Is Stephen Harper a warmonger? Some highly intelligent people seem to think so.
Joseph Heath, a leading philosophy professor at the University of Toronto, is one of them. In a piece published in the Ottawa Citizen last week, he wrote that the Prime Minister "is pro-war. He thinks that war is something worth doing. He thinks that war has numerous redeeming qualities. … There is some level at which Harper clearly likes war, and would very much like to see Canada get involved in more of them."
So it stands to reason that Mr. Harper would want to extend Canada's mission against the Islamic State. He likes war!
In case you haven't noticed, Harper Derangement Syndrome runs rampant in Canada's media/academic class. If Mr. Harper is for something, it must be bad. That is why our rather modest engagement against the Islamic State in Iraq, undertaken in concert with an international coalition, is known in certain quarters as "Harper's war."
Justin Trudeau has opposed the mission, too. Unfortunately for him, it turns out that most of Canada supports it, including half the Liberal caucus. As debate over extending the mission gets under way this week, if or how Mr. Trudeau changes his mind will be something to behold. He has insisted that any Canadian intervention should be more humanitarian than military. But humanitarian aid isn't very useful when the people you are trying to help are already enslaved or dead.
The truth is that this is actually U.S. President Barack Obama's war, although no one calls it that. (New Democratic Leader Thomas Mulcair, who's also against it, calls it "the American-led mission.") So does that make Mr. Obama a warmonger? What about the Dutch, who are also helping out?
Mind you, Mr. Harper is guilty of some rhetorical abuse of his own. He claims that the Islamic State is a real threat to Canada and other Western democracies. That's ridiculous. It is a nasty gang of Sunni thugs operating in a power vacuum of collapsed states. Its target isn't Westerners – it's Shiites, Christians, Yazidis and anybody else in the region who doesn't conform to the movement's medieval view of Islam. Fighting the Islamic State won't make us safer; if anything, it will inspire homegrown jihadis to get even more upset.
So if the crazies in the Middle East are no real threat to us, why bother? Because it's a good idea to keep the regional chaos from getting even worse. As Francis Fukuyama argues in The American Interest magazine, our goal should be containment, not defeat.
None of this will satisfy the critics, who will warn that this is just another slippery slope, and that we have no end game, no benchmark for success, no timelines and some highly dubious allies over there. Yet as Mr. Fukuyama argues, this is not a game of "win" or "lose." In a region where stability is unattainable and everyone's a bad guy, the trick is to balance the bad guys off one another and, when possible, save innocent lives. The crucial thing is to avoid deeper military intervention and boots on the ground. Because, as everyone should have learned by now, we can't fix it. Ultimately, only they can fix it.
The Islamic State is nothing like the global menace of Mr. Harper's fevered imagination. But it has wrought enormous havoc. It has killed thousands of people in Iraq, including many hundreds of minority Yazidis. It has committed mass physical and sexual violence against women and children and sold them into slavery. It has driven thousands of Assyrian Christians from Syria and the Iraqi city of Mosul, where Christianity is now punishable by death. It now controls an area larger than Britain.
We must resist the delusion that we can save the world by bringing truth, light and nation-building to the backward masses. (Afghanistan, which the warmongering Mr. Harper quietly got us out of, surely taught us that.) But limited intervention, with modest aims, strikes me as possibly a good idea – despite the fact that Mr. Harper is for it.
Michael Petrou of Maclean's, who has the rare distinction of actually having been there, has written that Canada's modest military assistance won't change much. "But it will … bring a measure of justice to a band of rapists and murderers. And it will provide comfort and protection to innocents who are asking for both."