être for NATO in the first place.

Harper and Obama

Are the Americans our friends or are they just an ally?

Brian Mulroney gave a rare but very frank interview to the CBC recently. He particularly impressed me with his candour, especially when characterizing the performance of the current PM. He spoke about how essential good relations with our neighbour to the south are if we are to influence their policies, and how Harper had failed in that regard (my words). Why else would Obama have volunteered Canada for this new role in Iraq, and maybe Syria, when it has so little to do with our national interest.

Canada is a strategic partner for the US but not a friend, which it was under Mulroney and Reagan, Chretien and Clinton, and Trudeau and Carter. Obama neither understands nor listens to us as a result. And the US president’s policy of global benign neglect has enabled situations like ISIS and the Russian invasion of Ukraine, rather than prevented them. He has no strategy for global leadership on these issues, as he recently, and unfortunately, admitted – nor any other ones either, it seems. The world has become a more scary place under his watch – perhaps it’s time for him to return that Nobel peace prize.

Canada is a strategic partner for the US but not a friend.It’s not that we have seen great insight on foreign policy from the Harper crowd either, though at least they are saying the right things about Ukraine. Still, our PM needs to recant his commitment to send troops to Iraq, at least until the rest of us Canadians have considered the potential consequences and agreed to that kind of mission. Last time I looked we were still a parliamentary democracy.

Rivers-direct-into-camera1-173x300Ray Rivers writes weekly on both federal and provincial politics, applying his more than 25 years as a federal bureaucrat to his thinking. Rivers was a candidate for provincial office in Burlington where he ran against Cam Jackson in 1995, the year Mike Harris and the Common Sense Revolution swept the province.

Background links:

US and ISIS    Canada and Ukraine     Canada and Iraq  

Mulroney Interview   ISIS as a Threat   Ukraine and Nato

Obama Wrong on Russia      Russia in the Arctic


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5 comments to Why do we have troops in the Middle East? Didn’t we say NO to this in 2003? What’s changed since then? Did the government ask if we were on for this action?

  • penny Hersh

    If Canadians feel that they are safe from the likes of ISIS they are greatly mistaken. It is so like Canadians to sit back. Have we not learned that we are not exempt from this type of terrorism? For the first time in a long time Canada has a Prime Minister that is credible on the world stage….Has everyone forgotten when Chretien represented Canada abroad.

  • Gary

    Tony, you made me LOL. Couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Tony Pullin

    I found this column a little difficult to comprehend. More like a rant, after a long night out with the Loyal Order of Water Buffalo. I’m sure there are some good and valid points, and would encourage Mr. Rivers to re-write it after a good night’s sleep, some breakfast and a cup of coffee (decaf).

  • Bob Zarichansky

    We may not be giving Harper enough credit. Surely he has read his Shakespeare for he follows this quote from the dying King Henry IV’s advice to his son: “Be it thy course to busy giddy minds with foreign quarrels.”
    Certainly we know that Harper does not want us to dwell on his mistakes with government debt, Canada Post, the tar sands, the secret China or European pact agreements, treatment of veterans, confusion over EI, his separate wars against all unions and especially the government’s own civil servants, science and research, Medicare, seniors and immigration.
    Harper knows exactly what he is doing: he can safely throw little stones at the big bear while leaving us to talk about his supposed statesmanship and yet still treat us in derision as those same “giddy minds.”

  • John Coakley

    This column sounds a bit angry, Ray. And you were unfairly harsh on President O.

    John C.