The hawk’s dilemma

By Steve Saideman

In today’s Globe and Mail, Jack Granatstein, one of Canada’s foremost military historians and big fan of the Canadian Forces, wrote that the Conservative’s treatment of the military is causing him to vote for someone else next time.

Harper has lost a hawk despite his rhetoric about defense, his celebration of the Royal past of the CF, the focus on the glorious War of 1812. Why? Because Canada is spending less today, after adjusting for inflation than when Harper came into power. Perhaps not every procurement project is a disaster – but pretty much all of the big ones. Each year, the government announces that it has not spent all of the money budgeted for the military since the procurement programs are behind… and by coincidence ;) this makes it easier to reach a balanced budget.

My personal bugaboo has been the refusal to cut the size of the forces. If the dollars are going down, how about cutting personnel since they are a very big percentage of defence spending? No, Harper wants the numbers of personnel to stay the same so he can claim that he expanded the military. But if the personnel numbers do not go down, then cuts will have to come from elsewhere – operations (oops, mideast stuff is going to make this hard) and maintenance. Nobody here uses the American phrase “hollow force” but perhaps that is a matter of time.

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Nation-building in the Mideast? What is needed is a Sunni home in Mesopotamia

By Jean Daudelin

In an enthusiastic endorsement of Barrack Obama’s new offensive in Syria, Brookings’ Kenneth Pollack argues that the key to the stability of the region lies in effective nation-building.

In the face of innumerable failures and, over the last 20 years, of the progressive reconfiguration of Germany, Central Europe and the Balkans around newly created — or re-created — ethnic states, Pollack still argues that multi-ethnic or multi-communal nation-building is possible in the Middle-East, from the outside and without rearranging the absurd boundaries of the region.

And yet, if it were successful (a big if), the most likely outcome of the strategy he outlines — arming a “moderate” Syrian opposition and helping it take control of the country against both Assad and IS — would be the rise to power, in Syria, of a Sunni regime that would be a mirror image of Iraq’s Shia one, and under which you wouldn’t want to be a minority: Alawite, Kurdish or Christian, in this case, instead of Kurdish and Sunni in Iraq.

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Brazilian Elections Monitor (2): The Very Strange Turn of Brazil’s Electoral Contest

By Jean Daudelin

On October 5, Brazilians will head to the polls after one of the most unexpected and tightly contested electoral process their country has seen since the end of the military dictatorship in 1985.

The official campaign had barely begun when, on August 13, it was turned upside down by the tragic death of presidential candidate Eduardo Campos. Young but already experienced and a very clever, capable and ambitious politician, he was bound to become a fixture of the Brazilian political scene and, possibly, at some point, President of the country. To all observers, however, it was clear that, this time at least, he had no chance of winning: running third with about 10% of voting intentions, he could at best ensure that no candidate would gain an absolute majority, forcing a second round in which he could play the kingmaker.

His death, however, opened the way for his running mate, Marina Silva, to make the run that she had planned but could not pull off when the party she tried to set up was unable to get the hundreds of thousands of signatures needed to register on time. Silva was already very well known in Brazil as a moralist firebrand and fierce environmentalist who had resigned from Lula’s cabinet and left his Workers Party (PT) in protest against the government’s decision to allow transgenic soya to be cultivated in the country. In 2010, she was the Presidential candidate for the Brazilian Green Party and received 20% of the votes in the first round, a spectacular performance given the limited resources she had at the time and the tiny following of her party. Born into an extremely poor family from Brazil’s Northeast and working her way up in the Workers’ Party and Chico Mendes’ environmentalist movement in the Amazon, her trajectory is every bit as bracing as Lula’s rise from a similarly poor upbringing to the presidency of the country.

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The Debate Over the Iraq Deployment: Confusion Reigns

By Steve Saideman

One refrain I heard during Canada’s time in Afghanistan was that Canadians were confused about Afghanistan. Well, after more than 12 years in Canada, I can say that I am still quite confused about Canada. How so? Last night, there was an emergency debate about Canada’s deployment of 69 troops (Special Operations Forces) to Iraq to do training. I think the point of the debate was to provide some clarity about this effort, but if so, it failed miserably.

The Liberals called for this debate and only had a handful of members show up. If this is something that is vital, which is kind of implied by the term “emergency debate,” one would expect a better turn out.

The New Democrats sent a significant number of members to show up and, mostly, demonstrated that it takes the Defence file more seriously than the other parties. Of course, they still provide more confusion than clarity about whether votes are required for deployments (they are not and have rarely taken place).

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Bomb, advise, assist: Why Obama has few options against IS

As originally posted by The Globe and Mail.

By Steve Saideman

There are many good reasons why President Barack Obama has been reluctant to get the U.S. directly involved in Syria’s civil war. The U.S. has already fought a number of wars and lesser conflicts in the Mideast since the terror attacks of September 11, with none leading to a satisfying outcome. This has exhausted the American armed forces, tested the patience of the American people, and cost trillions of dollars that can never be recouped. Until recently, public opinion was against any more conflict in or near Syria. Congress, too, has given Mr. Obama yet more reason to avoid involvement in Syria. The Republicans would prefer not to give him authority to act while complaining that the President is too weak and lacking leadership.

Leaving aside the complex domestic constraints, Mr. Obama faces a very serious problem in Syria: who to support? By fighting the Islamic State, Mr. Obama may end up supporting the Assad Regime. This is similar to the problem in Iraq, where helping Iraq might mean helping Iran. At least in Iraq there are two elements that the U.S. can support with only some qualms. The Kurds have a somewhat competent force, and they have done nearly all of the right things to suggest that they have popular support and, most important, are unlikely to turn their guns against the Americans. The government of Iraq could be an ally of the U.S. in this, especially since its interests are more directly implicated. The problem has been that the Shia-dominated government has broken the various agreements the U.S. had made with the Sunnis during the so-called Anbar Awakening. That movement was as – or more – essential to the decline in violence as the American surge.

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A less-violent, illicit drug market? It is possible

By Jean Daudelin

The Americas are slowly moving towards the full legalization of cannabis. Uruguay is still alone among national governments to have gone all the way, but for marijuana at least, hard-line prohibition is quickly being replaced by a range of flexible arrangements, from the legalization of ‘personal doses,’ to the decriminalization of possession – as in the ‘ticket’ option being considered by Canada’s Justice Minister, Peter MacKay.

These changes are long overdue, and the fuller the liberalization, the better, in spite of the increase in consumption which should logically follow the drop in price and the lifting of sanctions. The benefits of consumption are most likely limited, but the potential negative health and social consequences of higher cannabis consumption pale when compared to the massive damage inflicted by tobacco, alcohol and prescription opioids. Moreover, much of the harm caused by the criminalization of cannabis is tied to the huge social and economic impact of marijuana-related arrests and convictions in the United States, an issue that would simply vanish with legalization.

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Ebola: What Went Wrong

By Valerie Percival

The world’s complacency has turned to panic.

Ebola. The very word conjures up fear. No vaccine. No cure. Only about a third to half of those infected survive. The rest endure an excruciatingly painful death as the virus attacks and impairs cell structure and function, causing internal bleeding.

It used to be a disease that struck remote towns, deep in the African rainforest. Deadly, tragic, but contained, and far away.

Yet Ebola is not so far away anymore. The outbreak has gathered momentum, spreading across Guinea, Sierra Leone and Liberia, travelling from rural to urban areas. Like a Hydra, it is popping up throughout the region – with cases in Lagos, Nigeria and Dakar, Senegal. And coincidentally, a separate outbreak has hit the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) – where the virus was first identified in 1976.

It’s the largest Ebola outbreak on record. As of Aug. 31, it infected over 3,600 and killed more than 1,800 people across Guinea, Sierra Leone, and Liberia. (The World Health Organization said this week that the number of related deaths has surpassed 1,900.) Public health authorities caution that the epidemic is underestimated – with many cases unreported due to stigma, fear, inability to access health care services, or because those infected reside in remote rural areas. Experts predict that it could go on for months, infecting tens of thousands of people.

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