Calgary Herald

Selling military equipment to Saudi Arabia is the right thing to do

- BRIAN LEE CROWLEY Brian Lee Crowley is managing director of the Macdonald-Laurier Institute, an independen­t nonpartisa­n public policy think-tank in Ottawa.

Rarely has the right decision been so ineptly defended.

Critics have been ripping into the decision of the Trudeau government not merely to allow the export of Canadian-made light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia, but to have actually signed the export permits that made it possible.

The ground for the attacks has been that Saudi Arabia might use those vehicles against their own population.

That is not an unreasonab­le fear. The rigidly autocratic and puritanica­l Saudi kingdom is not a model of Trudeauesq­ue hugs and singalongs around the national campfire. But in the face of this powerful moral critique of its policy, the best the Liberals can come up with is a limp business rationale: no one will want to do business with us if we don’t honour our contractua­l commitment­s.

Where were these guys when the Chretien government spent billions to cancel a helicopter contract negotiated by their Tory predecesso­rs?

China arbitraril­y broke many contractua­l commitment­s when it imposed its rare earths export ban, a policy intended to damage the economies of Japan and other western countries, yet the abject slavering of the business class to do deals in China has now passed absurdity and reached the level of low farce.

The only way to respond to an attack on the morality of the LAV transactio­n is with a morally based answer. The almighty dollar doesn’t yet trump everything else.

The starting point for that answer must be that Canada and its allies are at war in the Middle East. The Liberals, far from their promise to extricate us from the battle against ISIL, have now embarked on a combat mission which will likely put more Canadians in harm’s way than its predecesso­r.

Having made this commitment — not least on human-rights grounds, given the appalling abuses that take place under ISIL’s auspices — we are not merely entitled, but we have an obligation to do all that reason, duty and honour allows to protect our forces and achieve victory in the field.

That requires knowing who our friends and enemies are. Arrayed against us are ISIL and the al-Nusra Front, together with thousands of Islamic radicals and their sympathize­rs around the world.

On our side are NATO allies such as the U.S., Britain and France, as well as local regimes with an interest in regional stability, including Turkey and Saudi Arabia.

In time of war, many of the ethical niceties of peacetime must be shelved. That includes giving comfort and support to allies about whom you have moral reservatio­ns, but who may be essential to victory.

Readers of the National Post may have seen there a recent piece celebratin­g one of Canada’s greatest contributi­ons to the Second World War, namely our vast production of well-designed trucks and tanks.

Who was one of our biggest customers?

The mass-murdering regime of Josef Stalin’s Soviet Union.

The world is an ethically messy place that sometimes requires us not to choose between absolute good and bad, but between the lesser of two evils.

Is it less than ideal to sell LAVs to Saudi Arabia? Yes. Would it be worse for ISIL to establish unchalleng­ed its murderous regime guilty of some of the most heinous human rights violations in recent memory, including mass executions of innocent civilians? Undoubtedl­y, yes. Additional­ly, Saudi Arabia is the chief regional bulwark against an Iran seeking regional hegemony and the export of its Islamic Revolution. Containing and managing Iran is very much in Canada’s interests because the chances are great we would be drawn into any major internatio­nal conflict the Islamic Republic’s dangerous behaviour provoked.

Seeking and relying on the support of Saudi Arabia in our justified struggle, then refusing to supply them with the means to be an effective ally, would be self-defeating and hypocritic­al in the extreme.

Wishing our choices could be different does not make it so.

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