Ch-Ch-Ch-Chad’s All, Folks!

Minurcat may sound like a Romanian children’s cartoon from the seventies, but more than 2,000 members of the defence forces have served in Chad under its umbrella (or, more aptly, its parasol) since May 2008.

The UN deployment in Chad was notable for a couple of reasons. The first was a rare and happily unsuccessful attempt on the part of the Irish media to drum up an Our Boys mentality with regard to the troops stationed there. This included an extraordinary special edition of the Late Late Show, in its post-Gaybo role as handmaiden of the establishment, in which the geopolitical rationale of the deployment was barely discussed, and certainly not questioned. It also pandered to the laughable portrayal of Army Ranger Wing as an elite special forces unit (in reality, they’re just the ones with the least prominent beer bellies.)

Equally conspicuous was the equanimity with which the use of an Irish detachment to bolster up a force largely comprising French troops (the former colonial power in Chad) went almost unremarked, even on the nationalist “left.”

Yesterday, Minister for Defence Tony Killeen announced a phased withdrawal of all Irish troops from Chad. This has precipitated a minor political shitstorm in Brussels and New York. UN bods are said to be particularly concerned about the timing of the announcement, coming as it does in the midst of discussions with the Chadian government regarding the extension of the UN mandate.

What we have here is a rare example of Fianna Fáil being right for the wrong reasons. Fine Gael are pushing for the decision to be reversed, citing the effect on Ireland’s “international reputation” (one wonders why they’re so keen to get into government, given their desire to outsource all the state’s decision-making capacities.)

To do so would blow away the last withering fig-leaf of Irish neutrality. The UN mandate has expired, and the Chadian government want the troops out. Failure to comply with that wish may be ethically tenable or may not be ethically tenable, but the one thing it isn’t is militarily neutral. There’s a word for retaining a military presence on the territory of a sovereign state against the wishes of its government; occupation.

The soliders’ representative organisation, PDforra, has also deplored the withdrawal. While political militancy in the armed forces is to be encouraged (PDforra’s threat to refrain from strike-breaking a couple of years ago was singularly suppressed by the Irish media as simply too incendiary to touch), imperialist adventures in Africa are not a valid means of improving members’ pay and conditions.

Of course, the government’s real rationale (money) is of a piece with all its attacks on the public sector. As such, they’re entitled to a little frustration with the mixed messages coming from Brussels. On the one hand, they’re being commended for slashing and burning pay, on the other, criticised for undermining the EU’s interventionist foreign policy.

The EU factor is likely to emerge as a serious challenge to the neutrality pretence in the coming years, especially with the major armies of Europe massively over-committed throughout the globe. Indeed, the flags are already being unfurled and tentatively waved by the likes of Martin Mansergh, who, in an interview with David Norris yesterday, opined that participation in the military structures of the EU was a means of asserting our independence from the “British sphere of influence.”

This appeal to dormant Anglophobia will be familiar to anyone who witnessed Mickey Martin’s contributions to the Lisbon debate. Although a more mean-spirited curmudgeon than I might be tempted to ask what perception of Ireland’s position in the British sphere of influence would be borne away by an Anglophone foreigner listening to David Norris interview Martin Mansergh.

Personally, I hope the commission’s enthusiastic support for NAMA (vehemently opposed by a large majority of the Irish people) will whip the EU trump card out of the deck for good, and with it, the prospect of Irish participation in the EU’s ever-deepening descent into the morass of muscular neo-imperialism.

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