I was on CBC's The Current radio program today, and among three experts talking about Canada, Iraq, and what success might look like. As I had to wake up early for the taping, I had to scramble to think about success. The answer: multiple audiences means multiple definitions of success.
In the short term, the standards are lower and clearer: stopping the expansion of ISIS in Iraq. Check. That is, the bombing campaign, enabled by CANSOF (Canadian Special Operations Forces) and perhaps others, has helped the troops on the ground (Kurdish and Iraqi forces) to hold the line against ISIS. Given that ISIS's key narrative was about the inevitability of its momentum, just stopping ISIS's expansion is important and not just for protecting those who had not fallen in the hands of the truly bad guys.
Also, short term success: Canada once again showing that it is a reliable ally to the US and the other advanced democracies. Given how short term American political memory is, Canada has to keep showing up rather than just pointing to the time in Kandahar.
Two other key measures of success for Canadian politicians looking more at the home crowd: no casualties (successful so far) and no discordant messaging from the field (successful until last week, now quite the failure). As long as the costs of the mission are measured in dollars, it is hard to see it resonate that much domestically. Unless the government looks like a bunch of liars. In the past week, I have blogged much about the mismanaged messaging. Trying to say that there would be no combat by Canadian ground forces has been a mistake, given that SOF doing advising and assisting will do stuff that looks like fighting to most observers. Again, the line should have been drawn between conventional military operations and SOF mentoring, which could involve painting targets for the air campaign.
Long term? That depends on politics in Baghdad over which Canada has no influence. If Canada's aid on/near the front lines gives the Iraqis the breathing space to develop political deals that allow the Sunnis and Shia to live together in relative peace, then there would be long term success. But, to be clear, the US had limited leverage on the Shia to be inclusive with the Sunnis when the US had 100k troops in Iraq, so it really is about the domestic stuff there over which the outsiders have minimal influence.
One of the speakers focused on the UN. I snorted. Why? Because the UN cannot get the Sunnis and Shia to come to an agreement. Because who would provide the peacekeepers in Iraq? Because the example of Bosnia is actually a lousy example of peace keeping/enforcing--that it was the US and NATO that ended the Bosnian war, not the UN which probably prolonged it.
One of the things I have been consistently pushing lately is humility--that outsiders have had limited success in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, etc. Canadians have to be particularly humble given that it has a relatively small military and it makes relatively small commitments. Again, if the US cannot get the Shia and Sunnis together, it is silly to expect Canada to bring them together.
Anyhow, it was an interesting conversation, one that will be continuing as Canada continues to try to figure out what it can do in the Mideast and elsewhere.