Phillip Mendonça-Vieira

See more of my writing or subscribe via rss.

Bombing Syria Is A Bad Idea

November 17, 2015

A recent Maclean’s column and a recent Vice article argue that ‘bombing ISIS is effective’ and that ‘there is no good reason [to stop bombing ISIS]’, respectively. Therefore our new government should reverse its election promise to stop the bombing a mere month after the election.

In a nutshell, Maclean’s questions whether that the Iraq war and the Libyan intervention were as “uniformly negative” as portrayed. Vice posits that “the West isn’t knocking-over some two-bit dictator to install a friendly democracy, it is offering air support for a democratically-elected government and local forces”. They both add cute jibes about ‘evidence-based’ policy.

Let’s talk about ‘evidence-based’ policy.

  1. The Iraq war was — unequivocally — a tragic, poorly planned, policy disaster that led directly to the current quagmire. Libya is in the midst of a second civil war. These are not positive examples. A year ago, Iraqi democracy wasn’t doing so good and, by all accounts, the ongoing war in Syria and parts of Iraq has always been a complex multi-party proxy war. Extant empiricism is not tilted towards intervention — the question is, how are we not going to fuck this up?
  2. Ever since air bombing was introduced at scale in WW2, we’ve been grappling with the paradox of air-power: it’s a dominant force that defeats armies in the field but can’t win wars. You can destroy infrastructure and matériel but you can’t bomb people into submission. At the end of the day, the side with the most people with guns on the ground will come out on top.
  3. If we’re serious about displacing these assholes, we will need our own people with guns on the ground. We’re sure as shit not doing that, so getting involved requires picking a side, with attendant consequences for the regional balance of power. Will we be happy if we defeat ISIS but help Assad get back into power? What if the Sunni-backed rebel groups install a new dictatorship? ISIS may be flamboyantly homicidal but who, exactly, are we helping with our CF-18s?
  4. By the way, it costs $17,000 per hour to put a single CF-18 up in the air. This military escapade has cost us hundreds of millions of (Canadian) dollars. It costs $12,000 to resettle a refugee, in case you were wondering.
  5. Even our most advanced and carefully planned air raids have massive amounts of collateral damage.
  6. All discussions of further intervention need to address the above. What is our end goal here? Is that goal even achievable? What side are we picking and why? What’s it going to cost? Why is this an efficient use of resources over humanitarian aid or resettling more refugees? Why do we care about Kurds in Syria but not about Kurds in Turkey or Iraq? Can you articulate a coherent theory as to why Canada ought to prefer Sunnis over Shi’ites?
  7. For extra points, please explain why this isn’t exactly what ISIS wants us to do.

In conclusion,

Dear hawks, I find your shallow, populist (if well intentioned) cheerleading to be distasteful because I think it tends to fuel dangerously shallow, populist reactions

The second-last paragraph in the Vice piece read,

Justin Trudeau made a bonehead commitment a year ago, for entirely political reasons, and doubled-down on it during the campaign. Now, despite everything that has happened over the past year, he’s refusing to even reconsider it.

The National Post two days ago quoted a pre-election JT as saying,

“I don’t think that Canada has a combat role to play there. I think we’re on a slippery slope on a long engagement. And I think one of the things we’ve learned from conflicts like this is sending in Western forces in a combat role doesn’t necessarily make things any better.”

I wouldn’t call that stupid.

If you’re going to advocate we take the time and care to murder people we don’t like with explosions, in both your name and mine, you need to do a better job.

Commit to specific goals with tangible results and realistic timelines. Be open to failure. Explain why, in your moral philosophy, it is optimal for us to kill Syrians we hate than to support or rescue Syrians who also don’t like the Syrians we hate.

If you’re interested, we do have a blueprint on how to handle ‘misbehaving’ polities.

It’s what we ended up doing to Germany and to a lesser extent Japan.

You brutally invade and/or occupy the whole thing. You systematically disarm everyone. You physically sort everyone in the country by ethnic, religious, etc, affiliation. You carve up the all land into self-sustaining-ish states, and you give everyone their piece of the pie. You put everyone bad on trial, and have some sort of truth and reconciliation process such that the new class of elites you’ve empowered gets to have tabula rasa legitimacy-wise. Finally, you provide massive amounts of aid to fund reconstruction and kickstart their economies. It’d be great for jobs, everywhere.

It’d probably kill a hundred thousand people, involve a million soldiers, cost a trillion dollars, and probably take ten years. Twenty, tops.

# 2015-11-17