By David J. Climenhaga, Rabble.ca, October 11, 2015
Russia’s military intervention in the Syrian civil war has offered a unique teaching moment for Canadians about the role and strategy of the U.S.-led Western military alliance in the Middle East, of which we are an enthusiastic part.
Unfortunately, with our country in the midst of a federal election campaign, we have been too distracted by the question of whether one woman — or is it two? — should be allowed to wear a niqab to a citizenship ceremony, something the Harper Government has managed to persuade a significant percentage of its supporters is a matter of grave national security, to pay attention to what’s happening in the Levant.
But the swift movement of about 50 Russian military aircraft into Syria last month — apparently catching our massive, technologically omniscient and unimaginably expensive Western security apparatus totally by surprise — has exposed a deeply ambivalent attitude among the leaders of the Western powers toward jihadist terror groups.
The Russian intervention in support of the regime of Bashar al-Assad, Russia’s long-time Middle Eastern ally, instantly exposed two things about the West’s fight against jihadist groups, which are literally the mortal enemies of Canada and Canadians:
1) The Western war against the so-called Islamic State (ISIS) has been half-hearted at best.
2) The Western fight against jihadist terrorism in the region includes active support for … jihadist terrorists!
This is important for Canadians to understand at this particular moment because, as part of his re-election campaign, our belligerent prime minister has instructed us forcefully that we are wiser to worry about what ISIS might do to us than what CSIS, the Canadian Security Intelligence Service, might get up to now that it’s been empowered by the government’s new “anti-terror” legislation.
So let’s look at the two points above. How have the Russians’ actions made it clear our fight against ISIS et al. is half-hearted, or worse?
Simple: Do the math. While accurate numbers are hard to come by, and are obfuscated by the Western air forces’ habit of counting sorties (flights) rather than actual bombing attacks, there is a general consensus the Russians launched more bombing raids against our enemies in two weeks than the Western alliance has in a year. This weekend, the Russians reported hitting ISIS targets 55 times in 24 hours.
Reports from the region tell of jihadi volunteers shaving their beards and skedaddling back toward the safety of Western Europe. ISIS leaders cancelled Sabbath-day prayers on Fridays in their provisional Syrian capital of Raqqa to avoid Russian air raids. That never happened in a year of desultory Western attacks. Why?
As for the six CF-18 fighter-bombers the Royal Canadian Air Force sent to the region, it is not at all clear what they are doing there nowadays, as they seem to made no combat attacks since last summer. Perhaps my information is wrong — the Department of National Defence did not respond to my query. Or perhaps they are waiting for the Canadian election to be over.
Whatever. When it comes to Canada’s enemies, it’s the Russians who are kickin’ ass and takin’ names. And, by the way, unlike the West, they’re doing it in accordance with international law, with the permission of the still-lawful if unsavoury Syrian regime.
So, how has the Russian intervention illustrated that the West is supporting radical jihadists, as the weirdly prescient song says, with our lawyers, guns and money?
The hysterical reaction in the capitals of the West gives it away. Washington is convulsed because the Russians are not just bombing throat-cutting terrorists, they’re bombing our throat-cutting terrorists! That is to say, the Russians are bombing so-called “moderate” jihadist groups armed and financed by the West — although there is plenty of evidence there are no moderate jihadist groups in the region. This must stop immediately, Washington demands.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper himself pitched in to express his anger and concern at the Russians for daring to take on our enemies, although he has been surprisingly restrained on the topic — something that will likely change after the election when it becomes less dangerous for Canadian voters to pay attention to the details of our military adventures abroad.
This also led to some of the real lunatics in American presidential politics — and I’m talking about Hillary Clinton, not Donald Trump — to demand the U.S. Air Force sweep the Russians from Syria’s skies. That was the real message of the cruise missiles launched from the Caspian Sea on Russian President Vladimir Putin’s 63rd birthday Wednesday: that while the Russians recognize the USAF has that capability, the USAF had better recognize that the Russians have the capability to respond. Believe me, the world doesn’t need to go down that road!
A similar message was being sent, I suspect, when Russian jets’ radar “locked on” to fighter aircraft from our peerless NATO ally Turkey, which has been defending ISIS by preventing Syrian aircraft from chasing ISIS units into the safe zone the Turks had established for the implacable terror group near its border. Instead, the Turks have been killing Canada’s Kurdish allies, sworn enemies of ISIS, with barely a peep from the brave Cold Warriors in Ottawa.
Getting back to the main narrative, who is among the “moderate” groups we Westerners have been arming, encouraging and not bombing? The al-Nusra Front, al-Qaeda’s franchise in the Levant! Al-Qaeda! Our terrorists? Tell me, what’s wrong with this picture?
These observations — all based on mainstream Western news sources and public statements by senior officials — lead unavoidably to two additional conclusions.
First and most obvious, the activities of the Western air forces in the Levant had everything to do with regime change in Syria and precious little if anything to do with fighting ISIS or halting the flow of refugees.
The lame Western response to this argument has been to say the Assad Regime fosters the conditions for terrorism and refugees by mistreating its own people. Lately, this Western pretzel logic extends to trying to argue that by attacking the Syrian government’s main opponents the Russians are helping the Syrian government’s main opponent.
Well, it’s true, our former contract torturers are not nice people, but the West’s recent record in Iraq and Libya suggests our interventions are unlikely to improve matters. It’s worth noting that Canada’s trusted Israeli allies have little problem with the Assad Regime, as long as it’s sufficiently off balance not to present a threat to the formerly Syrian but now de facto Israeli Golan Heights.
The second conclusion is that Western support for “moderate” jihadists and tolerance of ISIS as long as it’s focusing on toppling the Assad Regime is contributing to a clear and present danger to ordinary citizens in Western Europe, the United States and Canada, just as it did when the United States armed and supported Taliban and al-Qaeda jihadists against the Russians in Afghanistan in the 1980s. Could it be the West only bombs ISIS when it is not moving toward Syrian forces?
As for the Russians, either by accident or design, their intervention seems to have produced, at least in the short term, several benefits for Canadian taxpayers:
- They have weakened ISIS, our mortal enemy, and will likely continue to do so if they are not prevented by Western governments
- They have put upward pressure on oil prices, benefitting Canada and in particular Alberta
- They have sent a message to the head-choppers in Saudi Arabia that support for jihadists and economic war on Russia — not to mention Canada and other oil-producing nations — can have consequences
- They have explicitly acted to defend the two-million-member Christian community in Syria, a goal widely shared by Canadians but something no Western government has been prepared to contemplate
- They are impeding the spread of jihadi terror into Europe and Russia’s southern flank, which benefits us all, no matter what mischief Western and Gulf intelligence services may conclude they should get up to
- They are even offering some hope for enough stability to ameliorate the Western European refugee crisis, reducing pressure on our ungenerous government to accept refugees from the region
All of these things sound like policies that should be goals of the Canadian government. Surely the fact our Conservative government appears to be working for opposite outcomes should concern us all.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, AlbertaPolitics.ca.
Imperial failure: Lessons From Afghanistan and Iraq, by Ralph Nader, Counterpunch, Oct 12, 2015
U.S. caught faking it in Syria, by Thomas S. Harrington, Counterpunch, Oct 12, 2015
No moral high ground for the West on Syria, by John Wight, Counterpunch, Oct 9, 2015