Maybe you’ve heard the news, our government refuses to stand idly by. Our Prime Minister has said it, other ministers have said it, and so, we will join another military exercise, because our government refuses to stand idly by. But even though it might not often look like it, and they usually don’t want it to look like it, these words are very carefully chosen, because of the obvious and even subtle messages it sends. I think it is worth fleshing out what these messages are and assessing whether or not they are correct.
“We as Canadians refuse to sit idly by”
Across the country, there is support and opposition for military action, across party lines. Canadians recognise the gravity of what is happening in the Middle East, but we also recognise the failure of past military actions and the inter-connectedness of Western intervention and eastern uprisings.
“We refuse to sit idly by … and anything short of military intervention would be sitting idly by”
This message is at the core of the statement, but if we are supposed to believe this, I feel like we are entitled to know what other options were considered and rejected. Have we punished all of the suppliers of arms for equipping ISIS with weapons? Have we aligned ourselves with Arab allies to see if ISIS militants can be shamed out of Muslim holy sites? Have we demonstrated to the young men being recruited into ISIS that democracy and secular free market capitalism are good and incorruptible institutions? If military action is our only viable solution, what are the ways in which the other alternatives have been proven to be non-viable?
“We refuse to sit idly by … as a general principle”
If we’re defining ‘sitting idly by’ as observing human suffering and not sending a military force in response, then why didn’t we send troops to Sudan? Why aren’t we also sending troops to Ukraine, Syria, North Korea (the list is depressingly long)? Obviously there is a very real humanitarian crisis happening there now, but the situation is more complicated than that, just like each of these other crises were/are complex and so our government chose/chooses to “sit idly by.” If it was just about moral principle, we would have sent troops out so often that we would have none free to fight against ISIS.
“We refuse to sit idly by … unlike the previous government”
Remember the last time the west undertook military intervention in Iraq? Yes, there was a recent attempt, and at that time there had been a very recent attempt before that. The last time the west went to war in Iraq, the Canadian government refused to participate. Unlike some of our closest allies, we refused to join the ‘Coalition of the Willing.’ This was not well received by our neighbours to the south, and some of the members of the party in power now were vocal in their disagreement with that choice. However, anyone old enough to remember that time will know that this was not a decision made lightly or quickly. History too has already shown that decision was probably wise because nobody has been able to draw a direct connection between Al Qaida and Saddam Hussein, the world is even more convinced now than we were then that there were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, and it’s pretty clear that either what’s happening there now is a direct/indirect result of previous western interventions or as bad as Hussein was (and he was) this kind of thing didn’t happen under his watch.