Monthly Archives: May 2014

Jeffrey Collins: Dealing with a post-war Assad regime—no longer the unthinkable?

With the Syrian civil war now in its fourth year, the month of April 2014 witnessed yet another addition to the war’s growing list of horrendous hallmarks that have claimed 150,000 lives: chlorine gas bombs. Chlorine gas was apparently left off the list of prohibitive chemical weapons the regime is to handover to international inspectors. Now we know why.

It pains me to say it but the time has come to start thinking about dealing with a post-civil war Syria with Assad remaining in power. After besiegement for two years, Homs, the third largest city, has fallen; defections have dropped and outside money and arms from Russia and Iran keep flowing (to the tune of $500 million a month). Moreover, experienced and well-trained fighters from Hezbollah‎ and Iraqi Shiite militias continue to flock to his side while his opponents remain hopelessly divided and under-armed, torn between secularist and Islamist allegiances.

The country’s minority groups—Alawites, Christians, Druze, middle-class Sunnis—have largely remained loyal to him, helped by the fact that Sunni extremists, many foreign, have perpetrated brutal acts of sectarian violence against them. Similarly, for their loyalties the regime has ensured something approaching normalcy: salaries and pensions are paid, schools remain open, and food—even if haphazardly—gets delivered. As the regime secures more and more of the M5 highway linking major urban areas Assad’s authority expands. With intervention now—at least formally—off the table following the chemical weapons agreement brokered by Russia, Assad no longer fears the one variable that could have decidedly sent him the way of Qaddafi.

Therefore, it is now time for those articulating a war-less Syria sans Assad to start viewing the conflict clear eyed: if the goal is to lessen the violence and prevent (further) regional instability, then negotiating with Assad on the basis of him remaining in power is arguably the only way to go. The failure of the recent round of Geneva peace talks was largely the result of the condition that Assad agree to a transition from power. But why abdicate when you are winning? In the case of Syria, we need to start dealing with the world of the pragmatic and not the ideal, as hard as that maybe (and it is). Given that Assad in power may be the only sound option towards ending this tragedy, it is something worth considering.

The Hustings


Tom Stringham: Why is Obama pulling out of Afghanistan now?

President Obama offered an articulate defense of his foreign policy at the US Military Academy in West Point, N.Y. yesterday, asserting that his administration is walking a wise middle road between interventionism and isolationism. Meanwhile, changing circumstances and shifting US priorities in the Middle East are making prognostication difficult for those who hope for stability in the region.

The Taliban is proving as relevant as ever, nearly 13 years after the US invasion of Afghanistan. Currently the organization is situated in Pakistan, where it is tolerated by the state’s Islamic authorities.

Yesterday a major Taliban faction, made up of Mehsud tribesmen, broke off from the organization over ideological and religious differences, making for the first major rift within the movement since it was formed in 2007.

According to observers, the split will sharply weaken the Taliban’s presence in Pakistan, and could make them more agreeable to peace talks. There is a possibility of further defections from the main organization. A weakened Taliban in Pakistan would ease tension in Afghanistan, where the US still has 32,000 troops on the ground.

But this blow to the Taliban comes at a strange time: on Tuesday, President Obama announced a schedule for the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan. By the end of 2016, all US combat troops will be removed from the country. In his speech at West Point yesterday, Obama indicated a preference for smaller-scale operations in unstable countries like Afghanistan.

Government leaders and analysts in Afghanistan seem to think that the US has reneged on its promise to stay until the insurgency was fully under control. The two non-incumbent presidential candidates had both expressed their intention to sign a security deal with the US that would have seen US troops stay in Afghanistan for at least the next decade.

Now the future is less certain than ever. While the Taliban appears more vulnerable, so too does the unstable Afghan government, which will soon lose its large US security force.

It’s possible that Obama is acting on information the rest of us don’t have. But it is also plausible that he is legacy-building, by pulling war-weary America out of Afghanistan before he leaves office in 2017.

A collapse of the young Afghan state in the wake of the coming US exit would be a tragedy—especially if it happened to be the result of Pres. Obama’s concern for his own image.

The Hustings


Cody Boutilier: Why I’m a Luddite

Google and Tesla are developing a driverless car—no matter the unsparing ruin of hundreds of thousands of livelihoods worldwide that will ensue. This is “progress”, which is inherently and universally good. Be grateful that human society is becoming more productive by the day.

But to whom will the fruits of that augmented productivity accrue? Thanks to the new wave of automation, countless occupations, from paralegal to cashier, will obsolesce, and for the idle masses any cost of living will be too high. I’m one step ahead of you, libertarians. Every era of technological advancement has opened up new occupational sectors and ultimately improved our standard of living, right? But what sphere of activity will succeed the service economy?

My guess is that the STEM-deficient plebeians will simply become a barely sustainable burden to the new aristocracy, which will have money to spare on the new welfare state and effusively congratulate itself for its compassion. Numbed by the mindless pleasures of the digital age, the hoi polloi might not realize that they’ve become the redundant casualties of biology.

Here’s Mark Steyn on the topic.

“Work” and “purpose” are intimately connected: Researchers at the University of Michigan, for example, found that welfare payments make one unhappier than a modest income honestly earned and used to provide for one’s family. “It drains too much of the life from life,” said Charles Murray in a speech in 2009. “And that statement applies as much to the lives of janitors—even more to the lives of janitors—as it does to the lives of CEOs.” Self-reliance—“work”—is intimately connected to human dignity—“purpose.”

Steyn often writes that the divide between social and economic conservatism is illusory. Our secular culture and the march of technology conspire to make his point painfully clear. As advancements in mechanics coincide with the development of A.I. and human genetic engineering, the inherent value of human life will seem ever more tenuous. With intelligent robots and commercial drones around, who needs all the humans?

The Hustings


Geoffrey Wale: Supreme Court shouldn’t have heard Whatcott case

I am neither a lawyer nor a legal scholar, but this does not preclude me from commenting on matters of law and, on occasion, passing judgement on decisions handed down by the courts. One such decision is that of the Supreme Court of Canada in Saskatchewan (Human Rights Commission) v. Whatcott [2013]. In this case I think the Justices, should never have heard the case.

The matter before them concerned Bill Whatcott, a man I have previously made a point of not discussing, as I think he has had more public attention than he merits. What can I say about Bill Whatcott other than he is a crank? He is best known for his scurrilous public protests against homosexuality and for distributing flyers with graphic imagery and defamatory passages such as “Keep Homosexuality out of Saskatoon’s Public Schools!” and “Sodomites in our Public Schools.” In addition, the flyers describe homosexuals as “dirty”, “filthy”, “degenerate”, and paedophilic.

In 2005, the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal, upon receiving complaints about Whatcott’s flyers, deemed his material was promoting hatred against homosexuals because of their sexual orientation and contravened s.14(1)(b) of The Saskatchewan Human Rights Code. He was fined $17,500. The judgement against Whatcott handed down by the Tribunal was appealed and the Saskatchewan Court of Appeal set it aside, ruling that in the context of a debate about policy and morality, the flyers could not be considered a hate publication.

I agree. The contents of Whatcott’s flyers is offensive, but ultimately trivial. Who, if anyone, is listening?

The Supreme Court of Canada disagreed in upholding the judgment of the Saskatchewan Human Rights Tribunal against Whatcott, ruling that the limitation on freedom of expression via the prohibition of hate speech, when properly defined and understood, is demonstrably justified in a free and democratic society. If what was printed in Whatcott’s flyers constitutes hate speech, this is setting the bar on what constitutes hate speech very low. Moreover, gagging someone like Whatcott is not going to stop people from harbouring unkind thoughts about gay people. In all likelihood it merely ramps up their resentment against what they view as the homosexual agenda.

The Hustings


Jackson Doughart: Victory in Europe

I agree with Tom’s post from yesterday about the result of the European parliamentary elections, in which the U.K. Independence Party and the National Front won a plurality of seats within their own countries. As he says, it’s important not to read a decisive left-right economic shift into an election where much of the support was lost from leftist parties. This was indeed a large scale protest vote.

However, I think it is worth pointing out that these parties, which are unfairly lumped into the underhanded label “Far Right” in company with Greece’s Golden Dawn, actually represent and favour remedies to the public’s discontent. So it is not a protest vote in the sense that the public is simply voting for any party that is not presently in power; rather, it is supporting parties who share the very concerns that it rightfully has.

People’s lives have been changed transformatively by the steady replacement of sovereignty and democracy with centralization, judicialization, and bureaucratization that is the European Union project. Many of their communities have been changed beyond recognition by the twin poisons of mass immigration and multiculturalism. The forces of culture, national character, and political accountability which once provided stability through times of economic and security crisis can no longer be relied upon. And the force of political correctness which wrongfully labels all scepticism of this project as being tinged with racism in xenophobia, has served to effectively disenfranchise people who are none of these things, but who very much dismay at the withering away of their own political power at the expense of faraway managers.

It is significant that this protest has happened in Britain and France—countries which are unmistakably liberal and pluralist. Even the most outwardly open-minded and multiculti of people can only be pushed so far. Being a free people is contingent not only on sovereignty, but on a sense that the prevailing national culture is one’s own. That isn’t a left-right thing, it’s a human thing. This should have been understood by the undertakers of the EU project in the first place, who ignored that Europe’s peoples are very different from one another in terms of politics and custom, and that the equation of national identity and self-governance with war is a simplistic canard. Their project deserves to fail. Hopefully these election results are a sign that such a failure is beginning to materialize.

The Hustings