Meet the new war

As I write this, the parliamentary planets are moving into alignment. Today, a federal election in May could become official.

As I write this, the parliamentary planets are moving into alignment. Today, a federal election in May could become official. It’s not yet clear whether the defining issue for the campaign will be the daily deluge of scandals in which the Conservatives find themselves embroiled, or the risible notion that they have been good money managers. Off the agenda altogether is the fact that we’ve just joined a new war.

On Wednesday, John Boehner, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, sent President Barrack Obama a letter requesting “a clear and robust assessment of the scope, objective, and purpose of our mission in Libya and how it will be achieved”. The letter asks Obama to clarify the discrepancy between the US goal to remove the dictator Gadhafi and the UN resolution which calls only for the protection of civilians.

House Republicans want to know if the UN’s sanctioning of a “no-fly zone” authorizes attacks on ground forces such as tanks and artillery. They question whether US forces will remain on the attack should the hastily-patched-together coalition begin to fray at the seams. They ask how long the war will last, what is its purpose, and how we will know when it’s over.

There are other questions they could have asked, but didn’t. Why Gadhafi? And why now? Who are the rebels with whom the great powers of Europe and North America have suddenly decided to ally themselves? Will the war expand to include other Arab nations if their brutal repression of dissent continues? How bad does a country have to be before it qualifies for air strikes? How many Libyans are we willing to slaughter to prevent Gadhafi from slaughtering Libyans?

At present, Syrian security forces are using water cannon, tear gas, and live ammunition to suppress peaceful protests. Daily body counts are small compared to Libya, but growing – five dead one day, seven another, ten another. A week ago, soldiers in Yemen gunned down fifty protestors, and it is said the prospect of civil war looms. Saudi Arabia has banned protests with threats to deal “firmly” with any violators of the ban.

Gadhafi didn’t begin killing civilians this month. He’s been jailing, torturing, and murdering his people for forty years, during which time all of the countries now engaged in the air war have been happy to do business with him. Even after it was known that Gadhafi ordered the 1988 bombing of Pan Am flight 103, killing 270 people, most of them citizens of the coalition countries, it was still considered acceptable to do business with Libya. SNC Lavalin, the Quebec corporate giant with close ties to both the federal Conservatives and the equally conservative BC Liberals, has made billions on engineering projects there, and recently began construction of a new prison in Tripoli.

If Western nations really cared about human rights and the deaths of civilians, we would have engaged our Middle Eastern allies and trading partners on the subject long ago. Instead we have propped them up with military aid, purchased their blood-oil with no questions asked, met with their brutal dictators at UN and G20 meetings and in general treated them like friends.

The action against Gadhafi’s forces is currently being billed as a humanitarian intervention, and to the extend that it prevents the massacre of civilians, it may justify the term. But it is an intervention achieved by the dropping of bombs and the firing of missiles; by any rational interpretation, that’s a war. How much debate did it take before Canada’s politicians decided to join this war? How much discussion can we expect on the campaign trail, given that all parties supported the action?

If the purpose of this war is to get rid of Gadhafi it will fail unless it becomes a ground war. Will we send in troops, or attempt to bomb the Libyan army into such a state of disrepair that the rebels can do the job themselves? If so, who are these rebels? Will this be Afghanistan revisited, where we turf one gang of thugs to install another?

When your government tells you it is going to war for humanitarian reasons it may be so, though it’s hard to find a clear precedent. More common reasons range from national or corporate interests to domestic political optics, and it’s not hard to see how both of these factors might be at play in Libya. Civil war threatens to destabilize the world’s oil supply, while TV viewers everywhere are increasingly disturbed by Gadhafi’s excesses.

Maybe it can all work out for the best. The question is how. The House Republicans have a right to an answer from Obama on this question. Here in Canada it seems nobody is even asking.

Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

An avalanche warning sigh along the South Klondike Highway. Local avalanche safety instructors say interest in courses has risen during the pandemic as more Yukoners explore socially distanced outdoor activities. (Tom Patrick/Yukon News file)
Backcountry busy: COVID-19 has Yukoners heading for the hills

Stable conditions for avalanches have provided a grace period for backcountry newcomers

Several people enter the COVID-19 vaccination clinic at the Coast High Country Inn Convention Centre in Whitehorse on Jan. 26. The Yukon government announced on Jan. 25 that residents of Whitehorse, Ibex Valley, Marsh Lake and Mount Lorne areas 65 and older can now receive their vaccines. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
Vaccine appointments available in Whitehorse for residents 65+

Yukoners 65 and older living in Whitehorse are now eligible to receive… Continue reading

Diane McLeod-McKay, Yukon’s Ombudsman and information and privacy commissioner, filed a petition on Dec. 11 after her office was barred from accessing documents related to a child and family services case. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Yukon government rejects Ombudsman requests for documentation filed to Supreme Court

Diane McLeod-McKay filed a petition on Dec. 11 after requests for documents were barred

Buffalo Sabres center Dylan Cozens, left, celebrates his first NHL goal with defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen during the second period of a game against the Washington Capitals on Jan. 22 in Washington. (Nick Wass/AP)
Cozens notches first NHL goal in loss to Capitals

The Yukoner potted his first tally at 10:43 of the second period on Jan. 22

Rodney and Ekaterina Baker in an undated photo from social media. The couple has been ticketed and charged under the Yukon’s <em>Civil Emergency Measures Act</em> for breaking isolation requirements in order to sneak into a vaccine clinic and receive Moderna vaccine doses in Beaver Creek. (Facebook/Submitted)
Former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming, actress charged after flying to Beaver Creek for COVID-19 vaccine

Rod Baker and Ekaterina Baker were charged with two CEMA violations each

The bus stop at the corner of Industrial and Jasper Road in Whitehorse on Jan. 25. The stop will be moved approximately 80 metres closer to Quartz Road. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News)
UPDATED: Industrial Road bus stop to be relocated

The city has postponed the move indefinitely

The Royal Canadian Mounted Police detachment in Faro photgraphed in 2016. Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old building currently accommodating officers. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
Faro RCMP tagged for new detachment

Faro will receive a new RCMP detachment in 2022, replacing the decades-old… Continue reading

In a Jan. 18 announcement, the Yukon government said the shingles vaccine is now being publicly funded for Yukoners between age 65 and 70, while the HPV vaccine program has been expanded to all Yukoners up to and including age 26. (
Changes made to shingles, HPV vaccine programs

Pharmacists in the Yukon can now provide the shingles vaccine and the… Continue reading

Parking attendant Const. Ouellet puts a parking ticket on the windshield of a vehicle in downtown Whitehorse on Dec. 6, 2018. The City of Whitehorse is hoping to write of nearly $300,000 in outstanding fees, bylaw fines and court fees, $20,225 of which is attributed to parking fines issued to non-Yukon license plates. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
City of Whitehorse could write off nearly $300,000

The City of Whitehorse could write off $294,345 in outstanding fees, bylaw… Continue reading

Grants available to address gender-based violence

Organizations could receive up to $200,000

In this illustration, artist-journalist Charles Fripp reveals the human side of tragedy on the Stikine trail to the Klondike in 1898. A man chases his partner around the tent with an axe, while a third man follows, attempting to intervene. (The Daily Graphic/July 27, 1898)
History Hunter: Charles Fripp — gold rush artist

The Alaskan coastal town of Wrangell was ill-equipped for the tide of… Continue reading

A man walks passed the polling place sign at city hall in Whitehorse on Oct. 18, 2018. While Whitehorse Mayor Dan Curtis is now setting his sights on the upcoming territorial election, other members of council are still pondering their election plans for the coming year. (Crystal Schick/Yukon News file)
Councillors undecided on election plans

Municipal vote set for Oct. 21

Whitehorse City Hall. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)
City hall, briefly

A look at decicions made by Whitehorse city council this week.

Most Read