Views

Tough General, Bad Approach

Our new Chief of Defence Staff doesn't get terrorism, or Canadians.

By Rikia Saddy 20 Jul 2005 | TheTyee.ca

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In a press conference last week, our new Chief of the Defence Staff for Canada, General Rick Hillier, came out swinging. Announcing our new mission in Afghanistan, he called the enemy "detestable murderers and scumbags...they detest our freedoms, they detest our society, they detest our liberties." Asserting that we are already a target of the terrorists, "as much as any other Western country", he put forth a new face of the Canadian Forces.

The next day, the Globe and Mail's editorial staff praised his words, and agreed with his assessment of risk. A flurry of letters ensued, both defending and vilifying Hillier.

It appears that the one thing both sides can agree on is fear. The fear of being attacked by an enemy we don't understand. The rules of war have changed and history is at a loss to tell us what to do next.

Lost in the debate on Hillier's comments are two important facts that are supported by empirical data. First, that his views are based on a lack of understanding of the motivations behind the terrorist attacks and do not improve our safety. And secondly, that they do not reflect the views of a majority of Canadians.

Raising the risks

A leading expert on the actions and motivations of terrorists, and particularly suicide bombers, is Robert A. Pape, a professor of political science at the University of Chicago and the author of the forthcoming Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism.

Over the past two years he has compiled a database of every suicide bombing and attack around the globe from 1980 to 2003.

His stunning conclusion is that the presumed connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is misleading, and could encourage policies that are likely to increase our risk of attack.

Writing in the New York Times on May 19, 2005, Pape explained that "What nearly all suicide terrorist attacks actually have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland. Religion is often used as a tool by terrorist organizations in recruiting and in seeking aid from abroad, but is rarely the root cause."

In a follow up piece in the same paper on July 9th, Pape revealed that despite American counter-terrorism efforts, since September 11, 2001 Al Qaeda has been involved in at least 17 bombings killing over 700 people- more than all the years before 9-11 combined. Trying to make sense of the data he investigated further and found that " "Al Qaeda is today less a product of Islamic Fundamentalism than of a simple strategic goal: to compel the United States and its Western Allies to withdraw combat forces from the Arabian Peninsula and other Muslim countries."

Tracking the suicide bombers nationalities, he learned that the overwhelming majority of attackers are citizens of Saudi Arabia where the US has stationed combat troops since 1990. The rest have mostly come from countries like Morocco, Turkey and Indonesia- countries the U.S. considers allies in the muslim world. None came from Iraq, Libya or Sudan- America's main targets, and none came from Afghanistan until after the Western invasion in 2001. His conclusion? That Al Qaeda "might well collapse" if it couldn't recruit from countries where America is in combat.

Bin Laden's list?

According to Pape, the Norwegian intelligence service uncovered plans in December 2003 that detailed a strategy for getting the US and its allies out of Iraq. The document explained that attacks on American soil would be less effective than attacks on European allies. Once the allies' support was withdrawn, the burden on the US economy and military would be crippling.

Most telling, it was deemed that Spain was especially vulnerable due to high public opposition and a coming election. As part of the mastermind strategy, the document asserted that "a withdrawl of the Spanish or Italian forces from Iraq would put huge pressure on the British presence, a pressure that Tony Blair might not be able to withstand and hence the domino tiles would fall quickly."

Eerily, citizens have been killed from 18 of the 20 countries that Osama bin Laden has pegged as supporting invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

In that light, do Canadians feel safer having our top general repeatedly boast of killing those "radical murderers and killers?" The data clearly shows that the war on terror is increasing global terror. Strategically, Hillier invokes Hitler and a type of "did we run from the Germans?" bravado. It is a clever gambit, but highly misleading. The enemy we are fighting today is not an invading army. It is an ideology. And increased weaponry and military budgets are no match for a young man with fertilizer and a match, who has nothing to lose. This battle is not fought on the fields, nor can it be won there.

Hillier's aggressive stance does nothing to promote peace. But even more importantly, it does not reflect the views of Canadians.

In March 2004, Ipsos Reid polled Canadians on our defense policy. Seventy-seven percent of Canadians agreed that "Canada's limited military spending should be used to enhance our abilities in peace keeping and conflict resolution rather than trying to maintain multipurpose forces intended for heavy combat alongside US military forces."

And despite harsher and more leading wording in Maclean's 2003 Annual Year-end Survey, 75 percent of us supported "Canada's position to not participate in the Iraq invasion even if it annoyed the US and cost some Canadian jobs."

Finally, in an Environics 2004 survey of Canadian Values, 30 percent of us believe the one word that best describes how we are perceived internationally is "friendly". The next 18 percent cited "peaceful". Almost one third believe that Canada's "peacekeeping and peacefulness" is the greatest contribution our country can offer the world, followed by humanitarian aid at 14 percent.

Contrast this with General Hillier's comment on the front page of the Globe Friday: "We're not the public service of Canada, we're not just another department. We are the Canadian Forces and our job is to be able to kill people."

In fact, they are the public service. General Hillier certainly was not elected to represent me or the views of my neighbours. You, sir, are not the face of Canada.

Big opportunity

Canada has a unique opportunity in this world. Our country is young, our politics mostly borrowed, our history mostly peaceful. As a country of immigrants, we have opened our arms to the world, and succeeded in multiculturalism to an extent that our friends in Europe and down South could learn from. We pride ourselves on being a tolerant people, and have led the way in human rights and progressive freedoms. Our naturally self-effacing nature means that we are one of the few countries that can actually admit when we've made a mistake, as we did publicly in Rwanda.

Several Peace movements, like the prominently supported Working Group for a Federal Department of Peace and the World Peace Forum 2006 in Vancouver are tapping into the Canadian zeitgeist.

General Hillier is not. And in pondering his appointment, I have to ask if our Prime Minister's left hand is talking to his right. Afghanistan, an impoverished country with an average annual per capita income of $250 per year, is the largest recipient of our humanitarian aid in drought relief, micro-loans, and reconstruction. Canada's strategy with Afghanistan strongly relies on aid and diplomacy to restore stability and promote democracy.

Someone should have told General Hillier, whose comments tarred not only the fringe of insurgents we are fighting along the southern border, but also the innocent civilians our troops are in Afghanistan to protect.

Hillier admits that his goal is to rally Canadians around the military. He obviously understands that fear sells. Fear controls the masses. But is this truly the vision we have for our country?

Paul Martin appointed Hillier. Both Harper and Layton have praised Hillier's comments. Where is the party for the 77 percent of us who want Canada to be known for our peace-keeping and conflict resolution instead of combat?

Canada is hungry for a leader who can rise above a copy-cat policy based on fear, and hold a higher vision for us in the world. Sadly, the leaders we have continue to abdicate this role to civil servants like General Hillier.

Rikia Saddy is a Vancouver-based political and marketing strategist who has worked in Canada, the U.S. and Europe.  [Tyee]

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