OUR FAMILY HAS BEEN WATCHING THE REFUGEE CRISIS with interest, and with good reason. Our one daughter was a southern Sudanese refugee and her brother and sister internally displaced persons (IDPs) before coming to Canada. Our work in South Sudan entails providing essential needs for refugees flooding into the area from surrounding nations. So, yes, the fate of millions with no home (11 million from Syria alone) draws us to our screens.
For Canadians, the discussion on what to do about ISIS has formed the dilemma easily into two parts: keep our military forces in attack mode or pull them out. The focus of hopes and fears has fallen on Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and which option he will choose.
It’s likely he will opt for neither exclusively because, as President Obama himself acknowledged, there remain numerous options that the various countries of the 65-member coalition can play. Some pundits presume the experienced president gave the young prime minister a pass, but it could just as easily be that Trudeau provided him a broader array of options.
Not all that long ago the term “smart power” carried a certain appeal. Hillary Clinton, while Secretary of State, consistently maintained the only a correct balance between “hard” and “soft” power could make any headway in broken states. But with ISIS altering its tactics, transitioning from desert killings to metropolitan onslaught, and the bloody attack on Paris, the needle has tipped decisively in favour of an aggressive Western military response.
Justin Trudeau reasons that numerous countries carry diverse specialties other than mere military might. That was true with both NATO and UN actions in the past and nothing has changed. The coalition intuitively knows they are in for a long struggle, not against a nation with military supremacy, but a group of almost invisible vigilantes that have the potential to strike into the heart of the Western world.
But as with any terrorist organization, their life is made easier in any setting with the pervasive reality of poverty, lack of education and resources, and an enduring sense of hopelessness in the future. It remains virtually impossible to maintain any direct humanitarian effort in Syria itself at the moment, but the role Canada could play, not merely in training soldiers, but in assisting refugees in neighbouring nations could be significant. Our present contribution of fighter jets represents 1% of the overall military strength of the coalition; Canada can clearly contribute better by the using the diplomatic, humanitarian, training, and, yes, military expertise it has gleaned and perfected over decades. That hand is strengthened if Canada isn’t seen as being in the vanguard of the military attacks.
Virtually no leader of the multi-tiered coalition responding to the Paris attacks believes ISIS can be defeated by bombing alone. It will take the seizing of financial assets, likely ground forces, cyber guardianship, working with opposition groups, and a successful outcome of the Vienna talks, which now show a real sign of potential for stabilizing the Syrian homeland. But to that must be added the acceptance of refugees, the struggle against poverty in the region, the use of every diplomatic channel, and the ongoing fight of empowering women in the region. Close to $100 million could build an armed navy vessel. Conversely, it could equip 1,000 diplomats, 10,000 peacekeepers, or a giant water desalination plant.
This is the way Trudeau thinks, and he’s not wrong. The question will be whether he can deliver on soft power in a way that strikes at the very heart of terrorism by removing some of the conditions that breed it. Henry Kissinger noted that diplomacy is the art of restraining unbridled power. To the necessary military response to ISIS must be partnered an accompanying smart series of actions which recognize that military power without humanity is perpetual war.
Those claiming Canada’s response should be to stay in with the jets or get out of military action are greatly underselling Canada’s potential for response. We have a key role to play over the long haul – Obama knows it, as does Trudeau. As war is waged, efforts at peace are the only way to end it effectively.