Trudeau upstaged by his top soldier on ISIS fight messaging

On fighting Islamic State, Trudeau’s message is muddled

The Prime Minister’s top soldier upstaged him in justifying Canada’s transition plan, writes John Geddes

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion delivers a statement as he is joined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right to left, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Minister of Foreign Affairs Stephane Dion delivers a statement as he is joined by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, right to left, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau and Minister of National Defence Harjit Sajjan during a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. (Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

It’s not often that Justin Trudeau is upstaged when it comes to conveying a message, but the Prime Minister was clearly not the most compelling communicator today for his government’s new position on the fight against the so-called Islamic State.

Trudeau showed up at the National Press Theatre, just off Parliament Hill, to explain why he is pulling out the six Canadian fighter jets that have been bombing the terrorist group, also known as ISIS or ISIL, in favour of stepping up Canadian training of the Kurdish forces opposing them in northern Iraq, along with boosting other military, humanitarian and diplomatic efforts.

The obvious question was the same one that’s been dogging Trudeau for months: Even if investing more in training and other aid makes sense, why is it necessary to, at the same time, bring home those CF-18s that have, by all accounts, been doing their part in the U.S.-led coalition’s essential air strikes against ISIS?

Trudeau began his answer, as he so often does, by talking about what he’s hearing from ordinary folks. “The conversations I’ve had with Canadians, not just over the past months, but indeed over the past years, reinforces that Canadians do feel it’s extremely important to remain active members of the coalition fighting ISIL in whatever ways we best can,” he said.

That sounded as if Canadians might have told him they’d just as soon the CF-18s stayed in the fight. But Trudeau went on: “And there’s no question, as I said, that there is a role for bombing, particularly in the short term. But Canada has many advantages, including hard-earned abilities on training local troops that we gained through 10 years in Afghanistan and in other theatres, where we can actually offer the best help in a different way.”

That wasn’t all he had to say on the subject, but it didn’t get any clearer. He seemed to be saying—not that Canadians are against bombing, not that bombing isn’t necessary—but that air war isn’t Canada’s strong suit. Which seems odd, since today he also announced that he is leaving Canada’s refuelling and surveillance aircraft in service with the coalition, while actually stepping up Canada’s expert help in identifying precisely the right Islamic State targets for other coalition members to bomb.

Related: Canada’s role in Syria’s crowded skies

After Trudeau and the three cabinet ministers he brought along for support finished up, Chief of the Defence Staff Jonathan Vance took over the National Press Theatre. Not surprisingly, the general didn’t allude to public opinion. Instead, he framed the decision to pull out the CF-18s and ramp up training in terms of what’s actually going on in Iraq and Syria.

“I’d like to put you all in the coalition context,” Vance said. “There is sufficient air power available to the coalition, from those who are contributing air power, for the coalition to achieve the objectives it needs to achieve with air strikes.”

Jonathan Vance. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

Jonathan Vance. (Adrian Wyld/CP)

He explained that when Canada first sent its CF-18s on the mission, back in late 2014, the fear was that Islamic State forces might take Baghdad itself. He expressed pride in how the CF-18s helped stop the terrorist group’s advance on Iraq’s capital and put it on the defensive.

But now, Vance said, the core objective is changing. “We’re going to take this point in time in the campaign, where it’s essential to really put additional effort, intensify the effort, on ground operations against ISIL. And this is precisely what we’re doing.”

He went so far as the call the transition a “wise, useful move,” although he cautioned that tripling the number of Canadian troops helping train, advise and assist the Kurdish forces brings serious risks. “You put more people on the ground in a dangerous place, and it is riskier overall,” he declared.

Vance didn’t really explain why pulling the CF-18s is necessary, but at least he made a plainly worded case for now as a suitable time for a bigger emphasis on the ground war. It wasn’t about Canada’s supposed strengths and weaknesses, but about the nature of the conflict. His repeated warnings about the dangers Canadian trainers helping Kurdish fighters near the front lines will face came off as candid.

Minutes before, in the same room, Trudeau had sounded unwilling to directly address the basic questions. Since about the midway point of last year’s election campaign, press and public alike have often marvelled at his ability to communicate. He should be thankful today, though, that his top general was able to turn a convoluted message into something a little closer to convincing.


On fighting Islamic State, Trudeau’s message is muddled

  1. None of them gave a rational reason for withdrawing the CF 18s.

    Why not?

    Because one does not exist.

    • I’d suggest you scroll up on this page and read what general Vance said: “There is sufficient air power available to the coalition, from those who are contributing air power, for the coalition to achieve the objectives it needs to achieve with air strikes.”

      The general went on saying: “We’re going to take this point in time in the campaign, where it’s essential to really put additional effort, intensify the effort, on ground operations against ISIL. And this is precisely what we’re doing.”

      This might not be a rational reason for you, but it’s good enough for me.

      • The Saudis and UAE pulled their far more substantial and experienced air forces out of Iraq to use them in Yemen.

        What makes us think that our half squadron will make any less difference?

        • wow, can you image a PM allowing the Minister responsible for the file to outshine him !

          • I don’t think ‘allow’ is the right word. I don’t if he would think it a good thing to be outshined. From what this article is actually saying he was outshined. Period.

      • If you scroll up a bit farther the writer of the article suggests that he was helping Trudeau look good and of course he should. Even if he disagrees he has to make the PM look good. Foolish not to.

      • Yes Defence Staff Jon Vance has stated putting troops near the front line will put them in possible danger. The question is how many troops are they sending over? In any operation like this there could be many casulties while those is the air are in less danger. Not a good reponse from Trudeau.

        • I believe Mr. Gardner has hit the nail right on the head – it is a no brainer that the more troops we put as instructors – trainers etc. the more of our forces we are putting in harms way.
          These men an women will certainly be engaging the enemy and some will give all.
          We need to be there – we need to show the world that Canada is not going to sit back and let regimes such as exist in these states to succeed – the governments since the end of the Korean war have let our military deteriorate to the point that we are often the butt of jokes and ridicule – the men and women that helped make this country safe – along with it’s allies was a force to be reckoned with – the Devil’s Brigade – you all are familiar with them is a fine example of what our neighbour’s to the South and we can do when we take all the politicians out of the equations and do what’s right to defend our borders.
          It is not if – but – when – we are assaulted on our own soil and like the Towers’ the reports from our government will go something like “didn’t see that coming”
          Leave the planes – add to the training mission – align our special forces with all the allies special forces and do our part to stop this slaughter.
          The only good thing about Mr. Trudeau and his actions is that he has the Canadian people talking about it.
          I would truly like to hear what Mr. Vance and Mr. Sajjan really think. They have been there.
          They are soldiers – they are our gate keepers – the rest of the panel is somewhat of an embarassement

      • It is good enough for you because your pick for PM gets to technically keep an election promise to bring Canada’s fighter jets home. Doesn’t bother you in the least that the real promise he made was to remove Canada from a combat role in the region to a role of humanitarian aid and peace keeping when in fact he is adding more Canadian soldiers to the front line and will be helping other countries in their bombing efforts? Are you one of those people who actually believe that a Canadian soldier doing training at the frontline won’t be getting shot and won’t be shooting back? Are you one of those people who believe that Canadian soldiers on the frontline aren’t in more danger than pilots in the sky? Trudeau hasn’t pulled Canada out of the war. He has immersed us in further and you are okay with that. Air support is protect troops on the ground. Canadian troops have been shot at in the past (and killed) by American air support so frankly I myself would prefer Canadian out there looking after Canadian troops but I guess you are okay that communication between different countries sometimes gets messed up. The one soldier who has died so far in this war from Canada was killed by a Kurdish soldier in friendly fire, not by Canadian air support.

      • Olive Oribu wrote:
        “The general went on saying: “We’re going to take this point in time in the campaign, where it’s essential to really put additional effort, intensify the effort, on ground operations against ISIL. And this is precisely what we’re doing.”

        “This might not be a rational reason for you, but it’s good enough for me.”

        cool Olive….I’m assuming this is the same mindset that would have allowed Canada to sit out the Second world war…….because other guys were doing most of the fighting.

        You’re an idiot.

    • Yes there is.
      We don’t have a clue how many men, women, and children our bombs are killing, and whose side they are on.

      • Did you read the article. Trudeau left the refuelling plane and the technical support that allows us to assist them in picking out the areas to bomb. We in Canada will still be complicit in bombing so if civilians die in bombing, we are in it up to our necks. It doesn’t matter if you pull the trigger, if help plan the attack.

      • J.W.

        what you can be sure of, is that Canadian bombs are killing fewer innocent people than ISIS.

      • Gee Bob, head over to Paul Wells article. According to him and your other partisan Lib friends, Harper’s mistake was that he did too little and your friend Trudeau is fixing it by doing more so Canadians have nothing to complain about. In fact Wells was lauding the great job Mulroney did in sending 4 times as many CF-18 fighter jets in another middle east war.
        This is the problem with partisan politics. You yourself recall that the complaint was that Harper dared to get Canada at all. The rest of your party only wants to cheer Justin on for technically keeping his promise to bring home the jets and forget that technically he is sending a lot more soldiers to the front line and pretending it isn’t a combat role when in fact they will be shot at and will shoot back. He is leaving planes to refuel and technology to assist in bombing so he is up to his eyeballs in the same wargames your hated Cons were.

    • I agree with Henry, in fact nothing exists, we’re in the Matrix and aren’t even real. Thanks Henry !

    • Air strikes cost money and resources. We prefer to contribute with training support (not to mention in other ways, such as by taking in refugees). Our withdrawal will make a relatively small difference to the overall number of air strikes and sufficient capacity remains in the coalitoin. QED.

      • Why would Canada need CF-18’s when they could fly over selected targets blasting Gord Downey singing a cappella and wipe out entire enclaves of bad guys. Four notes would do it.

    • If anyone actually believes Justin Trudeau gave ANY THOUGHT whatsoever to anything beyond the next photo-op, or selfie….they are deluding themselves.

      Have you not figured it out yet? Justin Trudeau is not the BRAINS behind the liberal party, he is simply the pretty face with the famous last name. the man has nothing in his background that would even HINT at any competence for the seat he now fills.

      During the election, he just said what he was told to say. When he went off script, the idiot showed, and he was taken to the backroom for additionial training. It is Gerals Butts and some other senior liberals from the party who do the thinking….Justin just does the talking.

      As for the CF-18’s, and why we are pullin out; the answer is as simple as justin himself. The Liberal backroom has been doing whatever they can to steal NDP voters. Pulling the CF 18’s out appeals to pacifist NDP’ers, and gets their votes. That is the ONLY REASON FOR DOING SO……..

      The liberals are just keeping a campaign promise; at least one they can keep. Then won’t keep their deficit promises, or some others’..but hey, one step at a time.

      But again….whatever happens, it won’t be my fault. I knew Trudeau was an idiot….and I didn’t vote for him. Now, when a Canadian gets killed… can be sure that the Liberal braintrust will blame the previous government for it….with the full buy in of the Canadian media.

    • Why would Canada need CF-18’s when they could fly over selected targets blasting Gord Downey singing a cappella and wipe out entire enclaves of bad guys. Four notes would do it.

  2. Of course the message is muddled, they are muddled.

  3. Half in or half out? There are no Canadians with any sense who would vote to replay Afghanistan and the Taliban in Iraq with ISIS. The valuable lesson our military learned is that there are some places we just don’t belong and can’t win. Northern Iraq and eastern Syria are two more.

    • Our air contribution was miniscule, our jets old and dilapidated.
      Ambrose sounds like if she was in charge she would launch a full scale ground invasion; she’s really sounding like a war mongerer, a real hawk.
      Nobody asks her, where would you take it? Her language doesn’t signal that the 6 jets would be in any way enough. This is one of the greatest evils in the history of the world.
      Noticed after quick check, BBC, and US news don’t seem to think Canada’s little adjustment to it’s war effort will jeopardize the coalition’s efforts. Hey! They didn’t even notice it.

      • The great thing about Ambrose is that I can actually understand her when she speaks. Not all full of mumbo jumbo and “ah” with every second breath like our blithering Prime Minister. She said that all efforts to take on ISIS were important to her. Her point was that Canada should be making the additions Trudeau is advancing but also keep our six aircraft involved. Vance tried to help bale Trudeau out by saying that there were enough bombers without ours but that’s hard to buy since they are going 24/7. And if he had explained this to Trudeau in advance, it is very disturbing that Trudeau either didn’t remember what he had been told or he didn’t understand it. Just 4 more years to go!!

        • But she didn’t fill us in on civilian casualties to date caused by coalition bombing, so I cannot weigh all the factors that would allow me to come to her conclusion (or not).

          • Colleen,

            You are not looking for actual numbers of civilian casualites to help you come to a conclusion, or make an informed decision. You are just looking for a reason or justification that would allow you to say you want to pull the planes out, or agree with the Liberal decision.

            Here’s a hint Colleen….you don’t allow the risk of civilian casualties prevent you from completing the mission. Civilians will die. Dirty job, and sometimes dirty results, but you don’t let that stop you from doing it. Try to reduce or minimize if you can, but it doesn’t stop you from pulling the trigger.

            They don’t say war is hell for no reason.

      • Yes our jets are warn out. As Canadians we are all aware of that. We also are aware of the years of rhetoric and carrying on about any steps taken to replace them. These six jets are obviously in good working condition, thanks to the hard work and dedication of the Canadian air force ground crew. It isn’t as though this jets aren’t always flying. The pilots have to maintain their skills and log in a certain number of flying hours. If you ever visit one of the bases were the CF-18’s are kept you would know that. Yes the coalition can do with out them. It means 6 other pilots have to pick up the slack. It means another countries ground crew has to put in more hours and more months away from home. The real question is why? So JT can technically keep a campaign promise to bring the jets home but if he is claiming Canada is out of the combat role, he is lying. Soldiers doing training on the frontline will shoot back if shot at and we will be using our technology to help with the bombing as well as refueling during sorties. To suggest that isn’t combat duty is getting caught up in semantics.

  4. Muddled indeed. Everyone else involved is so clear,concise and consistent. Carry on.

    • “everyone else was so consistent…” Wait a minute! Wasn’t a vote for Justin Trudeau a vote for change! Was a vote for Justin Trudeau a vote for the same as what we got with “everyone carry on.” Are we pulling the fighter jets because we are worried about civilians in the middle east but we don’t give a dam about Canadian soldiers on the ground? Is that the platform Trudeau ran on? Or are we now Paul Wells pretending that Trudeau is suddenly a hawk and Harper was a wimp. Are we really buying Justin’s story that Canadians aren’t involved in the bombings when we are refuelling jets in midair and providing technical support regarding targets. That is pretty sleazy and if we are expecting anyone to believe it, we are really underestimating their intelligence. As Andrew Coyne said, we are just asking someone else to do the actual bombing for us…bombers for hire, instead of pulling the trigger ourselves. Gosh, we Canadians are mannerly, kind people.

  5. Why (other than there are only so many schools and hospitals to go round)? No one has ever won without forces on the ground and no one in the entire coalition has the stomach for putting large numbers of forces on the ground, getting mired in domestic disputes and failing to eradicate dissidents or even mollify local allies. If Libya is anything to go by, then a primarily aerial attack leads to a still more unsatisfactory result. The best solution at the moment seems to be to develop sufficient domestic forces to establish and hold the peace, something that will take at least decades of dedicated effort. Someone has to put their back into developing domestic capability and Canada, it seems, is better than most in that role. Another reason to consider is that Canada, under the pugilistic stance that the CPC promoted, has lost a good deal of it’s know-how, cpability and credibility as a peace keeper; consequently, rejigging our efforts into a different path is critical if we’re ever to reclaim peace keeper status. ‘Blessed are the peace makers’?

    • I see. Training and developing domestic forces will do the trick. The U.S. spent billions doing this in Iraq. However, when ISIS arrived, those local forces fled and left ISIS with all of the arms the U.S. had supplied those local forces. So that was a big success. There is not one country today that is better off after “their Arab spring” than they were before. Those countries can only be held together by an iron fisted dictator as has been shown in Libya and Iraq and will be shown in Syria. Based on the outcomes in Libya and Iraq, the smart thing to have done was to help al-Assad defend his regime against the rebels trying to overthrow it. Had this happened, there would be no Syrian refugee crisis and no ISIS. Now the only real solution is a massive bombing and ground effort followed by an ongoing peace keeping mission in the country while the factions left after al-Assad will be at war for the next 50+ years sorting out who is going to run the country.

  6. Yes, we are going to see some very brave Canadian soldiers die. Thanks JT. Well done…

    • I think they are aware of the risks, more than you or I. People like Sajjan and the people we have their now are trained and know what they’re getting in to, and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

      • Gee Bob, it is bad enough that we are getting our allies to drop the bombs for us so we don’t look like we are out for “revenge’ and want to pretend we aren’t part of any civilian deaths. Now you are saying we don’t care about the well being of our troops on the ground because they signed up and knew of the risks.

    • Did you lose count in Afganistan?

  7. Its interesting that the authour Geddes finds it unusual that a minister would have more details than the PM on a file. That’s exactly the way it used to be, and was meant to work, in a parliamentary democracy.

    Harper did a real number on our political psyche – one man at the top with all the answers, and quick ones too in black and white. And now we’re all supposed to be taken aback when – gasp – a PM relies on the expertise of an experienced senior minister to explain a file.

    I think we all have had enough of the ‘party of one’ approach. This new plan is sensible and approved of by our allies. Anything else is spin.

    • “… a PM relies on the expertise of an experienced senior minister to explain a file”
      FYI: Jonathan Vance, the one John Geddes credits with clarifying PM Trudeau’s muddled position, is not a “senior minister”, nor a rookie minister. He is the Chief of the Defence Staff. The Minister of National Defence is Harjit Sajjan.

      • Why people are confused by Trudeau is that he is trying to make this into a honorable undertaking that doesn’t involve combat and loss of life which is inaccurate. He made an election promise to bring the fighter jets home. That promise inherently meant withdrawal from the war which he mocked Harper about during the whole election. Had the attack on Paris not occurred, he could have pulled out but it did. Then the 8 Canadians were killed by another terrorist attack.
        His speech was difficult to understand because he is trying to pretend as though Canada is withdrawing but we are not and his Chief of Defence had to give the straight goods that the soldiers will be in more danger now than if we had fewer trainers and left the air support. He also had to admit that we will still be aiding in the bombing. We are not doing anything that honorable. How will we get aid into towns in Syria where people are starving to death if we can’t get past the army that is keeping the aid workers from other countries out? It sounds good but it isn’t realistic. The people in the camps are being fed and clothed. They are not the ones in need of immediate assistance. They are not the ones giving their children drugs to take away the pain of starvation.

        • Maclean’s article on the appointment of Harjit Sajjan, written also by the author as the present article, depicted (with great clarity and humanity) the clarity and humanity of Trudeau’s vision. It should be granted that the muddling of the debate (i.e. combat vs. peace-keeping, Iran vs. Israel, etc.) was ever present pre-election. Perhaps a little optimism (re: politics) may help everyone avoid the muddle — to start, those sunglasses from Sajjan may help.

          • *of (not as)

    • Dion’s a straight-shooter. Trudeau has communicated elegantly a thoughtful plan. And Sajjan’s presence signals support to both those claims.

      There’s a lack of reception for the concept that the Canadian military is poised to build itself up on a certain type of personnel, rather than acquiring more and more combat hardware (e.g. CF-18’s), although on that front, they’ve also said that they are saying that they are making acquisitions for hardware that the military is still in need of.

      Peter Mansbridge asked him straight up if he had anything inherently against combat itself. Please continue asking the RIGHT questions, and help all of us out of the muddle that has befallen us from the vestiges of the history of partisan play on the combat vs. peace-keeping debate, the taking sides debate (Iran vs. Israel) — someone else can make a more exhaustive list.

      Vance’s explanation has to do with the immediate application of Canada’s strategy. Trudeau, as PM, has rightly explained Canada’s overarching strategy in defence development.

      • Dion’s a straight shooter? Goodness sakes….don’t you know they are going ahead with selling military equipment to the Saudi’s and Dion is leading the way? If you have no problem with that then how come you had such an issue with Harper?

        • Yes, Dion’s a straight shooter — as the minister for Foreign Affairs, he is doing his job of leading the way, in other words, from present to future. The weasel in your questions is the same one that was also in that question from that unfortunate interview from CTV:

          “You’ve said that today that Mr Harper has offered nothing to put Canadians’ mind at ease and offers no vision for the country. We have to act now, you say, doing nothing is not an option. If you were Prime Minister now, what would you have done about the economy and this crisis that Mr. Harper has not done?”

          Dion, as a responsible government minister, has rightly focused on what is to be done with what we have got, rather than conjuring wishful “un-doing”. Even the “undo” function in a word processor does not have time travel capability.

          • SWSC wrote:
            “Yes, Dion’s a straight shooter — as the minister for Foreign Affairs”

            SWSC….in case this is the first time you have ever heard of Dion…here’s a hint. Every time he acts as the “straight shooter”….he has shot himself in the foot.

            the man is an incoherent duffus in both official languages. his only claim any any real accomplishment, is the “Clarity Act” and as anyone who knows the history of the legislation can tell you…..the Clarity Act was actually written by Stephen Harper and stolen by Chretien after the 1995 referendum.

            You’re welcome.

          • Clarification re:JAMESHALIFAX re:”the man is an incoherent duffus”:

            Dion is a straight shooter — even he has conceded that he is not as brilliant a political strategist as some laud him to be. His role as government minister throughout the years have shown that his leadership in those capacities has been about more than just him.

            The Clarity Act was about the country — let’s not make it about the (intellectual) charisma of either Dion or Harper.

  8. Media reaction to announcement.
    Looking down the left side of National Newswatch.
    One after another. Biased, overly harsh, unforgiving, twisted, anti Trudeau columns.
    Ten years of PMO controlled government. Vicious attacks and punishment for all opponents. Endless propaganda in all media forms.
    Sadly the Ottawa media, and some have only ever experienced this style, can’t adapt. Trudeau upstaged?
    Vacuous unthinking, knee jerk, war monger Ambrose, a pass.
    Repeat. We really don’t know who the bombs are killing. Help the Kurds directly? Great plan. Makes sense.

    • Yes, the media has just loved Harper. If you feel the media is so against Justin, head over to Paul Well’s column and you will feel the love there.

  9. All the Liberal policies are muddled. They are sort of for the pipelines but sort of against. They are not in favour of automatically bailing out companies like Bombardier, but are sort of going to do it anyway. The are sort of in favour of limiting deficits to $10 billion, but sort of okay with them going higher too. They are sort of against the TPP but sort of signed it. They are against selling arms to Saudi, but they will sort of do it anyway.

    The confusion over ISIL fits right in.

    • Muddled?
      Shameful you withdrew our jets from the combat mission.
      Shameful you are putting our troops at far greater danger on the ground with the Kurds.

      • Shameful when you try to sell your take on war as humanitarian aid, peacekeeping and cast others who don’t do as you do as being out for “revenge.”

        • Gage,

          I think it is pretty clear that J.W. is just a pacifist. He looks like one of those folks who would only lift a finger to protect his own ass; if his wife or kids needed help, he’d just call the cops and wait for them to show up and do his job for him.

          he is not worth responding too.

  10. According to Putin, the Kurds who are against Assad are, therefore, terrorists … and will be bombed.

    Canada will send ‘trainers’ to help the Kurds, therefore they will be within the Russian;s firing line. Question; Will Canada equip the ‘trainers’ with ground-to-air missiles?

    Also, perhaps, someone should remind Putin that there are ‘terrorists’ fighting in eastern Ukraine supported by him.

  11. To what may PM Trudeau’s policy on fighting ISIS best be compared? Coitus interruptus!

    • Actually,

      I think the folks from ISIS are the ONLY people trudeau hasn’t taken a selfie with. Of course, when he was doing his Ontario “mosque tour” he no doubt posed for some ISIS fans….but hey, a vote is a vote is a vote.

  12. Times change but Conservative talking points never do nor do Conservative attitudes: Rona Ambrose still talks like she knows more than the top military minds in Canada and Nato; the belief that wars can be won by bombing hospitals and schools out of existence is astoundingly obtuse. Recent history in Libya should be sufficient proof that so-called surgical bombing even with overwhelming air power at best just rearranges the chess pieces in an armed conflict on the ground. The destruction of 55+ hospitals in Syria, though a powerful demonstration of the destructive potential of aerial attack, has minimal strategic value but enormous potential to create enmity. As we see, even all of the players with air operations over Syria cannot agree on who or what to attack nor can they agree on which ground forces to support or which outside ground forces should be added to the mix. The only agreed upon fact is that the Peshmerga are effective and likely to best all comers so, the sentiment goes, we can’t go wrong by backing a winner – regardless of the fact that their territorial ambitions span into several adjoining countries.

  13. A ‘muddled’ message is actually pretty good considering that this is a conflict with no stated outcome and clearly a divide in goals between various interested parties. Originally, this was plumped as a simple conflict between the putatively corrupt Syrian government and it’s opposition – a simple exercise in targeting. Then the opposition as well as Syrian government allies turned out to be a disparate collection of parties including one particular opposition group ISIS which suddenly became the enemy leaving the Syrian regime in some sort of limbo and the Peshmerga who proved to be reliable opposition to both sides and therefore desirable even though their political agenda spills over into adjacent states and has aspirations to establish an independent state not unlike ISIL. After NATO and some Arab ‘friends’ entered the fray and then Russia all with different objectives, then nearby directly affected states became involved and now some Arab states want to put forces on the ground what possible mutually agreeable solution can even be imagined? It seems that the defeat of ISIL is the only clear top level objective in vogue but there is no definition of what that means; since there is no current military action in Africa or even outside Syria and some fringes, it could only mean a partial conquest of ISIL; any objective beyond that is unknown but certainly more complex than the original with many opposing groups in Syria having emerged over time,