Harper is right to refuse troops to Lebanon

Canada is doing enough by fighting Taliban in Afghanistan

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The Gazette, Friday, August 18, 2006

Canada won't participate in the UN force of 15,000 troops that will move into the buffer zone in southern Lebanon? Good.

It's a smart decision by the prime minister. It's a not peacekeeping force that's forming up. It's a stabilization force, and it's a very dangerous mission, one that Canada shouldn't touch.

Instead, Stephen Harper has announced Canada is increasing its humanitarian assistance to $25 million. Much better to send a generous cheque than soldiers certain to be put in harm's way.

The myth of peacekeeping, and Canada as a nation of peacekeepers, dies hard. Indeed, it is fundamental to Canadians' self-image and our sense of our place on the world stage. It has also been, since the era of the Vietnam war, about our sense of difference with and moral superiority over the Americans. They send soldiers to fight wars, we send peacekeepers to help end them. They break things, we fix them.

The Middle East is a place with particular resonance for the Canadian legacy of peacekeeping. After all, it was for the idea of the UN peacekeeping force in the Suez in 1956 that Lester B. Pearson won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1957.

That was then, this is now. In the Suez crisis, the Israelis and the Egyptians had ceased hostilities. And they were conventional armed forces.

This time, the Israelis have a different enemy, a terrorist militia that hides among the civilian population, fires rockets from rooftops and is highly likely to break a fragile ceasefire. As Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay put it during the fighting: "Hezbollah are like the Taliban on steroids, they want the Israelis to bring it on."

And what happens to the UN force when Hezbollah start firing rockets into Haifa and other Israeli cities? What is the mission then? The role of a stabilization force would normally be to enforce the ceasefire. And how would they do that? By going after Hezbollah in the streets? And what if the Israelis decided that the UN force wasn't doing the job, and moved back into the area? That would transform the buffer zone into a no man's land.

Already there is a problem. The Israelis won't leave until the UN force arrives, and the UN force won't arrive until the Israelis leave.

Meantime, Lebanon is sending its own troops to the southern part of the country. That's a reassuring statement of Lebanon exercising its territorial sovereignty. But are these the guys to keep Hezbollah on a short leash? Not likely, since the political wing of Hezbollah has two members of the Lebanese cabinet that took the decision to send troops.

The UN and the United States are calling on Hezbollah to disarm, but Hezbollah says there's no question of that until the Israelis leave. Even then, they are likely to remain armed and active in the region.

These are all good reasons for Canada to want no part of it. Never mind our historic ties to the region. So we have a large community of Lebanese Canadians. We've done our job in evacuating and repatriating 12,000 of them who got caught in the crossfire. And we brought them home at our expense, not theirs. That was a good job, well done by Foreign Affairs, the biggest evacuation of Canadians in history.

But why would we put our troops between Hezbollah and the Israelis?

The Israeli ambassador to Canada, Alan Baker, has suggested a small Canadian contingent could work as a border patrol between Lebanon and Syria. Sure, that'll stop the weapons shipments across the border, which just happens to run the entire length of the Bekka Valley. There's even been a suggestion we could send the navy to help enforce an arms embargo off the Lebanese coast in the Mediterranean.

The French will take the lead role in this UN force of 15,000, sending 4,000 troops, while Italy is expected to send 3,000. It is very brave of them to step up for such dangerous duty.

As for Canada, we are doing enough in Afghanistan, thank you very much. Our mission to Kandahar isn't peacekeeping, either. It's nation-building in a country with no infrastructure, with an economy based on crops for the heroin trade, with warlords all over the place, and the Taliban insurgency intensifying. Our casualties have been relatively light given the offensive nature of the mission: taking it to the Taliban. Yet the casualties are mounting, and support for the mission is wobbly.

Southern Lebanon is not a place we want to be right now. Good call by the prime minister.

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