Categories for Musings

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?

What will (or could) happen next in Toronto politics

Rob Ford – who, by the by, was the only mayoralty candidate to contact me during my recent run-in with the underside of a bus – is facing a huge health challenge.  You know that.

What you don’t know, perhaps, is that I had two epiphanies last night.  Epiphany One, I was disgusted and appalled by the frankly evil things being said about Rob Ford’s predicament on Twitter.  I said so, and I wasn’t alone.  I firmly believe, this morning, that some of the things being said by self-described “progressives” will propel many, many sympathetic/empathetic voters into supporting Rob Ford again.  It was that bad.

Epiphany Two – and I said this to myself, as I lay there sleepless and as the rest of you slept like babies – was the following: “Has something like this happened before?”

Well, yes, of course.  It has.  And it had a dramatic and extraordinary effect in both cases, one named Layton (who was being dismissed as a  glib used car salesman until he got sick), and one named Bouchard (who was being reviled as a Benedict Arnold-nation-destroyer until he got sick).

Listen to my friends McLoughlin, Gauthier and Cobb, from a 2011 Citizen story:

“…the pundits all underestimated the Tao of Jack and his Walking Stick — the crutch that has become a Churchillian-like symbol brandished with increased frequency in Layton’s public battles against his political enemies.

“It looked like the beginning of the end of his political career,” said Ottawa communications specialist Barry McLoughlin. “We saw two things happen to him back to back, that showed his humanity. We saw him on our screens looking gaunt, older, frail and very vulnerable.”

Then, adds McLoughlin, Layton suddenly connected with Canadians in a deeper way.

“He struck an emotional chord just by the way he faced up to his setbacks and went about his work. He appeared in the House of Commons after his hip surgery and showed he was a fighter. People developed an emotional relationship with him that wasn’t there before.”

Something similar happened between Quebecers and Lucien Bouchard when the former Bloc Quebecois leader contracted flesh-eating disease in 1994, added McLoughlin.

“It’s not about the cane,” he said, “but about the humanity it shows.”

Bernard Gauthier, a communications and audience research specialist at Delta Media in Ottawa says the walking stick has become a defining element for Layton.

“It’s become part of the Jack Layton brand, along with his white moustache,” said Gauthier. “I said at the beginning of the campaign that the walking stick will go one of two ways for Jack Layton: it will hinder him because it could suggest to people that he is not at the peak of health or it will engage people.

“It’s made him more endearing and empathetic.”

At this point, it will be very difficult for anyone to call Rob Ford names anymore, as John Tory has been doing.  That’s one thing.

This is the other: all that Rob Ford need do is show up – and look vulnerable and human and brave, as Layton and Bouchard did – and something like this will happen:

He will win.


Wither thou goest, Dippers, in your orange car at night? (Updated)

Reporter Andy Radia asked me what I thought about Tom Mulcair, the (aptly named) NDP retreat, blah blah blah.  My response, for your edification:

“Mulcair’s big problem can be summed up in three words: Mulcair isn’t Layton.

For good or bad, who your leader is plays a big, big role in political decision-making. And folks just don’t like Tom as much as they liked Jack.

I’ve just spent several months working with some impressive New Democrats on a municipal campaign. (It was an interesting, but not entirely gratifying, experiment.) A lot of them are good, smart people. But they all know that the Liberal brand is experiencing a comeback across Canada – in BC, in Nova Scotia, in Ontario, in Quebec. If they had something to stop the Liberal resurgence, they would have used it by now. They haven’t.

The New Democrats aren’t going to fall back to their traditional support levels – I think there’s an excellent chance they will drop even below that.

Canadians have been on the right side of the road for about a decade. They’re now moving back to the middle, not the left. And I don’t think Mulcair or Harper have any ideas about how to stop it.”

UPDATE: And Andy’s story is here.

If this is all you’ve got, Conservatives, start dusting off those CVs

This is perhaps the shittiest ad they have produced to date, and that’s saying something. We’ll be talking about this on Sun News today, but here’s a quick summary of what’s wrong with it:

  • He doesn’t look Prime Ministerial – no tie, hands in pockets, etc.
  • His “God bless Canada” closer sounds like he was barely awake when he said it – no passion
  • The crowd looks pretty all-white and all-old
  • The cutaway footage they use is about as cliche as you can get…
  • …and there are no people in the B roll – just buildings and a flag

The main problem, however, is this: the key message – “We’re better off with Harper” – is awful.  It sounds a lot like “Stay with the spouse you don’t love anymore, who you don’t want to be with anymore, because it’s probably better than the alternatives. We think.”

If this is all you’ve got, Con boys and girls, you are done like dinner.  You are now officially in a fight for your lives.  You should consider acting like it.