Paris attacks: Justin Trudeau’s ISIS quagmire

Trudeau’s ISIS quagmire

While Canada’s allies renew their war on terror against Islamic State, the Liberals stick to a promise to withdraw our jets

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to address the media on the terrorist attacks in Paris prior to his departure for the G20 and APEC summits from Ottawa, Friday November 13, 2015. Trudeau says Canada has offered all the support it can to France following Friday's attacks in Paris. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to address the media on the terrorist attacks in Paris prior to his departure for the G20 and APEC summits from Ottawa, Friday November 13, 2015. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

After the attacks in Paris, there was no way Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could make his plan to pull Canadian fighter jets out of the U.S.-led campaign against ISIS sound inspiring. Not with French President François Hollande calling for “a union of all who can fight this terrorist army in a single coalition,” and U.S. President Barack Obama vowing to “redouble our efforts” to eliminate the so-called Islamic State. The best Trudeau could hope to do—since he seemed determined to stick with his election pledge to withdraw the six CF-18s—was try shifting attention to how Canada might boost its contribution elsewhere. “Training is something we do very, very well,” he said. “And that’s something we’re looking to be very helpful to other members of the coalition with, to make sure Canada is doing more than its part in the war against ISIS.”

If stepped-up training of Iraq’s forces is really going to qualify as Canada “doing more than its part,” Trudeau will have to make a big new commitment. Under a mission launched by the former Conservative government, a modest contingent of no more than 69 Canadian special forces troops is on the ground in northern Iraq, training and assisting local Kurdish militia in their fight against ISIS. Critics of Trudeau’s approach don’t see any reason he couldn’t offer more training while leaving the CF-18s in combat—beyond his reluctance to renege on the Liberal election pledge to bring the jets home. “Simply sticking with a campaign promise doesn’t amount to a justification,” said security expert Wesley Wark, a visiting professor at the University of Ottawa’s graduate school of public and international affairs. “I think his international counterparts are going to find the Canadian position mystifying.”

But the French, at least, are taking pains not to turn Trudeau’s exit from the air war into a sore point. “We would be concerned if Canada had the intent, or had announced, that it will get out of the coalition, withdraw from the coalition,” says Nicolas Chapuis, France’s ambassador to Canada. “It’s not the case. At all.” Chapuis’s conciliatory tone had to come as a relief to Trudeau. His government has barely moved into its new offices, and he’s already grappling with a tangle of foreign policy and defence challenges, most related to the chaotic situation in Syria and Iraq.

Even before the latest terrorist outrages, Trudeau’s vow to end the CF-18 bombing missions against ISIS was controversial. The Paris attacks also put his campaign promise to bring 25,000 Syrian refugees to Canada by the end of the year under even more intense scrutiny. About that enormously ambitious project, fears have arisen that ISIS might somehow plant its operatives among the refugees. Reports suggest one of the terrorists who died in the Paris attacks might have slipped into Europe, through Greece, among the hundreds of thousands of migrants escaping the horrors of the civil war in Syria. That led to a spate of U.S. governors, mostly Republicans, trying to ban Syrian refugees from settling in their states, even though they lack the legal authority to do so.

The reaction in Canada was somewhat more muted, but Saskatchewan Premier Brad Wall released an open letter to Trudeau, urging him to slow his new government’s drive to admit 25,000 refugees by Dec. 31, a campaign commitment. “I understand that the overwhelming majority of refugees are fleeing violence and bloodshed and pose no threat to anyone,” Wall wrote. “However, if even a small number of individuals who wish to do harm to our country are able to enter Canada as a result of a rushed refugee-resettlement process, the results could be devastating.”

In an interview, Wall stressed that he’s not against bringing a lot more Syrians to Canada, given sufficient time. He said his concern about the Liberal election pledge isn’t just over the security screening of the refugees, but also figuring out exactly where they will live. “So, for reasons of safety, for reasons of appropriate settlement, let’s move toward a large intake, doing our part, certainly, but let’s not have it driven by a deadline,” he said. “We won’t be doing the refugees a favour, and we won’t be doing Canada’s reputation any favour at all, if we rush this to a deadline, rather than to results.”

Wall seemed attuned to news coming out of Europe, alluding to reports that “insurgents” might have infiltrated a big refugee camp on the fringes of the northern French city of Calais. But Wark says there’s no real parallel between the overwhelming challenges Europe faces and the target the Liberals have set for Canada. European countries are coping with hundreds of thousands of migrants who arrive without systematic screening. The Canadian government’s plan is to pick and choose refugees now living in camps in Lebanon, Jordan, and perhaps Turkey, and fly them to Canada. Wark says the plan looked admirably generous from the outset, and retreating from it due to security anxieties in the wake of the Paris attacks would be “wholly wrong and exaggerated.”

Although Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Minister John McCallum hasn’t yet announced details of the plan, he has promised thorough security and health checks of all the Syrian refugees. Experts say that probably means Ottawa will pick many of them from camps where the United National High Commissioner for Refugees is reasonably well organized. “Most of those people will already have gone through some sort of the screening process by the United Nations, and possibly from front-line immigration officers from Canada and elsewhere,” Wark says. “We are capable, and have long experience in doing the kind of security screening you need to do on the front line.”

Beyond rigorous security screening, selecting 25,000 refugees, flying them to Canada, and accommodating them when they arrive—all in about the next six weeks—is a huge undertaking. By comparison, only 683 sponsored Syrian refugees were flown to Canada during the eight weeks between Sept. 9 and Nov. 3. The Canadian Forces will almost certainly be heavily involved, likely in both air-lifting hundreds of refugees daily out of the Middle East and housing them for at least several weeks on bases in Canada. That humanitarian effort has the potential to dominate the federal agenda for the rest of 2015, perhaps drawing public attention away from nagging questions about Canada’s military contribution to the fight against ISIS.

But those concerns are almost certain to resurface in 2016. Trudeau indicated he would bring the CF-18s home before the scheduled end of their current mission, as set by the former Conservative government, in March. If training remains Trudeau’s preferred option, then David Perry, senior analyst with the Ottawa-based Canadian Global Affairs Institute, says the Canadian Forces is capable of contributing much more than the few dozen special forces members now helping Kurdish fighters. Up to 950 Canadian training advisers, Perry notes, worked with Afghan forces from 2011 to 2014. Something approaching that scale again might even begin to look like Canada doing “more than its part.”

—with Jason Markusoff and Paul Wells


Trudeau’s ISIS quagmire

  1. If we joined the fight fully, and defeat ISIS – what then? How do we ensure they (or a worse version) don’t pop up again?

    ISIS operates in Iraq, Libya and Syria – areas that were “liberated” from a dictator (Assad lost control of that half of his country). Is there a post-war plan? Do we continue stationing troops there forever? Do we blast those countries apart and hope something good happens?

    If there is a plan for the post-ISIS war – I haven’t heard it. And I read a lot of news.

    • True that.
      It’s a wack-a-mole war except that every time we wack the mole it splits into more moles.
      That bit in Disney’s Sorcerer’s Apprentice, where Mickey Mouse makes his situation worse by attacking the brooms? Every broom he breaks becomes two brooms?
      That’s where we’re at.
      It’s going to take some subtle wisdom to get us through this. As the years of war have amply demonstrated, bombs and guns and the murder of children and other innocents is just not working.

  2. Training is not — NOT — something Canada does well. All one has to do is look at Canada’s “training” involvement in Haiti over the decades to see how badly it is done; perhaps better then the Americans, including that bum Clinton Foundation, but nevertheless very badly.
    As for withdrawing our jet CF-18s, the sooner the better. Canada, until the last couple of governments, was a Peacekeeping nation and not a killer Peacemaking force. It is time to restore Peacekeeping and Canada should again (like PM Lester Pearson did} lead the way. Otherwise we will just be part of a worsening problem. Thank you.

    • The reason we don’t Peacekeep anymore is because it stopped working in the early and mid-90s. Peacekeeping can only be applied successfully to a very narrow set of ideal circumstances. Chief among them being that both sides have agreed to a UN sponsored truce FIRST. Only then do the peacekeepers move in.

      In the early 90s, we tried to expand the applications of peacekeeping to include going into hot war zones. Somalia and Rwanda were the results. Both unmitigated disasters. It’s fine to blather about peacekeeping but learn what peacekeeping is. And isn’t. It’s applications are a lot narrower than you seem to believe. It isn’t as simple as Canada “renewing out commitment to peacekeeping”. Foreign policy doesn’t fit on a bumper sticker.

  3. Trudeau is not a serious man and Canada is no longer a country to be taken seriously.

  4. Quagmire is just the right word. Think Vietnam, George W’s Iraq invasion, Afghanistan.

    Canada has to have some reason to be there aside from placating our allies . We have to know what our aims are and what the end game will be.

    Russia is there to back up their ally Assad and the US is there trying to balance between the Sunni and Shia forces and to clean up the mess they left with their Iraq wars..
    Iran and Saudi Arabia are Locked in to a Shia- Sunni duel for influence.

    But why is Canada there?

    France is out for revenge just now but their real war is with their own people. All the people implicated in the attacks so far have been from France,Belgium. Morocco or Algeria, not Syria or Iraq.

    Why should Canada get bogged down there. What are out interests? Why should we bomb and inevitably kill people whose families will hate Canada and be out for revenge?That is not any way to keep us or the world safe.

    Rather than bombing why not train local fighters as Canada for sure will not want to be an occupying power, and the war will not be won from the air.

    Anyway if Syria is bombed into the dark ages another group will pop up in Yemen or elsewhere. We’d better cross our fingers and hope something will come come out of the peace talks.

  5. I’m confused about just how “Canada’s allies renew their war on terror” is actually happening. As far as I can tell, only France, Russia, the U.S. and Canada are currently flying bombing missions. If that is so, where are Britain, Germany, Australia and all the wealthy Gulf states?

    • I wish the Conservatives and their usual pundit allies would figure this out.
      We were in and we don’t even have an airforce worth discussing.

      • Oh! It is very easy to explain!
        During Chretien’s era, in 1997, the US Government had floated the idea to develop-35, the next generation fighter capable of countering the Russian threat. Mr. Chretien wanted to join it. Canada wasn’t alone on this. Indeed, Norway, The U.K., Denmark, Turkey and Australia, they all wanted a part in it. It was viewed then that effective cooperation within NATO was impossible without everyone being in the same wave length of this high-tech marvel. In 2006 the collaborating parties signed a memorandum that allocated an anticipated cost of over half a billion dollars to Canada, for production, sustainment and follow-on Development for the period 2007 to 2051. This money itself was peanuts compared to the economic benefits expected to be accruing to our industries and our universities.
        In July 2010, Stephen Harper announced in the Parliament that he intended to procure 65 F-35s to replace the existing C-18’s with initial deliveries planned for 2016. Since it was a joint development by the participating governments, it was clear that the purchase would be a sole-sourced contract with Lockheed Martin. In any case, since the other NATO members were committed to updating their aerial fighting capacity, there wasn’t another option left for Canada, if it really wanted to be relevant in NATO. In addition, because of the Canadian commitment, some 144 contracts were awarded to Canadian hi-tech companies, universities, and government facilities. One estimate pegged the potential economic windfall to our high tech industry at a whoppingUS$10 billion to be reaped before year 2023. Yet for all this, the usual high drama about Harper being secretive and withholding everything from the parliament, began in its earnest, immediately upon the announcement. Even the positive note that a year was added to the lifespan of the plane became ultra-controversial in the eyes of the Liberals and New Democrats. Harper’s minority government was defeated in March 2011 on a no-confidence motion staged by the opposition, purely on grounds of Harper’s steadfast refusal to perform a striptease about numbers for the benefit of enemies outside the country. Even though important personalities like Major General Ray Lawson and Senator Romeo Dallaire and many Liberal MP’s had backed the purchase, Mr. Ignatieff was only too plain that if a Liberal Government ever came to power, the contract with Lockheed would be the first item to be axed .Elements of the news media managed to contribute their two cents worth to the confusion around the debate too. As usual, in this debate, the real issues never came to the fore. The merits of the plane or the impossibility of replacing it with a bullock cart were never analyzed by the press, yet, adequate time or space was allotted to a thorough analysis of the usual sensational topics of “Harper hiding something”, Harper being untrustworthy” and “Harper trying to sell the Country”. In the ensuing election, in a performance that was a tad better than the current Liberal performance, the Conservatives romped back to power. They had been vindicated but they would not touch the F-35, with a 2-foot pole again.
        On 19 October 2015 the Liberals under Justin Trudeau came to power in part on a very vaguely worded campaign promise to not purchase the F-35, but instead look for an aircraft more suited to Canada’s defence requirements
        This is the sad history of how the disrupting elements in the Canadian Parliament had managed to put our armed forces personnel in harm’s way for the sake of opportunistic political posturing. Two nincompoops figure out prominently in this spectacle. One was Ignatieff, the other one you know who!

        • In my response above, I could have made it plain that I am neither a pundit nor do I belong to any political party. I am just a studious student of history and histrionics. Well, I didn’t make it plain, but I think I responded well to the query
          That’s all folks.

          • go back to your studies…..when you get a job and actually contribute to society then you can have an opinion .

  6. Canada’s jets are not fighting ISIS; they are fighting Assad in a poorly conceived strategy that arms the good terrorists and rebels (good) against the bad terrorists and the government of Syria. Assad did not attack Paris.

  7. Lean to the left, lean to the right, stand up, sit down , fight, fight, go………allies.
    Canada the allies number one cheerleader. Justin always wanted to be on the field, but could not make the team so now he promotes the cheer squad.

  8. There are several weak points in the current strategy for the fight against ISIS. First of all, depleting Syria of its population in the name of refugee resettlement is fundamentally unsound. We are evacuating a whole country so that a handful of brigands and hooligans can have their way and multiply. Very often the quite incomprehensible comparison is made of the Syrian crisis to the Jewish plight of Nazi era. Then, it was the plight of a people who had lost a country to call their own and no one wanted to help them out. Here is a situation where everyone is keen to deport a people from their homestead only because it would serve hypocrisy and sanctimony much better. The choice here is very clear. Do we want to fight the ISIS? If the answer is “yes”, then Syrian people should be encouraged to stay put where they are and safeguard their 5000 year old way of life. We should give them all assistance in their fight for their homeland which would consequently ensure that our way of life is safe from marauding ISIS wolf-packs. If the answer is “no”, then of course we need to vacate far more space than Syria itself. Perhaps, they will not be satisfied even with a latter-day lebensraum that includes Germany and France.
    For reasons unexplainable, the West has interpreted a destabilized Syria as the equivalent of a destabilized Assad regime. Perhaps a forthright confession is overdue in this regard. It is time to admit that ISIS grew in strength and prosperity purely out of arms and cash provided by the West to nincompoop factions with no conviction at all to fight a war. We need to regroup, concentrate on eradicating the threat of ISIS and then leave country to Syrians to deal with as they see fit. I have a hard time understanding who would want to fight for a country where ultimately there will be no Syrians left to live, but some foreign nitwits who calls themselves, the warriors of God.
    The Canadian strategy of training has further shortcomings that defy commonsense interpretation. Provision of training to Kurds is just a malicious attempt by warped minds to gain some undeserved fame out of an unfortunate situation. It is a foregone conclusion that regardless of the outcome of this war, the Kurds as a people will not find a welcome mat anywhere there – not in Syria, not in Iraq and definitely not in Turkey. Already, Iraq is throwing stumbling blocks in the way of Canadian training of Kurds. NATO of which Canada is a member has already declared several times its support for Turkish incursions into the Kurdish regions straddling the Syria-Turkey border. This deprives them all opportunities of fighting ISIS in one of the most hotly contested area. Added to the fact during the recent elections, that Turkish government manipulated ISIS fighters to suicide-bomb Kurdish public rallies in Istanbul , this strategy of arming the Kurds and then aiding and abetting their enemies’ plan destroy Kurds’ live and livelihood reeks of cynicism and begs just one question: Is this fight really about ISIS at all?
    It is also a questionable strategy to put Canadian lives in harm’s way by putting them so close to the enemy in the name of training. What seems to be the strategy of the more seasoned countries in this game, namely USA, Russia and France? Don’t they all seem to prefer an airborne strategy? Don’t they all have more experience with the terrain and the relevant fighting strategies? Why makes Canada think that it will earn name and fame by doing more than their fair share in a theatre that everyone else seems to be thinking as a folly? A more sensible proposition would be to get back on the bombing run? Don’t be deceived by statements couched in diplomatic parlance. France is not supporting Canada’s plan to quit aerial bombing – not at all! It is just happy to get some support, any support, if that’s all it will get from Canada!

  9. I’m more worried about the incoming Syrian children and their future
    children, who may be discriminated against in society and employment.
    And as a result will become isolated and reduced to living in poverty.
    These future Muslim young men will be vulnerable to radicalization.

    • Yah because Canada is just such a horrible place to immigrate to. Do you know how moronic you sound?

  10. All I can say is that Canada did a pretty good job of dealing with a fascist, totalitarian ideology about 70 years ago and went all in. It’s too bad we can’t do the same again. A promise to increase training next year will amount to nothing. Our traditional allies are gearing up to get the job done now and that’s what we should be doing. Does anyone want ISIS to still be a threat next March? They better not be because if ISIS gets their Caliphate they will have a secure home base and terrorist recruitment numbers will go through the roof.

  11. There is nothing wrong with Trudeau reneging on his election promise to withdraw our CF-18s.
    Reneging on election promises is a long-standing tradition in Canadian politics.

  12. I am not afraid of ISIS infiltrating via the refugee program. In Europe, almost every single terrorist (i.e. in the Paris attacks) was a natural-born citizen, or moved at a young age via a legal non-refugee immigration program. ISIS doesn’t need to sneak operatives across enemy lines when it already has more than enough supporters behind enemy lines.

    What I am afraid of is letting in a horde of demented people who do not share Western values of gender and religious equality and who will contribute nothing to society while freely preaching about how much they hate it (despite seeming to love public benefits). Just because you’re fleeing from ISIS or Assad doesn’t mean you can’t be the next Shafia or Khadr.

    It has happened all over Europe – parts of Brussels and Malmo (in Sweden) have been overrun with people who will never identify with the country they live in (they even demand Sharia law!) and whose (legal) employment prospects are severely limited (largely of their own accord). Worse still, many of them freely commit violent crimes, knowing that UN will forbid their deportations if they come from war zones like Somalia (and now Syria). Their children will grow up with hate-talk being fed to them on a daily basis, and anyone with half a brain can guess what they will eventually become.

    Do I believe all refugees will act like this? Of course not – there are plenty of Christians and moderate Muslims among this wave and they will likely experience the same successes that the Vietnamese did a generation ago – more likely, in fact, as many are well-educated and speak good English. Careful screening (aka not opening the door to 25,000 at once) is necessary to identify these guys and exclude the others. It’s not that hard to subtly detect who’s who – just observe whether the father in a family permits his wife/daughters to speak to male interviewers, whether any men refuse to shake hands with women, etc. The minute you observe behaviour that doesn’t fit with a civilized society? Kick them off the list.

    If anyone wants to accuse me of racism, I will say this: You may not be able to choose your skin colour, but you can choose your beliefs and behaviour. I couldn’t care less whether these refugees are white, black, brown, yellow, purple, green, blue, etc – either they’re good people, or they’re not.