Monday, April 06, 2015

"Third force"

This morning I was listening to this exchange, where notable commentator Gwynne Dyer was contrasted to an Alden Pyle-type named Kyle Matthews from the R2P crowd over whether it was "moral" (and therefore justifiable and necessary) to bomb ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

Ugh. This shouldn't even be a conversation. The R2P folks I meet tend have a strange mix of naivety about the practicalities of conflict, an aversion to unpleasant facts, and some kind of strange faith in the ability of the Rest of the World (by which it is usually meant the West) to protect people by military force. Theirs is an absurdly linear, postivist, bloody positive way of thinking about complex problems, especially very dangerous ones where costs are measured in lives and gold.  The narrative is fantastical LotR or Harry Potter for these yes-men, not the moral ambiguity and no-guarantees reality of Game of Thrones.

The ISIS war is a civil war in nature, driven by local fanatics trying to gain maintain power, champion a religious affiliation, and so. Because it's a war driven by fanaticism, it will not adhere  to rules and conventions that aim to preserve life and protect non-combatants. So there are massacres and gruesome brutalities. This is the nature of civil wars driven by fanaticism. Like mad dogs fighting with claw and tooth, interfering in these kinds of fights is highly risky. As uncomfortable as it is morally, it is probably best to let them fight to exhaustion and then pick up the pieces afterwards.

But no, the political leadership in Canada, captivated by ego and maybe some End Times prophesy from their own churches, in addition to the various R2P Aldens will agonise and advocate for more intervention.

My guess? It's likely in the coming weeks or months Harper or Kenney will announce an expansion of the Canadian Army's role with more troops and a combat mission.




16 comments:

Jim said...

There are some problems with the policy of The Harper Government (TM), and Dwyer hit most of them; you've hit the rest.

The most naïve idea is that Canada has the ability to do something about ISIS. At the moment, we don't. It must logically follow that there is no legal or moral responsibility to do things that you cannot do.

The argument may be made that we could, as in 1939, mobilize the population and the economy to fight what The Harper Government (TM) calls an existential threat to Canada. But they haven't, and they won't.

The truth is that no one in the present regime sees this in terms of threats to Canada. They see it as an electoral issue. It is "an existential threat" only if those words will produce more votes in the coming election.

All of this leads unavoidably to the conclusion that this is a war of choice and, as such, can never be a moral or legal undertaking.

The shallowness of the analysis on which this war rests was perfectly shown when Harper used the language of "legal risk management" to respond to questions of the legal and moral basis of the war.

There may be, as he says, little risk of ISIS lawyers taking Harper to the ICJ or the ICC, but the answer reveals the intellectual and moral poverty of the policy. It amounts to saying, "I think I can get away with it." This is not the stance of a person or a government that cares about moral or legal underpinnings of their actions.

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Purple library guy said...

I think you're being deeply unfair to LotR and even, probably, Harry Potter in this article. LotR sometimes presents war from a pre-modern frame, with characters and pieces of narrative treating it the way, well, actual Anglo Saxons and so forth treated it.
But for the most part Tolkien, a WW I vet who lost basically all the friends of his youth to that war, is far from glorifying war in those books. People die and it's terrible, and the main view of the fighting is from the hobbits who are far from warlike. There are key moments like Sam musing when he saw a dead enemy soldier from Harad and realized that he was young, barely more than a kid, and wondered if he would have preferred to stay home instead of riding off to his death in a foreign land. Even the orcs, who are typically treated by critics as convenient moral vacuums who can be slaughtered without ethical qualms, are actually personalized and sometimes treated with a certain sympathy; they're far from nice people, but they'd really rather be doing a bit of quiet banditry and relaxing a bit than working for big bosses under harsh discipline as part of a huge war machine.

LotR has had so many, many poor imitators, and it really annoys me that it so often gets tarred with their failings.

In a weird way, Game of Thrones probably glorifies war more. It's just that since Game of Thrones has no real moral compass, the warfare generally has no point, so it's very easy to see the downside. But it's almost warfare porn, taking advantage of the urge to gawk at traffic accidents: "Isn't this awful? Here, wanna look at some more awful? Getting numbed to it? How about this, that's even more awful?"

I know, I know, I'm messing with a perfectly good metaphor for the sake of fannish correctness. But you're sullying my favourite thing with the taint of vicious neocons, and Tolkien would have hated these people.

Purple library guy said...

Oh, also, the ISIS thing is not a civil war. Not primarily, at least not in Syria. It's driven largely by foreigners brought in with Saudi money and treated to US-made weapons and US training. They have very little support from actual Syrians. It's like the Contra war against Nicaragua. Although, yes, most of the people brought in are religious fanatics in this case.

So if the Americans would just stop backing them and make the Saudis stop backing them too, the whole thing would peter out over one or two years. Which in turn would make the Iraq side rather easier to handle. The problem is that the Americans still want to have their cake and eat it too, have an ISIS that stays tame and just destabilizes the countries the Americans want destabilized but doesn't advance its own fanatical agenda. Fat chance.

The idea of bombing in Syria is more about generally destabilizing Syria than it is about beating ISIS. They don't care if ISIS wins in Syria, but they really want Assad to lose, so the more general destruction the better; if it hurts some ISIS people, whatever, there's more where they came from.

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