Monday, February 8, 2016

Trudeau's New Anti-ISIS Policy

The new policy is entirely unsurprising even if it is, um, not entirely coherent.
Taking the CF-18s out meets the campaign promise, but is poorly explained.
Keeping the Auroras (recon) and Polaris (refueling) planes means Canada is doing stuff that is valued by the allies and is helpful ... by facilitating the bombing done by others.
Training the Iraqis and Kurds more than they have been doing so thus far?  Sure. 

The key problem in all of this is that we still don't have a good explanation for this stance.  Saying that bombing is good in the short term but not long term does not really explain why Trudeau opposed the bombing when it started.  It worked in the short term by containing and reversing ISIS's gains.  Ooops.  And if it does not make sense in the long term, why support the allied effort to bomb?  As others have argued, Canada is now doing everything in the bombing campaign except for dropping bombs. 

My problem is not with the actual policies but with the explanations.  If Trudeau is just trying to keep a campaign promise, he still needs a better explanation.  And there are abundant ones out there:
  • that any military effort is costly, so it makes to develop the mix that provides the best effects for the dollars and that to train more means we need to bomb less--due to budget constraints.
  • that the CF-18s are already at the end of their lives so we need to be careful about overusing them (given the need to do more flying over the Baltics thanks to Russia).  Flying less over Syria/Iraq now means that they can keep flying while we figure out how to replace them. 
  • that much of the bombing in the near future will be in the cities of Iraq, and we do not want to have our pilots responsible for civilian casualties.  We would rather train the local forces to be more discriminating.  Not a great answer, but not an awful one either.
None of these explanations are super happy, but they do make sense in the larger scheme of things.  A pacifist answer will not, ahem, fly with Canadians (see recent surveys favoring Canadian participation in bombing) especially after the attacks in Ottawa in October of 2014.  The short run vs. long argument is problematic because every day we live in the short run....

But to be clear, the Conservatives are going to say a lot of stuff about this, and they will benefit from having a short memory.   How so?  They will forget that they, the Conservatives, ran Canada out of Kandahar while the allies were still fighting and taking casualties in Afghanistan.  That was far more problematic than this--a battlegroup and the rest of the stuff was far more valuable than 6 CF-18s.

So, expect much histronics.  I wish either party or both would take a mature stance on this issue, but as my new book depicts, expecting such is unrealistic.  

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