The speech I did not get to give

Elizabeth May

I had thought that the debate on sending a military mission into Iraq would allow for me to make a 10 minute speech. Due to the motion for closure, I never had that chance. I had some rough notes of what I had wanted to say and decided to share them. Despite my deep doubts about the mission, the concern that the mission violates international law, and does exactly what the terrorists hoped we would do, I fervently hope to be wrong.

Mr. Speaker,

The debate today is one of the most important, if not the most important, of the 41st Parliament.

Let me start with some first principles. Fundamental underpinnings of the current situation on which all Parliamentarians, and indeed all Canadians, are agreed:

  1. The terrorist organization known as Islamic State is in every respect appalling. It offends fundamental levels of decency and morality.
  2. Its acts of barbarism and atrocity rival those of historical evil – whether of Nazi soldiers killing babies with bayonets, the Spanish inquisition, or Salem witch burnings. ISIS strikes fear in our hearts because it marries ancient superstition, base cruelty and modern technology.
  3. As ISIS threatens innocent populations, such as the Kurds in Iraq, Canada should take some action.

Here is where consensus ends.

Reflecting on all this, we have to admit that — regardless of religion or culture — humanity is capable of terrifying murderous sadism. When permission for brutality is given by the ethical construct in which humans operate — whether through war, ideological mania, or shared delusions — human beings are capable of merciless, ruthless violence. Still, we must remind ourselves that of the seven billion of us on this planet, a tiny fraction now occupies our minds. Peoples of all races, religions and creeds are overwhelmingly caring and peaceful. Those who distort religion as justification to violate the teachings of their own sacred texts must not be allowed to obliterate the practices of the majority of their faith.

The extent of the evil of ISIS invites us to make simple judgments. They are bad. The narrative begins to take on the characteristics of a comic strip. Good guys versus bad guys.

But neither the region nor its history are simple. We backed Libyan rebels, even knowing al Qaeda forces were among their number. We bombed Libya, supported the toppling of Gaddafi, his public lynching in the street. The warehouses of his armaments flooded out to extremist groups — some to Mali, some to Syria. Perhaps the worst of the mistakes we made in Libya was to bastardize and knee-cap the doctrine of responsibility to protect. Going into Libya claiming our goal was to protect civilians, and then changing our mission to regime change, ensured that we would not be able to move into Syria to protect civilians. I referenced this in my speech at the time. We stood on the sidelines in Syria as pro-democracy rebels were slaughtered. If we had moved to a cease-fire and peace talks in Libya, we would have been better able to use R2P arguments within the UN for Russian and Chinese approval for protecting civilians in Syria. True, they might not have agreed. But we gave Bashar al-Assad and his allies irrefutable evidence that R2P was a cloak for regime change — thanks to our monumental errors in Libya.

We stayed on the sidelines in Syria. But we rooted for the rebels against the brutal Bashar al Assad. ISIS having formed itself in Iraq joined the loosely connected rebel groups in Syria to topple Assad. For awhile, “The enemy of my enemy is my friend” theory put ISIS in the white hats as the West hoped for Assad’s end.

More tenacious than we thought, Assad has held on… We now have our prime minister telling this House that if Assad requested it, Canada would engage in airstrikes in Syria. Complicated proposition — if bombing ISIS accidentally helps Assad stay in power. Or ,as happened recently, according to Human Rights Watch, US Tomahawk missiles bombing Syria killed civilians, as well as hitting non-ISIS rebels.

This is not a comic strip. We cannot launch a military action as though recognizing the obvious — ISIS is reprehensible in every way — constitutes a way forward.

Here are two fundamental principles we should follow:

  1. Ensure that whatever we do complies with international law. Despite the several UN security council resolutions, it is far from clear that acts of bombardment comply with international law. We need to stay within international law. We cannot allow multilateralism to degenerate into a shared vigilante-ism.
  2. As physicians have so long pledged, “First do no harm.” Retired ambassadors Bob Fowler and Peggy Mason have warned — a six month bombing campaign could do more harm than good.

What could we do?

  • Send more funding to assist Lebanon, Turkey and Jordan deal with the Syrian refugee crisis on their borders.
  • Offer to the UN that Canadian forces (on the ground) will be available to establish a multi-national peace-keeping force whose purpose is to provide round the clock security and protection for aid workers and refugee camps throughout the region.
  • Sign and ratify the UN Arms Control Treaty to stop the flow of arms to terrorists globally.
  • Shut down the oil refining capacity of captured ISIS oil fields and stop the black-market flow of oil. Choke ISIS of the millions of dollars a day it is making on black market oil. Admittedly, this would most likely include air strikes. They should be from Saudi planes.
  • Ensure that as broad and deep a coalition of non-western, regional governments as is possible pledge to eradicate religious extremists and terrorists. These nations must commit to stop the flow of black-market oil and weapons crossing their borders. Multinational policing at the borders may be required.
  • Send help to the Kurds immediately as they fight off the ISIS assault. This is ideally through support to the Iraqi and Kurdish armies, but could be through a UN resolution and peacekeepers.

Having offered these ideas let me add immediately that they may not be the right mix of solutions. The Green Party is committed to a path for peace and non-violence. But that does not mean we want to turn a blind eye to threats against innocent populations or individuals. We believe in the rule of law. We believe in the doctrine of Responsibility to Protect, as badly as we damaged that principle in our betrayal of it in Libya.

The situation is not a comic strip. The disastrous mess we are in now was largely created by failed US policies — first in Afghanistan by supporting religious extremists to confront occupation by the USSR and then in the illegal Iraq war. Barack Obama is not George Bush, but as an ally in the region, the US has a lot of baggage.

We cannot find our feet to do the right thing in a history-free zone.

Announcing a six month bombing mission is unlikely to help. It is likely to make matters worse. The road to hell is paved with good intentions, and against ISIS, good intentions are not enough.