Author Archives: Karsten Erzinger

Karsten Erzinger: Defending the Iraq War

A few weeks ago Henry Srebrnik looked back at the arguments advanced by many public figures in favor of going to war with Iraq and concluded his piece by asking “how did so many get it so wrong?” Well, I would argue that they didn’t get it wrong. The case for the war was justified for many reasons, some of which were cited in Henry’s column, and poor post-war planning and execution does not refute or negate any of those reasons.

While the intelligence on Saddam’s WMD’s turned out to largely be false, many people don’t realize what Saddam did possess and how close he was to getting his hands on WMD’s. We should know this; it was Canada that disposed of 550 metric tons of Iraqi yellow cake uranium. Not only did Saddam have yellow cake uranium, but he also retained his WMD’s program and his aspirations to develop and produce WMD’s. Does anyone really think that Saddam would have sat and done nothing while Iran aggressively pursues a nuclear bomb? Because of the American intervention in Iraq, we only have to deal with one repressive dictatorship seeking nuclear arms in the region instead of two. Not only that, but the Iraq War resulted in Libya giving up its desire for WMD’s; surely a good thing given the terrorism and chaos enveloping that country.

Another thing that must be addressed is what would have happened if the US did not invade Iraq; this is something many Iraq War critics are hesitant to do. While this is purely a speculative exercise, there are a few things that can be reasonably be concluded. The withering sanctions against Iraq would have continued to crumble, allowing Saddam more freedom and flexibility to pursue whatever nefarious plans he may have had, such as developing and re-building his WMD stockpiles. If Saddam was still in power when the Arab Spring swept through the region, it’s not hard to imagine the type of crackdowns and atrocities he would have committed to maintain his hold on power.

Saddam Hussein was perceived as a threat to the United States and in a post 9/11 world, the US took every threats seriously. He was a brutal and dangerous tyrant who, had he not been removed from power, would’ve been even more dangerous today – those who argued for his removal did not get it wrong.

The Hustings

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Karsten Erzinger: Where is America?

As I continue to read about the various crises that have recently erupted around the world, two questions keep popping into my head: “Where is the United States? What will their response be?” The answers to those questions seem to be “nowhereandnothing.” While Barack Obama has gone to great lengths to soften America’s foreign policy since becoming President, Obama’s response to recent events have taken this approach to a new extreme. This does not bode well for American allies and for the international community at large. Power abhors a vacuum and if the United States continues to remove itself from international conflicts and shrink its influence around the world, the vacuum left will likely be filled by unfriendly regimes and other bad actors.

Surveying the current landscape it’s not hard to see that the bad actors of the world have become emboldened. The examples are numerous; the Ukraine-Russia conflict, where Russian-backed rebels seem to have shot down a passenger plane, ISIS in Iraq, Israel-Hamas conflict, Iran steadily progressing towards a nuclear bomb, the endless killings in Syria, Boko-Haram, the turmoil in Libya – the list goes on. The United States, under President Obama’s leadership, has been content to outsource and minimize their role in these conflicts by “leading from behind”, calling on vague “international responses”, using “hashtag diplomacy,” or by flat out ignoring the problems. Most recently, American efforts to intervene in the Hamas-Israel crisis has been so ineffective that even liberal-leaning media outlets are mocking the efforts.

As shocking as some of these events have been, they are likely to become the new normal if the United States continues its passive and reluctant approach to foreign affairs. Everyone knows the US wields a large stick, but if they are unwilling to even threaten the use of it, it serves no purpose. The world’s problems cannot be solved solely by economic sanctions or by carefully worded statements delivered via a teleprompter, despite what the President seems to think. The continued reluctance of the United States to engage in a serious manner on these issues presents major problems for those reliant upon them for protection and support.

President Obama’s foreign policy approach has largely failed. He has alienated allies, emboldened enemies and lessened America’s power and influence throughout the world. One can only hope that President Obama has ability to recognize this and implement some badly needed course correction.

The Hustings

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Karsten Erzinger: Revisiting the CBC’s purpose

CBC recently announced more cuts to the organization, with 1,000 to 1,500 jobs being eliminated by the year 2020. This news has been met with the usual lamenting from the chattering classes and once again begs that this questioned be asked: do we still need the CBC?

The CBC essentially came into existence to prevent the radio airwaves from literally being drowned out by stations from the United States. Over the years the role of the CBC changed in response to technological advances such as FM radio and television. Today, CBC is seen as the last bastion of Canadian cultural output, its absence dooming us to becoming de-facto Americans. Regardless how insecure and silly this opinion is, it remains the ingrained conventional wisdom of many. However, in the age of the smartphone, widespread internet access, and digital cable with its hundreds of specialty channels, is there really a need for a seldom viewed state-funded multimedia corporation?

While many Canadians may support or have positive feelings towards the CBC, those feelings don’t actually translate into viewers. The network routinely gets trounced in the ratings department, a problem that will continue to fester since they’ve lost the rights to broadcast hockey. People prefer to consume their media from sources other than the CBC; the only way to change this is if CBC finds a way to be relevant again (which is unlikely) or if the rules and regulations of the telecommunications industry become even more distorted to favor the CBC. Assuming that the internet will eventually displace traditional forms of media, that road will eventually lead to the internet being regulated in some sort of way to favor Canadian content and the CBC.

I think this is the perfect time to examine its funding model and to explore a fundamental transformation of the corporation. What good comes of dropping $1 billion a year into a multimedia company that most Canadians ignore? Two things, if undertaken, would transform the CBC and lead to better results; changing its mandate and funding model. Changing CBC’s mandate so that it strictly focuses on producing Canadian content will ensure that Canadian cultural output continues to thrive, while changing the funding model will force the CBC to become a leaner, more responsive and more relevant organization.

One thing is certain – without drastic changes, CBC will continue to struggle to find its purpose and its relevance to everyday Canadians.

The Hustings

 

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Karsten Erzinger: Northern Gateway’s faulty narratives

Prevailing wisdom on the proposed Northern Gateway pipeline is that the project faces strong opposition from the majority of British Columbians. The project is framed in the media as a classic David vs. Goliath struggle, between “Big Oil” and environmentalists. This CBC story is a perfect example of this, breathlessly quoting opponents that bolster the accepted narrative. Further examination of this issue point out some issues in how the media has been presenting this issue.

The first problem is the often unchallenged claim by pipeline opponents that the majority of British Columbians are deadest against the pipeline. While some polls report most British Columbians do in fact oppose the pipeline (like this one from 2012), more recent polling (see here, here, and here) show that opinion is sharply divided on the issue and opposition isn’t as great as depicted. Even in the polls showing heavy opposition to the pipeline, there remain a fair percentage of people who oppose but are willing to change their minds on the issue. This trend seems to have grown, with the latest Angus Reid polling showing that 22% of British Columbians are unsure whether the federal government made the right decision in approving the pipeline (with 38% agreeing with the decision and 40% opposing). While polling can sometimes be questionable, it’s reasonable to extrapolate from them that the majority of British Columbians are not ardently opposed to the Northern Gateway pipeline.

Another issue with the media coverage is how they frame the conflict between the environmental groups and Enbridge. As I said earlier, it’s often depicted as a David vs. Goliath struggle, but the reality tells a different story. Turns out, many Canadian environmental NGO’s receive large amounts of money from the United States, a fact that is omitted when the media reports on their activities. Its baffling that this isn’t more widely reported (I’ve only seen it mentioned in the National Post myself). One doesn’t have to imagine how the media would react if a similar situation occurred on a different issue—they already did so on the issue of gun ownership, decrying the United States’ NRA for its involvement here. Well, that was small time compared to the funding and support environmental groups have been receiving from the United States. Suffice to say, environmental groups are well funded and organized, contrary to the accepted wisdom.

Bottom line: a strong narrative should not come before facts, which Canadian media outlets would do well to remember.

The Hustings

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Karsten Erzinger: The marijuana debate needs nuance

In the push for marijuana decriminalization, there is one thing legalization advocates do consistently: overstate the benefits and understate the downsides. While this is to be expected, what’s disconcerting is the lack of skepticism pundits and the media have towards arguments in favor of legalization. The public would benefit from more skepticism, particularly given the assumptions legalization advocates rely on in their arguments.

One thing commonly overlooked in this debate is the law of unintended consequences. Marijuana legalization, the argument goes, would benefit the government due to the tax revenue that would result. In the next breath, legalization proponents will claim that the black market will disappear the moment the drug is decriminalized.

The problem is that legalization and taxes won’t eradicate the black market; they certainly haven’t with cigarettes, where the black market persists. This will be especially true of marijuana, a plant easily grown and distributed. It’s doubtful that all mom and pop growers will allow the government to take a share of their profits while at the same time subjecting themselves to the regulations and scrutiny that would accompany legalization. Legalization might provide added revenue to the government, but it won’t be as much as claimed and it certainly won’t eradicate the black market at the same time.

The next argument commonly used in favor of legalization is that it will keep marijuana out of the hands of minors. When I think back on my teenage years (which were thankfully not too long ago) the opposite was the case. It was easier to get alcohol than it was marijuana, as you needed to know a shady character to supply you (although both weren’t that difficult to get a hold of). Legalization will simply mean that kids will be able to get their booze and weed at a one-stop shop from an older sibling or friend, rather than having to track down someone of ill-repute willing to supply them. This is something likely to become more common with time following legalization, as the stigmatization of marijuana fades.

There are many problems with the status quo and I am unsure of how they are best addressed. That said, legalization won’t solve the problems that exist with our current system and will add a new set of issues into the mix. While arguments go back and forth, one thing remains certain; more skepticism is needed in this debate.

The Hustings

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