War, what is it good for?
Remember that lyric? For Edwin Starr, war – and the song “War” – was good enough to represent a number one hit in the spring of 1970. Released at Vietnam’s nadir, “War” was the biggest hit of Starr’s career, and held the top spot on the Billboard charts for weeks. In the intervening years, it has been covered by everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Frankie Goes to Hollywood.
In the intervening years, too, the sentiment at the centre of “War” has been mooted plenty of times in legislatures and parliaments. War, what is it good for? Anything?
As Canada hovers on the brink in Iraq and Syria, it’s a question that will be debated ad infinitum. Is war good for anyone, politically?
For the prime minister, it is obvious that participation in the international coalition against ISIS is a matter of great principle. Only a cynic would characterize Harper’s position as a total fraud.
Only a fool, however, would believe that politics has not entered into Harper’s calculations. As he prepares for an election next year, the Conservative leader is well aware – as Jimmy Carter learned – that unsuccessful military escapades in foreign lands can have unhelpful electoral consequences back home.
Conversely, ISIS’ defeat could provide Harper’s Conservatives with what they most desire: re-election. To understand why, one need only review the respective positions of Messrs. Mulcair and Trudeau.
For the NDP leader, it is parliamentary business as usual. In respect of virtually every military conflict in which this nation has rightly involved itself in recent decades – Afghanistan, Kosovo – the CCF/NDP have always said “no.”
Their military policy is not to have one. Forever sitting on the sidelines, making chirpy speeches about humanitarian measures, doing little — that is the NDP.
It hasn’t hurt them, arguably, in places like Quebec (although the province’s new premier favours military intervention). But, when one considers ISIS’ campaign of murder and torture and enslavement – when one considers that ISIS’ barbarism has even been condemned by al-Qaida as too extreme – is not the NDP’s indifference to genocide tantamount to complicity?
Mulcair will argue, and has, that Canada is better equipped to deliver humanitarian aid, not military support. But that is sophistry: humanitarian and military efforts are not mutually exclusive. Canada can do, and has done, both.
So, we know where Harper and Mulcair stand – one is for war, one against. But what of Justin Trudeau’s Liberals?
In recent days, Lloyd Axworthy has stated his unequivocal support for action against ISIS. “[ISIS] have to be whacked, and whacked good,” says Axworthy, who is on the party’s progressive left, and who is still regarded by Grits as its most effective foreign affairs minister in modern times.
Former Liberal leader Bob Rae, similarly no hawk, has taken a similar view. In an op-ed dismissing comparisons to George W. Bush’s misadventure in Iraq, he wrote: “Islamic State represents a clear and present danger to the people over whom it rules, to any minorities around the area, to the region and potentially to the world.”
Revered former lieutenant-general Romeo Dallaire said likewise: “I don’t see how it’s possible to contain ISIS without having boots on the ground.”
For now, however, Trudeau has disregarded the advice of the likes of Axworthy, Rae and Dallaire. For now, he has aped the NDP’s position. It hasn’t hurt him.
Says Trudeau: “The Liberal Party of Canada cannot and will not support this prime minister’s motion to go to war in Iraq.”
Understood. But Trudeau would do well to occasionally heed the wisdom of the likes of Axworthy, Rae and Dallaire.
And to recall that “War,” in the end, was just a song.