Why bomb Syria when Afghanistan, Iraq, and Libya taught us bombs don’t bring democracy

By Don Davies NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway, BC

The old adage that those who do not pay attention to history are doomed to repeat it, I think, is time-tested and true. I will review what has been the experience of the west in terms of western military interventions in the Middle East.

Let us just take a brief synopsis of the last 30 years. In Afghanistan in the 1980s, the United States armed the Taliban. At that time the Taliban was the Americans’ friend when it was attacking the Soviets. It did not matter to the Americans at that time that the Taliban’s orthodoxy, doctrines, or dogma were oppressive, misogynist, sexist, and culturally intolerant and insensitive. At that time the United States armed it because they had a common mutual enemy.

Then 9/11 happened. The U.S. demanded the Afghani government deliver up what it believed were the perpetrators of 9/11 who had been, in its view, hiding in Afghanistan. When the Afghani government either could not or would not do so, the United States and a coalition of western countries attacked Afghanistan, including Canada.

Canada was mired in Afghanistan for 10 years. We lost well over 150 brave soldiers. Thousands more Canadian soldiers were injured, traumatized to this day, and Canada spent billions of dollars in Afghanistan.

What is Afghanistan like today? It is not a democracy. Tribal divisions are intact. Opium production is at record levels. It is a country that has been devastated, where western values have failed to take root and in fact are rejected today as strongly as they have ever been.

Let us talk about Libya. Just a few years ago in this House the government stood here and said it had to commit Canadian Forces to enforce a no-fly zone in Libya, and the opposition, despite what the Minister of National Defence has erroneously told the Canadian public, endorsed that mission. We warned, however, at that time that we would not support a mission that morphed into a regime-change one, and that is exactly what happened.

We committed to a mission that eventually resulted in the removal of the Gadhafi regime in Libya, and what happened as a result of that military intervention? The country descended into chaos, with violence on an almost unprecedented level today. There is no democracy, stability, justice, or rule of law in Libya today. I have not heard the Conservatives say a word about the situation in Libya since they urged the Canadian public to go to Libya to remove a despotic government, and they have run away from accountability for those actions.

We have the other example of Iraq. I have a feeling of déjà vu today, because this is not the first time that a western country has been asked to intervene in Iraq in a military manner. In 2003, the United States led a coalition and attacked Iraq. This was based, as we now know, on fabrications and outright deception. Iraq was accused of importing yellow cake uranium from Africa to fuel its nuclear program. It was accused of developing weapons of mass destruction. American diplomats at the highest levels asserted that this was the case. It turned out that these were outright lies, absolute fabrications.

Massive military force was unleashed on Iraq. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed. Massive infrastructure damage totalling in the billions of dollars was inflicted on Iraq. Regime change occurred. Saddam Hussein was removed and replaced with what the west said was a better government, the government of Mr. Maliki. What happened after we installed him? There was brutal oppression of minorities, corruption on a massive scale, no democracy taking root, and a country shattered, divided, and socially fractured.

As a result of massive bombing in 2003, which we said was going to restore democracy, human rights, and the rule of law to Iraq, where are we today in 2015? We have ISIL in Iraq. One could argue that not only did military intervention not accomplish any of the goals that always are the goals asserted at the beginning of a mission, but they created the opposite situation. There was no ISIS or ISIL back in 2003. There is today.

If bombing and military intervention is a way to make Iraq and countries around that region safer and more conforming to western norms, then that would have been the case after massive bombing and military intervention occurred for eight years and eight months, from 2003 to 2011. Thirty years of a western approach to countries in the Middle East and that region based on violence, based on military intervention, and based on deception, have resulted in only one conclusion for anyone who is viewing the situation objectively: an utter, absolute failure to meet any of the objectives that were stated at the beginning of those missions. Worse, there is a complete absence of accountability on behalf of governments like the Canadian government, like the American government, or the British government, who told the people of these countries that they should be intervening in these countries to make their population safer. It has made the world more dangerous.

What should Canada do? Canadians whom I talk to and represent want a different foreign policy from that characterized by the current government, different from the one characterized by war and military intervention and demonizing and jingoistic exhortations to violence. They want a Canada that resorts to our history, which characterizes our foreign policy for most of our time as a country, where Canada was a peacekeeper, where Canada was a peacemaker, where Canada was regarded as an honest broker on the world stage, where Canada was regarded as a fair dealer, where we practised diplomacy and took a leadership role.

There are other ways that Canada can be addressing this very serious problem. We could shift Canada’s warlike approach to one of democracy building. We could help countries like Egypt, Iraq, Syria, and Yemen develop democratic responsible governments that build respectful rights-based societies. We can help these countries build strong civil societies, assist with constitution making, help them build public infrastructure, help them raise the educational levels of their populations, help with poverty alleviation, provide economic aid, and provide humanitarian assistance. These are the roles that stand in contrast to the one being proposed to us here today, which is, “Here is how we can help the people of Iraq: We will go in and add more violence to a violent situation”. The biggest myth of all is that this will make Canadians safer.

The truth is that we have not had one ISIL-inspired terrorist attack on this soil yet, objectively; not one. However, if Canada commits to force and starts bombing ISIL and ISIS positions in Iraq, it is a matter of logic that it would increase the chances that those people would feel entitled to take retributive action here in Canada.