I read with interest, The case to keep CF-18s in the fight, by Michael Den Tandt (Edmonton Journal, Wednesday, 23 December 2015).
Den Tandt states correctly, in my view, that “The arguments for keeping the CF-18s in the fight or not, fall loosely into three groupings: tactical/strategic, philosophical/moral and political.”
However, our views diverge when he goes on to state that “In every case, based on a careful and fair-minded reading of the facts, the case for keeping the previous Conservative government’s policy in place is unassailable.”
In practice, the tactical/strategic evidence, which supports military engagement or refraining from it, is more often than not shrouded in secrecy and couched in language that largely precludes the public from being informed well enough to comment upon the evidence which supports action or inaction, intelligently.
Lacking access to the tactical/strategic justifications for military engagement, the public has little choice but to argue for or against from a moral or political point of view. And, since no one has a monopoly in the marketplace of morals, the discussion exists largely in the realm of politics.
However, this is not the case for Prime Minister Trudeau, Roland Paris and his other advisers, as they have access to the critical information upon which national policy ought to be based, the evidence.
If, as Den Tandt suggests, “air power is being used … to degrade and destroy ISIL’s capabilities and allow allied local ground troops to take back territory more easily”, it begs credibility as to why Islamic State ground forces are being used by Saudi Arabia and nine other Sunni-majority states (with US backing) in their war against the Shia Houthi insurgents in Yemen, which, in fact, expands the operational territory of the Islamic State and bolsters the prospects of al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
Since March (2015), Saudi Arabia and nine of its Sunni-majority regional allies, have been engaged in a (largely unreported) war, Operation Decisive Storm, against the Houthi Shia in Yemen. Those same Sunni-majority states oppose the Shia President of Syria, Assad. The Houthi captured the capital city of Yemen, Sanaa, and deposed the US-backed Yemeni President Hadi in February of 2015.
The Saudi-led military action in Yemen is supported by the US, UK, France, Belgium and Turkey, while Russia, China and Iran oppose it.
To address the need for ground forces, the Saudi-led coalition has engaged Islamic State and al Qaida militias. This fact alone begs the question as to why the US supports the terror groups i.e., al Qaida and the Islamic State in their fight against the Iran-backed Shia Muslims in Yemen, when it is the exact same Sunni radical groups that are at war against the US in Iraq and elsewhere, in fact, globally.
Why is the ouster of a US-backed Sunni President justification for aiding the Islamic State and al Qaida?
The answer to that question will largely determine the legacy of the Obama administration.
Demographically, the population of Yemen is 60% Sunni Muslim and 40% Shia, but within the Islamic World the mere proximity of Sunni and Shia Muslims, more often than not, is destabilizing.
A reasonable starting point for the current outbreak of violence in the Yemen dates back to 2004, when the Shia population began to protest publicly against what they claimed was, stated mildly, widespread discrimination at the hands of the majority Sunni population.
The violence against the Yemeni Shia population, as this contribution will make evident, is representative of a broader regional narrative in which the Shia community is largely a victim of the Saudi’s relentless pursuit to spread its strict form of Sunni Islam, the Wahhabi creed. And, to have all Shia living in Sunni-majority countries declared non-Muslims. In the Sunni Muslim world and worldview, the Shia are not true Muslims, and are not part of what the Sunni recognize as the worldwide community of Muslims, the Ummah.
Yemen, like Pakistan and other Gulf States, have long been fronts in a battle for regional influence between Iran and Saudi Arabia, and the patronage of violent extremist groups primarily by the Saudis have been employed to counter Iranian influence in the region.
The Yemeni Shia population have been the collateral damage in this battle as wealthy Gulf donors have armed and funded Sunni militants to wreak havoc against the Shia, as well as all other religious minorities in the Sunni-majority Gulf States, Morocco and Pakistan.
Interestingly, this is not an analysis that is forthcoming from Secretary of State Kerry or the Obama White House.
The same Kerry, like Harper, lambastes Putin for his supposed desire to reignite the Soviet Union and does not chastise Saudi Arabia for the violent way it pursues its goal to rid Islam of all Shia Muslims (Iran) and reign supreme in the Islamic world as the reignited Caliphate.
The problem is that the former is false, while the latter is true.
Perhaps, Michael Den Tandt might want to revisit the 1998 Paris-based Le Nouvel Observatuer interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, President Jimmy Carter’s National Security Adviser. When Brzezinski was asked the following:
… do you regret having supported Islamic fundamentalism, and having given arms and advice to future terrorists?
What is most important to the history of the world? The collapse of the Soviet empire or the Taliban and some stirred-up Moslems? (The CIA’s Intervention in Afghanistan, Interview with Zbigniew Brzezinski, Le Nouvel Observateur, Paris, 1998)
Unfortunately, most world leaders are still of the opinion that we are dealing with ‘some stirred-up Muslims’. But, as Gregory and Gregory point out in their soon to be released book, Understanding Radical Islam, Made Easy, the advent of the Taliban and Radical Islam is as least as important to world history as the collapse of the Soviet Union, and the force they exert is no less formidable.
Three years later, Brzezinski and the rest of the world woke with reasonable cause to rethink their dismissive attitude towards Muslims as well as just how important to the history of the world the Taliban is, and to use Brzezinski’s own words, some stirred-up Moslems.
The protests by the Shia in Yemen against the Sunni majority and radical Sunni Islamic groups were real and convincing, and in fact, a matter of life or death. The Sunni-dominated government led by US-backed President Abdrabbuh Mansour Hadi, neither acknowledged the genocide against the Shia, nor made any attempt to even slow the pace of the killings.
And, Kerry and Obama wonder why Russia goes after the Sunni insurgents in Syria, when it was (is) Saudi-backed Sunni Muslims who wreak havoc in Russia proper and also in the southern republics of the Russian Federation. It was the Saudis that finessed the US into a surrogate war with the Soviet Union.
In actuality, the US should have fought with the Soviets to stop the spread of radical Sunni Islamic terrorism, as we should be with Russia, today.
The current conflicts in the Yemen as well as Syria and Iraq are power struggles between Shia Iran and Sunni Saudi Arabia, and the Saudis are employing the Islamic State as well as al Qaida in a war between the Sunni Muslims and Iran-backed Shia Muslims in all of these conflicts.
A further complication involves US support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen, because it helps the Islamic State bring more territory under their (its) control and influence.
These are the strategic realities in the fight against the Islamic State to which Prime Minister Trudeau and his advisers must respond appropriately.
And, in this case, given the rather confused state of the campaign to contain the Islamic State, the Liberal’s pledge to base policy on evidence, and not ideology, supports the cessation of the Canadian aerial bombardment campaign ̶ not its continuation.
Eric LaMont Gregory MSc Oxon