Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

Corporealism XVIII: Body Politics in the Middle East

Fighting ISIL or ISIL or Daesh – to what end?

by

Howard Adelman

If I have characterized Daesh with reasonable accuracy, how should the West best fight this menace? Daesh is ensconced in eastern Syria and in western Iraq separated from the Turkish and Iranian borders by Kurdistan, the northern part of Iraq controlled by Iraqi Kurds and its Peshmerga forces. Daesh also has a presence in an oil rich small area of Libya. Daesh first captured Rojava after the Syrian army retreated in 2012. The great victory was the capture of Mosul that allowed ISIL to declare a caliphate established in the summer 2014.  This key victory included the defeat of the Iraqi army which literally turned tail.

Since then, ISIS has suffered setback after setback and the number of militants identified with its cause and fighting on the ground in Iraq and Syria is now estimated to have fallen from 31,500 to 25,000 altogether. (“The latest assessment about the number of fighters who are fighting on behalf of ISIL in Iraq and in Syria – based on an earlier assessment – was up to 31,500 fighters in that region of the world.  There’s a new assessment from our intelligence community that indicates that that number is now up to about 25,000 fighters.”  U.S. White House Press Secretary John Earnest 2 February 2016)

The key force that has limited the expansion of Daesh and that has itself expanded to fill the vacuum has been that of the Kurds of Northern Iraq and Syria who have won back Sinjar, Ramadi and Tikrit. Within Iraq, the Kurds now control disputed Kirkuk completely. In northern Syria, the Kurds much more than ISIS are being attacked by Turkish jets.

ISIS has been pushed back. The question is not its defeat but when and how and what part Canada and other countries in the West should play in its defeat. For the dilemma is a matter of “boots on the ground.” The West has relied on the Kurds with 120,000 experienced, battle-trained and determined fighters, largely equipped by the U.S. The other force countering Daesh has been a reconstituted Iraqi army, also trained and equipped by the U.S. and its allies. In the meanwhile, Russia and Iran are supporting Assad and his re-equipped army with Russian air support. Those forces have captured large swaths of territory from the American-supported Syrian rebels who lacked any air support or significant amounts of updated equipment.

In this multi-faceted war with multiple sides with some parties on the same side really engaged in supporting opposite strategies on the ground – the Turks and the Americans. The point is that the defeat of Daesh must be seen within a much larger context. The thirty million Kurds have been seeking an independent state since the end of World War I where, in the divvying up of the Middle East among the Great Powers, they were left divided between Turkey, Syria, Iraq and to a small extent, Iran. They now have de facto independence in northern Iraq and in parts of Syria. They are also the major boots on the ground responsible for the pushback of Daesh. But what is in it for them to combat Daesh in Mosul? It is not a Kurdish city. So the Allies are buying time to retrain and strengthen the Iraqi army. But a strengthened Iraqi army to the south of the Kurds endangers their quasi-independence. So if ISIL totally loses, they are likely to lose the strategic advantage they enjoy currently.

The other major concern is Turkey, which views the rise of the Kurds as the greatest threat they face, not Daesh. Turkey is involved in widescale bombing of Turkish Kurdish territories as well as Kurdish-controlled area in Syria under the guise of the war against ISIL. This is the paradox. The boots on the ground best able to defeat Daesh supplied by the Kurds and those supported by the Turks respectively, each for very opposite reasons, has no reason to destroy Daesh. At the same time, the Kurds in Syria have consistently ignored Turkey’s threats – such as when Turkey insisted that the red line of the Euphrates was not to be crossed by Kurdish People’s Protection Units in Syria. The Kurds, like the Russians subsequently, ignored Erdoğan’s bluster, even when they were attacked by Turkish jets. In fact, in the battle over the Menagh airbase, the Syrian Kurds defeated the al-Nusra Front, an al-Qaeda affiliate that has been a proxy on the ground for Turkey.

The problem is not the defeat of Daesh, but the political order that the allies want to emerge out of the wreck in Iraq and now the even much worse wreck in Syria. In Iraq, the Kurds are at their peak now. If the allies build up the Iraqi army now to defeat ISIL, then what will almost certainly follow eventually will be a war between the central government in Iraq and the Kurds. And the Kurds fear being abandoned once again by the West after they have done the main dirty work in stopping and pushing back Daesh.

If the Iraq situation were not complicated enough, the issue of the conflict between Turkey and the Kurds exponentially increases the problem. When the revolution in Syria broke out in 2011, Turkey envisioned extending its influence southward. But Turkey has been thwarted at every turn – the rise of the Kurds in power in key parts of Syria along half of the border between Turkey and Syria, the increasing weakness of the rebels against Assad, the Russian support for Assad that has brought the two powers close to war with Turkey effectively now breaching Turkish air space almost with impunity.

More on the Kurds. They are not natural allies of the West; they have been allies of convenience. Abdullah Ocalan, the head of the Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), may have been in jail since 1999, but he not only remains the titular head of the PKK in Turkey but the de facto head of the Democratic Union Party (PYD) based in Rojava, Syria and in Kobani, Syria where the Kurds delivered a resounding defeat to Daesh. The Kurds even captured Tal Abyad on the Turkish border and sent chills up the spine of President Erdoğan. Turkey may be an ally of the U.S. and a member of NATO, but the Kurdish boots on the ground fighting ISIS, whatever their skills, courage and determination, have been helped enormously by American air cover, the very air cover the Canadian CF-18s have now backed away from providing. Further, the main spotters have not been the aircraft that Canada and other coalition partners have left in the air – they mainly confirm reports from the ground that come virtually exclusively from the Kurds who then mop up after the fighter jets have destroyed the identified targets.

The Tories have been dead right. The air strikes against ISIS have been highly effective. It is estimated that in the battle for Kobani, air strikes, leaving aside injuries inflicted, killed over 10% of ISIL militants on the ground in the months of fighting for Kobani. But that does not mean that Canada should continue participating in the air strikes. Or, for that matter, even advising and training troops on the ground. It depends on what Canada envisions as the outcome it favours and whether there is a realistic prospect of bringing about its preferred outcome.

The key factor is the de facto new quasi alliance between Russia and the U.S., two world powers that seem to once again dividing up the Middle East as spheres of influence by either side. Will the cease fire they have organized bring peace to Syria and on what terms? Shades of the end of WWI and WWII! The situation will become even more destablized when, as I anticipate, Turkey implodes under all the competing pressures and the series of failures in Turkish foreign policy under Erdoğan, matched by even greater political and economic crises at home. Kurdistan, with its apparent stability, is also seething underneath in a general context of a recession instigated in good part by the dramatic decline in oil prices compounded by corruption and nepotism.

I could go on. But my purpose here is not to lay out a political-economic and military analysis of that part of the Middle East, but merely to point to three main themes:

  1. The defeat of Daesh is not the main problem – that will come; it is just a matter of when, where and how.
  2. The defeat is not a matter of destroying an insurgency in a battle for hearts and minds, but destroying the army of a quasi-state.
  3. The main problem is regional stability; right now it is a balagan, in Hebrew, an absolute and total mess.

Begin with the immediate problem, the coming battle over Mosul and even perhaps Raqqa, the presumptive capital of the Caliphate. It is no secret that the coalition forces will be attacking Mosul, likely in the spring and certainly by summer. Will Daesh stand and fight to the last man and woman? Hardly likely. They have not done so thus far. And their sending out signals that they will is but the first rule of warfare – deceive your enemies. When claiming that you will stand to the last militant, plan a careful retreat, first of the political leadership and then of the military leadership, and finally, whatever militants can be saved while leaving enough to sacrifice as many civilians as possible in Mosul. Evidently, the political leadership has already relocated to Libya in anticipation of the next defeat. For the second rule of warfare is, when you know you have a significantly inferior force, evade direct conflict with the enemy.

Whatever Daesh suffers on the moral front, they clearly understand the basic laws for conducting war. The fact that they are ethically challenged is not only revealed in their cutting off of heads and the severe repression they practice about dress and social behaviour, but also in the moral deterioration already underway as the leadership deserts and the militants resort to corruption and smuggling civilians out of Mosul for US$500 a person. Daesh will leave behind sleeper cells to work behind enemy lines. For they realize they are at the mercy of fighter jets in the air and have to avoid open battles lest their backs be broken by the jet-fueled falcons and hawks patrolling the skies that will break their backs if they appear openly. Hence the rapid decline in missions and the ability of the coalition to release Canada from its commitment to supply six CF-18s.

In the battle against Mosul, the coalition partners have much to learn from the Israeli battles in Gaza with roughly the same population. However, the coalition has one major advantage. It can conduct a pincer movement as Kagame did in 1994 in Rwanda and allow the enemy to escape. I am convinced the allies will follow this pattern otherwise the costs to civilian lives in Mosul will be too high. A third law of warfare is that the best victories are based on building a golden bridge to allow your enemy to retreat. When they cross that bridge, attack them from the air on the other side.

The problem, to repeat once again, will not be to defeat ISIS in battle, but to win the war. And I have not read anywhere what a victory at that level will look like.  Further, unless victory in the war is envisaged, the battle may be won, but the losses will be much greater as has been the pattern in so many American wars from Vietnam on. The key problem is not victory in the battle over Mosul, but victory in the war in the Middle East. And the wars fought there, whether under a Democratic or a Republican commander-in-chief, have been disastrous because battles are being fought, not wars.

Sometimes, as in the case of the Israelis, it may be impossible to fight a real war because of diplomatic and other considerations. But that does not seem to be the case with the Americans. Except they no longer recognize what war they are fighting and what they are fighting for. Stopping ISIL is the least of their worries. The problem is that the lack of clear direction from the Obama administration is certainly far better than the mass hysteria, currently being whipped up by the Republican Party front runner. And it is not just The Donald that is the problem. He is just the loudest barker by far in the current American political circus on the Republican side. After all, it was overwhelmingly Republican state governors who announced that they would not permit Muslim Syrian refugees to enter their states. It was these Governors who initially completely ignored the laws of the United States and the Constitution.

I wrote on Friday that a core of politics is not inflaming emotions and passions. On shabat, on the day dedicated to peace, the real purpose of fighting any war has been determined. Further, the precedent must be set for skill, understanding and judgment to rule the roost. Instead, all three appear to be totally invisible on the Republican side and just barely on the horizon in the case of the current American administration in spite of its enormous efforts to reign in the war hawks.

So the coalition lacks strong and wise leadership that allows us to discern the overall goals and strategy. The U.S. was correct to release Canada from its responsibilities to continue contributing CF-18s from the war in Iraq and Syria because those jets were, in fact, no longer what was really needed. But why train Iraqi soldiers unless we want Kurdistan in Iraq eventually to be significantly reduced in size and even eliminated, and, if the course as set continues to be followed, eventually ending the dream of an independent Kurdistan. The chance to redeem just one of the major errors from WWI will be lost.

Should Canada back the Kurds, not just opportunistically as the Americans currently appear to be doing, but long term? I do not know. I am, however, convinced that unless we answer that key question, we cannot have a judicious and intelligent foreign policy in the area backed up by the limited military forces we are able to contribute. What about Turkey? Should we continue backing our formal ally Turkey which, under Erdoğan has been practicing a vicious anti-democratic policy over the last few years and one even far more dictated by a combination of whim and hysteria than even the U.S. Republicans are promising.

ISIS may be a much bigger threat than either al-Nusra and al-Qaeda because it is driven by a war strategy and not an insurgency, and it has brought sabotage and not just terror to the home fronts of its enemies. So ISIS as an organization needs to be extinguished. But let us not exaggerate the threat as U.S. Air Force General Phillip M. Breedlove, the supreme allied commander in Europe who dubbed ISIS an existential threat. The real threat is that America may be in the process of blowing up whatever degree of sobriety there is left in America and setting off a really-out-of-control wildfire. Do not light matches at home on shabat if your eventual goal is peace.

On the other hand, ISIL terrorists are not just out-of-control testosterone driven thrill-seeking teenagers. Their average age is 26. They are dedicated and sober, even if truly psychopathic martyrs for their cause. But the West in warfare can take advantage of that wish to die a martyr by making it convenient for them, without sacrificing a sense of security and swaths of civilians in exchange. They have largely been nihilistic mass killers alienated from institutions of order and cool rational judgment who use Islam as justification for their heated madness and cold compassion.

What about the NDP’s proposals to concentrate on cutting off the financing of ISIS and acquiring more intelligence on the movements of volunteers for ISIS? The latter is declining anyway. On gathering intelligence overseas, Canada lacks and in-depth capacity. As for cutting off financing that has already been underway led by the Americans and Canada is a bit player in that game.

What about the push to increase humanitarian and development aid even further? The reality is that Canada under the Liberals by ratio to population already contributes roughly the highest amount in both categories compared to the $5.1 billion in total dollars committed by the U.S. to emergency aid, the $3.3 billion EU, $3.6 billion from Germany, $1.75 billlion from the U.K., etc. As my opening paragraph indicated, the replenishment of fighters has largely been effectively staunched and ISIL which is no longer able to replenish its losses. I think these NDP suggestions look more like panic in search of a policy and a strategy, though the NDP is the only party calling for a consistent policy within an overall plan.

The real larger issue is how to contain the enormous ambitions of Iran and Russia, which has already checked Turkey. Obama has been counting on diplomacy since he is unwilling to contribute more American troops on the ground to the fight. In the meanwhile, Assad’s forces, reinforced by Iranians and Hezbollah volunteers and resupplied by Russia and provided air cover by the Russian air force, has been able to recover control of a great deal of territory and even totally encircle Aleppo, which had been under the control of America’s Syrian allies according to a study by the Institute for the Study of War in its 5 February Report. In addition, the military pressure on Kuweires Airbase has been relieved and the threat along the Mediterranean coast to the Russian fleet has virtually been eliminated, at great cost to the Turkish strategic aim of bringing down the Assad regime. Russia has emerged as a “hero” against Turkish military intervention in Iraq. Thus, Turkey’s ambitions in Iraq have been set back considerably.

The Russians and their allies conducted a very strategic operation to suck the rebels and other militants from urban areas into the open and to destroy them there, indicating that the rebels were more committed to saving civilian lives at the cost of strategic advantage, especially in comparison to Daesh. The biggest winners over the past year have been Assad, the Russians and the Iranians, though the losses on the ground for both the Iranians (143 officers alone from the rank of captain up) and their cannon fodder from Hezbollah volunteers has been huge in addition to the huge cost in dollars, which Iran could ill afford at this time, estimated at $6-12 billion per year, after having lost $450-500 billion since the sanctions took effect and while costs rise for its support of the Houthis in Yemen as Saudi Arabia directly supports the other side.

In my estimation, the current “peace” efforts offer an opportunity for the Syrian regime and its Russian ally to recuperate and regroup from the recent strenuous efforts and unrestrained attacks on civilian populations, a justifiable concern that handicaps the West in the type of warfare being fought in Syria. There is clearly no comparable effort by the Western coalition to counter the Syrian-Iranian-Russian partnership and that coalition, not Daesh, has been the major victor over the last year of the war. The peace talks look to me more like a front to confer de facto victory to Assad and his backers.

So where does this put the various parties in the Canadian parliament, ignoring the separatist party in this assessment. The Tories appear to want to fight last year’s battles. The NDP seems determined to be irrelevant. And the Liberal policy may be the most delusionary since this is not a war for hearts and minds, but a typical power play by regional and international actors. If this assessment is anywhere near correct, how does it affect the development of an overall Canadian defence strategy and our deployment of troops in the Middle East? In the next blog, I will deal with the need for a revitalized defence policy and intervention policy for Syria and Iraq. Clearly it will be a sketch only since I have merely provided a caricature of what has been going on in Iraq and Syria rather than a detailed area by area analysis of this multi-sided competition for power and control in the region.

 

With the help of Alex Zisman

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