Feb 252013
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Canada should focus on aid, peacekeeping and neutrality in a civil war.

by Ish Theilheimer

Canadians have every reason to be leery of military involvement in Mali, says one of Canada's leading critics of the pro-war military establishment.

Although pro-military advocates like historian Jack Granatstien are urging Canada to get involved in the fight against Islamic jihadist in the Central African republic, with the logic, "better to fight them over there than to fight them over here," Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute warns the situation should not be oversimplified.

This argument, he says "goes back to Vietnam. Defending the homeland means attacking someone else's homeland. You have to be careful about that.  You can get bogged down. It's very easy to slip into these conflicts."

Steven Staples of the Rideau Institute says Mali "bears many of the hallmarks of the failed mission in Afghanistan."

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There are many valid comparisons between Mali and Afghanistan, says Staples. Both involve civil wars. In Mali, there has been a "simmering civil war has been infused with Islamic extremism" for years, with various Islamic groups in the north of the country seeking independence from the black South.

Islamic jahidists have made common cause with northern rebel groups. "Sometimes they fight together, sometimes they fight each other. But they had a common enemy in the government based in South and backed by the West."

Last fall, the government was brought down by a military coup.  France is now supporting the new coup-led government and asking for Canada support.

This situation has come to a head since the Mali jihadists obtained large numbers of heavy weapons from Libya in the chaos following the fall of Ghadafi. "The pro-war right will say we broke it, therefore we own it," says Staples.

This situation has come to a head since the Mali jihadists obtained large numbers of heavy weapons from Libya in the chaos following the fall of Ghadafi. “The pro-war right will say we broke it, therefore we own it,” says Staples.

An equally valid argument, Staples says, would be: "We warned you about Libya because of unintended consequences that always happen when we get in these conflicts. There are always unintended consequences."

He agrees Canada has a lot to answer for here.  The NATO bombing campaign in Libya, in which Canada participated actively, "caused chaos. Weapons were looted in a direct line to the Turegs, the northern people on side of jihadists. These weapons have spread everywhere throughout the whole region."
The answer, however, is not another Afghanistan-style conflict. "We're basically at the end of that conflict and have very little to show for it," says Staples. "Mali bears many of the hallmarks of the failed mission in Afghanistan. People are right to be leery about Mali because of the ghost of Afghanistan."

Currently, he points out, the French are backing a government that was put in by a military coup. "When the coup occurred last fall, Canada cut off aid. Are we now going to send in aid to this government we cut off aid to a few months ago?"

Staples sees more positive roles for Canada in Mali. "There's a food crisis going on there. Many thousands of people are internally displaced within the country. There's an aid mission there. That's the right way to intervene. There is an African contingent of troops from different countries. One potential game-changer could be a UN peacekeeping operation."

Although UN peacekeepers have not operated in an area with an Islamist insurgency, Staples sees real possibilities here, saying UN peacekeepers had had many unheralded successes over the past 20 years. "And they're improving as time goes on. It would be a challenge. It would undoubtedly be more of a peace enforcement mission."

UN peacekeeping in Mali would indeed be a challenge, but compared to taking sides in a civil war being fought among rival groups with shifting allegiances, it seems this, combined with a significant aid mission, would be a surer route for Canada.

About Ish Theilheimer

Ish Theilheimer is founder and president of Straight Goods News and has been Publisher of the leading, and oldest, independent Canadian online newsmagazine, StraightGoods.ca, since September 1999. He is also Managing Editor of PublicValues.ca. He lives wth his wife Kathy in Golden Lake, ON, in the Ottawa Valley.

eMail: ish@straightgoods.com

© Copyright 2013 Ish Theilheimer, All rights Reserved. Written For: StraightGoods.ca

  2 Responses to “Mali could be the new post-Afghanistan quagmire”

  1. […] was interviewed by Ish Theilheimber for Straight Goods News, and is featured in the article “Mali could be the new post-Afghanistan quagmire ” (Ish Theilheimer, February 26, […]

  2. There is more and more reason for Canada to stay out of these dogfights. We are not threatened by people who want to liberate themselves from colonial hangovers and dictators. Following the USA practice of interfering in other country's affairs to protect their "interests" will only benefit the "interests" of the armament business. 
    It is time we grew up and responsibly acknowledge the interests of those "undeveloped" countries who only want to go their own way.

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