Harper only bombs foes he can convert to poll leads.
In federal politics today, there is one certainty: the Conservatives loathe Justin Trudeau passionately. Despite their best efforts to paint him as a milquetoast on everything, the Conservatives still can’t shake the Liberals from their poll lead. It should not be surprising that Stephen Harper and his party continue to attack Trudeau in the hopes of repeating their leader-demolishing successes of yore. Their latest effort involves a comment Trudeau made at the Canada 2020 Conference in Ottawa. In his address, Trudeau criticized the Conservative government’s decision to send warplanes to fight ISIS by saying that they only wanted to “whip out [their] F-18’s and show how big they are.” This prompted a torrent of commentary suggesting Trudeau was once again not up to being PM. More seriously for the Liberals, this might threaten their poll lead; veteran poll tracker Eric Grenier of threehundredeight.com reports that most Liberal supporters approved sending the jets. In my opinion, Trudeau’s comment is not ridiculous but rather describes the Conservative war plan accurately.
Obviously, I am not a fan of Canada sending planes to fight ISIS. I oppose this idea on two grounds. The first has to do with the way we plan to fight ISIS. Canada and other Western nations are so far engaging in airstrikes to support local ground forces, such as the Iraqi army and Kurdish soldiers. At the same time, Harper, Obama and other leaders assure their publics that they have no intention of sending ground troops to Iraq, except for ‘advisers’. This is no way to defeat enemies like ISIS. The Vietnam War should serve as a model for why this strategy fails against insurgencies. Despite massive air superiority, the Viet Cong could still offer strong resistance to American troops. In Iraq, we are supporting ground forces that are nowhere near as well trained as the American soldiers of the 1960’s, let alone of this era. Both the Iraqi army and the Kurds have not shown competence in fighting ISIS, even with the added airpower, as the militants are now pushing towards Turkey and Syria. If we really want to stop ISIS, we will have no choice but to send substantial ground forces. Harper’s current ambivalence means we are wasting resources for little gain.
I also oppose Harper’s plan to fight ISIS because of his reasoning. In an echo of the buildup to the 2003 Iraq War, he is arguing that ISIS represents a grave threat that Canadians must face. This group is undeniably anti-Western and anti-Iraqi. However, it is not the only such threat. Why aren’t we tackling Boko Haram or Mexican drug cartels with the same intensity? Furthermore, why do we assume that a problem exacerbated by Western intervention be solved by more of the same? If the Iraq and Vietnam debacles should teach Western populations anything, it’s that claims of an enemy’s ‘evil’ are not objective. Rather, they carry with them the subjective desires of the politician making the claim; they are mostly made for political gain. In Stephen Harper’s case, we can see the contrast between how he responds to ISIS’ beheadings and his silence on the allegations of beheading by anti-ISIS ally Saudi Arabia. And as mentioned above, Canada is not really sending that much that would tip the balance. I know we’re part of a coalition, but nobody there is really sending substantive forces. If we need to go on a light bombing mission to feel good and righteous, there is something wrong with us as a nation.
When Trudeau said his comment, he was a bit juvenile but he was correct, as that is the only way one can construe Harper’s mission. According to the Huffington Post, Canadian Chief of Defense Staff Tom Lawson says that airpower alone is not the solution. At some point or another, there will be strong pressure to send ground troops to Iraq again. Problem is, all Western leaders are cautious of this, because the memory of 2003 is still fresh. Harper’s plan for this is silly because it is inadequate for the task while being ignorant of future escalation. In other words, it’s a jet-measuring contest.