Justin Trudeau's ISIS policy gets an assist from Obama—and Harper

Trudeau’s ISIS policy gets an assist from Obama—and Harper

A Trudeau retreat would be easier to spot if Harper had done more in the first place

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau makes his way to a press conference at the National Press Theatre in Ottawa on Monday, Feb. 8, 2016. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

To say Justin Trudeau dodged a bullet when the Obama administration said nice things about his new ISIS/Syria/Iraq policy is to understate things.

The Prime Minister didn’t just escape harm inflicted by a jilted ally (though he still must remain nervous about domestic Canadian political reaction, which naturally will parse these things differently from the way any foreign power does). He received a positive boost from a choreographed succession of American political figures. It was objectively harder for the Conservative Opposition to criticize Trudeau at the end of the day than it had been at the beginning.

First up was Peter Cook, the Pentagon spokesman and stand-in for Defence Secretary Ashton Carter, who has been portrayed as the bad cop to Secretary of State John Kerry’s Trudeau-hugging good-cop softie on the Canada file. What’s significant is that Cook didn’t just shrug and accept Trudeau’s training-and-relief-but-no-fighters stance, he flagged it as a model for other U.S. allies to emulate. “The Canadian announcement is the kind of response the secretary’s been looking for from coalition members,” Cook said at the daily Pentagon briefing, “as the United States and coalition partners push to accelerate the campaign against ISIL.”

After that, remarks from U.S. ambassador Bruce Heyman (“I was pleased“) and, in a paraphrased readout of a phone conversation with Trudeau, from Obama himself (“The President welcomed Canada’s current and new contributions“) were gravy.

How are such things possible?

One possible interpretation, which I suspect you will find represented in the comment section below this post soon enough, is that the Obama crowd are so thoroughly unable to find their own hindquarters with a map and a flashlight that they don’t even know when they have been hung out to dry by quislings. But I’ve since been struck by another possibility: that the Harper government’s contribution to the fight against the Islamic State was so slight it is hard to find anyone who’ll mourn its passing.

This interpretation is seriously off-brand for the Conservatives, and I don’t imagine it’ll find many takers, but I’m stuck with the facts. Canada’s six fighters performed fewer than three per cent of all coalition strikes against so-called Islamic State targets. Last September they struck 10 times. In a month.

Compare that with the effort the notorious Ritz Bar dilettante Brian Mulroney mustered a generation earlier when Saddam Hussein had invaded Kuwait: 24 CF-18 fighters and a force of nearly 2,000 soldiers, stationed in the Gulf theatre on two destroyers and a supply ship, in a naval HQ in Bahrain and an impromptu airbase in Qatar.

That’s pretty robust. It was such serious business that the Liberal caucus of then-rookie leader Jean Chrétien was seriously divided over whether it should stay when fighting broke out. Chrétien reversed himself entirely, first calling for the deployment to be cancelled, then voting — with most but not all of his caucus — to let it stay and fight. There was certainly no room for Chrétien to do the kind of this-but-not-that hairsplitting Trudeau indulged on Monday by tripling training while recalling jet fighters, because Mulroney’s was an all-hands-on-deck effort that could not be realistically exceeded in any of its particulars.

And Iraq ’91 in no way represented the existential peril to Canada that Stephen Harper believed Islamic terrorism might pose today. In an interview with Maclean’s soon after the 2011 election — one I have quoted many times because I believe it offers important insight into Harper’s thinking — he compared the fight against terrorism to the 20th-century fights against Hitler and Stalin, “those big conflicts where everything’s at stake and where you take a side and show you can contribute to the right side.”

So one question that could have been asked to Harper at the time was: If everything’s at stake, what the hell are you doing sending only six fighters?

The result is before us today. “Your CF-18s, we don’t need them,” a diplomat from a European country with serious skin in the anti-ISIS game told several reporters at a private lunch recently. “We don’t need them.” The Harper training effort was so rudimentary it is possible for Trudeau to triple it. The troop commitment was so modest it is possible to exceed it. The bar was set so low it is possible for Ash Carter, the toughest guy on the Obama block, to announce Trudeau has raised it.

This is becoming a problem for the Harper legacy. For, say, half a decade after 2010, Conservatives kept asking one another, nervously, precisely when Harper Conservatism would start to serve up the occasional head rush, as Thatcher and Reagan and Mike Harris Conservatism had sometimes done. The answer, from Harper and his staff and the occasional author, was that Harper was going about it another way: cautiously, incrementally, a wee bit at a time, the longer he was prime minister.

What has been striking, with gusts to breathtaking, is how easily this young Liberal Prime Minister has begun dismantling even those elements of a Harper legacy that are easy to discern: the criminal-justice stuff, the long-form census, the commitment to minimal government, which could only work if Harper succeeded in bullying his successor into maintaining balanced budgets. Now the fight against terrorism. A Trudeau retreat would have been plainer for all to see, if only there had been much from which to retreat.


Trudeau’s ISIS policy gets an assist from Obama—and Harper

  1. You strangely don’t seem to consider whether the American diplomats were giving diplomatic answers.
    “We like this one part of the new plan, not so much the other part, but we don’t want to start a fight in the media.”

    • Well anything is possible, but unless you have something to back it up, your suggestion remains pure supposition, not to say wishful thinking.

    • The diplomatic answer would have been very short, acknowledging Canada’s sovereign right to participate and maybe a quick line about being a good partner in the past. Getting glowing remarks and putting the plan out there as a recommendation to the rest of the coalition is full on appreciation. You just can’t handle it because its Trudeau maybe? Replace “Trudeau” with “Harper” (or “Mulcair” or “May” if you prefer) in the comments by the US and you’d be proud.

      • So you think the Americans want the rest of the coalition partners to cease their air strikes?

        • Yes, if it means contributing in other much needed areas like training and aid for Jordan and Lebanon. Why is that so hard to grasp?

        • My guess is the Americans would be extremely happy if the other coalition partners changed from bombing to boots on the ground. Americans love doing the bombing themselves but are hesitant to put troops in. Not that canada is putting boots on the ground but as far as the Americans are concerned it is step in the right direction.

    • With enough fighter-bombers webbing the skies of the region my old National Geographic map refers to as ‘Kurdistan’ to give a gaggle of air traffic controllers the heebiejeebies our token handful? Redundant. Pointless except as sabre-rattling.

      Committing the wherewithal to put enough boots – indigenous boots – on the ground to reclaim and hold territory? Priceless.

      Our posse of good guys and somewhat less foul than Daesh guys (when being beheaded does one really care if the scimitar is wielded by an Arab under orders from Abu Bakr or Sheikh Salman bin Abdulaziz?) – our mottled posse have air superiority in spades. What ‘we’ have been short on is the skilled and equipped ‘boots on the ground’. Canada is taking responsibility for the job of changing that. The posse knows that. The guy in the white hat so big its a house knows that. Anyone with a lick’o’sense should know that.

    • Really Obama & Harper are missing the point…strap Gord Downie to a CF-18 with a microphone, have him sing four notes a cappella and the war is over …..trust me no self respecting Isis member would be left standing after such a faith demoralizing assault….send Gord

  2. Thank you, thank you. I’ve been saying for months that Harper was pretending to be a principled warrior when all he was really trying to do was win an election and pretend to balance a budget. Commitments come with price tags and a full throated assault (which is what Tories will have you believe happened) was never in the cards. But pretending that he cared about a threat that he had blown all out of proportion politically with little thought to nuance and side effects was necessary, so we shuffled off planes that rarely left the runway. More attention was paid to reframing the War of 1812 by the Harper government than was ever spent on the policy implications of fighting ISIS.

  3. Finally, someone in the media who is catching on. Some of us have been saying that (the meaningless contribution of Canada with its 6 jets) for a long time.

    I hope people like Ivison, Coyne, Urback, Furey, and all the Sun news bunch read this. It may help them analyze the situation more objectively instead of being obsessed with 6 fighter jets. Coyne went as far as saying that if you are not bombing, you are not fighting ISIS. I expect better from the media.

    May be the next thing will be an analysis of the failed foreign policy of the previous government.

  4. Not hard to understand why that the U.S. is pleased with Trudeau’s revamped ISIS approach, see “Pentagon’s New Strategy to Defeat ISIS” in Military Times, for example.

  5. Very good points by Mr. Wells. When I heard the Liberals plan I kept thinking that this is much much more than just dropping some bombs from 6 jets. But the conservative commentariat is still up in arms so to speak. To them it is incredibly important to keep the 6 jets dropping bombs. Apparently they would be happy if that’s all we did, believing that it was the most effective use of our armed forces. Not that I ever take these hard core conservatives seriously, but they do make a lot of noise and gullible people who choose not to think too much can sometimes be tugged along. Trudeau has done the right thing – not the most grandiose thing.

    • It makes them mad when Trudeau keeps a promise because it undermines the narrative they’ve prematurely settled on of supposed Trudeau ‘broken promises’. Next watch for explanations of how this isn’t really a promise kept because the jets are being pulled Feb 22 2016 instead of “immediately”.

  6. Reason #3: Trudeau’s plan involves putting more troops in harm’s way, BUT is presented as a mushy feel-good peacekeeping initiative that makes it much more palatable to the public.
    By vaunting this strategy, the US can tell other nations “don’t worry, your troops won’t be in harm’s way! Just look at Canada as a prime example! Follow Trudeau’s lead!”
    In reality, Trudeau’s policy is incomprehensible. He himself stated in the House of Commons on January 26, 2015: “The government said our ground forces would advise and assist, but not accompany, Iraqi troops. Now we find out they are routinely on the front lines.” And now he’s tripled the number of ground troops that risk getting into firefights with ISIS?

    • Trudeau’s plan was not presented as peace keeping. It was presented as training. This is not the same. When did you hear the PM or Ministers or the CDS talk about peace keeping yesterday?

      When Trudeau criticized Harper (e.g. the quote you are citing), he was for the most part criticizing the fact that what the troops were doing was not in accordance with what Harper had said in the House before the vote. The criticism was proven right when the military admitted it.

      • You’re right; he didn’t mention peacekeeping. That was my bad. I still believe the sentiment that Canada will assist and advise, but not necessarily engage on the front lines, is a weak cover for what the troops will actually be doing. It’s a way of selling the mission as something “safe” (relatively speaking) whereas our troops could very well find themselves on the front lines. The White House can use this as a selling point to encourage other countries to do the same.

        As for Trudeau’s comment in January 2015, I interpreted it as Trudeau also being opposed to the idea of having our troops on the front lines.

    • Nonsense. No one is thinking that this is a peacekeeping mission. Our troops are training fighters. No one believes that they won’t be in harms way, either. Reformacons may try to pin both of those on Trudeau’s supporters but it’s not going to stick.

  7. Wells’ characterization of the Cons’ relatively miniscule contribution to the “war on terror” provides yet another example of the ways in which Harper was like the Wizard of Oz: when you actually looked behind the curtain, there was never anything there.

  8. Trudeau was mocked when he said last year, that the world has to rethink how it fights ISIS and all the problems in the middle east. He wanted a more humanitarian and diplomatic approach. Well he has done the job and done it well. Canada is indeed back. Other countries may follow his lead. The old macho model of bomb and destroy with no understanding of the forces at play in the middle east has not worked. I now feel quite comfortable with our $15 million dollar tank deal with the Saudi’s. To hell with having to justify Saudi’s terrible humanitarian record. That is not the point. ISIS is the first and main problem to the world because it is causing instability.
    Canada may indeed become the world leader on this issue.

    • Again your memory is lacking. Trudeau mocked Harper’s warnings about ISIL during the election. Then Paris happened. Then another terrorist attack killed a number Canadians overseas. For other countries to follow Trudeau’s lead, all of the allies would have to pull their air support. That air support is containing ISIL and destroying its sources of money. You now feel comfortable with the tank deal with the Saudi’s because you are sure they won’t use it on their own people now that that world will be following Justin Trudeau as its leader?

  9. I think there’s a couple of points that need to be made. First, the contribution of fighters to conduct air strikes may have been minor in terms of overall capacity, but it was important in terms of the optics. Every time a western country has backed away in conflict with Al Qaeda/ISIS/Taliban, it’s touted as some sort of victory for the fanatics and a symbol of the west’s weakness. Everything said about this is part of a political fog – downplaying Canada’s change in role is as much politics as Trudeau’s determination to withdraw Canadian fighters from airstrikes.

    The second point to be made is how far Canada’s military strength has declined since the Gulf War in 1991. Canada simply can’t commit 24 fighter aircraft, a field hospital, and 3 navy ships anymore. The total fighter force is down to about 65 aircraft, the army is down to about 3 regiments of regular troops, and the navy is falling apart. Oh yeah – and the ships and fighters are the same articles Canada had in 1991 – they’ve not been replaced, and the primary reason they’ve been upgraded is that 1991 exposed the shortcomings in those systems (lack of precision guided munitions on the fighters, lack of anti-aircraft and anti-surface armament on the ships.) Canada’s military capabilities are evaporating, and I don’t see any sign that Canadians even see that as a problem.

    • “Every time a western country has backed away in conflict with Al Qaeda/ISIS/Taliban, it’s touted as some sort of victory for the fanatics and a symbol of the west’s weakness.”

      The first ones to present it like that were the conservatives. ISIS just repeated it.

      • Nice try, but this has been a trend among those groups since well before 9/11. It’s been reported in any number of reports about Al Qaeda and other Islamic militant groups (you could refer to the scholars Bernard Lewis or Edward Said ca. 2000-2001 if you like.) If you’d never heard the argument before it was articulated by the Harper government, you hadn’t been paying attention.

        • I have heard that argument many times before by terrorist groups. I was referring to the discussion in this article which talks about the liberals decision to recall the jets. I expect the argument to be made by terrorists (who cares what they say anyway) but not by the opposition in Canada.

    • Optics won’t stop Daesh.

      We can place the blame on our diminished military capacity squarely on Harper’s shoulders. He did next to nothing for almost ten years.

      • Not true! No Canadian Prime Minister since King announced as many military procurements, who can forget that fancy F-35 with the Canada paint job. The problem was Harper was long on promises and short on delivery. even when he could have purchased French warships at fire sale prices. It would have meant he would have actually had to spend money. Can’t balance a budget (oh wait Harper didn’t do that either) when you are outfitting a military.

    • I want to respond to your first comment and that is optics.

      What has been presented all along by the liberals is that bombing never solved anything. There is a lot of recent history that proves that point.

      So by trying a new way it shows that canada is working on being proactive instead of reactive. It all goes back to Trudeaus initial comments of root cause. The bottom line is that bombing does not produce allies it produces fanatics.

    • I want to respond to your first comment and that is optics.

      What has been presented all along by the liberals is that bombing never solved anything. There is a lot of recent history that proves that point.

      So by trying a new way it shows that canada is working on being proactive instead of reactive. It all goes back to Trudeaus initial comments of root cause. The bottom line is that bombing does not produce allies it produces fanatics.

  10. Paul, you’ve nicely explained the totally absurd position Rona Ambrose bungled through yesterday.
    Shame to pull out of air strikes; more shame for ramping up our ground war and putting troops in greater risk.
    And the regular Ottawa scribes such as Ivison and Coyne, and somebody called Robyn ate it up like it came from some new Thatcher herself.
    Actually Ambrose was ranting on a sort of on to The Falklands scenario through her interviews with passive compliant interviewers yesterday.

  11. Been saying it from the beginning…despite Harper’s Little Haters’ claims, the Harper contribution was a joke. This new contribution is meaningful and well thought-out.

    • The embarrassing part is Well’s letting us know the French didn’t care about our CF18s!

      It really is interesting – why, if this bombing is so important, was it 1/4 the size of our Kuwait effort?

  12. This the most honest assessment of Harper that I’ve seen to date. I’ve said it for years, Harper’s biggest accomplishment was lowering our expectations. He lowered or expectations on this mission, contributing less than 3% of the raids but squeezing out every drop of all the glory. It should be about results, but it was counting coup. Harper tricked many of us into thinking a party of one mentality, with apparently quick, black and white decision making was in our best interest, with no need to any doubt about who’s at the top. But the fact is all he did was succeed in doing less. Paul is 100% correct in his assessment of this.

  13. You people have memory issues. No one wanted the allies bombing Syria because it would somehow be condoning the actions of Assad. Trudeau wanted Canada to only provide humanitarian aid.

    Now, Wells is re-writing the script and the Lib supporters are pretending that sending more troops to the front lines to train isn’t a “combat role.” Isn’t air support required for when your troops on the ground are under enemy attack? Didn’t Harper only send 6 CF-18 fighter jets which are old and need replacement because he bowed down to pressure from parliamentarians like Justin Trudeau who wanted Canada to have NO part in the fight. Now Wells and company are complaining Harper didn’t go big enough. What a joke! Even one of his head civil servants was on CBC saying he thought it was a mistake to get rid of the air support. ISIL isn’t a political state one can negotiate with. They throw babies off of buildings. Also, another was questioning Trudeau’s decision to roll military and humitarian aid together. He said it didn’t work in Afghanistan and it likely won’t work in Iraq. The problem is partisan politics want to re-invent the wheel. We don’t have as many CF-18 fighter jets in Syria for a lot of reasons, among them is the shape that the jets are in. Why not make a call to Cold Lake or Quebec where the jets are stationed and find out how many are in fighting condition. Then write yourself an article on that.

    • ” Isn’t air support required for when your troops on the ground are under enemy attack? ” No, it depends on the situation. Hence the possibility of helicopters and support from allies, who we are in turn supporting with targeting.

      People were for the CF-18s in the absence of a new plan. Now we have a new plan to weight it against, which imo most people will be fine with. We’ll see.

    • “Didn’t Harper only send 6 CF-18 fighter jets which are old and need replacement because he bowed down to pressure from parliamentarians like Justin Trudeau who wanted Canada to have NO part in the fight.”

      A Prime Minister with a solid majority, and reputed to be strong, decisive and knowledgeable about all his files, bowing down to . . . Justin Trudeau . . .leader of the third party?

      You make it sound like Stephen Harper was in over his head, and just not ready to lead.

      • The truth is the NGO’s in the region were all over the news saying we shouldn’t be bombing in Syria because to do so would be condoning the actions of Assad and help Assad. I can’t believe you guys are pretending you don’t recall that. Next thing you know, we have a Syrian refugee crisis and all that doubt drops away and people are asking why didn’t we have more planes involved in the bombing. It was a very unpopular choice. You want to make this partisan, go ahead but Trudeau only wanted humanitarian aid offered. He wanted to drop winter coats and food. He has come a long way baby!

        • Until fairly recently, many if not most ,of the Syrian refugees were due to the civil war in Syria.

          • They still are. Now we have a tentative peacekeeping between Assad and the rebels as supported by the Russians. ISIL is in the north part of the country. The bombing keeps them contained and keeps them from selling oil and other treasures to fund their activities.

    • I am not sure who has memory problems. The liberals always wanted to provide training in Iraq. The NDP did not want any military involvement.

      Harper sent as many fighters as he wanted. He had a majority and he never compromised on the mission.

      A lot of people are thinking that because we have no jets, we will not get air support. This is not how it works in the coalition. When our military got in trouble before, the first ones to provide support were not Canadian planes. In Canada, that’s all we heard but if you read other reports, you will find out that there were also planes from other countries.

    • I don’t recall Trudeau stating that our role should only be humanitarian in nature.

      A combat role means seeking out and engaging the enemy. A non-combat role doesn’t mean our soldiers can’t shoot back in self-defense.

      The Liberals didn’t want Canada involved under Harper’s terms. That’s not the same thing as saying they didn’t want Canada involved at all.

    • The problem Bob is the re-writing of history. Justin Trudeau wasn’t for any military involvement and that is what he ran his campaign on. The removal of 6 CF-18 fighter jets is a symbol of him keeping a campaign promise. Putting more Canadian soldiers in harms way and having Canadian technology involved in bombing sorties done by allies doesn’t mean Canadians are now in a peacekeeping role and out of a combat role. If a Canada is shooting a gun or helping with setting bomb targets or refueling jets that bomb midair, we are complicit in combat.

    • Harper was as usual lying in saying the U.S. asked for assistance. Good on the U.S. Reps. for exposing yet another Con deception.

  14. You are correct but not in the way you seem to think.

    We have reinforced our 60 or so ground troop “advisors| by another 140 or so.

    These are what one might call “boots on the ground.” No matter how one obfuscates, these advisors will be in combat situations. Some may die. Some may call on RCAF air support and surprise, none will be available.

    Six planes at 20 to 40,000 feet with an enemy with neither AD nor an air force is a pretty risk free proposition.

    Trudeau has greatly increased the Canadian commitment of blood and treasure by this move.

    Moreover he is doing it in support of the Kurdish Peshmerga whose ideas of human rights are not that different from ISIS and other Sunni Arab groups.

    The Gospel of Unintended Consequences may soon rear its ugly head.

    • So war is foggy, and we don’t know what will happen in the middle east. And you expected Trudeau to be the guy to solve that? The policy shift makes sense. No one asked us for the 6 jets, they don’t make any difference. Sorry but its true.

    • It doesn’t matter that there won’t be any RCAF support for them, as there will still be allied and US air support for them. It’s not like as if the RCAF were at the beck and call of the existing Canadian ground troops. The RCAF was under a joint command structure, and they got sent out to support any other allied troops, and other allied air forces supported our troops.

  15. One important thing that Wells didn’t mention is this is why military action is the sole responsibility of the executive. War isn’t perfect. No one knows the exact right thing. And yes it is very political.

    When we voted in a new PM we voted in the ability to pick and choose where and how we fight. The conservatives tried to use it as an election wedge issue. Now they’re trying to use it to tarnish the new government. No where in Rona’s or Rempel’s squawking do I hear a justification for the CF18s in the coalition. If bombs are the best thing to fight guerrilla terror groups, then why didn’t Harper bomb Boko Haram in Africa?

    • In reading all these posts I get the distinct impression that we have a bunch of armchair generals/politicians. Have any of them ever seen action? “just 6 CF18’s” implies an ignorance of what is required to support, service and refuel them in the air and the devastation that these could have in ISIS positions. Trudeau is as wimpy as his father and the rest of the “peacekeeping” liberals.

      • When I listened to Trudeau yesterday attempt to explain what he was doing and why all I heard was a bunch of gobbledygook but that’s par for the course. Trudeau made a politicized commitment during the election and decided to stick with it come hell or high water. If he just stuck with what we had, the coalition would have been happy and we’d have put far fewer Canadian soldiers at risk. Rex Murphy on his wise CBC commentary said that the polls showed that if Trudeau broke two election promises he would gain the respect and support of the majority of Canadians. Those two were: don’t withdraw our jets from the fight against ISIS and slow down the flow of the 25,000 Syrian refugees-most of those who have arrived to date are jammed into hotel rooms!!

        • Interesting to see conflicting views and the justifications. I think it is confirmation bias.
          I may suffer from the same bias because I think this is a brilliant move on Trudeau’s part. It confirms once again that he is genuinely trying to change the way we govern. He may well be an inspiration to the world. In the meanwhile he is playing to the hearts and souls of many Canadians and that is worth something. A large majority of people want to think of themselves as humanitarian and willing to share.
          He is definately not your typical politcian and that bamboozles a lot of people especially when we expect world leaders to posture and intimidate each other with grandious shows of power. He is changing the rules of the game. Because the old way has not worked well has it?
          The middle east is in a humanitarian crisis right now and it’s not fair that refugees are being driven out. Even if we bomb out the bad guys….what’s left is a mess. The best support in my view is to help out on the ground. Like a social worker helping them solve their own problem and giving them basic essentials. ISIS are the baddest of the bad guys and the citizen’s themselves must fight this battle on their own rather becoming a migrating refugee.

  16. All forgotten is the state of our relationship with the Americans after Harper’s blatant interference in American politics with his we won’t take “no” for an answer. Harper went to the Americans, hat in hand, begging to join the coalition. That information was outed by the American Armed Forces. There was a diplomatic missive sent to Harper by the Obama Admin. that was never tabled in the HoC and not revealed to Opposition leaders. I’m just spit-balling here, but with the situation as it is, that missive was not the invitation that Harper declared it was back in the summer of ’14. Add the fact that our Air mission had to fly it’s sorties out of a rented Kuwaiti airport, 500 K’s from point of contact. Wells’ article is right on.. Harper wanted to send his troops somewhere to bolster his legacy but in sending the six Hornets he attempted to do it on the cheap. There is nothing in this world that will ever change what has happened, including Harper’s penchant to hide in small rooms. There’s his legacy!!

    • Exactly, there never was a war that Harper didn’t like joining. He ruined Canada’s long-standing reputation as a peacemaker in the process. Even the Americans were thinking what’s up with Canada going all hawkish? The Americans often expected the Canadians to pave the way for them diplomatically in places where they needed to be seen as being tough and unyielding, but in the back-channel they sent in the Canadians to nice-guy them. I’m talking about places like Iran & Israel. The Americans didn’t need another baby hawk, they needed a dove.

  17. I think the reason for Washington’s positive response to Trudeau’s initiative is not so much that Washington doesn’t know what it’s doing, nor that Harper’s previous fighter jet contribution was paltry. It’s probably a simple chumminess between the Obama & Trudeau administrations. We know Trudeau made pals with the Washington elites, long before he ever won his election (Harper by contrast had a cold war going with the US ambassador). Obama administration officials have been instructed to be positive towards Trudeau, and in return Trudeau didn’t make a big deal about Keystone XL. Obama didn’t get along well with Harper, but he does get along with Trudeau. Easy to figure out which way the spin was going to come out from Washington.

  18. Trudeau has tripled Canada’s presence in the mission, and as some pundits are suggestion, is moving Canadian personnel closer to actual threats. Therefore, there isn’t any manner in which the new mission contribution constitutes a retreat. It just got became more meaningful, more courageous, and smarter.

  19. I want to know when he’s going over to reason with ISIS. I hope it’s televised. I hope the cage is big enough, and you know.. they have enough gasoline for a big fire…

    • LESPAUL-Great reply. Maybe he can bring them some blankets before the weenie roast.

      • Maclean’s editors where are you? Things are going downhill fast.

  20. Did this article say that a 3% contribution to airstrikes in a 64 nation coalition – which has cut off ISIS’ ability to sell oil – was ineffective?

    At less than half a percent (assuming the effort had been divided evenly) I’m not sure how a pithy “we don’t need them” attitude should mean anything.

  21. Funny. For so long the rhetoric from the press (not necessarily from Macleans, or at least not as frequently and obnoxiously as most outlets) was that Harper was too aggressively focused on the military, some kind of Republican wannabe, that this headline gave me a millisecond of shock and disorientation. So now he wasn’t doing anything?

    Next you’ll have somebody suggesting that it’s not an attack on reason for scientists who work for governments or corporations to be told by their bosses what to work on and what to shut up about.

    • “For so long the rhetoric from the press… was that Harper was too aggressively focused on the military”

      What “press” was this. Certainly not any of Canada’s two largest newspaper chains (now merged), Postmedia and the Sun papers, not from CBC TV’s Rex Murphy or Chris Hall or the P & P panelists or At Issue Panels.

      Maybe you’re thinking of rable.ca?

  22. The author has developed expertise at revisionism as much as at apologism.

    Kuwait was a different world. The Cold War was over, Russia was no longer a threat and a small Ally had been brutally invaded. Our fleet of 130+ CF-18s was relatively more robust, less than a decade old, and Saddam Hussein had heavy conventional forces, battle-hardened after 8 years of war with Iran.

    When Harper committed 6 CF-18s in October 2014 (bombing began in November 2014), it was only months after the U.S. got itself engaged, finally. The battlefield was less clear, the role less obvious. But, more importantly, Putin’s Russia had invaded and annexed Crimea and was threatening to take more land from more Canadian Allies in Europe. Harper had committed six CF-18s there already. By 2014 our CF-18 fleet was down by 25 airframes due to crashes and retirements. And 12 were now committed to the two separate fronts, requiring many ground support personnel.

    That’s a substantial commitment for a relatively small air force to make an ocean away. Canada lacks the aircraft carriers of the U.S., so the Iraq/Syria warplanes fly many miles from their Kuwait base to engage the enemy, and remain semi-dependent on the U.S. for targets. Yet, the planes have been very effective both in supporting ground troops and taking out ISIS targets. The importance of avoiding collateral damage has had some return to base with their payloads, but the pilots’ professionalism and skills will be missed.

    Does it make sense to change our contribution? Yes. But an election intervened, which is why the mission was extended as-is for a year, to keep deployment decisions out of the campaign. But on October 20th it was fair game for the new regime to change things. Despite having all the answers during the campaign, they’ve taken over 3 months to make any changes.

    By now, Harper might have bumped the CF-18s up to a dozen or more. To presume status quo is to misunderstand the battlefield. Meanwhile, Russia is bombing indiscriminately and mostly against rebels who are opposed to Assad.

    Harper began Canada’s major contribution to refugees, at $100 million a year, several years back, and it was opposed by the Opposition parties. When Obama finally had his anti-ISIS epiphany after 10s of thousands had died, Harper offered our help and provided what was asked. The Liberals opposed the 69 special forces advisers, but have now tripled that number while removing the planes which protected them.

    Once again, a Liberal Govt has put many Canadians at dire risk, and the Highway of Heroes will become overactive again. All in the name of political differentiation aided and abetted by regime apologists and revisionists.

    • Yes, the political differentiation issue is an unnecessary distraction from the question that begs to be asked: is the move to remove the contribution of the 6 CF-18s related to an extreme reluctance to discuss the reasons why our fleet of CF-18s are not updated? Will our military’s retainment of our pilot’s expertise become obliterated for whatever reasons there are to not properly maintaining said fleet?

  23. Harper made a mistake sending in the bombers, an obvious mistake. There was (and still somewhat is) a “no boots on the ground” President in the US. Anyone with half a brain should be able to realise that the US doesn’t need 6 more fighters there… they desperately want allied, useful, capable boots on the ground. We should have done that first, gone in big, and have been seriously noticed.

    All of these deployments are political… they are about being noticed and having influence. Even the Kurds didn’t realise we had bombers in the game. I’m not disparaging our pilots or planes… they did what they could under the circumstances, but sending 6 here, another 6 there, all willy-nilly was a waste of money and talent. Go in big and fast if you want a useful result. Harper never seemed to understand that… just little drips here and there.

    Trudeau gets more international results from a selfie than Harper ever did with one of his piecemeal military deployments, and that’s just sad.

    • Then he should get lots of results because all he’s done since getting elected is take selfies. Oh, I forgot-he sent $4.6 billion to the hinterlands which didn’t create one incremental job in Canada.
      A true economic leader!!

      • You just don’t get it, do you? What positive result did ANYTHING Harper commit to get from the government of the US, our most important ally? I don’t remember anything of any significance. What, 10 years?

        But, the new guy has multiple high-level US officials, right up to the President, publicly thank him. It’s been something like 100 days. The US is our most important trading partner. The opinion of it’s leaders and regular citizens matter to our economy, a lot. If Trudeau keeps it up, he’s likely to get the Keystone pipeline approved, with the environmentalists on-board, despite his every intention otherwise. This is what the PM’s job is, and he’s doing very well at it. Surprisingly well.

        • Sorry, I have to say more…

          If Harper had been PM during WWI, we would still be called the Dominion of Canada. He just didn’t get it, had no understanding of international politics, and was not a leader. A leader rallies people together and towards a goal. Harper drove people apart, to nowhere.

          I’ll admit that I voted for Trudeau because he wasn’t Harper. I expected it would be an amateur-hour gong-show but 4 years of that seemed a lot better than another 4 of Harper. But, so far, I’ve been hugely impressed.

          Canada was sneered at for poor environmental policies… and now we’re the darling of the Paris climate summit. Nothing but talk, really, but score one for Justin.

          Repeat of above at Davos, with more international publicity.

          Canada was condemned by the UN for its relations with First Nations. Now we’re applauded for straight talk. Another one for Justin.

          Syrian refugees… we take in a typical amount, a little quicker than normal, and we’re internationally recognized as an example of what compassion is all about. Another one for Justin.

          Canada was condemned by NATO, a “1 percenter” when we should be spending 2% of GDP. Now, we get publicly thanked be the President of the United States for our military commitment, and used as an example for Europeans to follow (oh, and we didn’t spend a dime more). Another one for Justin.

          Cabinet picks that ended up as international news. I bet there are more people on this planet that know our Minister of Defense is a “badass combat veteran” (yeah, pushing it but whatever) and that our Minister of Transport was is astronaut, than actually know who the PM of Australia is.

          You know what I think… I think this year will be banner year for tourism in Canada… a low dollar and massive international publicity will add up big-time. People will be thinking about us when they want to travel, and so what if it’s because our PM was on the cover of some US fashion magazine. Tourists are money in the bank in a year where we’re going to need it. I doubt there was a single person on this planet that came to Canada because of Harper.

          Trudeau is on an amazing roll. Even some of the Harper fans are starting to see this. Yeah, he may falter, he may end up running that gong-show in the end, but right now he’s smoking (inhaling even) and doing a lot of good for Canada. I am impressed.

        • Hahaha! Even Rachel Notley the NDP premier in Alberta has figured out that Keystone pipeline didn’t get approval because the US is now the biggest oil producing nation. Obama lifted a 40 year old embargo on selling oil internationally. He is a competitor. Trudeau is so naïve that Obama has sucked him into believing they are buddies while Obama steals everything in Trudeau’s pockets. When a man as an ego like Trudeau does, it is easy to stroke it and rob him blind in the process.
          Did you happen to see the environmentalists in Seattle protesting oil when they were all riding in kayaks made out of petroleum products. It was quite an eye opener.

          • If American businessmen buy Canadian oil coming out of the pipe and then put it on a boat and sell it, then they make a profit. It’s called business. That’s why they wanted the laws changed so they can export oil, even though they still import more than they use. It’s business. If there was no business case for making the pipeline, it wouldn’t get built. No need for anyone to veto it for political reasons.

            That said, I mention the Keystone pipeline as a joke. Sorry if that wasn’t clear enough. No, I don’t expect it will get built, probably ever.

    • http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/politics/canadas-defence-minister-reluctant-to-call-conflict-with-islamic-state-a-war/article28738387/
      You need to read the Globe and Mail. Where did ever get the idea that there were no boots on the ground? Harper send trainers. Trudeau is increasing them. They are the frontlines teaching the Kurds to fight. One has died that way. The Canadian air support has helped them get out difficult situations.
      As for what Harper do with the jets. The CF-18 jets are old. Why do you are ask Paul Wells to do an article on how much work the ground crew has to do maintenance wise on a jet each time it flies a sortie. Why don’t you ask who freaked out Canada purchasing new jets. We can’t “go big” because we don’t have the equipment to do it. Your parliament never wanted to spend it and neither did your co-citizens. Get your head out of the sand.

      • Yes, I know Harper sent a few trainers. Everybody knows, the Kurds know and said they would be missed when the news came out that Canada was going to withdraw the bombers… They were confused, because they had no idea the Canadian bombers were there. That’s my point! Nobody but Canadians knew or cared that there were a few Canadian bombers operating, but everyone knew about the trainers.

        A dribble here, a bit there… nothing of consequence. That was Harper’s mistake.

        Oh, and as I understand it, the F18s have been through refurbishment and are actually in reasonable shape. Modernized, though obviously not new. Harper should have sent all 12 of them to Eastern Europe, instead of splitting them up, and all the trainers to help the Kurds instead of the Ukrainians. He would have gotten significantly better results. It looks like Trudeau will get them instead. As of yesterday, results wise, he’s already outdone Harper.

        • Correcting myself here… The CF-18s finished their refurbishment in 2010, which was to extend their life to 2017-2020 (allowing overlap during replacement). They’re now talking about a Life Extension Plan to push them to 2025, for obvious reasons. So, not exactly modern and nearing end of life.

  24. Lol….did Pauly write this at the bar with his buddy Jughead?

    • I think he and John Geddes made a deal to write opposing opinions…just for fun to watch the partisans freak. It is amazing how people will defend the person voted for no matter how often he flips and then attack the media that point out his gaffes.

      • Here’s a sneaking suspicion to consider: the Wells and Geddes articles may be channelling an Opposition that has yet to find its way in its solemn duty to question/hold accountable the Government for the the purposes of protecting the country, and not merely for protecting partisanship.

  25. Contrary to the article, Canadian CF-18s have conducted over 1,300 flights as part of the anti-ISIS coalition, and we’ve been effective. In fact, our jets are a top five contributor to anti-ISIS airstrikes from the coalition. But thanks to Justin Trudeau, the air missions will soon stop – and Canada will rely on other countries to do our work. ISIS attacks have claimed the lives of Canadians in recent weeks and months. Despite this, in his first major foreign policy decision, Trudeau officially announced that we would step back from the fight against ISIS at the end of the month, bringing an end to the pivotal role Canada’s fighter jets played along with our allies. When we are attacked, when our friends and allies are attacked, when our values are threatened, when human rights are trampled, and human dignity is crushed, it is our fight. But for the cause of political posturing at home, Canada has become a problem to our NATO partners.

    • “…pivotal role Canada’s fighter jets played”.
      I believe you ignored the debate issue itself. You assume that all evidence and opinions presented here are fabrications. In order to make your point, you ignore the fact that your point itself is debatable. Can you support the thesis that Canada’s role was “pivotal” and that without it the world as we know it will come to an end?

    • Why is it so hard to understand that the coalition has more than enough jets to do airstrikes and that Canada’s small (2-3% at most) can be easily replaced? The coalition needed the refuelling and intelligence gathering capacity and we are keeping it there. The bombing part is not needed except as a symbol. Symbols do not win wars and actually bombing alone does not either. So it is an easy and logical decision for Canada to move its resources where they will have a much greater value added.

      • It is not hard at all to understand. The only challenges come from a scripted opposition that believes in perpetually and blindly ignoring logic, facts, and reason, in the hope that repetition will eventually outmaneuver reality.

    • Please answer just one question about our allies as you put it.
      How many other countries performed bombing missions inside Syria?
      Not the French nor the Germans provide more than support troops.
      Now think about it why and once you can explain that, post again.

  26. It is a thoughtful article and have some clear and realistic view of the circumstances and events.
    What is missing, maybe intentionally is just one aspect of the decisions that in fact makes the biggest difference. International law. The War in Iraq or Syria not so far sanctioned by the UN and therefor is illegal.
    Canadian troops killing civilians was in fact a crime under the International Criminal Court that Canada is a signatory, while the USA is not.
    The primary reason for Harper to send bombers was to snub at the UN and the ICC. Harper can not possibly accept the UN and International Human Rights because it stands opposite to his religious beliefs.
    On the other hand the Liberals see the safety and security of Canada tied to that same international law and order and consider the promotion of this as the only way to create and maintain peaceful prosperity around the globe (such it was accepted by all after the second of world wars). So for Trudeau it it is very straightforward. We are not invading force in Iraq, we are there to provide assistance requested by the government of the country. And, we are not in Syria.
    This is another aspect and reason none of our allies can argue against.
    Why did not Trudeau announce it that way, is just as silly than asking him about Trump, after all we are all neighbors on this planet and no need to insult or irritate others.