Category Archives: International

Nineveh

In my latest National Post commentary I say we cannot play an effective role in the region unless we understand the complex relationship between Sunni and Shiite, Kurd and Assyrian and other groups that Western policy makers often seem not even to have heard of.

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Up the Brocks

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Brigitte at Petawawa for Stalwart Guardian in 2005

For over a decade I’ve had the privilege of being associated with the Brockville Rifles, despite my own complete lack of military service, thanks initially to Brigitte and I spending a weekend “embedded” with the Brocks as journalists on an urban warfare exercise at Fort Drum and then both of us being made honorary members of their officers’ mess.

It’s a remarkable experience and one I wish more Canadians knew about. The Brocks are a “reserve” regiment. They train citizen-soldiers who, if they see active service, will do so seconded to other regiments. Even in World War II, with massive mobilization, the Brocks were “feeders” to the Stormont Dundas and Glengarry Highlanders, themselves now also a reserve unit. But that doesn’t make them second string.

In the first place, members of Canada’s dozens of reserve units are a vital supplement to the regular forces in places like Afghanistan, serving on equal terms. But in the second, they are a crucial link between citizens and the military.

It is impossible to overstate the importance, over many centuries, of that link. In the free countries of the Anglosphere, security has never been primarily the responsibility of military professionals, dedicated as they are. Indeed it has always been understood that for the military to see itself as separate from society, an elite answerable to the state not to their fellows, is a dangerous step toward tyranny. By contrast for citizens to see the military in themselves and vice versa, as with the police, is part of a healthy body politic.

The reserve-based citizen-soldier connection is also important because it helps maintain awareness and appreciation among citizens of the need for readiness in an uncertain world and an understanding that national defence is not “someone else’s problem” but that of their neighbours, their colleagues, their relatives and themselves. Including readiness to respond to domestic emergencies whether natural or man-made.

Over the years I’ve had the opportunity to write about the reserves on a number of occasions including in Reader’s Digest after another embedded exercise, at Petawawa, in which Brigitte and I even got to ride in helicopters and wave honey-soaked rations at a mama bear. (OK, that was just me, and not on purpose.) And I’ve been privileged to speak to the Brocks’ annual mess dinner. But it’s difficult to convey the special world of the reserves to those not familiar with it.

So when I got a newsletter concerning the 150th anniversary celebrations for the regiment, I thought “This really is a remarkable window into the community of the Brockville Rifles.” Not just the community within the regiment, but the larger community of current and former members and their civilian friends and supporters. So I contacted them to ask whether it would be appropriate to share it and they said to go ahead. Here it is: (you can also view it here)

If you read the letter, I think most of you will get a sense that something unfamiliar but clearly wonderful and important is going on here. And I hope you’ll consider getting to know the reserves in your own town, city or area, and to understand just how important the citizen-soldier is not just to our defence but to our way of life. Up the Brocks! And happy 150th.

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Operation Feeble

The Daily Telegraph reports that Britain is under American pressure to send an extra 100 troops to Afghanistan. How did it come to this?

I’m not judging the merits of the Afghan mission at this point. I’m just noting that this is a protracted, difficult discussion between the two leading powers in the Western alliance about a company of soldiers. One hundred troops. One company.

The Telegraph says the deployment would make a difference to the American ability to deploy troops elsewhere in the country and bolster U.S. commanders’ arguments with their own president about further reducing the American presence.

A hundred soldiers? I can see how the decision to send three regiments might signal serious allied commitment to a cause. But if it still matters, sending 100 soldiers should be a minor administrative decision not a major strategic issue.

Consider that in April 1940 in a failed attempt to rescue their Norwegian ally, the British put 3,500 men into a minor action at Namsos, despite having 200,000 in France and deployments worldwide, from the Caribbean to Burma and Hong Kong, in the midst of a major war. Yet such a deployment would strain the capacity of the far richer and more populous UK of 2016 in peacetime, with few other demands on its armed forces, and entirely exceed our own. How can we have let such a situation arise in a clearly turbulent world?

Look, the Afghan mission may have been misconceived from the beginning or badly executed. I don’t think so, except in the unrealistic expectations for transforming the country through military action rather than just removing a regime dangerous to us. But it may be time to withdraw. It may be impossible to prevent a Taliban resurgence. The major terrorist threat may be elsewhere now. Or showing weakness once committed might be perilous. All these things can be debated.

What it seems to me cannot be debated is that when the two most powerful nations in the Western alliance are having protracted high-level discussions over 100 soldiers, both our military establishments and our will are dangerously weak.

 

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Can you spot the difference?

Two headlines side-by-side in my “NBC News Top Stories” feed yesterday:

Muslim Mob Attacks Christians, Parades Naked Elderly Woman

Transgender Pageant Unites Christians, Muslims, Jews

One is in Israel. One is not. So where is the BDS movement on trendy campuses with respect to Egypt which, the first story gets around to mentioning casually at about paragraph 13, “Christian men cannot marry Muslim women in Egypt unless they convert to Islam first, but Muslim men can marry Christian women.”

Suppose Israel had a law where Christians couldn’t marry Jews without converting, or Muslims couldn’t? There’s be an outcry. But when it’s in a Muslim-majority Arab nation, the reaction is yeah yeah now back to how Israel oppresses whoever.

Now to be fair the activists do see a difference. They just see it backwards.

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The end of the world news

While politicians are gassing on, here’s the sort of thing that really matters: the Washington Post reports on a superbug resistant to last-resort antibiotics, and liable to share its genes with other more sinister bacteria, that has reached the United States.

People tell me, oh, I wouldn’t want to live in the Middle Ages because they didn’t have antibiotics. Well, we did and we squandered them.

Three cheers for modernity.

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The Invictus

There he goes again, you may be tempted to say. Our PM posed with the Canadian Invictus Games team and did their pushup-then-lock-one-arm-and-extend-other-hand gesture while issuing a thinly veiled challenge to Prince Harry and President Obama to do the same or something similar for the British and American teams for the upcoming games in Orlando. NBC headlined it “Watch Justin Trudeau’s Macho Challenge to Obama, Prince Harry” and indeed my first thought was “Showing off again, huh?” But on reflection I’m going to praise him instead.

First, the Invictus Games created by Prince Harry “for wounded, injured and sick Service personnel” are an excellent cause. Second, fitness is an excellent cause. Third, and crucially, the two leaders he implicitly challenges are both themselves healthy and physically active. It would be unfair and in bad taste to call out a political leader who through age or misfortune couldn’t do such a thing. But in this case I appreciate his doing the… well, it sure is a clumsy thing to describe.

So I was thinking of dubbing it “the Trudeau” so we can do it at the dojo without spending five minutes naming it. But I decided “the Invictus” was a better name. Because this time I don’t think he was calling attention to himself but to two worthy causes: rehabilitating wounded members of our Armed Forces and those of our allies, and staying fit.

Yes, it’s a challenge, to other leaders and to the rest of us. But it’s a worthy challenge because most of us should be able to do at least one “Invictus”. If Trudeau happens to look good doing it, it’s because he keeps himself in shape. And that’s a good thing.

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Johnson v Obama on Brexit

A nice piece in today’s Daily Telegraph advocating Brexit and criticizing Barack Obama’s intervention in the debate (on which I commented recently), by London mayor and long-time columnist Boris Johnson. He says that “to stay in the EU” is to consent “to the slow and insidious erosion of democracy in this country”. He’s exactly right. And if the pro-EU campaigners aren’t exactly aware of it, they certainly hold a worldview that categorizes genuine self-government as an irritating obstacle to progress rather than vital to preserving a decent society.

There is no European Magna Carta and it matters. And if we want to maintain the foundations of individual dignity and enterprise that have made Canada what it is, we need to recapture our own sense of the enduring importance of self government and an awareness that, to the extent that “progress” and liberty are antithetical, we should choose liberty.

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So close, and yet so far

A curious intervention by Barack Obama in Britain’s debate over leaving the EU. It’s not odd that he supports them staying in. He would. But it’s odd that for once he got the premise so right though as usual he got the conclusion so wrong.

After a ritual nod to Britons’ right to decide their destiny for themselves, the American president launched into a rightly derided and probably counterproductive attempt to cajole and bully them into submerging their sovereignty in the European Union, including threatening their access to American markets with a claim that a genuinely independent Britain would go to “the back of the queue” for a trade deal, well behind the EU. So much for the special relationship, I guess.

I find Obama’s performance more than usually curious because his effort to flatter the British drew on the shared values that underlie that special relationship: “As citizens of the United Kingdom take stock of their relationship with the EU, you should be proud that the EU has helped spread British values and practices – democracy, the rule of law, open markets – across the continent and to its periphery.”

He’s quite right about the first part. Those are British and subsequently American, Canadian, Australian and New Zealand values. Government in the Anglosphere, as we argued in our Magna Carta documentary and will in the “True North and Free” project currently under way, is dramatically different even from government in the more politically pleasant parts of Europe, let alone the rest of the world. And Obama isn’t normally sensitive to such matters, to put it mildly. But he went on to say “The European Union doesn’t moderate British influence – it magnifies it.” And that’s completely wrong.

The EU isn’t democratic. It’s not tyrannical. But it is bureaucratic, centralized and unaccountable. It stands more for rule by law than of law, in the vital sense of fair, stable rules that arise from the people and protect their right to make their own choices. And it stands for government meddling not open markets. I do think the British example has made Europe better over time; even France, let alone Germany, has to some extent been embarrassed into creating more responsive and less repressive governments. But both also made impressive efforts to crush British liberty by force. And neither have embraced the common law system under which governments emanate from the people organically rather than standing majestically, or stodgily, above them.

Obama then claimed that “A strong Europe is not a threat to Britain’s global leadership; it enhances Britain’s global leadership. The United States sees how your powerful voice in Europe ensures that Europe takes a strong stance in the world, and keeps the EU open, outward looking, and closely linked to its allies on the other side of the Atlantic. So the US and the world need your outsized influence to continue – including within Europe.” Which is utter bosh.

Britain’s influence in the world has dwindled dramatically since it joined the European Economic Community, forerunner to the EU, back in 1973. Not only because it joined. But it was part and parcel of turning away from the glorious heritage of liberty that had made this damp, chilly foggy group of islands a hyperpower economically, culturally and militarily and also the “Mother of the Free” described in Land of Hope and Glory. Worse, Britain’s influence in Britain has dwindled, as law, regulation, and even jurisprudence come increasingly from the alien continental system.

For over a thousand years Britons decided their destiny for themselves, via a Parliament that controlled the executive in a way not even Europeans managed and nobody else really even tried. That is the system that spread to the United States as well as Australia, New Zealand and Canada. And precisely because democracy in the desirable sense, rule of law in the desirable sense and open markets in the genuine sense are British values, they should leave the EU.

Europe is so close to Britain. And yet it is so far away. And so is Barack Obama.

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Firm but flexible on the Saudi arms sale

In my latest commentary for the National Post I say it’s shabby political theatre for the Liberals to release “secret” bureaucratic documents that echo administration talking points defending selling armoured personnel carriers to the repressive anti-Western Saudi regime.

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