Chronicle Herald - Halifax, Nova Scotia
Chewing our cud in Ottawa: Canadian uselessness in Mideast
THREE CANADIAN opposition MPs go to Lebanon and suggest that maybe we should talk to Hezbollah. The Harper government freaks out. The prime minister’s parliamentary secretary, Jason Kenney, rages about how it would be like talking to Nazis. The muddled Liberals get even more muddled, and the Liberal among the three MPs resigns his post as foreign affairs critic.
Meanwhile, the week opens to headlines about a Canadian military success in Afghanistan, followed the next day by stories of new setbacks – another soldier dead, a 10-year-old boy shot by a Canadian soldier and Afghans newly upset – and by week’s end, renewed questioning about our role in the conflict. On Thursday, I read an editorial in the New York Times entitled "Losing Afghanistan."
If our discomfiture is rising, there’s a reason for it that we ferociously resist: The West, in its towering arrogance as exemplified by the Bush government, has been checkmated on all three conflicts with the Islamic world. Iraq has turned into the mother of all catastrophes. Afghanistan, a legitimate target because of the Taliban’s role in 9-11, is being "lost" because – this is the Times’ point – the U.S. diverted its attention and resources by invading Iraq, where it’s hopelessly bogged down after inflaming the entire Islamic world. And Hezbollah is left standing after Israel gives it its best shot with the world’s best weaponry – in context, a victory for Hezbollah.
To get back to our first point, what this means is that we’re going to talk to Hezbollah, terrorist status or not. This won’t be because either the Harper government or the Liberal party will have changed their minds, but because we’ll have to. Whoever speaks for the Western world will talk to Hezbollah in the same way as the British ended up talking to the IRA, or the French to the Algerian rebels in the time of Charles de Gaulle.
How little choice we have in the matter might be indicated by this little news item. Western aid agencies trying to deliver relief to Lebanon are in a bind because, on the ground, they’ve found that the only outfit capable of distributing aid efficiently is Hezbollah, which they’re not allowed to talk to. The aid, apparently, is being distributed anyway – through Hezbollah.
What’s under assault in this summer of our discontent is our Jason Kenney view of these conflicts – that they are a confrontation of good versus evil, with us as the good and with no wiggle room on that point whatsoever. The undisputedly raw evil of bombing airlines and subways leads us to those conclusions.
Yet when it is pointed out that we kill 10 times as many civilians with our smart bombs and cluster bombs dropped from 10,000 feet up, we duck behind the notion that we didn’t mean to. Israel is doing that now, as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (Israel chapter) accuse it of indiscriminate bombing of civilian infrastructure whether Hezbollah fighters were present or not – what Prime Minister Stephen Harper called a "measured response."
Under threat from terrorists and potential terrorists, we have real trouble with the idea that there are people on the other side whose beef with us might be well-grounded, and whose discontent is the stewing pot for real terrorists. And thus, seeing these matters in black and white, we give credence to the discredited war party in the U.S., which is alas still in power and whose political base is the hordes of the apocalypse, whose solution is an all-out end-times assault, including on Iran and Syria if need be.
All is not lost, however. The hordes of the apocalypse are being held in check because no one wants to join their army. The American public is increasingly – and finally – seeing the Iraq war as having nothing to do with opposing terror, and even the fabled marines can’t get enough recruits. There are potentially explosive rumbles about reviving the draft.
Meanwhile, the Israeli government is under fire from within – for bungling the war, for overreacting, for arrogance, even for corruption and "lack of democracy." There has even been a demonstration by soldiers. Sometimes losing can actually smarten you up.
Also, "freedom fries" are out at the U.S. Congress. France, which maintained its integrity throughout all this by opposing the Iraq war, will take on the task of stabilizing the Middle East hot zone, with Italy and Spain. Having some credibility left, it may actually achieve something. It will talk to Hezbollah.
Too bad we can’t be there, being bogged down in Afghanistan and chewing our cud in Ottawa.
Ralph Surette is a veteran freelance journalist living in Yarmouth County.