31 August 2006

Between Jack Layton and Gerard Kennedy wanting us out of Afghanistan, the Greens wanting us out of NAFTA altogether, and the Liberals wanting us out of the softwood agreement, are there any international agreements that the opposition parties would like to see Canada honour?

Perhaps next one of the Liberal leadership candidates will declare that Canada should withdraw from the WTO. Why not really go for that brass ring and suggest that we shouldn't support the UN.* Maybe get one of those folks who are always going on about Canada's "honest broker" reputation to declare neutrality so that we can be the voice of moderation in EVERY SINGLE INTERNATIONAL DISPUTE. Who knows? Anything can happen!

Harper's gotta be loving this directionless opposition that is just throwing everything at the wall to see if something can stick. It probably reminds him of when his party had that particular shoe on its foot. What a difference two or three years can make in the political landscape eh?

*Somehow I can't see this one happening. We've made such a fetish out of "UN peacekeeping" that this is the ghost we'll cling to after abjuring all our other responsibilities.
Britain Bans Violent Pornography

Awesome. Are you paying attention, Vic Toews? If not, I can send it again. Excellent news for those of us who value women's lives over the supposed rights of pornographers and masochists to exploit them.

Three years in prison for possession of violent pornography is now the law of the land.

The prosecutors in this case established a clear causal link between the murderer's possession & consumption of violent pornography and the murder, something which many have been arguing for a very long time now.

Trial jurors had been told of his obsession with strangulation and how he looked at internet sites connected with the fetish.
It is already a crime to make or publish such images but proposed legislation will outlaw possession of images such as "material featuring violence that is, or appears to be, life-threatening or is likely to result in serious and disabling injury".

This is a good day for women's desires to have their rights to be treated as equal human beings fulfilled. It's only a first step, and the need for a definition of "violent pornography" is still required, but it's much better than nothing.

30 August 2006

Harper's Base Making a Mistake

I suppose that it was only a matter of time until segments of the Conservative base made their voices heard on an issue that rubs me the wrong way. I'm very concerned about the full-court press launched by an entity calling itself REAL Women of Canada to have the Status of Women Canada agency eliminated. This statement in particular is damaging to the efforts of numerous women (some of whom are linked in my sidebar) to achieve genuine equality in Canadian society:

Gwendolyn Landolt, national vice-president of REAL Women of Canada, says Status of Women's time has passed and is no longer relevant.
"It's based on the premise that women are allegedly victims of a patriarchal society and need support and special recognition," said Landolt.
"Our view is that the vast majority of women are not victims, and quite capable of making decisions in their lives."

I have absolutely no qualm with the idea that women are "quite capable of making decisions in their lives." Of course they are; to deny women, as a collective, possess agency and self-determination is to be out of connection with reality. However, I know of very few radical feminists who espouse the victim mentality that REAL Women claim they do. Women do not want to be seen as victims, but they are raising their voices to declare that they are not being treated equally and are often treated as second-class citizens within this patriarchal society. To declare that SWC is "no longer relevant" is to declare that equality has been achieved and that there are no pressing issues that women face in either their day-to-day relations with men or the systemic nature of the system. In order to undercut the feminist movement, REAL Women intends to cause severe damage to those women who may fall into what they would describe as the "vast minority" and leave them left behind. I guess that of all the supposedly Republican-influenced ideas that Harper et al. have brought across the border, "compassionate conservatism" wasn't among them.

A favourite feminist slogan of mine is "There is no equality while women feel unsafe." Many, many women do not feel safe in this society. Many do not feel safe walking alone at night because they're afraid someone will accost or even rape them. Many are wary of undertaking the task of purchasing a vehicle by themselves because they're concerned that the dealer with take advantage of them. Many women cannot feel comfortable standing in line at the grocery store because some lech is staring them up and down to "rate" them. I could go on for hours with basic and complex examples such as these.

It is fantastic that many women do feel as though they have achieved equality with their male peers. What REAL Women seek to do is to remove a mechanism by which other women that have not reached that plateau can organize and discuss strategies and tactics to overcome the obstacles that still remain in the system. The work of SWC is dedicated to the objective of ALL women being treated as equals in every respect, something which really doesn't seem like a lot to ask, but in practice turns out to be a formidable monster to defeat.

We are at a point in which it is believed that 1 in 2 women will experience some form of violence in their lives. How can we plausibly claim equality when these are the facts on the ground? How can a small segment of the female population declare that the struggle for women's equality is over when forms of female exploitation and humiliation such as rape, pornography, prostitution, and so forth are not only still in existence, but a thriving and growing problem?

Ah but wait, what about the empowered woman? By this, I refer to "the confident, photogenic, entirely fictitious female who inhabits TV ads, “Sex in the City"...and the popular imagination. Today’s woman isn’t a feminist. She doesn’t need to be, because she’s empowered." Is it me, or is it just a coincidence that the "empowered woman" of today strangely resembles the "hot chixxx" that are displayed en masse in men's magazines such as Maxim? Wouldn't that mean that the ability to distinguish between an "empowered woman" and the latest centrefold is diminished? Yes it is, because in the end, if men are consuming "Sex and the City" at the same rate and with the same purpose as the lad mags or Playboy, isn't it really just exploitation with the tagline that it's actually "for women, too"?

I'm hopeful that Harper will not cave in to the demands of his social conservative base on this issue. Female equality is far too important an issue to be playing politics with, particularly given the greatly-premature claims of REAL Women. I wish that they were right and that SWC's time had passed. But it isn't. And with that in mind, I give you the long-overdue-to-be-posted series of Legislation Recommendations (note: right-click and Save it to your computer, sometimes the site is a little wonky with the actual webpage) that I recently sent to Minister of Justice Vic Toews. Download it, read it, discuss it with your friends, and let me know what you think of it.

29 August 2006

After a gruelling 2-hour defence, I have achieved my objective of getting my thesis approved by my supervising committee. After some revisions to the document, I will be handing it in to the Faculty of Graduate Studies next week. At that time I will have completed my requirements for Dalhousie's MA program.

What a year this has been! Thanks to all who have supported me through this process, especially my darling Tasha. It could not have been done without you. And now, the fun begins...

27 August 2006

Little Catch-up

I've been meaning to get around to this for a couple days now. I said earlier in the week that I'd put up my response to the following letter from Alexa McDonough, the NDP's foreign affairs critic, published in Wednesday's National Post:

Harper’s done more damage than Nash
Re: No Sympathy For Hezbollah, letter to the editor, Aug. 22; Take
Hezbollah Off List, Aug. 21.
These letters and your article claim that New Democrat MP Peggy Nash, currently on a multi-party fact-finding mission to the Middle East, advocated removal of Hezbollah from Canada’s list of terrorist organizations.
She did no such thing.
The NDP chose to participate in this fact-finding mission to assess the type of assistance Canada should provide to alleviate the suffering of the Lebanese people. Peggy also hopes to encourage all state and non-state actors in the region to engage in the comprehensive peace process, which she and the NDP have consistently advocated is the only route to lasting peace in this conflict.
Recklessly, Stephen Harper has tainted Canada’s reputation,
damaging Canada’s credibility as an honest broker in this immensely complex regional conflict. And tragically, by parroting George Bush, he has also jeopardized any participation by Canada in the UN mission in the region.
Alexa McDonough, NDP Foreign Affairs and International Development Critic, Halifax.

And here it is:

Alexa McDonough's letter defending her colleague Peggy Nash's position on Hezbollah (Aug. 23) hits all the NDP buzzwords: "parroting George Bush,"Canada's supposed "honest broker" role in the Middle East, and of course the"reckless" nature of Canada's Prime Minister, Stephen Harper.
What it doesn't do is state that Hezbollah is, and deserves to remain classified as, a terrorist organization. Instead Ms. McDonough adopts a morally-bankrupt stance that Hezbollah is a "non-state actor" that can somehow be a contributor to peace in the region. An organization whose objectives are the eradication of Israel, with a leader who has stated that "Death to America was, is, and will stay our slogan" can never be a partner for a lasting peace. What is "just not helpful," to use Ms. Nash's turn of phrase, is to have Canadian politicians go wobbly vis-a-vis terrorist organizations that happen to do social work as a side project to gain financial and emotional support for their terrorist activities.

26 August 2006

My thanks go to the folks over at Atlantic Blogger for referencing my post that dealt with sexual assault, pornography, and prostitution. It was a genuine surprise and it's a nice feeling to have someone appreciate my effort to the extent that they'd put up a link to it in the midst of an important discussion on the high-profile cases of child pornography here in the Atlantic region of Canada. While it is naturally disturbing to have to go through the experience of reading about such stories, it is positive to know that there a good many good people who are just as outraged as I am about them and want to see our Government do more to protect women and children.

If anybody who happens to come to this site after visiting Atlantic Blogger wants to add to the discussion I certainly welcome your opinions. I have sent the paper to the Minister of Justice already (and have been meaning to get a .pdf of it up on this site for a while now) and am still awaiting a reply, but the dialogue is relevant and informative, and may affect future writings to other prominent politicians in government on this issue. It is not my primary forte, and I still have much to learn, so by all means levy your insights and critiques at me and we'll talk about it.


Thesis defence is on Tuesday and I'm getting myself geared up for it, re-reading the document for what feels like the twentieth time and going over my remarks to open the oral defence. I'm very excited about bringing this year-long project to a successful conclusion, and eagerly looking forward to having a book on my shelf with my name and my work on it, and of course that whole convocation thing, which is apparently going to have some family representation!!! Kiwi, you need to call or email me with some hard details one of these days. I put in a request for your tickets yesterday!

22 August 2006

The Small Fish Gone, Time to Deal with the MPs Now

*UPDATE* Borys has resigned his post. Anybody care to wager whether or not the NDP MP will face any consequences for her statements?

I'm sure that everybody knows by now that Thomas has been made to take a long walk off a short pier regarding his position with the YLCBC. Good first step. Now for the big fish, Peggy Nash of the NDP and Borys Wrzesnewskyj of the Liberals. These two members of Canada's Parliament are on the record as supporting the removal of Hezbollah from the list of terrorist organizations that are illegal in Canada, and thus not to be negotiated with or coddled, financed or supported.

This little ditty comes from Borys: “Hezbollah has a political wing. They have members of parliament. They have two Cabinet ministers. You want to encourage politicians in this military organization so that the centre of gravity shifts to them.” For her part, Ms. Nash feels “that it is just not helpful to label them a terrorist organization.”

OK, everybody's allowed to have an opinion and express it. Beauty of living in a great country such as Canada and all. But try to reconcile the above two statements with the following ones from a terrorism expert who knows much more about Hezbollah than these two MPs combined:

The Lebanon-based group has cells on every continent, and its highly skilled operatives have committed horrifying attacks as far away as Argentina. Before September 11, 2001, it was responsible for more American deaths than any other terrorist organization. Hassan Nasrallah, the group's secretary-general, recently proclaimed, "Death to America was, is, and will stay our slogan."

Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage has warned of Hezbollah's lethality, noting that "Hezbollah may be the A team of terrorists," while "al Qaeda is actually the B team."

Both Hezbollah's terrorist actions and its guerrilla warfare are facilitated by the group's extensive international network. Hezbollah operatives have been found in France, Spain, Cyprus, Singapore, the "triborder" region of South America, and the Philippines, as well as in more familiar operational theaters in Europe and the Middle East. The movement draws on these cells to raise money, prepare the logistic infrastructure for attacks, disseminate propaganda, and otherwise ensure that the organization remains robust and ready to strike.

There are also reports that Hezbollah is trying to establish its own Palestinian proxy, the Return Brigades. Such support for Palestinian terrorists has helped disrupt the peace process at little cost to Hezbollah itself.

In marked contrast to the Lebanese government, it offers relatively efficient public services and runs effective schools and hospitals. Although such social and political involvement does not indicate a fundamental reversal in the movement, as some apologists suggest, it does reflect a broadening of Hezbollah's functions beyond political violence.

So that's Hezbollah in a nutshell. If you'd like more of what I've put up above, head over to the Foreign Affairs website and check Daniel Byman's excellent article, "Should Hezbollah Be Next?" Why are Canadian MPs becoming apologists for Hezbollah's ongoing existence as a terrorist network that does some social work as a side project? I'm sure that a lot of folks have heard about Hezbollah handing out wads of cash to Lebanese civilians who had their houses bombed during the recent conflict that Hezbollah started and bears sole responsibility for. Where do they suspect this cash is coming from? Terrorist fundraising, Syria, and Iran. I'm very disappointed to see Canadian MPs get distracted from the real problem in this situation and go so far as to suggest that we shouldn't be calling terrorist organizations terrorist organizations. I guess they're just taking their cue from the CBC, but let's not be afraid to call it like it is, folks.

20 August 2006

This is a Youth Voice of the Liberal Party?!

As I said in my response to the following comment, I'm enormously glad that I'm too old to be a Young Liberal, not living in British Columbia, and not affiliated with the Liberal Party. If I were still in Kelowna shucking corn, this comment would be the view of someone who "represented" my interests in the BC-YLC:

The Liberal Party is stronger without these violent Zionists in our party. I am glad for them to cease influencing our foreign policy so we are free to promote Canadian values of peace. It amazes me that this community is so absurdly selfish. The only issue that matters to them is the defence of a "state" that survives on the blood of innocent people. Shameful.

Excellent that Warren's got mention of it on his site, and I sincerely hope that other people who represent the future of this country find the above comment as repugnant as I do. I've almost lost track of how many times I've said it now, but it is my view that Canada's position should always be to support fellow democracies in their efforts to combat terrorism. To suggest that Israel "survives on the blood of innocent people" is the most vile and repugnant manifestation of anti-Semitism, and hopefully remains confined to a very, very small portion of Canada's population.

19 August 2006

Ignatieff Makes a Move

Those of us who have been clamouring for some real policy matters in this Liberal leadership race will no doubt be pleased with this. I'm glad that Ignatieff is taking a lead role in getting some important debate going, and his candid admission that we're not going to meet our Kyoto requirements is a good step in setting a framework for a real policy. We'll see how it matches up with what the Tories offer this fall, but in the meantime we can among us discuss the merits and shortcomings of his vision.

I've never been a big fan of credits when it comes to environmental policies, and that's this leaves me a little ambivalent:

Mr. Ignatieff is also proposing a cap on maximum aggregate greenhouse gas emissions for major industrial emitters, according to the official.
It would require industry to buy tradeable emission permits.
Companies that find ways to reduce their emissions below the limit could sell their unused room as “credits to companies that are over the limit, creating an economic incentive to reduce emissions.
“The absolute cap would decrease over time,” said the official. “This puts a price on the costs of industrial emissions and is an
example of ‘polluter pays.'”

This is almost like a Kyoto within Canada, isn't it? The industries that do meet their target will benefit economically, but it still allows those who go over the limit to purchase "get out of jail free" cards that don't fully tackle the problem: environmental degradation. If Industry A is 20 points below the limit, and sells its credits to Industry B, which is 20 points over the limit, it's the same as having both Industry A and B right at the limit. I understand that this creates incentive for B to get its act together and get under the limit, but until it does, good old Mother Nature is still taking a shellacking. I see it as a good thing that the "polluter pays," but unless the price of credits is so high that it outweighs the costs of restructuring to fit within the rules, thus creating true incentive to change to keep the bottom line up, some Industry may continue to operate in current fashion and just use surplus capital to buy credits and avoid getting with the program. So if the credit system is to work, make the cost of credits really high, but that could alienate business from government and create other problems.

It's a mixed bag, really, and I'm hoping that some of my greener friends can step in here and show me a thing or two about this in greater detail.

17 August 2006

'atta boy, Gordo

I knew there was good reason to like this guy. In addition to vastly expanding the scope, scale, and stature of post-secondary education in the Okanagan, now he's doing something that will have a positive impact on a number of people in my family who are employed in the lumber industry. Hopefully this will spur on the other provinces to accept the softwood deal as well before the Monday deadline imposed by David Emerson. It may not be the optimal deal, but it's a damn good one and far better than having no deal whatsoever.

16 August 2006

Liberalism, Canada, and the 21st Century

A hat-tip to a post over at Riley's blog for helping me to coalesce some thoughts floating through my head in the last couple of days. In this Liberal leadership race I have noticed on many occasions the lack of dialogue over the direction of 21st century liberalism. Far too much discussion has been devoted to debating which candidate will have the most electability vis-a-vis Stephen Harper. Harper features prominently in virtually discussion of the candidates, but rarely seen is the invokation of liberalism and how it fits within the Liberal Party vision for 21st century governance. What kind of Canada do we want to see? What direction and role do we want to see the federal government assume? How should Canada interact with the world and conduct its international relations and foreign policy? These are all major questions which require answers, and have not been broached with enough regularity or passion. Instead, people would rather dump trash on Harper for not appearing at an AIDS convention or the OutGames.

That many Canadians and Canadian politicians are opposing the Harper government's strong stance in support of Israel concerns me greatly. So long gone are the days when liberals would proudly support the notion of JFK's "pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty" policy. Instead we are expected to sit on the fence and not cast our lot in with a democratic ally and friend while it battles terrorists who deny its very right to exist. To do so would apparently be to cater to George Bush's foreign policy and make us a lapdog to the Americans, wouldn't it, Jack Layton? After all, what sense is there in echoing a voice that's already there, right, Bill Graham?

There was a time when liberals, both small-l and Big-L, in this country wouldn't give a second thought to taking the same stance as our ally to the south, which also represented a genuinely liberal tone regardless of which party was represented in the White House. Yet it appears that there has been a divergence between "Canadian liberalism" and "American liberalism." Whereas the latter seeks to advance and the extend the promise of liberal ideology throughout the world, we tend to oppose that policy and believe that these things will just magically work out for themselves. Never mind that during the Cold War, not a single left-wing state under the heel of the Soviets became a democracy, or that there has been a generational absence of democratic institutions in the Middle East. Dictators do not cede power to citizens. Terrorists working within a state do not enhance the ability of people to make their own decisions or live a life free of external compulsions.

Why, then, do our liberals not take a strong position that supports democracies when they engage in conflict against terrorists and tyrants? There have been exceptions to this, of course, but there is an ever-growing tide that seeks a voice of neutralism or of condemnation of both sides. Perhaps, as my colleague says, this is due to a lack of information being distributed to the Canadian people. I beg to differ. In the age of the internet and 24/7 mass media, information is in abundance. What is lacking is insight and moral clarity. As I wrote earlier this week, there is a major distinction between terrorists & tyrants who deliberate target civilians and put civilians at risk, and democracies which go to great lengths to avoid killing civilians and sometimes regrettably do so incidentally. The message is out there but it's not being given any meaning, and sometimes the wrong message altogether is getting out.

Last night, just before bed, I watched a news story on CTV that covered a public event discussing the Middle East. In attendance were Alexa Macdonough and a number of others; there were flyers plastered throughout the streets of Halifax, and immediately I knew that little good was to come out of it. The one interview they showed confirmed my worst fears, as the man blasted Israel and the Harper government for its support of Israel "killing Muslims." Put in such fashion, one is left with the impression that Israel takes some form of joy in killing people of the Muslim faith. This is categorically false and a pathological lie designed to leave people with the notion that Jews deliberately kill Muslims. Israel's objective is not, and never has been, to "kill Muslims," it is to defend itself against terrorism. The piece offered no counter-response or rebuttal to that statement, and simply left it there unchallenged.

As someone who is a liberal at his core, I am dismayed by the lack of direction given by Canada's liberals and Liberals. The party once stood for a set of beliefs and values, and often I have a hard time making them out in public statements. The ideology stands for something good in the world, the belief in human progress and a natural evolution toward liberal institutions such as democracy and the rule of law. At some point being "ideological" became a perjorative, as it was a term often lobbed at the old Reform/Alliance party to highlight their *cue scary music* nefarious ways. I've never been one to subscribe to the notion that having a core set of values, beliefs, and ideals was a bad thing, and it is disheartening to see the Liberal Party of Canada and Canadian liberals to see it as such. I'm hopeful that at some point they find their way and eliminate the gross inconsistencies between the values of liberalism and party policy.
Bad Sign for a Fragile Peace

This is not good:

France, the United States, the United Nations and Lebanon itself have all refused to accept responsibility for stripping the Lebanese Shiite militia of their weapons, despite a key element of the UN resolution that calls for the group to give up its firepower and vacate the southern part of the country.

Hezbollah leader Sheik Hassan Nasrallah said on Monday that his force will not be pressured into disarming, and he gained key support yesterday from Lebanon’s Defence Minister, Elian Murr, who has refused to take up the task of disarmament.

Just so that we're clear here: despite the fact that the world has said Hezbollah must be disarmed, nobody is actually going to disarm them. Are we expecting Hezbollah to do so of its own volition? Have the past six years not given anybody any indication of their intentions to, um, not disarm? Mark my words: this peace arrangement will be broken within a year unless somebody steps up and makes Hezbollah give up their weapons. Expecting Lebanon to do it is a red herring; the government has demonstrated its impotence over the past six weeks, and to expect them to magically have the ability or the willingness to force Hezbollah's disarmament now is wishful thinking.
Harper and the AIDS Conference

Over the course of the past week, the PM has taken a ton of heat for going up North to help launch Operation Landcaster instead of appearing at the World AIDS Conference in Toronto. Even Devin, the blond emo VJ at MuchMusic, has taken a shot at "your Prime Minister" for not being there. There's been the gamut of comments, everything from Harper's a homophobic to Harper's afraid he'll get it from being around the gay people with it, and on and on. Amidst all the sound and fury but little action, I've seen only a couple of comments that really mean something. One is from Jason Bo Green, who launched into a tirade (the good kind) that criticized people on all sides of the spectrum for making a cheap political ploy out of Harper's decision. The comment is awesome, and can be read here (do a Crtl+F and search for his name, or just scroll down).

I'm not particularly interested in playing political games over this topic because it is one that is truly horrific in its scale and scope of causing human suffering. Instead of focusing on the real issue--the millions of people who are dying and for whom HIV/AIDS is still a death sentence--we're splitting hairs over where Stephen Harper was last weekend. How many people making the accusations at Harper have *done* something to help fight the scourge of AIDS? As JBG raised in his comment, how many people know anything about the disease beyond the ways in which it can be contracted?

I've largely stayed out of the discussion because, frankly, I know very little about the disease. What I know about HIV/AIDS could fill maybe a single-spaced, single page. And I haven't walked the talk, either. Not being in possession of large amounts of money, I haven't been able to make more than a token donation when the jar is put out. But I'll tell you this much: I find it really disgusting that people are trying to score political points at the expense of people's lives. In places such as the Congo, women and children are being raped en masse by soldiers who have AIDS, and nobody is doing anything to stop it. Indeed, people are barely speaking about it. I ask, what is more deserving of attention and opprobrium: Stephen Harper not being at an AIDS Conference, or women & children being systemically raped by those who seek to use AIDS as a weapon to spread intimidation, death, and horror?

15 August 2006

Bevilacqua Out; World Goes on Unabated

Despite what the Post proclaims in a caption in today's paper, Bevilacqua's announcement that he's out and is supporting Bob Rae neither gives Rae a credibility boost nor does it drastically alter the dynamics of the leadership race. Maurizio may have some name recognition--if only because he's the guy that sends mailers across the country--but he was still a minor player in this contest, and his support of Rae doesn't propel 'Call Me Bob' (btw, worst nickname since Rod Smart of XFL 'fame' proclaiming himself 'He Hate Me') into Ignatieff territory. The only real surprise in this is that Maurizio was gone before Fry, who has contributed 6 times more to her own campaign than the total of everybody else in the universe. I'm sure that she'll be next, and will throw her support behind someone like Dion, who is a fellow Chretien-era Cabinet face.

The other piece of news that catches my eye today is the 11 universities that are refusing to participate in the Maclean's university rankings this year. It wouldn't be something that caught my eye unless BOTH of my schools, past and present, were among the 11. Dalhousie and UBC have both opted out, which will dramatically alter the rankings because the information that Maclean's will receive is not received directly from the universities that, of course, know themselves best. It's unfortunate but such is the life. I can recommend both of them as being good destinations. Take that for what it's worth.

12 August 2006

I Am Job

I do a great impression of a hot dog, so if you know anybody that is hiring people with brand-new MA degrees, pass on the word. There's already some chestnuts in the fire but one never knows how they'll turn out. Something in Halifax if ya can. That's all, have a good weekend.

11 August 2006

By a vote of 15-0, Security Council resolution 1701 was passed about three minutes ago. What happens in the next 48 hours will mark the beginning of a long process of reconiciliation and the establishment of a process to move forward. It is my sincere hope that states make a contribution to the UNIFIL to get it as close to the maximum figure of 15,000 troops. Without a dedicated commitment to the terms of the new resolution and to 1559's full implementation (the dismantling of Hezbollah), we'll be back in this situation again within a year, and all this will have been for nought.
War and Democracy in the 21st Century

A late-night conversation with Tasha serves as the foundation for this post. If I go astray from what I said last night, she'll set me straight.

War is hell and I don't like it. That admission may shock some of the polemics who read this blog. Many of us who have supported the removal Saddam Hussein and are now defending Israel in its war against a terrorist network that seeks to eliminate it are often unfairly accused of being warmongers who support American imperialism and sleep with a George W. Bush doll at our sides. We're also charged with being indifferent to the humanitarian suffering that occurs whenever there is a war between a democracy and either a non-democracy or a sub-state terrorist organization (sometimes the two even come together, a la Afghanistan). And of course we're also slapped with attempting to impose our worldview on other people, supposedly people for whom democracy can't work. All three of these charges are, of course, patently false and utterly ridiculous. No principled democrat (which I consider myself) wants to see civilians being killed, the weapons of war being employed, or considers liberation as imperialism. I'd like to discuss each of these topics over the coming paragraphs, which will often blend together responses to the charges.

First, the warmongering thing. I will reiterate: I hate war. I would like to think that the obscene amounts of blood spilled in two world wars and the numerous other conflicts of the 20th century would have been enough to convince people that it's not worth it anymore. But that would be unrealistic and I don't have my head in the clouds when it comes to matters of state. Democracies loathe war and seek to exhaust all diplomatic options in order to avoid it. That being said, the extent to which some who call themselves "liberals" will contort themselves into positions of appeasement undermines their own tradition of occasionally resorting to force when it was the right and only option available to permanently resolve a problem. There are some personalities in the world who seek to use force as a first option; democracies are not among them. Terrorists and tyrants are, however.

The rise of informal violence--that is, violence committed against civilian populations of a state by non-state actors such as international terrorists--has dramatically altered the playing field and skewed it so as to be inherently unfavourable to democracies. These actors are people for whom the traditional strategies of diplomacy do not apply. Terrorists, have no fixed address, cannot be contained. Those who would be "martyrs" do not subscribe to deterrence theory; their perceptions of temporal life are not shared with ours. This results in asymmetrical warfare.

States, especially democratic ones, have a difficult time with asymmetrical warfare. Trained to fight other legitimate armed forces on established battlefields, they are often ill-equipped for counterinsurgencies and guerrilla warfare. This is changing as military training is adapted to meet the new environment, but we are still behind the curve. Terrorists such as Hezbollah see everything as a battlefield. They don't believe in a Plains of Abraham setting. Where they are at any given moment is a potential site for war. That includes apartment buildings, cafes, discos, schools, hospitals, and places of business and commerce. Osama bin Laden has stated that he does not see the need to distinguish between what we consider "civilian" and "military" targets.

This raises a major problem for a democratic state. Because democratic governments conduct wars simultaneously with an election cycle, force is an option that must be undertaken after grave consideration. Because of our free press, any tactics that result in the loss of life will have consequences on our television screens and newspapers. Our enemies know this, and that is why they exploit the tragic deaths of innocent women and children. They do not do so out of legitimate concern, they do so for propaganda purposes because they know that democratic citizens will recoil in horror at the sight of charred, bloody bodies. Golda Meier's famous saying is so true: "I can forgive them for killing my children. I cannot forgive them for forcing my children to kill theirs."

This is an important distinction to make, one which is not made with enough regularity or fervour: democracies steadfastly seek to avoid killing civilians and deeply regret doing so, but terrorists deliberately kill civilians and establish their positions where they know civilians will be killed in order to exploit their deaths. Hezbollah's "guided tours" of bombed-out city blocks demonstrate this all too well. They say, "Look, Israel is killing Muslim women and children." What they don't say is that Hezbollah chose the apartment right below the one that housed those women and children in order to use them as human shields. This is a deplorable tactic, and one which Israel seeks to work around, at considerable cost to its own people. Often, instead of using aerial bombardment against a target, the IDF will fly in a handful of commandos so that they can directly target the handful of terrorists that they seek to kill. In this seek and destroy missions, Israeli soldiers are often killed en route to achieving the objective. Israel knows that it could simply have dropped a few bombs from the sky and demolished the site, killing the terrorists and sparing Israeli soldiers' lives, but it also knows that the terrorists will use the incidental killing of civilians for propaganda purposes.

Compare the actions of democratic Israel with the Rwandan civil war. In that horrific genocide, civilians were deliberately targeted. I still recoil with horror the memory of some of the things I have read about Rwanda: forces invading a village, raping and mutilating all the women in front of their husbands, who were then killed; entire villages whose people had their left arms cut off as a demonstration of terror and fear; child soldiers being recruited and forced to kill their own tribespeople. Those are war crimes. Crimes against humanity. Crimes that should make every single person's stomach turn with disgust that people could treat their fellow human beings with such brutality and callousness. That people attempt to conflate Israel's actions with those of such war crimes is deeply unsettling and disturbing.

Democracies are always wary of war, for these very reasons. It is why the United States does not recognize the International Criminal Court; America has many enemies who would use that body to advance an agenda to hamstring the United States and prevent it from undertaking the legitimate actions of a sovereign state to protect itself and its allies. It is why many have responded with opprobrium for Louise Arbour's statement and why many have scratched their heads when Kofi Annan lambastes Israel but remains mute on Hezbollah's tactics.

Democracies are held to a higher standard and hold themselves to a higher standard. This is eminently appropriate. It would be highly unbecoming of a democratic state to engage in similar tactics to those used in Rwanda. But the portrayal of democratic states' actions in 21st century war raise a spectre so high and insurmountable that it weakens the collective will to do what is right. We are right to deplore the killing of civilians. We are right to question why our governments commit our young men and women to kill other men and women. We are right to mourn every flag-draped coffin that is displayed on television.

But we must retain our resolve to do what is right for the world. Just because we stand down and are wary of war, our enemies are not. They see the constraints we place upon ourselves as a weakness, and they exploit it. They manipulate our compassion and respect for humanity to muddy the waters and lead us to forget, even if just for a moment, that the responsibility for those dead women and children in the streets of Beirut, Baghdad, Kabul, Kandahar, Basra, Qana, Gaza City, and elsewhere, is theirs. They put those women and children in a position of being shields, from which they thrust their sword and then retreat to hide behind innocent people so that they are killed instead.

No matter how "smart" or "precision" the bomb is, it still isn't smart enough to kill only terrorists and not blow up a hospital in the process. The alternative to this is a ground war and occupation, which can be no less bloody or gruesome. Peace is always the objective for a democracy, but a democracy realizes that peace cannot be achieved until those who would destroy the peace are eliminated or neutralized. The objective of a terrorist is always terror, and thus they will ensure that if a democracy seeks to end terror they will have to kill innocent lives along with those of the terrorists.

The terrorists thus hold hostage civilians and non-combatants, who only want to live in peace and freedom. Nobody wants to live under oppression and tyranny. The notion that liberty, democracy, and the rule of law, not individual men, are not suitable for people in other regions is absurd. Voices across the Middle East are screaming--via the Internet and other silent channels--for liberation from their dictators and the terrorists who hold them hostage. They cannot achieve this on their own, and it would be a disastrous shirking of our responsibilities as leaders and democracies to not reach out to them and give them the support they need and deserve. Sometimes that will mean force must be used. A dictator doesn't voluntarily walk away from power. There is no Cincinnatus (go look it up, I'll wait) in Tehran, Damascus, or Pyongyang. We, as democracies, love peace, but we must do what is necessary in order to ensure that the peace we cherish is durable, sustainable, and not susceptible to backsliding at the whims of those who inherently reject peace.

10 August 2006

Post-ed Again!

This appears in Canada's best national paper today:

Democracy was never a UN objective
Re: The UN’s Real Role, letter to the editor, Aug. 9.
While I agree with the sentiment of Bob Hoye’s letter and share in his displeasure with the decline of the United Nations, his assessment of the UN’s original mandate is inaccurate. The idea of “making the world safe for democracy” was Woodrow Wilson’s vision for the League of Nations. Harry Truman sought to “stand up for free peoples everywhere” when he announced the Truman Doctrine and involved the United States in global affairs to extend democratic peace, while containing the spread of Soviet communism. Democracy promotion is an American objective, not a UN objective. The United Nations has never had a mandate to promote and secure democracy; rather, it is an organization predicated upon the sovereignty of states with a mandate to secure peace among “equal” member states. It would be a wonderful thing if the UN, or some alternative, shared the cause of the United States and its democratic allies, including Canada, but this is sadly not the case. Richard McAdam, Halifax

This is the original letter that prompted the response:

The UN’s real role
Re: Anti-Israel Bias on Full Display, Aug. 5.
Steven Edwards writes that the United Nations has little motivation to enforce its own resolution to disarm Hezbollah. This marks the ultimate slide to corruption. Initially regarded as an agency that would “make the world safe for democracy,” the UN had slipped considerably by the 1980s when William Buckley observed that its objective had changed to “making the world safe for socialism.”
Then Saddam became a blatant offender of UN resolutions and, in not acting, the mandate became “making the world safe for dictatorships.” Regrettably, with the lack of initiative to disarm Hezbollah, the objective has now been warped to “making the world safe for terrorism.”
Bob Hoye, Vancouver.

I will note that though this is the 4th letter I've written that's appeared in the Post, it's the first one that is on the subject of my true forte: international relations. I'm glad that I got to work in the names of two of my favourite US presidents and my favourite global objective: extending the democratic peace. Yeah. Any thoughts?

09 August 2006

It's been a quite scene here lately, largely because I'm still toying around with the thesis and making sure it's just right. BTW, the big day for the oral defence is August 24th. If you're in town that afternoon, drop on by if you are so inclined, though I can't imagine why anybody would be. On a related note, if you think TV is really bad, you don't know mind-numbing until you've had to do the preliminary pages and formatting of a thesis. I didn't think too much of it at the time, but now I'm a smidge disappointed that my supervisor said they're not going to be focusing too much on the formatting and stuff when the 24th rolls around.

In addition to other priorities, I've been suffering a bit of a burnout and lack of really interesting things to say. I've spoken my piece on the Middle East crisis and Canada's role within it (and the broader international system), and I don't really feel like commenting on the day-to-day tactical developments all the time. The strategy remains the same, and if/when there's the big diplomatic breakthrough I'll say something about it. Till then, I don't want to get bogged down in details. There's also the matter of summer, which I'm told doesn't last as long here in Halifax as it does in the Okanagan. Hard to disagree given what I've seen so far. In all my years I can't recall being woken up at 6am by a thunderstorm though.

Beyond that, I'm good. Sent a letter to the editor of the Post this morning about a guy complaining about the inability of the UN to "make the world safe for democracy." It's a laudable goal and certainly one that I share, but he got his acronyms wrong. The UN isn't about democracy, but the US is. It was Woodrow Wilson's statement in the first place, and after the League failed, Harry Truman (ohh I love this subject; I bought a presidential coin off eBay yesterday, fwiw) decided that "it must be the policy of the United States to stand up for free peoples everywhere." That's the gist of it. If they print it, I'll put it up, if they don't, they don't.

That's all, I'm fine, we're all fine here now, how are you?

03 August 2006

Punching Below Our Weight

One of the great myths of Canadian foreign policy is our past ability to "punch above our weight" and hang with the Great Powers. After WWII ended, we had the fourth largest military in the world, we were a major player in brokering a peace agreement in the Middle East, we stood with our democratic allies throughout the Cold War, and we held a considerable level of respect. For a humble nation without the long history of other states such as the United States, Britain, France, and the Soviet Union, Canadians rightly took pride in their high standing and considered themselves to be doing the most with their relatively modest means in order to wield an inordinate level of power and influence.

Canadians have a tendency to point to the days of Lester B. Pearson as the golden age of Canadian foreign policy. As with all myths, there is a kernel of truth within this perception that is wrapped up with nostalgia and nationalism. Members of the Liberal Party regularly point to that bygone era as one which we should all aspire to re-create. Yet while they do so, they have also done much to undercut our ability to get back to that plateau. I have no interest in playing partisan games or finger-pointing; getting involved in a "it's Chretien's fault," "no it's Mulroney's fault," "forget it, it's that damn Trudeau!" gamesmanship debate serves no real purpose other than to distract from the real problems and realities.

Since 1952 our defence spending as a percentage of GDP has been declining, to the point that now we're ranked 17th among NATO members in spending as a pecentage of GDP; only Luxembourg and Iceland spend less than we do on that basis. At $16 billion, the defence budget in absolute terms is quite small, particularly when you consider that the Canadian economy is now worth over $1 trillion annually. It is quite a drop in the bucket, all things considered. Obviously we're not going to emulate the United States, nor should we. Canadians have no interest in assuming the responsibilities of global leadership, and we simply do not have the capacity to come anywhere near the Americans' spending levels (relative or absolute) without severely undercutting programs that fit under the banner of "nation-building" (i.e. national health care standards). We're not going to be spending 5% of our GDP or $500 billion on the Canadian Forces any time soon. By "any time soon", I mean ever.

But when you look at what we do and compare it with where we stand, it becomes clear that not only is there no motivation to "punch above our weight," we're quite content to be punching below it. Canada has the eighth largest economy in the world, just a little bit bigger than Spain, yet we are ranked 15th in the world when it comes to absolute defence spending figures. This will rise in the coming years if the Harper government fulfills its promises to dramatically increase our spending to improve our military infrastructure by increasing the troop levels and adding new equipment, to the tune of $15 billion in new spending.

Military spending is only half the picture, however. There's also the matters of diplomats abroad to staff our embassies, foreign aid, the environment, and the contributions we make to international organizations and global causes. The evacuation of Canadian citizens from Lebanon highlights our diplomatic shortcomings in the Middle East, as the understaffed and underfunded embassy was working around the clock to deal with overloaded phone lines and numerous complaints. We have yet to even come close to the decades-old pledge to spend 0.7% of GDP on international assistance. In an economy of over $1 trillion, Canada is at 0.33% and shows little commitment to getting to that vaunted level by 2015. On the environment file, Kyoto is but a word that is thrown around by politicians, many of whom have probably never even read the Protocol, and is a liability to all of Canada, not just its political parties. One author has gone so far as to say that Canada participated in the "gutting" of Kyoto so that Canada could achieve its "end of making our commitment at the least possible cost."[1] In short, we know what's going on in the world, but there's a great reluctance to dip our toes in the water and get involved in it to an extent commensurate with our capabilities.

Why, and how, have we become this complacent? My belief is simple: Because we wanted to. When was the last time a Canadian election was based on foreign policy? Did Paul Martin suffer from his inaction on Darfur? No. Did Jean Chretien lose many votes because of Canada's unwillingness to go into Rwanda? No. The Canadian public, by and large, does not feel it is Canada's duty to go out in search of monsters to destroy, despite our legacy of doing exactly that and helping to establish a more peaceful, more democratic world. The following statement deserves consideration:
No one has stopped (or dared) to ask whether, or suggest that, the ideals and goals of Canadians in [2006] may be significantly different from those of past generations, or that if they are the same, the means of pursuing them may need to change to reflect both a changed international environment and changes in our ability and desire to deal with it.[2]

It is my opinion that our ideals and goals haven't changed, but we have not undergone a period of deep thinking to consider the new security milieu and whether the traditional Canadian paradigm still applies. The notion of exporting "Canadian values" still appears in our International Policy Statements, but Canadians are wary of undertaking concerted action in order to achieve that goal. Michael Ignatieff feels that there is a new paradigm involving peacekeeping/peacemaking, and we're in the midst of that in Afghanistan, and I concur with his assessment. I think that there is a general unwillingness to break through the limits of "old thinking" and truly, deeply engage the world as it currently is. We talk an awful lot about peacekeeping, yet our contributions to it are far smaller than in the past. After the fighting is done in Lebanon and an international force moves in to secure the Israel-Lebanon border and remove Hezbollah's influence, and this will likely happen, Canada has already signalled that it will probably not be a part of that international force. A few people may be disappointed and question this decision, but ultimately will not do much more than shed a few crocodile tears.

What is to be done if Canada truly wants to hold a position "of pride and influence" in the world? Simply put, punch our weight. We're a G8 member, that gives us access to the great powers of the world. We're the neighbour of the United States, the most powerful country to have ever existed in the course of human history, and when we are on good terms with Washington, there are few limits to what we can accomplish together. We're far too late in the game to meet Kyoto's requirements, but we can still demonstrate our commitment to a greener world that will ensure a sustainable environment for generations to come. I'm as anxious as anybody to see what will happen with the government's "Made in Canada" plan this fall, and I hope that it works and provides a strong blueprint for the coming years that goes beyond banalities such as the "One Tonne Challenge" and establishes something real and tangible.

Canada has shown flashes of brilliance in the past few years and decades. The Land Mine Treaty is a sterling example of Canada at its best. The commitment of the government to Afghanistan is another example of Canadians using their position of relative power to participate in international coalitions and take on a tough role and the toughest tasks within that role. The incredible display of Canadian sympathy and benevolence after the tsunami struck in 2004 showed that the Canadian people, properly motivated and channeled, possess incredible energy to do good in the world. If only we could be more consistent and match the rhetoric with action, walk the talk, as it were, we could truly hold a strong hand in international affairs.

I'm not advocating Canada as a 21st century great power, I'm advocating a Canada that takes its position of privelige and uses it responsibly to assist in advancing a better world that is reflective of our interests and ideals. "Punching above our weight" is a bridge too far and a mythology that cannot be re-created. I'm tired of punching below our weight and being disappointed with half-hearted action and words without meaning. But punching our weight, that is something to which we can aspire. It is not inevitable that events turn out the way we want them to, but with commitment we can certainly go further in ensuring that they do.

[1] Heather Smith, "Interrogating Images: a Response to Michael Ignatieff," in Graham F. Walker, ed., Independence in an Age of Empire: Assessing Unilateralism and Multilateralism, (Halifax: Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, 2004), 279.
[2] Jane Boulden, "Missing the Mark with Multilateralism: a Response to Michael Ignatieff," in Graham F. Walker, ed., Independence in an Age of Empire: Assessing Unilateralism and Multilateralism, (Halifax: Centre for Foreign Policy Studies, 2004), 108.

Honour and Respect

CBC is reporting that 4 Canadian soldiers have been killed in Kandahar today, highlighting the dangers that remain in Afghanistan and demonstrating that the Taliban remains a threat to freedom. Take a moment to honour and respect the sacrifices made by Cpl. Christopher Jonathan Reid and the three other soldiers, whose names have not yet been released, and remember that they are fighting for a good and noble cause which Canadians should be proud to be supporting.

01 August 2006

Neutrality and Canadian Opinion

I guess that this answers my often-ruminated question about Canada and neutrality:

In a poll . . . 45 per cent said they disagreed with Harper's open support for Israel. Thirty-two per cent agreed with the prime minister . . .
When asked who Canada should support, a majority, 77 per cent, said Canada should be neutral. Only 16 per cent said Canada should support Israel and one per cent said Hezbollah. Six per cent didn't know or declined to answer.

More than three out of four Canadians have signalled that they don't think it's in Canada's interest to participate in the War on Terror and Tyranny. Less than one in five thinks that we should be supporting a democratic state in its efforts to rid the region of a deadly terrorist network so that it can live in greater security on its northern border. One in a hundred actually thinks that the terrorists are the good guys.

Cross-reference these findings with Jonathan Kay's article in today's National Post (behind the firewall unfortunately) and I'm more than a little blue (as in sad) about Canadians' views of the world. This is a pretty clear signal that Canada has largely given up on fighting the initial conception of the War on Terror abroad and doesn't have the moral clarity to distinguish between a democratic state defending its right to exist and a terrorist network that seeks to destroy said democratic state. Canadians think that we should be neutral and not take a side, despite the reality that one side deliberately uses civilian population centres as human shields and a base to thrust the sword into Northern Israel, while the other side painstakingly seeks to minimize civilian casualties instead of taking the easy route and launching a full-scale military campaign that would no doubt erase Hezbollah but also kill many more civilians. Canadians seemingly want to be happy-go-lucky fence-sitters that can cling to their delusions of grandeur of a bygone era and claim to be "honest brokers" when the reality is that nobody outside of Canada cares one whit about our posture or seeks Ottawa's supposed brokerage abilities in negotiating an end to hostilities.

When the Prime Minister of Canada takes a position--defending the right of a democracy to respond to terrorist aggression--that is right and appropriate, he is chastised for cow-towing to George W. Bush. Bill Graham actually said that we shouldn't take such a position because we'd just be echoing a voice that's already there. Heaven forbid that more than one country stands up and says something that clearly establishes right and wrong. Even worse is when it's Canada too closely approximating the United States. We just can't have that here, no sir.

I am really quite distraught about this poll finding. I know that it's just one poll in a sea of them, but I'm sure that it's not the only one of its kind. I've long held fears that Canada and Canadians would end up taking this course, and now I've seen them manifested. It hurts to see that 77% of people surveyed think that Canada should not be supportive of a fellow democracy, an ally, and a friend against a vicious group of terrorists with a lengthy history of deliberate atrocities against civilians that is considered by some terrorism experts to be "the A-team" of terrorists.

**Update: Kinsella provides some essential reading, as always.