Given his status as frontrunner to become prime minister in October, Thomas Mulcair’s views on the crisis in the Middle East bear closer scrutiny than they’ve received to date.
In an interview with the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge, he repeated his rote dismissal of any role for Canada’s military in halting the horrors perpetrated by the Islamic State across Syria and Iraq. “We will immediately stop the bombing mission and bring those troops home,” he said, stressing he was “profoundly in favour ” of the pledge to pull out.
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His position is strictly in line with the NDP’s traditional opposition to international military involvement of any sort, unless as part of a mission approved by the United Nations. But it conflicts with soundings that have consistently shown the majority of Canadians support the military effort to challenge ISIL. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s decision to expand the mission to include bombing runs over Syria was a tacit recognition of that support.
If you believe his most cynical critics, it was also an attempt to exploit the political potential of being perceived as a warrior prime minister. But there’s no denying millions of Canadians feel that as one of the world’s most fortunate countries – peaceful, prosperous and democratic – we have a duty to offer whatever assistance we can to those caught in less fortunate circumstances, and it’s hard to imagine anything less fortunate than being trapped in a region subject to the barbarities and brutalities of ISIL. There is broad support for humanitarian aid, which the Conservatives have delivered in generous amounts, and for increasing the number of refugees Canada accepts. But many Canadians also believe firmly that there’s a duty to address the causes of the crisis as well as the symptoms. And that means trying, even to the limited extent Canada is capable, of doing what it can to halt the spread of ISIL.
Mulcair disagrees. As he explained to Mansbridge, the civil war in Syria is just the latest in a seemingly unending line of Middle East crises.
“I know what poses a threat to Canada and Canadians, it’s continued war in a region that’s known almost nothing but for 35 years, going back to the Iran-Iraq war shortly after that revolution. We went through Desert Storm and the first Gulf War and then we went through, which was supposedly mission accomplished by getting rid of Saddam Hussein. And everything has flowed from that, all the horrors and I’m not trying to understate them that we’re seeing flow from that. So I think that the best thing for Canada to do is to start playing a positive role for peace and that’s – that would be a top priority for me as the prime minister of Canada.”
Fair enough. But what, precisely, would a “positive role for peace” consist of? To answer that question the NDP traditionally falls back on the United Nations, arguing that working with and within the international body is the best means of addressing the root causes the hatreds that criss-cross the Middle East.
The UN, however has proved spectacularly incapable of anything approaching an effective role in promoting peace. Russia, a veto-wielding member of the Security Council, is even now increasing its military presence in Syria in support of President Bashar al Assad. Iran, having achieved its nuclear deal with the U.S., has made clear it has no intention of reducing its disruptive activities in the region. Just Wednesday, Iran’s supreme leader predicted that Israel would no longer exist as a country within 25 years.
Two high-level UN attempts to organize peace talks have already been made, and abandoned. Four years into the war and with 250,000 dead and millions seeking refuge abroad, a third envoy is now trying to find enough participants willing to talk – not about peace, but about forming working groups to discuss whether they’re even interested in peace. Tying Canada to the UN timetable is a recipe for eternal delay, while thousands more die.
The NDP position comes disturbingly close to the cynical view of those who suggest that if Islamist extremists are determined to go on killing one another, they should be left to it. Mulcair may profess a desire to address the root causes, but the approach he suggests has no hope of doing so. Taking in a few thousand additional refugees while engaging in endless, no-hope debates at the United Nations talking shop in New York is no more than a cruel hoax on the desperate families who are searching for help, but would prefer to live in peace in their own homeland.
Mulcair may “profoundly” believe Canada’s bombing runs do little to advance that goal, but his alternative does even less. The Greek island of Lesbos registered 15,000 new arrivals in just 24 hours this week, meaning the NDP’s promised quota of 46,000 over five years would only equal three days worth of migrants. It’s no better than his vow to abolish the Senate, when he knows he can’t do. It’s a promise to fail, which isn’t an encouraging way to start a new government. In the remaining six weeks of the campaign, Mulcair needs to be questioned more intensely on the NDP view. Dismissing the crisis as “more of the same” from the Middle East isn’t adequate of a would-be prime minister.