Friday, March 25, 2011


I've been reminded of the breakfast cereal commercial - "Give it to Mikey" - on learning that a Canadian General has been handed command of the hot-potato of NATO's commitment in the Libyan civil war.

Doubtless high-five(s) all around at National Defence Headquarters in Ottawa with the announcement that Chicoutimi native, General Charles Bouchard, has been designated by the partners in the North Atlantic Alliance (NATO) to head the campaign to - Let me quote United-Nations Resolution 1973: "...enforce a no-fly zone, prevent the transport of arms and munitions into Libya and protect the country's civilian population from its unpredictable leader."

Let me be clear: On past occasions I have been accused of not supporting our troops. In fact I've lost a couple of FaceBook friends over the matter. - Nothing could be further from the truth. It's the troops' political masters whom I take issue with; in this Libyan case, particularly with what is right; and what is wrong with our foreign war commitment.

In just the past few days the United-States administration of President Barack Obama has come under increasing pressure to limit (if not altogether withdraw from) the aggressive military campaign along Africa's Mediterranean coast; and as Canadian politicians embark on a Federal Election campaign our "mission creep" into Libya is being expanded expeditiously. - Prompting the question at least on the pages of the 'Globe and Mail': What is Canada doing in Libya? The newspaper notes retired Major-General Lewis MacKenzie's concern..."Our troops went on a mission to rescue people in the line of fire, then to deliver aid, then to escort sorties. Now they're dropping bombs."

No doubt that President Obama is happy to have handed deFacto command to his trusted Canadian ally. Somewhat unlike General MacKenzie's rhetoric, increasingly the pointed questions being asked of the military and the administration in the United States is whether the battle for Libya is (as we've been led to believe) the clash of a brutal dictator against a democratic opposition, or is it just fundamentally a tribal civil war in a country where tribes and sects have been held together by a succession of iron fisted dictators.

In the 'New York Times', journalist Thomas Friedman put the issue more succinctly: " It is no accident that the Mideast democracy rebellions began in three of the real countries, Iran, Egypt and Tunisia, where the populations are modern, with big homogeneous majorities that put the nation first before sect or tribe...but as these revolutions have spread to the more tribal/sectarian societies, it becomes difficult to discern where the quest for democracy stops and the desire that my tribe take over from your tribe begins."

So as political unrest seemingly spreads across North Africa and into the Persian Gulf; into Libya, Syria, Jordan, Yemen, Bahrain and Saudi Arabia we may be witnessing a series of moral and even strategic dilemmas whether to intervene in support of emerging serious democratic movements; or simply ignore another outbreak of the traditional tribal conflicts and wars which have tormented the region for centuries.

It's an important debate which is being muted in Canada because there is an election about to get underway which will focus on domestic issues rather than our international commitments. But in the absence of an election in their homeland, and doubtless with gratitude for Canada's decision to take a leadership role in the volatile Libyan civil war, Americans are being far more cautious than their Canadian allies in trying to determine whether the clashes in Libya truly signal an honest democracy movement led by tribes; rather than opposing tribes merely exploiting the language of democracy.

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