Justin Trudeau’s vacuous stance on Syria

The war in Syria lacks the ‘coherence and cohesiveness’ that Trudeau seeks

epaselect epa05039461 A still image made available on 24 November 2015 from video footage shown by the HaberTurk TV Channel shows a burning trail as a plane comes down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border, over north Syria, 24 November 2015. A Russian fighter jet was shot down 24 November over the Turkish-Syrian border, the Defence Ministry in Moscow said, according to Interfax news agency. The Sukhoi Su-24 was reportedly downed by Turkish forces, Turkish state news agency Anadolu reported, citing sources in the presidency. The report said that the jet violated Turkish airspace and ignored warnings. It crashed in the north-western Syrian town of Bayirbucak, Turkish security sources were quoted as saying.  (HABERTURK TV CHANNEL/EPA/CP)

epaselect epa05039461 A still image made available on Nov. 24, 2015 from video footage shown by the HaberTurk TV Channel shows a burning trail as a plane comes down after being shot down near the Turkish-Syrian border, over north Syria, Nov. 24, 2015. (HABERTURK TV CHANNEL/EPA/CP)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, at a press conference yesterday in London, was asked whether Russia’s involvement in Syria is helping or hindering the situation there.

Russia’s involvement in Syria, for those who may not be up to speed on the situation—and here we must presume to include those tasked with informing Trudeau what’s going on in the world—consists largely of bombing anyone in the country fighting to rid the place of dictator Bashar al-Assad, whose regime is responsible for most of the more than 200,000 deaths in that country’s civil war, and whose crimes include using poison gas against children.

Trudeau began his response, as is sometimes his wont, with a faint and partially suppressed chuckle, as if what he’s about to reveal should be obvious to right-thinking people: “Well, I think one of the most important things that we need to do is establish a level of coherence and cohesiveness even amongst very different actors to ensure that we are moving toward what all of us want, which is greater peace and stability in the region.”

How anyone other than a first-year student at a second-rate university trying to disguise the fact that he hasn’t done the class’s required reading gets away with saying something so utterly vacuous is a mystery one suspects will deepen as Trudeau’s premiership progresses.

But he wasn’t done. No one would say the “tensions” between Russia and Turkey are a positive development, Trudeau continued, referring by “tensions” to Turkey shooting down a Russian bomber it alleged had violated its airspace near the Syrian border. “But certainly it’s highlighting the desire by everyone involved to bring calm and to work toward an alignment that will allow us not to face concerning situations like this in the future.”

To recap: Turkey, a NATO member state, has just shot down a Russian warplane, something that hasn’t happened since the Korean War. It happened because Russia has repeatedly probed Turkey’s borders, as it has done from both air and sea to other NATO members, and Turkey finally had enough. These are not the actions of parties desiring calm and working toward an alignment.

More from Michael Petrou: How about an ‘evidence-based’ Syria policy?

In any case, for Russia and others involved in the conflict, including Canada, there’s no “alignment” to be had. Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has gone to war on behalf of the mass-murderer Assad. On occasion, Russia has also bombed the Islamic State jihadist group, which claimed responsibility for the downing of a Russian passenger plane over Egypt this month, and which a U.S.-led coalition that for now includes Canada is also targeting.

But the possible outcomes of the Syrian civil war envisioned by Putin and by opponents of Assad such as Turkey and Canada are fundamentally different. There is no “coherence and cohesiveness,” however much Trudeau might wish it were so.

Trudeau was then asked if he agreed with American President Barack Obama, who after the attack said Turkey has a right to defend its territory, and with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, who said NATO members “stand in solidarity with Turkey.”

“I don’t think we’re entirely clear on everything that’s happened right now, and I certainly don’t think that it’s helpful to start off by me choosing to point fingers at one side or the other,” Trudeau said.

He added Canada “absolutely” supports its NATO partner Turkey. But the damage was done. Here was Trudeau seeming to forget that the “one side or the other” in this dispute includes Canada. When the head of NATO says the alliance stands in solidarity with Turkey, we’ve picked a side. Trudeau doesn’t get to stand above the fray and refuse to point fingers.

There’s a deeper issue at play here, relating to what Trudeau perceives to be Canada’s obligations to its allies.

Following the slaughter of 130 people in Paris this month—an atrocity for which Islamic State claimed responsibility—French President François Hollande said the country is at war. Trudeau responded as if nothing had changed. He had promised to end Canada’s participation in the combat mission against Islamic State before the Paris attacks, and he’s sticking to it.

France is a serious military power and can prosecute its war against Islamic State without Canada’s help (though American support is crucial). Canada is militarily much weaker. We depend on our allies.

Imagine if Ottawa were to suffer a terrorist attack by Islamic State on the scale of the Paris massacre. Imagine that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau were to then address the nation and pledge a “pitiless war” against the group, as did Hollande. What sense of duty, of solidarity, would France feel toward Canada then? How would Canadians feel if France promised only to send more trainers to Iraq?

Related: Dear Mr. Trudeau: About Syria…

Turkey is Canada’s ally, too. The cultural and historical ties are weaker than those with France, and Turkey’s government is drifting dangerously toward autocracy. But the NATO alliance kept the Soviet Union at bay during the Cold War because its members understood they were stronger united. Russia in recent years has once again been probing the alliance for weaknesses—launching cyberattacks here, invading countries that hope one day to join NATO there.

Russian incursions into Turkey’s airspace are part of that strategy. There should be no joy in the death of one of the downed Russians pilots, or of the Russian marine who perished in a brave rescue attempt. But the fact is Russia got what it deserved in Syria. Trudeau should have said as much.


Justin Trudeau’s vacuous stance on Syria

  1. Vacuous….. a proper word to use…. syn. with brainless, idiotic, a vacuum….

  2. Had to google vacuous but it about sums up this situation. I might add Naive as well.

    Anybody who has been listening to ISIS or reading anything about the European situation should have been able to comprehend the risks both economically and from the terrorist stand point of rushing into
    this effort.

    For Canada’s sake I sure hope this is not a trend but have my concerns. The debt will look after itself and several other vacuous statements.
    Have to remember that word as I think it be use a lot in the next 4 years.

  3. This article is pretty vacuous to attempt to claim that Trudeau should have said something as undiplomatic as ‘Russia got what it deserved,’ especially considering no other heads of state anywhere have come even remotely close to uttering such stupidity. Newspapers and journalists can write this opinion stuff, but politicians have to dance around it. That’s just fact. But whatever it takes to kickstart the rabid, still searching for some sort of explanation for a loss they refuse to accept, conservative mob, I guess matters more than realism.

  4. It’s called diplomacy. Your article makes it sound like you want someone like Trump running a country.

    Did Russia deserve what happened? Yes. Do we need to admonish them after the incident? No. We share a border with Russia, and it’s in our best interest to keep relations civil.

    And for the sake of argument – let’s say Canada joins the war on ISIS fully. The grand coalition defeats the terrorists and gains complete control of that lawless region. What then? What is the plan to stop this from happening again? How do we prevent the worst forms of this ideology from sprouting?

    Until we can answer that – I cannot support the mission in the Middle East. Bombing a country with no end game is just going to cause more injuries, death and sow more seeds of discontent in the population against the West.

    • If we share a border with Russia (the Arctic Ocean), Then I guess we also share a border with China, India, UK, France etc. etc. etc.

  5. “Trudeau doesn’t get to stand above the fray and refuse to point fingers.”

    Right. So let’s ignore the fact that we have conflicting accounts of what happened and that, while Putin supports the Assad regime,Turkey supports IS. We need to just stick with ‘our side’.
    I think Petrou might be projecting when he uses the word ‘vacuous’.

    • Sure, the RCAF should be shooting down all those Russian bombers that we have to escort out of Canadian airspace, too! Russia probes our defenses regularly, as NATO does theirs, on a daily basis. Go to war over that? Have at it, boys!

      I am no fan of Russia’s but note that the Russian aircraft was, what a kilometer inside Turkey when it was shot down by a shadowing Turkish F-16, and that after it was hit, it continued on its trajectory OUT of Turkish airspace and crashed 4 km inside Syria. So, apparently, it was already on its way out when it was hit. Reflexive jabbering about the violation of a NATO ally’s virginity seems more like the rhetoric of August 1914 than December 2015.

  6. The more time passes, the more disgusted I am with what has become of our national media.

    There was a time when factual, unbiased articles by esteemed publications like Macleans far outnumbered the opinion pieces.

    Even since that time, it used to be that opinion pieces were written by people with the insight and credentials to give the piece meaning and weight.

    Now apparently, anyone can write an opinion piece, make unsubstantiated arguments, abuse facts and use pretense in place of decent arguments, while getting it published in some of the oldest, best-known publications in the country.

    And you people want to know why your industry is going bankrupt?

    • There is a good maxim that says “you should always know what you don’t know.” In other words if you standing in front of the world media and being asked questions on something you don’t fully understand, you should either have had a briefing first, or you bite your tongue. There are signs that Trudeau’s ego is preventing him from following this maxim, and the results aren’t pretty.

    • ‘unsubstantiated arguments?’

      Read the moronic statements Trudeau made, there’s your substantiation. The man speaks and IQs drop 20 points.

      • One redeeming factor however, is that even if your IQ drops 20 points whenever Trudeau opens his mouth……it will still be 20 IQ points higher than his.

  7. The Cold War? Oh, yes, bringing that up as justification for NATO’s support of Turkey’s obvious support of ISIS, so the general public can be duped into thinking we are always on the “right” side of history. Ooh, look! Big bad Russia! Supporting a democratically elected sovereign state government from the completely benign (and completely contained according to Obama) ISIS! Oh, and that poor Al Nusra front, they don’t get enough love from their granddaddy Al Qaeda, so we’d better support them too! Anyone but Assad! Good Grief, what kind of policy is that?!

    Look how Iraq and Lybia are now that the Western world decided to give them “freedom”. Complete and utter failed states, where the vacuum of no real government leadership has descended them into chaotic, tribal-warfare dominated areas. ISIS emerged stronger because of these interventions.

    Justin is hedging because he knows that it’s not as cut-and-dried as this article (and many others) would have you think. He’s not a dummy, he’s young and less likely to be indoctrinated into believing NATO = Good. What’s the plan after they overthrow Assad? Yeah, we can see how that worked so well in past cases, right? What’s that saying of doing the same thing over again and expecting a different result?

    I can’t believe a supposedly “smart” journalist wrote this pablum. Even worse is that some people will believe it.

  8. Trudeau wasn’t elected for his grasp of complex issues, or for his views on geopolitical situations. he was elected because he was not Stephen harper.

    he has accoplished the goal of not being Stephen Harper. Those who voted for Trudeau, cannot complain that he isn’t doing what he was elected to do.

    No one should expect more that what you are seeing.

    • “he was elected because he was not Stephen harper”

      Well, that and unmuzzling scientists, restoring Court Challenges, repealing parts of c-51, creating a legitimate plan for reducing greenhouse gases, legalizing marijuana, undoing the ‘fair elections act’, repealing provisions to allow the stripping of Canadian citizenship, putting an end to Northern Gateway, restoring CBC funding, scrapping income splitting, providing new infrastructure spending, meeting with the premiers, restoring the Law Commission, scrapping mandatory minimums, getting rid of FPTP, holding a MMAW inquiry…

      But other than that, you pretty much nailed it.

      • Yes, and none of that will affect your life in any way. You were spoon fed every single one of those points by the media and lapped it up without question.

      • Tresus,

        the majority of folks who voted for Justin Trudeau, couldn’t name a single policy or idea you just wrote about. The average voter; frankly, is very ignorant and misinformed about the ideas discussed during election campaigns. In fact, the only reason Trudea is PM today, is because Mulcair did such a GOOD JOB of scaring people about stephen Harper….even NDP supporters voted Liberal.

        In fact, I doubt many of the folks who voted for Trudeau will even realize the impact of what they have done until they look at the tax increases in their next paycheque. (of course, most folks who don’t work, or never will work, vote NDP or Liberal no matter what)

        • This has been another episode of, Jameshalifax Shares His Imaginary World.
          Tune in next time when jameshalifax will tell us about the ‘little friend’ that lives under his dresser, or how he uses his mind-reading power to fight crime.

          • Wait for it.

            but of course, as you are a net “receiver” of taxes, you may not feel the full impacts.

  9. “Russia, under President Vladimir Putin, has gone to war on behalf of the mass-murderer Assad.”

    As a Canadian living in the US, I know why I stopped reading Canadian rags altogether. The destruction of Syria (like Libya and Iraq before it ) has been a orchestrated event by the United States it’s Sunni allies in the middle east. By arming Syria rebels to the teeth they have created monsters like ISIS. Russia an Iran are trying to bring balance back to this insanity by supporting the legitimate government of Syria. Ultimately, a diplomatic solution to this conflict is the only way forward for all parties involved; essentially what Trudeau is saying as well.

    • Assad was raping, torturing and slaughtering before well before IS showed up, and he’s still outclassing them.

  10. I am horrified by the general smarminess of Macleans’ coverage of our new government.
    To suggest that PM Trudeau is wrong to pull out the measly (but expensive) fighter support in Syria and to concentrate on other methods of aid is ridiculous. He said he would do it; people voted for that platform. We have had enough of a government that reneged on premises.
    And now, to call a diplomatic answer ‘vacuous’, is disgusting. We do not need a pit bull for a PM.I would cancel my subscription- except that I was given it as a gift,
    I shall ask Santa for something else in the future.

    • Simply because Trudeau is still proposing to do what he campaigned on does not mean that his foreign policy is above criticism. Trudeau’s answers lacked any substance and I appreciate Petrou calling him out on it. There are plenty of articles extolling the virtues of Trudeau’s hair and dreamy eyes, so if negative feedback is so upsetting to you, just stick to those.

  11. Well, get used to it, there are going to be a lot more ‘vacuous’ stances on thing because the man’s head is a vacuum. I call him The Vacant One. Glad someone at Macleans is catching on. It’s just too bad the entire media industry in this country worked so hard to get him elected as PM.

  12. This is such a puff piece. An almost perfect example of armchair generalship. I think we can safely assume that the PM is briefed by his diplomats, military and other experts before he sits down to talk to anyone.
    I am astonished that so many otherwise intelligent writers seem to think that any PM operates in a vacuum. We have something called a cabinet and a senior civil and diplomatic service. They have a role to advise and inform. Just because Mr harper never listened to experts, please do not assume that Mr Trudeau is following the same path.

    • ArcticAlison wrote:

      “I am astonished that so many otherwise intelligent writers seem to think that any PM operates in a vacuum. We have something called a cabinet and a senior civil and diplomatic service. They have a role to advise and inform. Just because Mr harper never listened to experts, please do not assume that Mr Trudeau is following the same path.”

      Alison, the part you are missing is this; Trudeau does not do his thinking…he has others’ (namely gerald Butts) do his thinking for him. No one (not even those who voted for him) thinks justin trudeau has the brains to be PM, but he does have the name, the hair, and the fan club known as Canadian Media. That being said, he is the PM, and he did get a majority. no one can complain about what he does, as he was elected on the mandate he espouse. No sour grapes allowed.

      Harper didn’t need the cabinet, and he certainly didn’t need the civil and diplomatic service. he was smarter than the bunch of them combined…..and they know it. And that is why they resented it. mr Harper never listened to experts….because for most subjects, he WAS the expert.

      • “mr Harper never listened to experts….because for most subjects, he WAS the expert.”


        • Tresus,

          If there ever came a time you could scrap together $10,000 to invest, who would you rather have manage your funds? Harper, or Trudeau?

          Your response will dictate your credibility.

  13. “Trudeau doesn’t get to stand above the fray and refuse to point fingers.”

    Well, actually, he does; nobody is required to point fingers.

    Turkey downing the jet is payback for the jet Syria shot down on June 22nd, 2012, for straying across a tiny little tongue of Syria on the coast. Russia has been quite loose about the border; when one is flying a jet at about mach one that’s not surprising. Russia is supporting the regime that shot down the Turkish jet. If they didn’t want to take that risk, they shouldn’t have been so close.

    Letting things cool by not making further inflammatory remarks is the smart thing to do. Talk is cheap; war is not.

    The person-formerly-known-as-PM was pretty good at driving the dialogue and getting people to respond. That was his control tactic, and after a decade you may think that’s normal behaviour, but it is not.

    I’ll stick with diplomacy, thank you. It’s an opportunity to be a good listener and find ways to bring about change that doesn’t come down to a street brawl. Cheers.

  14. Because the war on terror has worked so well to this point. You’re right. We should keep bombing strangers instead of learning how to get along.

    • BENBENBEN wrote:
      “Because the war on terror has worked so well to this point. You’re right. We should keep bombing strangers instead of learning how to get along.”

      you’re right Ben. We should just all “get along” You go first. Here’s what you have to do.

      Start beating your wife (assuming you don’t already) if she doesn’t do as you order her to do. Kill your daughter if she ever gets raped. Submit to the will of Islam, and give up your ability to reason; and instead live by a book written in 700AD by a pedophile and murderer. Sounds like a real party !!

      yeah……who couldn’t “get along” with folks who think like that.

  15. One of the meanings of “vacuous” is : “a. Lacking intelligence; stupid or empty-headed” according to the Free Dictionary by Farlex. I doubt the Oxford definition is much different.

    Of course, Michael Petrou’s opinion has nothing “vacuous” about it at all. He understands every detail about what is going on in Syria. He probably even knows the name of each ISIS member and their position on the ground. The only thing he did not understand is what Justin was trying to say. His right bias fogged his brain. Poor man.

    • Jean,

      Instead of pointing out Mr. Petrou’s “error” you should recognize your own.

      Even Justin doesn’t know what he is trying to say. I think that is Michael’s point.

  16. Riddle me this Michael. Is every member of NATO bombing Syria and/or providing training? I assume you looked up vacuous, you might want to check out “silly” before you attempt another opinion piece.

  17. It’s called Diplomacy, something our last PM didn’t have. Imagine harper supposedly standing up to Putin, by telling him to get out of Ukraine?? It’s still unconfirmed whether harper actually said it or not, but if you share a northern border with Russia and you don’t even come close to the NATO commitment of 2% of GDP on military spending…use diplomacy.

  18. sounds like someone is still pissed off that the liberals won the election. Mt Petrou should take a modern course in foreign diplomacy before writing such inflammatory articles.

  19. It about what I would expect for a Brainless PM who’s biggest claim to fame is that is was a substitute teacher. Reminds me of the old Saying

    Those that can do
    Those that can’t teach
    Those that can’t teach, teach teachers,
    and those who can’t teach teachers, become politicians.

  20. The degree of “vacuous” has been evident for YEARS. You can’t fix it. No matter how much the media fawns over his every dance step, he’s simply vacuous, BUT he’s a Trudeau and has learned glad-handing all of his life.

    That’s about all he’s got to offer a nation with serious challenges. And to make things worse, he will give his boss Obama all the adulation which Obama demands and expects in Paris.

    • Old man wasn’t much of a glad-hander, as I recall. More of a bird flipper. Lots of his disciples still kicking around and happy to assume the role of father figure for PM youngling.

  21. Yes! Thank-you Maclean’s. Trudeau’s answers consistently frustrate me with the lack of content. His answers appear intellectually on par to that of a contestant in a beauty pageant.

    • Justin Trudeau may be an air-head in comparison to Harper and Mulcair, but he does have the Liberal Party backing him. The goal of the Liberal party has always been “to be in power” not because of what they wanted for the country, but for what they wanted for themselves. Being in power just allows them to get what they truly crave. Control.

      The Liberal party is in the process of getting perpetual control of Canada, and it will be pretty easy for them to do for the foreseeable future. here’s how it will be done.

      1. Get the native vote forever.
      a.) Inquiry on missing and indiginous women…….and the resulting billions to them in “compensation” Oh..and we’ll give them a bigger cut of resources, or whatever else the Liberals think it will take to get their votes. (hint: It will come from OUR pockets)
      2. Get the immigrant vote back; particularly the Muslim vote. Canada’s relationship with Israel will start to decline soon.
      3. Keep quebec: Wait for the carbon taxes, and the additional funding for Quebec through transfers to the provinces.
      4. Maritimes – try to keep it, but this will simply be providing the contracts for ships (worked last time) or simly shovel more money to them, or change EI back to the 10 week work year. Atlantic votes are cheap and easy to buy. (trust me, I’m from there…….I see it all the time)

      The Only way the Conservatives will get back into power, is when enough soft Liberals get tired of seeing how corrupt their party is; but given the history of the Liberal Party….that will take some doing as Liberal supporters can put up with a lot of theft and corruption.

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