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Canada can help in Iraq

Canada can help in Iraq Published by the Forum of Federations * * Publié par le Forum des fédérations Canada can help in Iraq by Bob Rae Bob Rae is a former premier of Ontario, a partner at the Goodmans law firm, and president of the Forum of Federations. This article was published in the Toronto Star [] on April 7th, 2004. Sitting in the office of the prime minister of Sulaimania province in Iraqi Kurdistan, I am asked the blunt question: “So how do you think our federalism should work?” I have travelled for two days from Istanbul, Turkey, by plane, taxi, and SUV, to meet with political leaders in this rugged part of the world, to talk about governance, constitutions, minority rights, civil order, and the federal idea. The week before, I was asked the same question by opposition leaders and human rights activists in Sudan, where a 20-year civil war between north and south has now been followed by a vicious conflict in the western part of the country, Darfur. Just after returning to Canada I learned that one of the leaders we had met had been arrested for allegedly seeking to overturn the government. Difficult negotiations in Somalia turn on these same questions: How can people who have been at war, with different regional and tribal loyalties, forge a government that reflects their simultaneous need for order and diversity? As Canadians, we know only too well that federal government means self-rule and shared rule. We are familiar with the bickering and blaming that this often entails, but we should not take for granted the civility and respect for differences that we have achieved over our history. We are also not alone: 40 per cent of the world’s peoples live in federal countries. The conflicts of the recent past have mainly been within countries, not between them. They have been about what Michael Ignatieff calls “blood and belonging.” If Canada is to play a useful role in this increasingly divided and dangerous world, we shall have to rely on our capacity for peacemaking and peacekeeping. It will mean an expanded, not a reduced, role for our military, an ability to move flexibly and forcefully to deal with conflict, and the causes of conflict. In the years right after World War II, Canadians understood instinctively that the splendid isolationism that had marked so much of our thinking in earlier years had to give way to a strong sense of engagement. We endorsed the North Atlantic military alliance and the American Marshall Plan because we understood that a secure world required real commitment. Putting Europeans back to work in growing economies was a critical element in ensuring the success of democracy. Mass unemployment, poverty, and unchallenged hatred are all dry grass for the fire of terrorism. People with work, jobs, homes and families are less likely to turn to the fanaticism of the suicide bomber. I did not endorse the decision to invade Iraq without U.N. sanction. But the difficult fact is that simply withdrawing U.S. troops without a competent and respected replacement will, at this stage, cause harm to the Iraqi people. We need to think about what needs to be done, now. Elections are obviously important; so is the protection of minorities, and the maintenance of basic order. It would be tragic to trade one tyranny for another. Creating democratic structures that also respect the rights of minorities, indeed all human rights, is an enormous challenge. It will require serious, long-term and expensive commitments on the part of peoples who believe in their value and worth. Yet it is hard to see how we can create a more secure world without that commitment. Governance matters, whether at home or overseas. In a phrase that continues to haunt the world, Neville Chamberlain abandoned Czechoslovakia because it was a “faraway country of which we know little.” But what the tragedies of New York and Madrid demonstrate is that the world has now shrunk to the point where no place is unimportant, no conflict too remote to have an impact on our daily lives. This does not mean a mindless endorsement of every intervention, but it does mean Canada needs to focus clearly on where it can make a difference. Some of the most dangerous and difficult conflicts in the world will only be resolved where warring sides can accept the legitimacy of other people; where people who speak different languages and worship different Gods can accept the right of their neighbours to live as well; where those who are unable to accept these rights are firmly prevented by the rule of law and its enforcement from abusing others. The merit of the federal idea is that it takes on what George Orwell called the “smelly little orthodoxies” of our time, and builds a different vision of politics. If we need to find a focus for our foreign policy, we can find it in the “peace order and good government” that is the enduring basis for our own civic life. And so it was that I cleared my throat and starting talking with the prime minister of Sulaimania province about federalism, and he shared with me his hopes for an Iraqi Kurdistan at home in a united, and federal, Iraq.