16

How about an ‘evidence-based’ Syria policy?

There is proof air strikes against ISIS are effective. So why do the Liberals want to end the combat role in Syria?


 
Canadian Forces Syria. August 18, 2015. (Canadian Forces)

Canadian Forces Syria. August 18, 2015. (Canadian Forces)

Immediately after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new government was sworn in earlier this month, Minister of Innovation, Science and Economic Development Navdeep Bains announced the re-introduction of the mandatory long-form census previously binned by the Conservatives.

“We’re focused on sound, evidence-based policy,” Bains said at the time.

Here’s some evidence that Trudeau and his new foreign affairs minister, Stéphane Dion, might not have noticed: Today, Iraqi Kurdish fighters, backed by Yezidi militias and fighters from the Turkish Kurdish PKK, liberated the Iraqi town of Sinjar from the so-called Islamic State—a murderous Islamist group that controls large chunks of Syria and Iraq.

Islamic State’s advance into the town and surrounding villages more than a year ago was what triggered military intervention against it by the United States and several of its allies, including Canada. American President Barack Obama said at the time he was acting to prevent a potential genocide.

Islamic State members consider the Yezidis, whose faith draws from a mix of ancient beliefs, pagans and devil worshippers, and slaughtered them by the thousands. Women and girls were enslaved and raped. Survivors fled.

Yesterday, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, an institution that knows a thing or two about genocide, issued a report concluding that one had, in fact, been committed against the Yezidis, and that it is ongoing because of the continued enslavement of the Yezidi women and girls.

Naomi Kikoler, lead author of the report and, full disclosure, a friend, said during the report’s presentation that when conducting research in northern Iraq, she was reminded of her grandfather’s family that was wiped out during the Holocaust. Never again, the world had pledged after those horrors. What’s happened to the Yezidis, she said, testifies to our failure to keep our word.

Genocide can’t be reversed, and the liberation of Sinjar won’t free Islamic State’s Yezidi captives. But it’s justice just the same. It’s a symbolic victory in a struggle that has already claimed the lives of at least two Canadians: Sgt. Andrew Doiron of the Special Operations Regiment, who died in a friendly-fire incident while advising Iraqi Kurds in March; and John Gallagher, a former Canadian soldier who volunteered to fight with the Syrian Kurdish YPG and died fighting Islamic State this month.

By severing the major supply route between Islamic State-held Raqqa in Syria and its Iraqi stronghold of Mosul, the capture of Sinjar is a strategic victory, also.

Which brings us back to Navdeep Bains and the Trudeau government’s declared dedication to evidence-based policy.

“Ten years ago, we learnt through the first Iraq war what happens when Western troops get involved in combat . . . It doesn’t necessarily lead to the kinds of outcomes people would responsibly like to see,” Trudeau told the CBC this summer, by way of justifying his plans to end Canada’s participation in the air war against Islamic State. The Conservative government, Trudeau continued, had failed “to demonstrate why the best mission for Canada is to participate in a bombing mission.”

It’s worth pausing to unpack Trudeau’s conception of combat, because the distinction between combat and non-combat is one Trudeau has often referenced. There’s a clear line between the two, he told Parliament this year. “It is much easier to cross that line than to cross back.”

Trudeau says he believes Canada should have a non-combat role in the fight against Islamic State—by which he means training. On the ground, however, Canadian soldiers at times conduct their “training” on or near the front lines. They’ve exchanged gunfire with Islamic State and called in air strikes against it. Trudeau has vowed to expand Canada’s training mission. But if he is genuinely opposed to a Canadian combat role against Islamic State, he’s gong to have to overhaul it, as well.

But let’s play along and pretend there is something qualitatively different between dropping bombs on Islamic State’s ethnic cleansers and child rapists, and targeting them from the ground so someone can do so. Let’s also pretend, as the Liberals do, that the surveillance and refuelling planes Canada has committed to the mission are more involved in combat than our special forces on the ground and, therefore, must be withdrawn, too. Let’s pretend, in other words, that Trudeau’s promise to end Canada’s air mission, while leaving soldiers on the ground, is consistent with his commitment to a non-combat role against Islamic State, and judge that commitment on its merits.

Trudeau said past evidence—the Iraq war and the combat mission in Libya (which the Liberal party backed unanimously)—demonstrates the often-negative consequences of Western military intervention. Whether the consequences of stopping Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi’s assault on Libyans, or overthrowing Iraqi mass murderer Saddam Hussein, were as uniformly negative as Trudeau seems to suggest is debatable.

But there is much more recent, relevant and compelling evidence staring Trudeau in the face—if he would only choose to acknowledge it. Sinjar has been liberated with the help of Western air strikes. Canadian pilots, not yet withdrawn from the war, took part—an accomplishment of which they should feel forever proud.

Like Kobani before it, and like many other formerly Islamic State-held towns and villages, Sinjar fell to a combination of local and Western combat forces.

It is no longer enough for Trudeau to claim that combat is not a particularly useful role for Canadians in Iraq and Syria, nor to argue that air strikes don’t necessarily lead to the kinds of outcomes we would want—because that is manifestly not the case. Air strikes are effective. Sinjar, the once-black heart of Islamic State’s genocide against the Yezidis, is free, in part, because of them.

And if Trudeau can’t claim that Canada dropping bombs on the génocidaires of Islamic State is ineffective, he must explain why it is wrong. That is a harder task. I want to believe that, deep down, Trudeau knows it is an impossible one.

He took a position to end Canada’s combat role against Islamic State before he was Prime Minister, when he didn’t have the political capital to spend that he does now. Those who supported him because of that promise will likely forgive him well before the next federal election, if he breaks it. But if he doesn’t, if he pulls Canada out of this fight, the moral stain—on his record and perhaps on his conscience—will persist long after he leaves office.


 

How about an ‘evidence-based’ Syria policy?

  1. There is proof air strikes against ISIS are effective. So why do the Liberals want to end the combat role in Syria?

    Because it’s 2015?

    • So this article doesn’t at all offer counter evidence to Trudeau’s plan. Trudeau never said that combat operations weren’t effective, rather they didn’t produce the results that a responsible person would want. Specifically I think he meant long term stability. Unless we’re proposing that Canada have an indefinite military presence in all areas of conflict, radical groups like ISIS will simply return as soon as our jets head back above the 49th. Alternatively, assisting in the development of an armed forces that is capable of subduing ISIS independently will produce those responsible results. Get it? Critical think ftw.

  2. After these Paris terrorist attacks, the Canadian PM
    must not rush the entry of refugees from Syria.
    Who cares if their settlement goes beyond Dec 31’15.
    Safety first, so slow and thorough screening is a must.

    • Michael Forrest says:

      “Safety first, so slow and thorough screening is a must.”

      This is what PM Harper’s government was doing, but the Liberals and their news media pals crucified him for taking the time to do this safely.

  3. I can understand continuing the air strikes on the basis of the responsibility to protect doctrine. And, I can understand a full military withdrawal based on the West’s apparent inability to not screw up whatever it touches in the Middle East. But I don’t understand the government’s half-measure approach; it feels like a position based on optics rather than anything else.

  4. []
    I can understand continuing the air strikes on the basis of the responsibility to protect doctrine. And, I can understand a full military withdrawal based on the West’s apparent inability to not screw up whatever it touches in the Middle East. But I don’t understand the government’s half-measure approach; it feels like a position based on optics rather than anything else.

  5. I can understand continuing the air strikes on the basis of the responsibility to protect doctrine. And, I can understand a full military withdrawal based on the West’s apparent inability to not screw up whatever it touches in the Middle East. But I don’t understand the government’s half-measure approach; it feels like a position based on optics rather than anything else.

  6. We also know that we could stop the largest source of civilian carnage and displacement overnight – Assad’s aircraft and barrel bombs – so why do we keep talking about ISIS?

    • Here is some evidence, the Paris terror attacks were committed by ISIS and they said they did it because France is involved in air strikes against them. So, Canadians should feel safer by not getting involved Canada won’t be a direct target of ISIS. If security is what we are after non involvement is better, but if morality is what we are after then we should do more combat missions and should bring more Syrian refugees in. What are you after your own security or morality?

  7. It’s despicable that you would use deaths in France for political leverage. Too soon.

  8. To the small-“l” liberal mind (and the capital-“L” in Canada), scientific proof is useful only if it agrees with the political preference of liberals. If science doesn’t agree with liberals – or, worse, if a conservative gov’t ignores liberal science because they know it is ideologically based – liberals will demand changes be made to “improve compliance.”

    • The fact there is a piece of evidence doesn’t mean it is worthwhile. It has to be balanced.

  9. Liberals are always in favor of evidence-based policies. Except, of course, when the evidence contradicts the pre-conceived nations that much of modern progressive liberalism is based on.

  10. First, the straw-man arguments in this article border on silly. PM Trudeau’s campaign promises, like any good politician’s, are vague enough to give him ample wiggle-room. He said he would stop the bombing… didn’t say when, didn’t say anything about the other air assets in theatre (which are probably more useful to the coalition), and didn’t say anything about stopping the ongoing training mission. Answering those question for him and then attacking those answers just make you look foolish.

    Second, our military is deployed for 2 reasons: to provide moral cover for our allies (which there’s nothing wrong with) or to actually provide meaningful force. Afghanistan was the latter, but just about everything Ex-PM Harper did was the former, and that got silly. Pres. Obama called PM Trudeau to congratulate him on his victory and noted the campaign promise to stop the bombing mission and that he was okay with that, while hoping Canada can stay engaged in other ways. If Ex-PM Harper had any insight he would have realised that Pres. Obama had his own commitments to dance around, namely “no boots on the ground.” If making our allies happy was the goal, Canada should have gone big on the ground in the first place. That would have made a real difference. It still might.

    Six bombers operating with extremely restricted rules of engagement in what’s becoming ridiculously saturated airspace was and is a waste of resources. Send them to Eastern Europe if you must. Combining a few of Ex-PM Harper’s silly-optics commitments together might actually provide enough force to not be laughed at. I mean, the Kurds were complaining about Canada withdrawing militarily… from the ground. They didn’t even know our planes were flying overhead. What a waste.

  11. Lost in this is that the without ground action, the airstrikes limit but will not ultimately destroy ISIL. Sinjar fell due to combined ground/air operations. Without boots on the ground, ISIL isn’t going away. And it will take a lot of boots and a long time to bring ISIL to an end. Look at Iraq, and to a degree Afghanistan, after the departure of Western ground forces, who had been there 10+ years. Everyone wants to destroy ISIL, fair enough. But I’m not convinced many of those voicing the opinion are interested in taking part, or paying the price in body bags for a prolonged period of time.

  12. It is easy to say that combatting IS in a Kurdish region is effective. What about in Sunni regions where the people are a little more accepting of IS. After all IS is a terrorist organization.

    Are we going to bomb everything in IS controlled territory? Is this bombing going to change the public opinion in the region? Is the bombing going to solve any of the problems why IS was formed in the first place.

    The answer is no.

Sign in to comment.