The Prime Minister and Conservative Party are beating the war drums in Ottawa today, offering a motion on the floor of Parliament to have Canada supply warplanes in support of the US mission against ISIS. A vote on the resolution will pass sometime next week, enjoying the support of a broad majority of Canadians. It will commit more than 600 Canadian Forces, six CF-18 fighter-bombers, two CP-140 surveillance planes, one aerial tanker aircraft to a six-month “limited mission” of air combat. The cost of this war has not been estimated; but Canada’s seven-month air war in Libya, which involved similar force and equipment commitments (650 personnel and 7 fighter jets at the mission’s peak) cost Canada $347 million.
ISIS is hardly the only source of bad, scary news these days. The ebola epidemic is on-pace to kill more people than ISIS ever could and has the likelihood of a much broader global calamity. By all accounts, the international response has been way too small and way to slow. Canada’s contribution to “humanitarian and security interventions” addressing the ebola outbreak total a mere $5 million, although Canada pledged last week to spend up to an additional $30 million. The United Nations and World Health Organization have estimated that it will cost nearly $1 billion over the next six months to fight the spread of the epidemic.
Here’s an idea for Canada: take all the economic and military resources we are so ready to spend in Iraq and Syria and deploy them against the ebola catastrophe. Canada could exercise real leadership in this fight, thereby re-establishing its moral credibility on the global stage and demonstrating that it chooses its international engagements thoughtfully.
Canada loves its military history — to a bizarre extent for a country of only 35 million, that sees itself as peacemaker, and that has no congenital or chronic enemies. But why make more military history just because the opportunity presents itself? Canada has no direct interest to advance in the Middle East other than to kiss the ass of America, which is in the ISIS fight largely because of its own idiocy in destabilizing Iraq. But the risks of joining an air war that Stephen Harper admits will not eradicate ISIS could be long-term and dangerous. America wants others to help share the burden to curb ISIS; but it does not deserve that assistance. As former US Secretary of Defense Colin Powell articulated in his “Pottery Barn Rule“: you break it, you buy it. The “you” in that rule is not Canada.
Don’t get me wrong: ISIS is evil. Fucking evil. Murderous evil. And it needs to be stopped in its tracks. But that is the responsibility of the US and those in the Middle East that have long turned a blind-eye to coherent, ethical regional foreign policy in favor of oil-wealth gluttony, religious parochialism, and faux pan-Arabism. Unlike the ebola epidemic, the rise of ISIS is not a situation where blame is difficult to parcel-out.
In the weeks and months ahead, we may well regret the feeble, too-little-too-late international response to the ongoing ebola crisis; and we may also ponder, as the US has been pondering for more than a decade, how much national treasure has been spent to make little-, no-, or negative-progress in the struggle against violent religious extremism. If Canada wants to pull on its big-boy pants, it should pick the right crisis to address.