C. Confronting ISIS – Opposition Party Critiques

Corporealism XVI: Justin Trudeau Redux

C. Opposition Party Critiques

by

Howard Adelman

Though the exchanges over differences between the Liberals and the Tories over the withdrawal of the CF-18s were more heated, they also lacked much substance because the differences were tactical more than strategic. In contrast, the differences between the Liberals and the NDP loomed larger because they are strategic differences and they help to make the picture both sides took that much clearer. But first we begin with the similarities. Like the Tories, the NDP agreed with and supported a number of the Liberal initiatives:

  • the increase in humanitarian aid, but based on three fundamental principles: neutrality, independence, and impartiality incompatible with an intervention mission
  • welcoming refugees into Canada
  • enhancing diplomatic engagement
  • engaging in the interdiction of both arms and funds as the critical factors in eliminating the threat and scourge of ISIS
  • make sure that Canada is the kind of country where everyone feels welcome, thereby ensuring that no Canadians would ever consider joining ISIL
  • robust intelligence capabilities
  • robust training and advising, but not in combat zones
  • a radical separation of humanitarian assistance and the military mission lest humanitarian workers be put in harm’s way
  • development aid, specifically for the Iraqi government’s reconstruction and stabilization efforts in regions liberated from Daesh

However, the NDP

  • accused the Liberals of reneging on their election promise that they would end the Conservative government’s mission
  • does not want military engagement; does not want the Liberals to follow the Conservatives in asking Parliament to approve the deployment of Canadian troops in active conflict zones while defining the mission as a non-combat one; “We in the New Democratic Party believe that this is entirely appropriate, as there are few other decisions that governments make that could be more important than placing Canadian troops in harm’s way. Yet, public debate seems to have veered into a narrow cul-de-sac over this question of whether or not this is in fact a combat mission.” The Liberals have muddied their own promise to draw “a clearer line between combat and non combat.”
  • In addition to the withdrawal of the CF-18s, opposes Canada remaining (“fully”???) part of the allied bombing mission with Canada continuing to contribute two Aurora surveillance planes, a refuelling plane and now, in addition, four helicopters to fly missions over Iraq and, with the surveillance aircraft, help paint targets on the ground for the allied bombing missions
  • “Canada could be providing a leadership role in cutting off the funding, the arms, and the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS.” (Randall Garrison, Esquimalt–Saanich-Sooke), particularly the $1 million to $3 million a day in oil being sold by ISIS on the world market
  • In a multilateral military mission, Canada should only participate if it has the mandate of the United Nations
  • wants figures on the proportion of trainers, now tripled, who would be in the front lines and under what guidelines
  • wants the training to include human rights and international law components
  • wants projections of the casualty count
  • wants weapons provided to Kurdish forces tracked and their use monitored
  • wants Canada to sign the Arms Trade Treaty
  • wants an exit strategy lest Canadian men and women in the Armed Forces are interminably put in harm’s way
  • wants criteria to determine whether the approach taken is the correct and want measures to assess the results
  • wants an overall review of defence policy in general without waiting two years to arrive at one
  • domestically, wants Canada to develop a strong campaign of counter-extremist messaging based possibly on the model of Regroupement interculturel de Drummondville, but the Liberals reiterated that, while developing a de-radicalization in Canada, the primary focus would be overseas on preventing the recruitment of foreign fighters, who may be Canadian, and enhanced capabilities and measures to counter those recruitment efforts; the Liberals focus more on fighting radicalization in that region to stifle the terrorist group’s perverse and diabolical propaganda so that nobody else thinks they will go to heaven by murdering their fellow human beings.

The NDP made it clear that they did not support the withdrawal of the fighter jets or oppose the deployment of the other aircraft or additional advisers and trainers on the ground because the NDP doubted the capabilities or willingness to fight or stand in harm’s ways, as required, in the service of Canada and world peace, nor even the characterization by the Canadian Armed Forces of the mission as a hybrid one, somewhere between traditional combat and non-combat missions, but opposed misleading Canadians and calling it a non-combat mission. The NDP hammered away at the supposed record in Afghanistan rather than Iraq, and queried in what way what Canada is doing in Iraq differs very much from what Canada did in Afghanistan. The NDP kept stressing the absence of clear goals and boundaries for this “combat” operation, even though Canada was in an advisory role in such battles, and, like the Tories, but for very different reasons, reminded Canadians of this past December when Canadian Armed Forces personnel became engaged in a firefight with Daesh forces.

Mrs. Cheryl Gallant (the Conservative representative from Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke) repeated the point that, “the families of soldiers well remember the 2002 friendly fire incident when U.S. jets fired on Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan, killing four of them.” Of course, she used the point for the opposite rationale, to justify keeping the CF-18s in Iraq and Syria. “Our CF-18s would have known they were Canadian boots on the ground, and now we are back to relying on other countries for air cover.” She also asked whether the Liberal government was introducing anti-armour in the ground equipment to make up for the absence of the CF-18s. In another example of, what proved to be, bad questioning, Dan Albas, the Conservative member from Central Okanagan-Similkameen-Nicola, suggested that since the Liberals were now deploying four Griffon helicopters to medically evacuate people, was that not an admission that more casualties could be expected because the CF-18s had been withdrawn?

These are two of many examples of the Tories asking questions where the questioner was not prepared for an answer that would undercut rather than advance their position. As I pointed out in the last blog, this happened when the Tories insisted on blaming ISIS for genocide, only to have the Liberals endorse that description of ISIS. The Honourable Harjit S. Sajjan, Minister of National Defence, replied to the first query above that the anti-armour capability should have been provided before the Liberal government was elected. Further, “in inclement weather, the air strikes cannot take place. If there is a threat that can only be taken care of by anti-armour capability, we need a portable system to do so, and that system is not in our inventory any more.”

 

It is not as if the Tories could not ask questions that could elicit gaps in the Liberal policy. For example, Mr. Todd Doherty, the Tory member from Cariboo-Prince George, insisted that, “If we are putting our forces in the line of fire, we want to ensure that they have every tool to be effective and ensure that they come home safety,” and asked, “Does the hon. member not believe that we should be making sure that our forces should have access to all tools to ensure they come home safely?”

Similarly, when Tom Kmiec, the Conservative member from Calgary Shepard, cited the names and numbers of all the ISIS commanders killed by Canadian air strikes, Sajjan replied, “that is exactly what has happened. The air strikes were effective and targeted, but the enemy also learns from our lessons. I remember when I was serving, I had a rule. When we were in some intense combat, we could never use a strategy twice because the enemy would always learn from it. When we looked at the analysis with our military commanders, we looked at where the mission was at, where the evolution of the enemy was at. When I asked the ground force commander, General Clark, what he needed, the first thing he said to me was ‘intelligence’. The enemy is getting smarter because of our effectiveness in the past. We need to increase our intelligence capability. Why our Canadian intelligence capability? It is effective. Why do we need to increase our training capacity? This is what is needed on the ground. This is to defeat ISIS. It can only happen with troops on the ground. It cannot be done from the air.”

So many times the Tories asked questions and only fell into traps. As well, Tories often tried to score points with irrelevancies – the 1990s role of peacekeepers was catastrophic for Canada, especially in Rwanda, where 800,000 people were killed because our soldiers were powerless to intervene. In addition to being irrelevant, the point was factually incorrect on a number of points

    1. Other than the Commander (Roméo Dallaire) and a communications unit, very few of the peacekeepers in Rwanda were Canadians
    2. The 800,000 were not killed because Canadian soldiers were “powerless to intervene” but because UN and powerful states like the U.S. would not authorize intervention.

The Liberals notably, on a much more macro level, attacked the Conservatives for losing Canada’s reputation internationally because they distanced Canada from responsible international engagement, avoided many international talks (e.g. climate change), for being forced to step out of the running for a position on the United Nations Security Council, all emphasizing the Liberal primary goal of rebranding.

The Conservatives not only attacked the Liberals for withdrawing the fighter jets and for adopting a liberal brand with a stress on the use of diplomacy internationally, but insisted that these moves were totally out of synch with Canadian opinion polls even though the Liberals won the election with a clear majority.

  • an Angus Reid poll  of February 2016 indicating that 63% of Canadians want Canada to continue bombing ISIL targets at the current rate or to increase the number of bombing missions conducted against ISIL
  • 47% believe that withdrawing our CF-18s will harm Canada’s reputation abroad
  • only 18% of Canadians polled thought that pulling our jets from the fight would have a positive effect on our international reputation
  • two out of five people, 37%, believe that Canada should continue with the current number of bombing missions against ISIL; one-quarter, 26%, believe that .the number of missions should be increased
  • 64% believe that the threat ISIL poses has increased
  • half of those people (about 30%) believe that the threat has increased significantly
  • 33% believe that Canada should increase its involvement in the fight against ISIL.

The Tories also indirectly criticized the refugee resettlement program and stressed the humanitarian aid for the refugees in the camps (Pierre Paul-Hus, member form Charlesbourg—Haute-Saint-Charles), as if the Liberals did not announce an even larger humanitarian program. Further, the Tories characterized the withdrawal of the CF-18s as a retreat rather than acknowledging an increased presence on the ground. The rebranding became the main target of the Tories who kept insisting, implausibly, that the Liberals had made a decision “not to deploy our military” (Rona Ambrose), a gross distortion. A number of valid criticisms for keeping the CF-18s in the war were missed in a continuing effort to make political points instead of analyzing and criticizing in depth the Liberal shift in policy.

The substantive Conservative Position entailed:

  • keeping the jets in theatre on the grounds that they were needed for cover for 75 troops on the ground and, if tripled, need more cover
  • even if Canada only carried out 2.5% of the strikes, Canada was one of the five countries that were bombing targets effectively
  • By withdrawing the CF-18s, Canadian troops on the ground will be relying on allies to do the heavy lifting.

The problem is, as the NDP pointed out, Canada was not cutting its military and abandoning its allies. Further, no one asked to substantiate the Liberal claim that

  • sufficient air cover exists with interoperability and communication with the ground whatever the source of the troops
  • deployment in Afghanistan did not have air cover
  • the battle requires far more robust engagement, but by a different contribution
  • the coalition has significant capability to maintain the gains the jets have achieved.

Further, the Tory claim that the policy had alienated Canada’s allies seems to have been refuted by a number of American military experts. Col. Steve Warren, a spokesman for Operation Inherent Resolve (the American mission), said that, “everybody likes to focus on the air strikes, right, because we get good videos out of it and it’s interesting because things blow up—but don’t forget a pillar of this operation, a pillar of this operation, is to train local ground forces. That is a key and critical part.” James Stavridis, Dean of the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts and former NATO Supreme Allied Commander said, “Now I understand you’re going to shift from doing training, which is… perhaps the most important of all. So I applaud the fact that our Canadian military and NATO colleagues will be working on the training mission with the Iraqi security forces, potentially with the Kurdish Peshmerga in the north because we don’t want to send 100,000 troops or 150,000 troops like we did in Iraq and Afghanistan.” Did the Tories not have any authoritative sources to back their claim that America resents the Canadian shift?

What most surprised me about the debate, other than the even greater ineptitude than I imagined of the vast majority of Tory politicians who spoke, and other than the by-and-large enormous civility of the debate, was the number of parliamentarians who served in the Armed Forces or in overseas missions. They may not outnumber the lawyers, but there were a large number, more that I, for one, ever expected. I have not undertaken a count for the current parliament, but I am convinced from reading Hansard that the total numbers would approach that of the last parliament where 1 in 13 had military experience, “over 50 having served either in the regular forces or in reservist organizations, representing military service in a variety of operational theatres including Afghanistan, Iraq, the Balkans and Northern Ireland.

 

Tomorrow: D. Defining the Enemy

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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