There has been a lot of talk in Canada recently about the government’s stance on the fight against the Islamic State in the Middle East. The new Liberal government of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau had promised during its election campaign to withdraw Canada’s contribution – six CF-18 Hornet fighter jets – to the coalition’s war on Daesh. The ensuing hubbub has had the punditocracy up in arms (in stark contrast to Canada’s contribution to the coalition, some of the more right wing might argue) both in favour of Trudeau’s approach, and in damning it.
Whether I agree with Trudeau’s recent delivery of campaign promises or not (some I do, some I don’t), I have actually quite a bit of respect for his integrity in keeping to his campaign promises; for a politician to do so takes a lot of chutzpah and speaks volumes to how important their word is to them. Trudeau is in a bit of a political pickle with the issue of the CF-18s.
As I understand it, the right is clamoring that Canada needs to support its traditional allies, even in a token way (apparently 2.4% of coalition airstrikes are carried out by our CF-18s). Conservatives, et al, are also asking the very legitimate question of what the government’s policy on ISIS is. Right now, the Honourable Harjit Sajjan, Minister of Defence, is doing a very glib job of airbrushing the lack of policy/direction on the subject matter at hand:
“There will be changes, there will definitely be enhancements in a substantial way. Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (from CKNW AM980)
This statement reminds me a bit of the same kind of rhetoric presented by the weatherman: “It might rain tomorrow, it might be sunny. There many be periods of precipitation, interspaced with clear breaks. Look out for showers in the afternoon, and patches of sun.”
And of course, unless we’re privy to military matters, we won’t even know there has been anything done at all: “Some things will be noticeable to Canadians, and some things won’t be unless you’ve been in that environment.” (emphasis mine).
Such statements are evocative of the lovely ambiguity that has been dogging the Liberals on this issue. Additionally, let’s not forget that those Hornets are still actively participating in coalition air strikes (which in turn, does not support the opposition’s suggestion that Canada was snubbed for withdrawing air support…how can we be snubbed for not doing something that we’re still actually doing?), as per the previous government’s mandate, and will continue to do so at least until March. After all, nobody likes a premature pullout.
Conversely, supporters argue that policy shifts should be reasonable and measured, and not taken as knee-jerk reactions to the public whim (given that a majority of Canadians purportedly support continued airstrikes against the Islamic State). I strongly believe in measured and well-thought out responses to issues du jour, and do see validity in this line of reasoning for the silence from the government.
However, just from an optics perspective, the longer the public has to wait to hear on what Prime Minister Trudeau’s line will be on Canadian participation in the fight against the Islamic State, the louder the voices of antagonism from the right, that keep chirping for more direct military participation. And the public at this point, I think, is really just wanting to know what action Canada will take. I don’t think that people necessarily care whether airstrikes or training of opposition forces should take place, just that something by way of military support of coalition efforts takes place.
I’ll also add here that the Prime Minister is in a bit of a damned-if-he-does-and-damned-if-he-doesn’t position: if he keeps his word and discontinues air support, the right will have a field day stating that Canada is letting it’s coalition partners down. If Prime Minister Trudeau does continue air support, the right will have a field day stating that he’s not doing enough (though he would likely continue along former Prime Minister Harper’s direction in continuing to deploy the six CF-18s in the Middle East) and that he broke his word to the electorate.
Given that the Prime Minister has delivered on many of his campaign promises (on a quick note, when do we hear about Veterans?), I do believe that he will withdraw the CF-18s as his word is important to him. And given the canniness of the Minister of Defence, due to his significant service and vast experience in the Canadian Armed Forces, I think that a good compromise of training opposition forces and providing additional support to coalition partners (such as mid-air fueling of coalition fighter jets) will balance out to save face both at home and abroad.
Between a rock and a hard place, but sometimes that’s a good foundation to build a solid policy.