09.11.2014 03:49 PM

In Friday’s Sun: the rough beast slouching towards Baghdad

What rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards Baghdad to be born?

Theatrical, perhaps; a mangling of Yeats, to be sure. But watching U.S. President Barack Obama on the eve of the anniversary of 9/11, did you experience a creeping sense of dread? Did Obama’s speech to the world – in which he executed a colossal about-face, pledging to wage war in Iraq, having been elected in 2008 to do the precise opposite – leave your blood cold?

ISIS, which doesn’t stand for Satan Made Flesh but should, sought war with the West. It now appears ISIS will get it. For months, it has been murdering, raping, kidnapping, amputating, torturing, enslaving, desecrating – and, as is well-established, beheading – innocents across Syria and Iraq.

An August United Nations report detailed just a fraction of ISIS’ campaign of genocide: “Women have been lashed for not abiding by ISIS’ dress code. In Raqqa, children as young as 10 are being recruited and trained at ISIS camps.”

And: “Executions in public spaces have become a common spectacle. Children have been present at the executions, which take the form of beheading or shooting in the head at close range…Bodies are placed on public display, often on crucifixes, for up to three days, serving as a warning to local residents.”

Its objective hasn’t been difficult to ascertain: it broadcasts all of its serial atrocities on social media, to ensure we can relive them in the comfort of our living rooms. This week, its Facebook and Twitter-adept monsters have switched their profile pictures to Osama bin Laden, to make certain we all get their point: we’re coming to kill you. (Oh, and al-Qaeda were wimps, in comparative terms.)

Watching Obama say what he, and we, never thought he would say was an disquieting experience. He can dress it up in whatever oratorical sophistry he likes, but the facts are the facts: we are going to war.

Canadians, too. This week, the federal government acknowledged that dozens of troops from the Special Operations Regiment are being deployed to Iraq. They won’t have a combat role, said the Prime Minister. But no one believes that.

The Special Operations Regiment, on its very own website, describes itself as “a robust and adaptable weapon in the [Canadian Special Operations Forces Command] operational arsenal.” Sound like they’re Mike Pearson-style diplomats to you? Us neither. They’re a “weapon” in the Canadian Armed Forces’ “arsenal.”

So Obama fully reverses himself, and Harper attempts to persuade us that war isn’t war. Are we doing what is right?

We are. In the span of about a year, ISIS – or ISIL, or whatever it is they call themselves this week – have transformed themselves into the most lethal terrorist threat confronting the civilized world.

In his speech, Obama called them “a cancer” and “evil,” which are the sort of words speechwriters always deploy to describe terrorists. The Jordanian U.N. Commissioner for Human Rights has said, more emotively, that their objective is to create a “house of blood.” All true.

But better, perhaps, is the matter-of-fact analysis of U.S. Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel: “(ISIS) is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group.” And they want to kill us all.

So, all our leaders are agreed: waging war against ISIS is the right thing to do. Inaction would be to be complicit in their pogroms. Of course.

But – and here is where the unease comes in – war is unmistakably what ISIS desires. ISIS has been plainly seeking it for months. It has been trying to goad the West into combat, and it has succeeded.

So, as the beast that is ISIS slouches towards Baghdad, and as we let slip the dogs of war, it is fair to ask:

Is this a war we can win?


  1. Lance says:

    Is this a war we can win?

    Only if we have the will to do whatever it takes to win.

  2. TrueNorthist says:

    We cannot win such a war because we are not the ones who should be fighting it. Unless and until the various players in the ME settle their civil war it will simply metastasize elsewhere. This will be yet another pointless waste of life and treasure that does little more than engender more hatred and resentment toward us.

    • TrueNorthist says:

      For posterity, I also want to add that this has more to do with getting gas pipelines through Syria than “containing” or “degrading” the most recent Saudi/Qatari funded boogiemen, carefully marketed as ISIS. Nato will start in Iraq then slide into Syria and the next thing we know Assad will be quietly killed or pushed out somehow. Even the business in Ukraine is a part of this over-arching plan to replace Russian gas with Arab gas, nothing more than that. We appear to be little more than armed goons used by Arab oil. And media does it’s part as cheerleaders for war.

  3. Terry Quinn says:

    WK comment……. Is this a war we can win?

    To win a war you have to thoroughly beat your enemy and make them surrender unconditionally. That never happened in the previous encounters with Islamist extremists but its time for that to happen. Unfortunately it will be very bloody but to refrain will make it just as bloody on our side. I see no other way at this juncture. ISIS is promoting this war with the west to try and engage more Islamist youth in their Jihad.

  4. Ron says:

    Pretty hard to win a war against an idea, even a bad one. Like the New Caliphate run by
    savages like these.

    All of ISIS will have to be rubbed out, compromise is not what they are known for. But where
    are the targets ? Some are right here in Canada and elsewhere, recruiting.

    I could go on but it would just raise question after question and the answers are likely to
    be …. other questions.

    It will not end well. Few wars ever do.

  5. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Respectfully, no. This is one time when we don’t agree. Wars against terrorism are a different breed and let’s look at the American track record: Libya and Somalia are a mess while Iraq and Afghanistan are outright military disasters. Money either goes down the rat hole or is embezzled by the professional political class…

    Terrorism can never be defeated — only temporarily contained. It will then regroup into a new incarnation to live to fight again. Up until now, Canadians have been spared. That ends now. The homefront becomes what it has never been before — a lethal place for men, women and children.

    • Elisabeth Lindsay says:

      To the contrary, Ronald. Canadians have most definitely NOT been spared. All those that lost their lives on nine eleven. All those that have been lost in Afghanistan would all beg to differ. How soon some of us forget.

  6. Al in Cranbrook says:

    I keep hearing this question.

    What I don’t hear much talk of is the alternative; the consequences of doing nothing.

    No need to repeat familiar and timeless adages.

    If watching people being herded into ditches and shot, seeing heads severed and displayed on spires, watching women sold into slavery, and children turned into hate filled weapons of war, doesn’t motivate nations to take action…

    Then our entire civilization isn’t worth shit, and doesn’t deserve to see tomorrow’s sunrise.


    • e.a.f. says:

      Al, we’ve been sitting around watching that sort of shit for years or don’t you remember what happened in Cambodia? For that matter don’t you remember the U.S.A. and Canada saying they wouldn’t take any Jews prior to WW II.

      Hey they cut of 15 heads in Saudi Arabia in the last little while for sorcery and witchcraft. women are being bought and sold constantly or haven’t you been watching any documentaries about the sex trade around the world. Want to have a look at slavery. Have a look at some of the foreign fishing fleets in the far east. Those men are bought and sold and thrown overboard and no one cares.

      ISIS is a terrible group, but the only reason the west is getting so excited is because they are endangering the west’s access to oil in the middle east. If the U.S.A. has to “sell” other countries in the middle east on dealing with ISIS, they can’t be too worried. So why should we in Canada. I;m more afraid of Ebola and wish the west would do a tad more about that. Ebola is going to kill a whole lot more people than ISIS is and Ebola is going to travel a whole lot further than ISIS will.

      If someone just found out who is giving ISIS all those new trucks and ask them nicely to stop, who knows it could all be over more quickly. Like where the hell are they getting all those trucks??? Iran isn’t interested in dealing with this. Haven’t been the Emirates and Bahrain all that excited about it and they’re pretty close to it. Oh, well this is what you get when you get rid of a dictator. If George, Tony and Stevie hadn’t gotten rid of Saddem H. we might not be in this position today.

  7. Matt says:

    Can it be won? We defeat ISIS, another group of Islamic extremists will fill the void.

    Can it be won? Anything short of bombing the entire Middle East, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the north of Africa into dust, I’m not sure it can be.

    Trudeau made a statement today Canada’s participation should be focused on humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping.

    He doesn’t have a clear understanding of the issue. Humanitarian efforts certainly need to be part of our response, but there is no peace to keep. The Islamic extremists aren’t interested in peace. They want the worldwide caliphate. They want the West destroyed.

    • Steve T says:

      Totally agree. The idea that a hot meal and a pat on the head will solve all the world’s problems is naive at best, and dangerous at worst. It is the sort of thing that sounds great from the comfort of our warm cozy safe North American homes, but does jack sh*t in the real world.

    • Bill says:

      “Trudeau made a statement today Canada’s participation should be focused on humanitarian efforts and peacekeeping”. I had to go read the original quote because I was sure you must have got it wrong but in fact you got it too right. Reading his whole comment just reinforces my disbelief that anyone would seriously want to put him in the PM chair. This isn’t about his inexperience, which he could grow into, but about his ability which he really can’t do too much about.

  8. Tim says:

    Is this a war we can win? This war is the same war that Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, Cheney and it must be said Powell started in 2003. And Barack Obama and Jean Chretien were among the few with actual power who opposed it. Now Obama has to fight a war he opposed. The world is truly reaping the whirlwind. Can it be won? What on earth does that mean? Dear God please have mercy on us all.

  9. smelter rat says:

    Paging Dr. Strangelove.

  10. davidray says:

    if it’s fought from the air it’s only “warrish” but boots on the ground that’s war and like ten tabs of Viagra for Harper’s limp dick prospects so grab your ankles folks cause the cons will start shoving more war mongering bullshit up our collective rear ends than we ever thought possible. and so it goes.

  11. Pipes says:

    It’s hard to win a war with restraint.

    Has the US ever won a war?

    • davie says:

      I see USA as the most successful military on the planet the past 2 and 1/3rd centuries. USA has gone from 13 states on the mid Atlantic littoral of North America, to a power that has its war planes, war fleets, bases, covert operators, spy satellites, electronic spying and proxies almost everywhere on the planet. A person would be hard put to find two years back to back when American military was not in action against someone or other.
      The odd set back, but mostly, success.

  12. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    They may not have won a war but I can think of two we did not lose thanks to a belated American entry: the Great War and WWII, the big one.

  13. JT says:

    Great piece warren. Thoughtful and thought provoking. As horrible as it is, I don’t think we should enter that arena again. Rather than wage war on the other side of the world and spill the blood of our armed forces in a hopeless cause, I think we need to reconsider and toughen our borders and laws. Maybe we should take a serious look at not only the Canadians who go abroad to support ISIS and the like, maybe we should be looking at their families and their religious leaders who have supported and enabled. I’m sickened by the stuff that happens in Canada in our effort to be politically correct. Maybe it’s time to start hitting their pocketbooks or deporting them. It’s not the liberal way, but when it comes to situations like Omar khadr and his family, they should be packing. Enjoy your life in some war torn country, not here in Canada. I believe there is a lot of nefarious activity going on right under our noses and we are completely blind to it. We are way too soft here at home. That’s a fight worth pursuing.

  14. davie says:

    I have been mulling over this one for a while about faith based terrorists, so let me see if there are additions or corrections from any of you:

    For umpteen decades, the West controlled its empires and past empires, including the Middle East, by appointing assorted regimes to rule, and supporting those regimes in controlling the populations. For a long time, when any democratic, secular groups began to get organized, – nationalist, pan Arab, autonomy minded, we supported our appointed regimes in destroying these groups. For a long time, it was enough to label any democratic secular group or party as ‘commies,’ and destroy them by simply labelling them so.
    Bu there was, and is, still dissent. And since that dissent could not work itself out openly, in democratic ways, the dissent channeled into faith based institutions. For the past 3 or 4 decades, we have seen increasing numbers of faith based groups, very militant, looking to knock off the regimes we appoint, looking to resist Western controls or meddling in their communities.
    In those groups, faith based, the ideologues have the upper hand, and drive the resistance.
    We label them as terrorists, and once we label a group or person as terrorist, we can do whatever we want to them…as we did with those we labelled a commies.
    We are continuing to try to keep control of those communities.

  15. Steve T says:

    So here is a related discussion point: were the Nazis (or, more generally, Nazi Germany) really the worst folks in history? I would argue no.

    Most of the German soldiers had some semblance of honor (except those working in concentration camps). Most had very little knowledge of the atrocities being committed.

    By contrast, the advent of the electronic age means that ISIS members know exactly what their organization stands for, and is doing. And still they choose to remain with ISIS.

    The only reason ISIS hasn’t killed 8 million people yet, is that they lack the means. They surely would, if they could.


    • smelter rat says:

      Well there’s a happy thought. Just before bedtime.

    • david ray says:

      don’t be silly. the nazis were doing the same thing in 37, 38 and 39 until they invaded Poland and then war was declared. read “Human Smoke” by Nicholson Baker for the daily drip drip of horrors during the buildup to war. Everybody was complicit in doing and or ignoring.

  16. JH says:

    Personally I always thought that the Hope & Change stuff was just electioneering and the Nobel Peace Prize a joke. This is a very naive man, who managed to ride the hopes of the American people into the White House without the slightest idea of how the real world works. And he surrounded himself with the same kind of people, perhaps with the exception of Mrs. Clinton, who didn’t dare make him face reality. Folks are right when they say this is a different kind of war and I believe it will be a never-ending one. These jihadis are locked into the holy wars preached by the Prophet Mohammed that brought the Ottoman Caliphate to the gates of Vienna in the 1500s and their religious education & fanaticism is from that era. I don’t think they can ever be completely defeated, because they live among us all over the world. So better hunker down folks, this is going to go on a long time and right on our doorsteps.

  17. Tim says:

    It will take the will to occupy the area for a generation, similar to Germany and Japan after WWII. To consolidate peace you need an epoch of working citizens who have only known security and a generation of reflective/testosterone reduced elderly to regularily remind the former of how disgusting times of bloodshed are.

  18. Bruce A says:

    Here’s some observations and questions I have:

    Why is IS such a threat when nobody had heard of them two or three months ago?
    There’s too many schisms in this region for a military to be loyal to a central government. Saddam and Bin Laden understood this. Why can’t we?
    R2P is nothing more than social engineering from the barrel of a gun. It’s humanitarian by intention but the Washington Neo-Cons have twisted it.
    Democracy doesn’t come in a box and it’s not The Green Zone, which is known to some as The Emerald City.
    What role is Saudi Arabia and Wahhabism playing? The Saudi’s are never mentioned and haven’t been for thirteen years. Funny how that happens.
    The Americans have two choices, ‘stability’ or ‘chaos’. Chaos is profitable for political and economic elites. I see no benefit for ordinary people.
    Canada is now committed until the Americans say we can leave.
    Institutional memory of WMD has been removed and Insane McCain is free to restart the war-mongering again.

    • davie says:

      I will throw in some of my doubt at the propaganda we are getting about Islamic State:
      I understand that during the early 1940’s, in much of German occupied Europe, the more effective of resistance groups were the communists. They had had experience in the 1920’s and 1930’s at being a harassed minority, and used their early organization and experience to resist in the early 1940’s. Others joined them, not because the ‘joiners’ were communist, but because they wanted to join the most effective resistance group.
      We Westerners hammered Iraq’s infrastructure during the 1990’s. In the 2000’s, we invaded, occupied, and destroyed both the secular Ba’ath organization, and any Sunni organization in Iraq. We gave Kurds an autonomy within Iraq, and gave Shia the government in Baghdad.
      Sunni communities were placed in an inferior position.
      In the past few years, almost daily, at least weekly, there have been horrible bombing murders, mostly in Baghdad. Each time 10, or 17, or 26 people are murdered by bombs. This continues.

      In Syria, we supported groups fighting Assad’s Ba’ath regime, including Sunni groups. Islamic State was one of those rebel groups, and over a couple of years They developed organization and effectiveness.
      They moved into Iraq to find a ready populace that has been under siege and living in chaos and fear for some time. (What struck me when we first heard of Islamic State was the Iraq military apparent unwillingness to fight this group.) It is possible that people are joining Islamic State, supporting Islamic State, not because they are themselves extremists, but because the organization holds a hope for some stability and peaceful future in their communities. They might be like the ‘joiners’ I mentioned above in early 1940’s Europe.

      I have read and heard about the atrocities and brutal justice Islamic State hands out to those not in their group. But I am sure that somewhere, someone is showing photos and videos of the results of Baghdad car bombings, drone strikes on hapless villagers, assorted high tech bombs Westerners use, and such, with expressions of outrage a the savagery of the people who do such things.

      After my own lifetime of being lied to by governments and media about the rationales for killing other peoples, I have a hard time charging up my blood lust on this one.

      (You sure that Islamic State selling oil at half price is not a part of this?)

      • Bill says:

        President Obama bet his legacy on thinking like yours (it’s all our fault they hate us) and will likely be characterized as one of the worst Presidents for this miscalculation. They don’t hate us because of what we do but because of what we represent and we are a very soft target. This is a war we must win over there or it is just a matter of time before the war comes to us here.

        • Bruce A says:

          “This is a war we must win over there or it is just a matter of time before the war comes to us here”.

          The Domino Theory has long been discredited. It just isn’t going to happen.

      • TrueNorthist says:

        Oil appears to be at the root of virtually all ME troubles, mixed with a centuries long Sunni/Shi’a civil war. Perfect conditions for plundering the area of it’s resources. Your point about IS offering stability in Sunni Iraq is very prescient.

      • Bruce A says:

        “Others joined them, not because the ‘joiners’ were communist, but because they wanted to join the most effective resistance group”.

        The Ukrainians during the Second World War would be an example of this rationale.

        “We Westerners hammered Iraq’s infrastructure during the 1990′s. In the 2000′s, we invaded, occupied, and destroyed both the secular Ba’ath organization, and any Sunni organization in Iraq. We gave Kurds an autonomy within Iraq, and gave Shia the government in Baghdad.
        Sunni communities were placed in an inferior position”.

        “The strategy could be called liberation through devastation.”


  19. Liam Young says:

    For a long time, the US government and others have done an exceptional job of creating villains that we can direct our well-funded, taxpayer financed defense industry barrels at.
    Prior to the first Iraqi war, it was a well-paid PR agency that created the story of baby machines in Iraq.
    Then it was the WMD. That never existed.
    Then it was …
    Then it was …
    The story goes on and on and on.
    ISIS if a fabrication, folks, designed to scare us into pumping more cash into the machine.
    When do you stop a war you can’t win?
    When North American and European taxpayers are given the right to stop paying for this madness!

    • davie says:

      I would really like someone to show how all these hate sessions and endless wars on Eurasia (or is it Eastasia?) differs from what Orwell warned us about in his novel 1984.

  20. Q: Is this a war we can win?

    I don’t know if there is much choice. Whether the US created ISIS thanks to George W. Bush’s starting a war in the first place is irrelevant at this point. ISIS is the new reality and maybe the reality of the 21st Century is the west will be in a constant state of war with groups like ISIS. Maybe this is something we’re just going to have to accept as the new normal because for the life of me, I can’t see how there is any other alternative. If nobody does anything, ISIS spreads – likely into North America with acts of terrorism. There’s a lot of rhetoric on this issue – it would be so nice to have a shut-off switch for it because frankly, “woulda, coulda, shoulda” is moot at this point. This is what is. It has to be dealt with. Whether that means all out boots on the ground war or air strikes (which historically have been proven not to work) the west has to be seen to be doing *something*. And that is where I suspect the US will go … airstrikes … create the appearance of doing *something*.

    This is a no-win for the US and its allies. This is our new normal. I think we have to start getting used to it.

  21. Joe says:

    I would suggest that we are a very long way from fighting an actual war against ISIS. Obama has mouthed a few platitudes to shore up his falling popularity but that is a long way from getting his allies to go to war with him. Several European countries have already told him to pound sand and even the US’s favourite lapdog (Canada) is tepid at best in its support. With such unwillingness to engage the ISIS I doubt that should we ever go to war we would win it.

    • Warren says:

      What’s an “actual war” these days, pray tell?

      • Lance says:

        That is a good point. Considering how today’s wars don’t seem to be fought by “conventional means” as much (i.e. no formal declarations, the use of irregular military actions, the lack of formal P.O.W. status for captured unlawful combatants, or clearly defined objectives), I have to wonder what IS an “actual war” these days. What is more, how are we prepared to be a party to these changes?

        • Peter says:

          Not only that, we expect to “win” against well-armed suicidal madmen who torture and execute for fun before breakfast with few casualties, minimal “collateral damage” (no disturbing pictures, please) and widespread gratitude and support from local populations. Also, with no domestic sacrifice. Granted knitting socks for the troops and war bond drives are a little dated, but who would be prepared to accept a 5% income tax hike or give up their trip south at March Break for the cause? “Support Our Troops” today means bumper stickers and Canadian Forces Days at hockey games.

      • Joe says:

        Anything more than flying a cruise missile up a camel’s butt.

  22. MississaugaPeter says:

    Why is it that this is not China’s or Japan’s problem?

  23. patrick says:

    Well it’s back to the idea that you fight a war against a tactic. Mistaken I think. The terrorists just hide under a rock waiting for people to look the other way. And I still don’t see how bombing the crap out of a country makes it want McDonalds.

  24. TrueNorthist says:

    After a bit more thought on this, my position has evolved a little, at least where our involvement is concerned. IS resulted from western interference in the region, so it is our responsibility to at least try and set it right now that they have lost control of the monster they created. I still seriously question whether the current bunch of idiots in charge can actually improve things. Odds are the planned actions are simply more interference designed to protect the very interests that caused the whole mess to begin with.

    Did you hear that the family of Foley was repeatedly threatened by the US gov’t? Mind boggling.

  25. e.a.f. says:

    This isn’t a war the west can win. If they were going to put resources anywhere, I’d suggest the war on Ebola. That could well kill a lot more people and make its way to Europe, North America, Asia, Australia, etc.

    ISIS maybe going a round doing a whole lot of terrible, inhuman things, but truly, so have a lot of other groups/governments or do we forget what happened in Cambodia. No one gave a rats ass when S. Hussein gassed Kurds. No I’d suggest the real problem here is ISIS is starting to threaten the oil fields the west needs. so lets just ensure people know how horrible they are. Like don’t they behead in Saudi Arabia. Pakastain isn’t exactly a hot bed of women’s rights or democratic principals, etc.

    My suggestion is let the middle east deal with ISIS. Saudi Arabia, Iran, Bahrain, the Emirites, let them fight this war. Let them have their soliders killed. let them spend their money. The west is some distance away and we have our own problems. The middle eastern countries have sat around and let the west fight their battles, well let them do it themselves. I for one am tired of having my tax $ spent on wars in the middle east while we need those dollars here in Canada, not to mention the government hasn’t done much for the Vets from the last couple of wars in the middle east.

    ISIS will pose a threat to the west in our home base, because we’ve threatened them on their home turf. As to young men from the west joining ISIS, I wouldn’t worry about them coming home. most will be killed in the fighting. We have a greater chance of Ebola coming here and causing death than some kid coming back to start a war here.

    Young westerners going to fight for ISIS is simply another form of rebellion we so often see in young men. At one time young people joined religious cults right here in North America. Now they can go else where and do it and get a little fighting in at the same time.

    If the west gets involved in this war, who knows what the replacement will be. Like if we had left S. Hussein in office, we wouldn’t be where we are today folks. Thank you George Bush, Tony Blair, Stephen Harper, et al.

    Yes, ISIS may pose a threat to Israeli but I’m sure they can deal with it. The problem is the people in the countries where ISIS has taken control, have not fought back or their armies/politicians haven’t. In my opinion, if they can’t be bothered why should we.

    The Kurds seem to have put up a good fight and are hold ISIS at bay. Supplying them with arms might be in order, but the rest, its just too messy. I could see sending assistance to Jordon, because its full of refugees and has enough problems, but those oil rich kingdoms which don’t particularly like our western ways, let them deal with their own problems. I’d rather we deal with diseases which kill like Ebola.

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