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Dear Mr. Trudeau, about Syria . . .

Your party pioneered the notion of ‘responsibility to protect’. Ending the air war against Islamic State would violate it.


 

Dear Mr. Trudeau,

Telling a politician he should break a promise is generally a hard case to make. But hear me out.

You have pledged to end Canada’s involvement in an air war against the so-called Islamic State, a band of genocidal thugs, slavers and rapists who have taken over large parts of Iraq and Syria.

A couple of days after you voted against a motion to support Canadian air strikes on the group last October, I was in Iraq, where every single person I asked—Iraqis, and also Syrian refugees sheltering there—said they wanted Canada to bomb Islamic State.

You, as far as I know, have never been to Iraq. Hearing first-hand about the cruelty, sexual violence and mass murder unleashed by Islamic State might have caused you to think differently about combating them.

(Or perhaps not. Last year, Marc Garneau, then your foreign affairs critic, made a very brief visit to the country with then-foreign affairs minister John Baird and then-NDP foreign affairs critic Paul Dewar, and returned thinking Canada dropping bombs on Islamic State throat-slitters was “overkill.”)

Your arguments that day in the House, and in the run-up to the vote, were vague and convoluted. Much of your reasoning had less to do with the mission itself than with how it had been presented by Stephen Harper’s Conservative government.

“The Prime Minister has not justified these air strikes,” you told reporters at the time.

Speaking in the House, you said: “The Prime Minister has not been upfront with Canadians about his plans. The Prime Minister and his government have given us no reason to believe that, once in combat, they will be able to limit our role.”

The Conservative government, without question, tried to use foreign policy as a wedge issue. You were excluded from a Canadian parliamentary delegation to Ukraine following that country’s revolution against a pro-Russian government last year. That was churlish and cynical.

But I don’t believe the Conservatives acted the same way during the early days of the air campaign against Islamic State. It seemed they genuinely wanted broad parliamentary support behind the mission. How else to explain the invitation to accompany Baird to Iraq that was extended to Garneau and Dewar?

Your accusations of a lack of transparency from the government regarding the mission proved better founded. The Conservatives’ definition of a non-combat role for soldiers on the ground was elastic, and they stretched it.

But none of this—the case the Conservatives made for war, and their transparency about it—matters any more. You will soon be prime minister, and can judge the worth of the air campaign against Islamic State on its own merits, rather than on how it has been presented by a government you oppose.

Let us first tackle the question of whether the air strikes are useful in the campaign against Islamic State. The evidence suggests they are.

Since Islamic State began its lightning advance through northern Iraq in June 2014, air strikes have likely saved Iraqi Kurdistan from being overrun by Islamic State, an outcome that would have resulted in mass slaughter. They helped lift the siege of Kobani in northern Syria, preserving countless civilian lives. And they saved thousands of Yezidis trapped on Mount Sinjar from death and slavery. (Thousands more were murdered and enslaved anyway.)

I would be the first to acknowledge air strikes alone are not enough. But to say they accomplish little good is simply not true.

This leaves us with a second line of argument, one encapsulated by Garneau’s “overkill” line, but also by a quip you made questioning the value of deploying Canada’s “handful of aging warplanes” to the mission. This argument essentially suggests that what Canada can contribute is so small, and what America is already doing is so big, that we shouldn’t bother.

I don’t want to be too presumptuous, but you and I are roughly the same age, so I’m going to guess you’ve watched The Simpsons. You may be familiar with the “Trash of the Titans” episode, in which Homer decides to run for the office of sanitation commissioner under the slogan “Can’t someone else do it?” Your approach to fighting Islamic State isn’t much different.

It’s a shame, because reasons for confronting Islamic State with force are decidedly Liberal. Your party pioneered the notion of “responsibility to protect.” The many, many victims of Islamic State deserve protection—from sexual slavery, homophobic slaughter, sectarian mass murder, and genocide. The Yezidis, a tiny and ancient religious minority, face genocide if they fall under Islamic State’s control. Too many have already perished.

This is why stalwarts of your own Liberal party—men with far more experience than you, such as Bob Rae, Lloyd Axworthy and Irwin Cotler—have spoken out in favour of a combat mission as part of Canada’s response to Islamic State’s barbarism.

This is why the coalition of countries involved in the combat mission includes almost all our closest friends: America, Britain, Australia, France. The United States has already publicly expressed its wish that Canada not abandon the mission, and that hope is not unique among our allies.

You’re going to break a lot of promises over the next four years. That’s not meant as a slur. All politicians promise more than they genuinely think they can deliver, and think they can deliver more than they do. You can deliver on this promise. But it would be the wrong thing to do. Break it. Principled Canadians, to say nothing of Iraqis and Syrians, will thank you for it.

Sincerely,

Michael Petrou


 

Dear Mr. Trudeau, about Syria . . .

  1. Um…..no it doesn’t.

    And if Justin hadn’t already blotted his copy book over Putin we could have worked together to sort this out

  2. So nice to see Maclean’s showing some sense. Too bad that same sense was not evident when they were tearing Harper apart. Now, they too must live with the consequences of having elected the Boy Blunder.

  3. It really doesn’t matter anymore.

    Russia and Iran have decided to end the Syrian and ISIL problems because of Obama’s dithering. Russia and Iran have decided that Assad isn’t going anywhere, and Russia is going to provide air cover for Iranian “green men” to fight ISIL and other Syrian opposition groups into submission in Syria.

    While our initial military mission was reasonable, it is progressively becoming a superpower confrontation between 1) the US, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and the radical Syrian opposition groups (including al Qaeda) which the US backs, and 2) Russia and Iran and Assad, and 3) ISIL.

    In Syria, it is a three-sided conflict, where Russia and Iran have acted decisively to break Obama’s stalemate strategy to slowly bleed the Assad regime to death before decisively acting against ISIL. Putin and the Iranian mullahs are winning or have won. Obama is losing or has lost.

    The Iraqi side of the ISIL conflict is basically waiting on the result of the Syrian side.

    The Iraqi Kurds are basically neutral between 1) and 2) and are fighting 3). The Shia Iraqis are allied with 1) and 2) and are fighting 3).

    It would be useful if we helped the Iraqi Kurds maintain some semblance of territorial protection and self-governance, while the war against ISIL is decided in Syria and western (Sunni) Iraq.

    But our jets should now be restricted to helping the Iraqi Kurds defend their territory, if Trudeau changes his mind. The Iraqi Kurdish forces don’t really need training. They know how to fight What they do need is air support and resupply of weapons. To make sure they ultimately have a seat at the negotiating table when ISIL in Iraq is defeated.

    Once Russia and Iran have reestablished the Assad regime, then ISIL is essentially doomed, because they will have no safe haven in Syria as a base of operations.

    The US plan was to oust Assad, and then defeat ISIL. But Iranian “green men” on the ground in Syria backed by Russian air power is the deciding move in the conflict in Syria. Both Obama and ISIL ultimately checkmated.

    Obama refused to act decisively against Assad, choosing to rely on unreliable surrogates. Putin has chosen to act decisively for Assad, backed by reliable surrogates (Iranian green men).

  4. It makes zero difference if there are 600 or 606 planes in the area bombing ISIL.

    Harper’s “Going along to get along” approach in Iraq and Syria has made no difference, perhaps instead of having all our resources flying around searching desperately for something to bomb we should move some of those surplus resources to areas that are in need. Certainly, local, well trained ground troops are one of those areas.

    • I think the Iraqi Kurds prefer that it is Canadians who are helping them (who will expect nothing from them in the future), rather than the Americans who might insist on compromises from them at a future bargaining table. I’ll bet you a loonie, the Kurds have a preference for who is flying the planes and working on the ground with them, and are disappointed at being abandoned by Canada. The Kurds are a minority who have been suppressed from all their “neighbors” in the region, and who have been historically double-crossed many times by the British and the Americans.

    • 3 million Syrians have fled their country. Canada taking in a few tens of thousands of them won’t make even a tiny dent in that. And, an argument can be made that redirecting the resources that would be used to resettle these refugees in Canada to instead creating better conditions in refugee camps could result in more bang for the buck. Yet, Canadians do want to take in Syrians. So, whether participation in a particular program would actually make a real difference is not necessarily the key criterion. Other factors, often intangible, come into play.

      FWIW, I think Canada should either withdraw totally out of the conflict (the NDP approach) or continue as before (the CPC approach). I think good arguments can be made for either. The LPC’s position, however, seems incoherent. If all the other countries did what the LPC intends to do, then there would be no point in being there in any capacity as ISIL (or Assad or both?) would totally prevail. So the LPC’s position only makes a semblance of sense if other countries don’t follow it, which just seems contradictory.

  5. Given the mass exodus of civilians from Syria, a country that is so bombed out it offers no means to eek out a living, how can we suggest the bombing has been successful? More importantly, are there other means to assist that don’t involve bombing? The west is so worry about helping Assad, or helping Russia, that this very long war will continue in perpetuity using the approach used to date. Clearly, a whole new strategy is needed, with the first priority being to end the war.

  6. Michael Petrou

    I disagree with your comments for the following reasons

    1. Do you believe that increasing Iran-Syria-Russia influence in the region will be good for peace? Personally I do not discount the idea that we will be supporting ISIS at some point in the future as the influence of Iran and Russia increases. Furthermore we seem to be more aligned with Saudi Arabia than we are Iran and maybe you could clear this question up for us as you have been in the region. But if we are supporting Saudi Arabia the question is why? Do they represent our values?

    2. Do you not think that we should support our NATO ally Turkey who are not too supportive of the Kurds these days after the bombings. Does that mean that you support an independent Kurdistan country and what would be the boundaries?

    3. Why can the people of Iraq not fight their own war? After all the Shiites represent 70% of the population and yet they want Canada to fight their battles for them.

    4. Is there any reliable ally in Syria that we can support?

    The point is there are many issues in this region of the world and no matter what you do there will not be a good solution. They should solve their own problems. We do not need to be involved without a clear understanding of the desired outcome.

  7. Canada is Peace-Keeping Nation. That’s what we do. We never should have been involved aggressively in any of these conflicts. Justin Trudeau got Canada back on track. If you have a burning desire to go to war there are lots of them to choose from. On October 19, 2015 70% of Canadians said they’d had enough and wanted OUT.

    • Reply to S J Wilson. You are very correct. The press is still fanning the flames of war. Canada is a Peace-Keeping Nation.

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