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Syria is gassing children to death. What should Canada do?

The airborne chemical attack in Syria demands a response, writes Evan Solomon. Should this be Canada’s ‘red line’ in Syria?


 
A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

A man carries the body of a dead child, after what rescue workers described as a suspected gas attack in the town of Khan Sheikhoun in rebel-held Idlib, Syria April 4, 2017. (Ammar Abdullah/Reuters)

The perversity is, the usual headlines, as disturbing as they might be, are almost a welcome distraction. There is the priapic pastor, Sen. Don Meredith, accused of having sex with a teenager he mentored, clinging to his Red Chamber appointment with more devotion than he has to his own dignity. Another senator, Lynn Beyak, has disgracefully transmogrified the legalized abuse of Aboriginal children that was the residential school system into some kind of white-washing of the good work done by a few teachers. There are protests over the inexcusable bonuses the family-controlled board of Bombardier awarded themselves after extracting billions from taxpayers while laying off thousands of workers. And next week we’ll all be lost in the haze of the new pot legislation.

Still, all these headlines blur one inescapable fact: children are being gassed to death in Syria.

This is not a sentence we should have to write in 2017. But watch the videos if you can, of children and families choking to death from an airborne chemical attack in Syria. It demands a response. What can we do to stop it? Should this be Canada’s  “red line” in Syria?

It is, admittedly, somewhat naïve to ask this kind of thing. The gassing comes after seven years of carnage, with the Syrian people trapped between Bashar Al-Assad’s institutionalized terror and the cruel death cult that is ISIS. Russia’s depraved leadership continually blocks UN attempts to bring sanctions against their client state. Soft power has failed. Hard power has been muted. Most serious watchers don’t believe this latest episode will change much.  “Assad has killed kids in seven other ways in huge numbers for the past six years or so,” Stephen Saideman a political scientist at Carlton University wrote to me.  “That he did it now in this way has important implications, but whatever ‘Responsibility to Protect’ threshold there is was crossed a long time ago.”

RELATED: Suspected chemical attack in Syria kills dozens: reports

He’s likely right. President Trump initially blamed Obama for the slaughter, and while it was a vulgar slur given the immediate context, Trump was not wrong to point out that Obama’s empty Red Line threat and Syrian policy utterly failed. At least Obama rightly insisted that Assad had no place in any Syrian political future, a position the Trump administration has rolled back. Getting rid of Assad is no longer their priority, and they may even let him stay on as leader in some future government. John McCain had the decency to call this position “disgraceful.” Trump has now hinted that the gassing might spur the U.S. to act unilaterally, but this is likely more empty rhetoric. In 2013, Trump warned Obama not to act in Syria, so he has clearly changed his view for now. But to what, no one can say. Trump has an incoherent foreign policy and is caught up in his own domestic fights. He has not so much drained the Washington swamp, but turned into a kind of Trevi Fountain, a monument of political sludge, so expectations of moral leadership are low. Still, Trump is right on this one: something more must be done.

What about Canada? Despite Conservative criticism, the Trudeau government pulled out the CF-18 jets from the fight in Iraq and Syria. Truthfully, there were very few bombing runs in Syria anyway. Canada now provides refuelling for allied bombers and has expanded training of the Peshmerga in Iraq. Should the images of gassed children force the government to reassess the mission, perhaps even engage in Syria militarily? Around policy circles in Ottawa, this idea elicits eye rolls.

“Your question suggests that Canada has options and influence,” Saideman said. “Not really. Anything Canada does needs to be part of a larger effort. Unless Canada can get other countries to join it and invade Syria, killing Russian troops along the way, I’m not sure [of] what can be done that is anything but symbolic.”

RELATED: What will Donald Trump do about Syria?

Maybe he’s right, but it doesn’t mean Canada is impotent. Between the status quo and an all-out Iraq style invasion—no one advocates that—there are other options. “We must move towards an Afghan-type task set where we are concurrently training and advising, while Special Operations Task Forces are out man-hunting and targeting insurgent command and control and logistical nodes,” Lieutenant Colonel Steve Day, the former commander of Canada’s Specials Operations Forces, told me. “Strategic strike operations are not occurring at a high-enough tempo to keep the adversary off-balance. It’s like we are playing to protect the lead instead of pressing on.”

Syria is a classic “wicked problem,” as Day says, with no easy solutions. Sending Canada’s men and women into harm’s way is the most critical decision a leader will ever make and cannot be done out of a sense of guilt. It must be strategic and thought through. But complexity cannot be an excuse for paralysis. When the gassing of children is not a red line, when it doesn’t force a G7 country to reassess its options, to reset its priorities from the distracting daily headlines, there is no mistaking it: history will judge us badly.


 

Syria is gassing children to death. What should Canada do?

  1. What is the west doing in Syria in the first place?

    We should learn to mind our own business.

    • Can you think critically even once? Your man Justin is welcoming and resettling Syrian refugees!!! That’s what the west is doing! Pay attention!!!

    • Syria is gassing children to death. What should Canada do?
      If Canada is truly outraged by the cruel and unspeakable horror of seeing innocent Syrian infants and children suffering a most painful and gruesome death at the hand of their own Government, then perhaps Canada should re-consider its laissez-faire stance on abortion on demand here at home.
      The only real differences with what occurred in Syria this week and what occurs in Canada are: (1) the deaths in Syria were done openly; in Canada relatively privately; (2) the victims in Syria were older than the abortion victims in Canada: (3) the killings of innocents in Syria are sporadic, those in Canada are continuous; (4) the killings in Syria are met with world-wide condemnation, those in Canada are met largely with silent indifference.

      • Magdalen Laundry buried 300 babies in the sewer pipes.

        How concerned with Life are your religious folk?

      • Stay on topic please, crazy lady. Go make a sign and walk around talking to yourself in the stret…

        • Eleanor probably does parade in the street with an abortion sign.

      • Do you know what a spontaneous abortion is? A miscarriage. Do you do consider those miscarriages to be murder or even death as comparable to that of an infant or child who has lived for a time separate independent of one’s mother? You are quite ridiculous if you watched the gassing of those children and compared it to the early expulsion of a fetus ……yes a fetus from the uterus. Those fetuses are not viable outside the uterus. It makes no difference should they be spontaneously aborted through miscarriage or otherwise. They were not in convulsions caused by a nerve gas. You might have a pro-life agenda and that is fine but don’t you dare spout it while children are murdered using nerve agents. It is never going to be appropriate.

    • Perhaps we should have stayed out of World War Two as well, Emily? You’d be speaking German right now…that is, if your family wasn’t “unsuitable”, in which case you wouldn’t exist.

      There are really bad people out there who will do a lot more than hurt your feelings.

      Evil triumphs when good people do nothing.

      • Yes, we should. WWII was a civil war in Europe, and nothing to do with us.

        There was never any chance of us speaking German.

        In any case, we didn’t win the war. Russia did.

        You just want excuses to kill other people.

        • Gee Em, when Trudeau used that photo of the poor dead boy on the beach to bring many Syrian refugees here, you were singing a different tune. You also have supported every move he made in involving our troops on the ground in the region. Funny how your attitude is changing now. Don’t you know he is supporting this attack? You might want to change your talking points. The truth is that Syrian people deserve to live in peace in their homeland and al-Assad is a monster.

          • To help refugees yes. Military intervention, no

            I’m strictly a Prime Directive type…..and we have no business in someone elses country.

          • Had it been up to you as a “Prime Directive type”, Hitler would have wiped out the entire European Jewish population. As it is, you are suggesting that we wait around to rescue refugees but if al-Assad keeps gassing them with Sarin gas, there will be no refugees to rescue. That is how a genocide works. Maybe you should read Romeo Dallaire’s book. What exactly does it mean everytime we say “never again”? Does it mean “we have no business in someone else’s country no matter how many of their citizens they are slaughtering or how brutally they are going about it? I suppose next you are going to propose a free trade agreement with Putin….if he lets our foreign minister into his country.

          • We already did the ‘Hitler’ shtick Gage. Keep up.

            And take a valium.

          • “Hitlerschtick?” Did we discuss how you are a sociopath, Em? That is what they diagnose people with who are incapable of feeling empathy.

  2. This is what the UN is responsible for. Failing their action to stop these “war crimes” , all that Canada can and should do is provide moral support for the afflicted. The middle east is a mess and any regime change comes with it’s own risks.

    • Exactly. We don’t even know if Assad used the gas, or the rebels did.

      We should have stayed out of it to begin with. Prime Directive.

      • Thanks, Spock. You should read more history. “Staying out of it” is how World War 2 started.

      • The experts KNOW that the rebels don’t have the ability to create Sarin gas. It is a very complex agent, not like mustard gas. The story Putin peddled is pure fantasy. Only the desperate would cling onto that fairy tale. One wonders why you are desparate to believe a despot like Putin, Em.

        • No, one doesn’t. You’re being an ass.

          • Yes they do. The gas is too volatile to store premixed and if a bomb hit a warehouse with the components stored separately which is the story Putin pedals, there would be no danger at all. Al-Assad is an expert is exactly how to drop the Sarin….how close to the ground. He has had experience in gassing his people before. What does Dr. Phil say…”past behavior is a predictor of future behavior.”

        • Well YOUR past behavior indicates you’ll have a nervous breakdown soon

          • My past behavior proves I have a moral compass…yours proves you might in fact be a robot.

    • Moral support for the afflicted……hmm….how does one provide moral support to a dead baby?

  3. We could send all the Russians back to Russia and let them clean up the mess their leader created. Many of them are rich and carry great influence. They wouldn’t be happy.

  4. “Trump has now hinted that the gassing might spur the U.S. to act unilaterally, but this is likely more empty rhetoric. ”

    50 cruise missile strikes so far. Perhaps the author should return to selling paintings.

  5. Syria is not gassing citizens. Giraldi – I am hearing from sources on the ground, the people who are intimately familiar with the intelligence available are saying that the essential narrative we are hearing about the Syrian government or the Russians using chemical weapons on innocent civilians is a sham. The intelligence confirms pretty much the account the Russians have been giving since last night which is that they hit a warehouse where al Qaida rebels were storing chemicals of their own and it basically caused an explosion that resulted in the casualties. Apparently the intelligence on this is very clear, and people both in the Agency and in the military who are aware of the intelligence are freaking out about this because essentially Trump completely misrepresented what he should already have known —Listen to Giraldi https://scotthorton.org/interviews/4617-philip-giraldi-says-ic-military-doubt-assad-gas-narrative/

    • Funny, every expert in the world says that only Assad could have dropped the Sarin gas.

          • Take TWO valium.

          • Gee Em, still waiting on those sources. Did you know it is against the law for a person who doesn’t hold the appropriate license to prescribe medication? Perhaps you are just making a suggestion based on the medical regime you are currently on???

  6. Under the international rule of law, when wrongdoing is suspected, a thorough investigation is conducted and any suspected culprits identified, charged and brought to the ICC. Not lobbing cruise missiles as world’s unappointed and unaccountable policeman.

    In Aug.,2013, Ghouta was sarin-gassed. Instantly, the Syrian government was accused. After UN investigation it was found that the rebel group al-Nusra Front had produced and launched the sarin attack. This time round I will predict that they or a similar rebel group is behind this latest attack. It is beyond all conceivable logic why the Syrian gov’t would ever gas its own people.

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