A Few Thoughts About Canada's Military Engagements

Royal Poobagh Muammar Gaddafi
The transition from peacekeeper to baby killer has taken us a while but, I think we have probably arrived.

For years we told ourselves that we, unlike some other nations, resisted getting our armed forces into messy wars. We preferred “police actions” and other peacekeeping roles.

Then some of our reputation got more than a little tarnished in Somalia and then Rwanda didn’t go well. Some of our military brass started telling Canadians we were kidding ourselves if we didn’t think our overseas military roles were a real shooting wars.

We managed to stay the hell out of Iraq thanks to Jean Chretian’s stubbornness but then, along came Afghanistan and in we jumped.

The government liked to characterize our involvement as being about building roads and getting girls into schools, but in the process, we managed to lose 156 mostly young men and women soldiers, one diplomat, two aid workers and one journalist.

Although our role in Afghanistan has shifted but our troops are still in harm’s way which seems quite absurd considering President Hamid Karzai’s recent statement that coalition forces remain in the country “for their own purposes, for their own goals and they are using our soil for that.” He probably isn't so wrong so what the hell are we doing there?

We have a Defence Minister who loves to play dress-up, American style, in his military outfits and a Prime Minister who too, loves to be photographed in a helmet and flak jacket, no matter how nerdy it makes him look.

We have moved from a government reluctantly bowing to international pressure to get involved to one eager to step to the front of the line.

Muammar Gaddafi, well known as when one of the world’s most notorious dictators, had been propped up by Western business, including one of our most high profile of Canadian companies, Suncor (Petro-Canada) worked in Libya for years and hardly for altruistic reasons. There was big money to be made. No one in Ottawa seemed to mind a bit.

When things began to go even more sideways that usual in the Arab world and Gaddafi resisted reform with bullets,  Canada was one of the first in line, sending a Naval vessel soon followed by fighter jets.

I never quite understood how we made the switch do quickly but I am willing to bet that Harper saw this as a quick and dirty little engagement which would see the dictator move off into exile somewhere a few short weeks after it started. I think he figured it would look good in his ratings at home. He was probably right on that count.

However, politicians never seem to learn that often these little wars can  take a bad turn when you least expect. So here we are, a few months in and Gaddafi or as he likes to be called, “The Guide of the First of September Great Revolution of the Socialist People’s Libyan Arab Jamahiriya” is still in Tripoli, as large as life.

Canada’s engagement in Libya which was, and still officially is, to protect civilians – wink wink, nod nod – has been extended by an almost unanimous vote in the House of Commons. Despite the politician’s support for Canada’s continued role a Globe & Mail poll suggested that 71% of Canadians feel that our mission should not be extended there.

NATO forces have now bombed rebel (the official good guys) at least three times by mistake and late last week bombed an apartment complex in Tripoli killing nine people including two children.

NATO won’t say what country’s aircraft were involved in the raid which killed the civilians, with good reason. Knowing that your country’s aircraft were involved in that misdirected bombing never would play well at home and NATO countries desperately need support from their citizenry.

When a country gets involved in regime change like it or not they are involved in putting together the government which replaces the one you helped depose, no matter what rag tag group step up to the plate. I don’t think Harper thought much about it but like that retail saying goes, “You break it. It’s yours.”

So, we are in the game, won’t get out soon. Like it or not, Canada will be involved with Libya for a good long time.

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