Sunday, July 23, 2006

What Canada learned in Rwanda

Talking to a friend a couple weeks ago about André Boisclair, I admitted that both the PQ and Quebeckers in general were better off with Bernard Landry. Although I firmly disagreed with the former premier on a number of issues and in particular on Quebec separation, my impression of him was reinforced when, this morning, I read an editorial he had penned for Le Devoir.

(my translation; read the original) “Rather than devote enormous resources to maintain a military force –I don’t see what it is supposed to defend us from or who we can use it to attack– should not Canada set an international example with regard to the evacuation of those in distress, chez nous and elsewhere, and become a leading power in humanitarian relief.” Not to burden this statement with meanings he did not intend, Landry expresses a typically Quebecois attitude toward Canada. Many Quebeckers identify as Canadian when looking at our country from the outside in, taking the perspective of how foreigners view us. During the 1995 referendum, the sovereignty campaign promised Quebeckers they would be able to keep their Canadian passports if they voted yes. I am not sure how that would have worked in practice, but in terms of building national unity, this is a part of the Quebecois psyche which federalists should recognize for what it is, a sign of goodwill toward our country even from those now attracted by the separatist option. We are not going to change the minds of committed individuals like Bernard Landry, but the Liberals, who need to rebuild bridges with moderate francophones, would do well to hear this and develop a humane and effective foreign policy that could sustain a lasting coalition with centrist anglophones. Not many Quebeckers would be interested in a reconstituted British empire euphemistically called by neo-conservatives, the military Anglosphere: England, the U.S. Australia and Canada, led by George War Bush.

If we want to rebuild national consensus, a good place to start is with our respected tradition of peacekeeping. The most important challenge to the traditional Canadian role comes from the experiences of our troops in Rwanda. In 1994, extreme members of the Hutu majority committed genocide against the Tutsi minority. Limited by the number of soldiers and a U.N. mandate that did not permit engagement, the peacekeepers were left to observe helplessly the brutal massacre of approximately 800,000 people. Canadian Lt. General Romeo Dallaire, who headed the peace keeping mission in Rwanda at the time, has argued credibly that efforts like jamming the radio stations by which the genocide was largely organized and increasing the size and ability to respond of the peace keeping mission would have averted or at least greatly diminished the disaster. Despite Dallaire’s warnings, the international community allowed the genocide to proceed. Dallaire, now a Liberal senator, has worked to raise consciousness of what occurred and how peacekeeping as it initially evolved to deal with the Suez crisis in the 1950’s failed in Rwanda. The mandate of the intervention needs to suit the context of the mission. Or as Bill Graham stated while he was responsible for the mission as Minister of Defense, “to be effective and successful, today’s peacekeepers often need more flexible, robust mandates and rules of engagement and the capabilities to enforce them”

The situation in Afghanistan is certainly not the same context as Rwanda. If the Taliban were prone to commit genocide they would have done so already when they were the government. No one, I think, is seriously proposing that Afghanistan will repeat Rwanda in that respect. We are in Afghanistan because a significant proportion of the population is convinced that if the Taliban regained control of Afghanistan, it would be a threat to us in the West. It would be disingenuous to suggest that the level of international interest presently solicited by the Afghanistan situation is not primarily selfish.

I have written a series of posts on Afghanistan which I will conclude this week with a reasonable position suitable to the context of Afghanistan that the party could defend. These are discussion points. I am eager to hear moderate alternatives.

The most important and probably most controversial condition I will suggest is to create a mandate that permits our troops to respond to violence, but does not endorse the aggressive hunting of Taliban. The dubious neo-conservative manufacture of threat must end.

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