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Let's not march until we see who the enemy is
16 September 2001
Before we saddle up and ride off in all directions in this "first war of the millennium," I would like to report to Field Marshall Bush that I have cold feet. Mind you, I'm a representative of Canada's fighting forces that are likely believed of little account in wars of retaliation, since we have been, since the last world war, largely into peacekeeping, allowing for Korea where we fought for the United Nations.
So saying, I am as horrified as any civilized human being at these unspeakable crimes against helpless and innocent people. There are, indeed, mad dogs loose in the world and we all want them identified and brought to justice. But clear-eyed justice is not blind vengeance, a distinction that some of today's belligerents consider a mere nuance.
Further, I have some hesitation in being a conscript in a war against an unidentified enemy and, as well, some reluctance to join in an attack upon so fuzzy a target as unidentified co-conspirators. This leads to a further reluctance to join in an action in which, by the admission of some of the ranking belligerents in this war, there will be collateral damage to unintended sites and victims, including the killing of helpless and innocent people.
Of course, as Sherman said, war is hell, which is why we should not rush to the colors and march off into battle until there is some more coherent definition of who we're fighting and - as a second thought - when and how we will know when the war is over and who's supposed to surrender to whom.
We should recall the last time we signed up for a war, under the command of the first president Bush, to which we contributed a frigate (which never really got to the scene of the action), an ancient supply ship, a squadron of jet fighters and a hospital unit. The purpose of that war was to save the Kuwaitis, and their oil wells, from the grasp of Saddam Hussein.
We won, hardly anyone among the allies was killed - none were Canadian - and peace was restored. But Saddam has remained among the world's oversized hairshirts and is now among the leading suspects in the criminal attacks against America on Sept. 11. The Iraqi people - notably the children - have suffered exquisitely from efforts made by the winners of the Gulf War to adequately punish the losers. There are clearly those in command of the war on terrorism who, in the euphemism of war-zone speech, believe "we should go in there and take him out." Taking out Saddam would likely cost the lives of still more thousands of suffering non-belligerents. Such an attempt might also create extraordinary dangers for Arab regimes in the region that have difficulties internally that would be considerably worsened by overt acts of war against Iraq: Some of these are presumed to be our friends.
Details, details. It is difficult, admittedly, to mention complexity and complications, or to speak of limits to what is possible in the real world, when so many of us are in pain and terribly angered, and when summary and visible vengeance seem the only balm to terrible loss. Still, it is not too early to appeal for reason and to admit to the limited healing powers that can result from the application of brute force.
Indeed, when the fires are out and the smoke clears, most of us will be found somewhere between the biblical injunction of an eye for an eye and the other that suggests we turn the other cheek. In truth, George W. Bush must find some reckoning that falls between the two.
As of now, however, he has got us all off on the wrong foot. It is folly to speak of going to war, or being at war, or to suggest that by force of arms and embargoes or cajolery and bullying, we can put down terrorism as an earlier generation put down fascism. To believe so is to raise unrealistic expectations and to mistake the nature of the enemy and the several and complex reasons for his enmity.
Unless we are to treat Bush's declaration of war as a fictive turn of phrase, the president's putative allies need to know more about the rules of engagement and the criteria that he means to apply in determining who is friend or foe. Then, we allies need to know about the exit strategy. None of this, surely, can be left to Donald Rumsfeld, much less to the advice of the CIA.
More likely, however, Canadians will have as much to say about future proceedings as we had about U.S. policy in the region we shall be at war against. Notwithstanding, Canada's bottom line remains unchanged, despite the ambiguity and uncertainty of American intentions. We are its foremost friend, partner and ally and our responsibilities are clear.
But the relationship is a two-way street and the Bush administration has a responsibility to its allies, no less to Canada, to proceed with prudence, restraint and due diligence. Thus far, in the early stages of this war, the bluster, rhetoric and theatrics coming from the leadership are neither impressive nor inspiring to those who are marching toward the front, wherever that is.