On June 23, in an interview with Terry Milewski on CBC’s Power and Politics, Trudeau stated that if elected he would end Canada’s combat mission in Syria. The training mission, on the other hand, would continue. On Oct. 23, Trudeau informed President Obama that he intended on carrying out his campaign pledge.
While Trudeau will increase the number of training personnel, he firmly believes that Canada should not be engaged in any kind of combat in the Middle East, whether against ISIS or any other Islamist group. In the interview with Milewski, Trudeau was adamant that the Iraq war demonstrates the folly of foreign intervention.
“I think 10 years ago we learnt through the first Iraq war what happens when Western troops get involved in combat. They don’t necessarily, whether its Libya, whether it’s Iraq, it doesn’t lead to the outcomes that people would responsibly like to see.”
“We would engage Canada’s military in something we’ve demonstrated tremendous ability at in Afghanistan and elsewhere: training up local troops during the fighting on the ground,” said Trudeau.
Although Canada’s deployment is relatively small when compared to the coalition partners – six CF-18 fighter jets and around 70 special forces training Kurdish Peshmerga units in northern Iraq – we are still an important player in the overall war against ISIS.
Many have argued that the Paris attacks would force Trudeau to re-examine his policy. The President of France, Francois Hollande, called for “a union of all who can fight this terrorist army in a single coalition” while President Obama promised France that America would “redouble [it’s] efforts”.
But Trudeau is committed to his pledge. Canada will be withdrawing its combat forces from Syria and northern Iraq.
Our allies appear to respect the decision. Some fear it will damage our reputation and give Islamist groups an opportunity to portray Canada as a country of cowards. Perhaps it will. I can’t say for sure.
But what we need to be asking is whether or not it’s the right decision to be making.
While I agree with the Liberal Premier of Quebec, Philippe Couillard, that “The democratic world is at war,” the methods we are using to fight Islamism will not win it. We cannot defeat ISIS or the hundreds of other Islamist groups like it by dropping bombs. It doesn’t work.
The Islamic State is not a ‘conventional’ army. Although it uses conventional forces and conventional methods, by and large, they are a guerrilla force. They rely primarily on small scale tactics and terrorism to accomplish their goals.
The problem with guerrilla wars is that they often go on for decades. The war in Columbia, for example, has been going on for over fifty years. More than 200,000 people have died in an asymmetric war between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia or FARC, a left-wing guerrilla group.
FARC comprises maybe 10,000 fighters, which is not far from the numbers that ISIS has (around 25,000 according to most estimates), but it has managed to wage a Marxist insurrection for five decades. Much like ISIS, the group uses small units, terrorism, kidnappings and executions to secure its objectives. And when necessary, it melts back into the population.
Supporting local fighters and resistance movements is one way to engage an enemy like ISIS. It deprives them of a powerful recruiting tool and reinforces their isolation over time from the local civilian population. However, this approach can always backfire so we need to be extremely careful about who were supplying weapons with and who were training to fight on our behalf, if were not willing to do it ourselves. We needn’t second guess the Kurdish Peshmerga but other forces might end up turning against us as well as our local allies in the region.
This is not an easy decision to make or one that we should be comfortable with. Our influence in the world could suffer dearly if our allies think we’re abandoning them. They might very well start calling us cowards. But such things, if they do materialize, will only be temporary if we make the right moves and the right decisions.
One can only hope that in pursuing this policy Trudeau understands the nature of the enemy. Whether Canadian Forces are fighting in Syria or not, our country will always remain a target. The same holds true for our Muslim allies in the region like the Kurdish Peshmerga and the other liberal democratic resistance forces and the individuals who lead them.
This is a battle of ideas. This is not a war of attrition. It will not be won by the army which drops the most bombs. That’s not how one wins these wars.
Support and train local fighters. Provide security and resources to intellectuals and dissidents. Utilize our diplomatic talents to convince the region’s governments that they must do more to protect anti-Islamist movements. Lastly, by withdrawing our combat mission, the region will have more of an incentive to destroy ISIS itself.