J.L. Granatstein – Why the pacifist left is marginalized on Mali

From the Ottawa Citizen

The situation in Mali remains complicated and unclear. In the midst of an attempt by Ansar Dine and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb to take over the country for militant Islam, there is also a historic north-south division and rival Tuareg factions in the north struggling for dominance in their long battle for independence. The small French-led intervention quickly pushed the Islamists away from the major towns, but it is likely to be a long, slow struggle to root them out of the desert.

The Canadian Forces’ role has been a minor one — a CC177 transport aircraft continues to carry French soldiers and material to Mali and a small special forces team has deployed, apparently to protect the Canadian Embassy and its staff in Bamako. Prime Minister Stephen Harper made clear that there will be no members of the CF in combat in Mali.

The political response to the Canadian effort in Mali surprisingly was generally positive, with both Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party and Bob Rae of the Liberals supporting the government’s actions. However, the response of the pacifist left, usually one that slavishly follows the NDP line, this time spun off on its own.

First, there were complaints that the French, even if led by the Socialist president François Hollande, were up to their old neo-colonialist games in a former colony. That France had few commercial assets in Mali and most French citizens there were dual citizens of Malian origin did not matter. But surely there were Canadian interests there? A few relatively small gold mining operations in Mali were either wholly or partially owned by Canadians, but scarcely enough to explain the Harper government’s support for the French.

Then there were the concerns, better founded, that Mali was not really a democracy and thus not worth supporting. A military coup by the Mali army — much better at staging coups than at fighting — had toppled the country’s government in March 2012. Canada had cut its aid efforts as a result and continued to press the interim government to hold elections and return to the democratic path, even as fighting raged.

But the major thrust of the opposition to Canadian efforts, led by Stephen Staples of the Rideau Institute and his Ceasefire.ca website, was a concern about “mission creep.” We had seen mission creep in Libya in the NATO operation that toppled Gadhafi, the argument went, and now the same process was underway in Mali. First, as Staples has noted, Canada was “contributing very large transport planes … (and this) is direct involvement, it is flying into a combat zone, it is transporting light tanks, vehicles, supplies for the French military into Mali, so it is playing a direct role.” Canada had deployed one aircraft, and it was flying into Bamako, the capital, 700 kilometres from the fighting, but a reliance on facts has never been Staples’ strong suit.

Then it was the special forces commitment. Given the secrecy of JTF-2 operations, who knew what they were doing today and might do next week? Prime Minister Harper’s statement that the Canadian Forces would not see combat in Mali was immediately discounted. As one comment on Ceasefire.ca’s blog put it, JTF-2 were only “licensed thugs paid to do the government’s dirty work. With someone as morally bankrupt as Harper generating the targets, heaven knows what they’ll be doing in Mali.” The vision of the Prime Minister sitting in his Langevin Block office and directing JTF-2 to take out an AQIM camp in the sand dunes was clearly a captivating one.

What was completely missing in the comments from the Staples crowd was the obvious: the Ansar Dine-AQIM attempt to take over Mali had to be resisted in order to prevent the creation of an Islamist stronghold that could shelter terrorists and serve as a base for expansion throughout the Sahel and North Africa. The draconian brutality and nihilism of the Islamist occupiers of Timbuktu and other towns has been widely reported, and there were likely links between the Mali Islamists and the terrorists who had killed so many in the Algerian gas plant attack.

Islamist terrorism is a threat to democracies everywhere, but those who oppose any military intervention anywhere — unless it is United Nations blue helmet peacekeeping which is, by definition, always good — seem blind to the realities of 2013. Stephen Harper bad, military intervention of any kind bad, mission creep inevitable and bad — it’s a tiresome refrain. How fortunate that the Opposition parties had better sense in this instance than the Rideau Institute and Ceasefire.ca.

J.L. Granatstein is a distinguished research fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “J.L. Granatstein – Why the pacifist left is marginalized on Mali

  1. Andrew Twain

    Such a big buzz about such a tiny contribution…almost unoticeable. And our MPs spent 4 hours taking notes about that….
    France was much quicker to act in Mali, fortunately!

  2. More on St. Steve and his fellow suspects at the end of this post (with relevant links):
    http://cdfai3ds.wordpress.com/2013/01/28/mark-collins-a-more-muscular-un-congo-force-and-canadian-peacekeeping/

    Mark Collins

  3. From a recent news story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald:

    “…said Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute, a defence and foreign policy think-tank in Ottawa…”
    http://thechronicleherald.ca/novascotia/607450-subs-headed-back-under-water

    From a post (on the same Sub subject!) last year (again lots of relevant links):

    ‘…
    As for Ceasefire.ca–the name say it all–it’s the baby (see bottom right at preceding link) of Steven Staples, president of the Rideau Institute. The institute states that its “primary activities are independent research, advocacy and consulting”; it is in fact far left verging on the pacifist, and does almost no serious research. Indeed, it does not want the CF to have any real combat function, rather to become essentially a constabulary force whose expeditionary role would basically be confined to UN-run peacekeeping. And with a severely cut budget, more here.

    Yet our major media frequently merely describe the organization as a “think tank“. Mr Staples is constantly quoted by those media, in their effort supposedly to be fair and balanced when reporting on defence matters–without indicating his true stance, or the real nature of the institute.’
    http://www.cdfai.org/the3dsblog/?p=1398

    Mark Collins

  4. St. Steve, at Ceasefire.ca, fires back (if such a verb is appropriate for one such as he) against Mr Granatstein:

    “Granatstein [he's not alone, see above] slams Ceasefire.ca

    Today one of the doyens of the pro-war lobby slammed Ceasefire.ca, once again, in the national media.

    This proves that Ceasefire.ca supporters are having an impact, shaking up the pro-war lobby!

    The DND-backed academic Jack Granatstein, the old Cold War warrior whose monthly pro-war rants are dutifully reprinted in mainstream newspapers across the country, used his access to promote the Harper government and a stronger military role for Canada in the civil war in Mali.

    The Ottawa Citizen, which carried the attack, has agreed to accept an article from me in reply to Jack Granatstein’s column today, but I want your help!

    Send me your response to Jack Granatstein’s column, right away, through the Ceasefire.ca comment section. Leave a comment as soon as you can – hopefully today. I will read everyone’s remarks as I prepare to write my own newspaper article…”
    http://www.ceasefire.ca/?p=14673

    Mark Collins

  5. Meanwhile the Germans look like doing their bit to be good friends of the French and good Euros:

    “German Government Wants To Boost Support for Malian Operation”
    http://www.defensenews.com/article/20130207/DEFREG01/302070018

    More on the Germans getting more expeditionary:

    “Armed Drones for the Bundeswehr–and the Canadian Forces’ JUSTAS?”
    http://cdfai3ds.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/mark-collins-armed-drones-for-the-bundeswehr-and-the-canadian-forces-justas/

    But a reality remains as Mali helps demonstrate:

    “The West’s Very Limited Expeditionary Capability, or, and Then There Was One…”
    http://cdfai3ds.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/mark-collins-the-wests-very-limited-expeditionary-capability-or-and-then-there-was-one/

    Mark Collins

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