As I write this, one hundred years after the outbreak of what has come to be known as the “war to end all wars”, or World War One, the elected members of the Canadian parliament are debating whether the nature of Canada’s mission in the war against ISIS in the Middle East should be humanitarian, combative or a combination of the two. The debate, which is expected to last several hours, will provide Canadians with an insight into the positions of the parties. However the ruling Conservative Party’s majority ensures their preference for a combat mission will be adopted at this evening’s vote. The only question is what the final tally will be.
The government’s option includes sending up to 10 aircraft and 600 personnel, a six month limit, Canadians will attack only by air, not land, and air combat over Syria is an option in the future.
Canada has long been known for our peacekeeping work around the world. One gets used to seeing Canadian troops wearing the blue berets indicative of a United Nations peacekeeping mission. Yet Canadians fought bravely and proudly in both world wars, in fact entering each conflict significantly before the U.S.
Still, recent poll numbers find that 64 percent of Canadians are “somewhat or strongly” supportive of a role that would include air strikes. The remaining 36 per cent were “opposed”, but just 16 per cent “strongly” so — compared to 29 percent who “strongly” supported a more intense role.
But let’s keep in mind that this is a different kind of war; unlike the clear-cut sides in the World Wars, defined both nationally and geographically, the current enemy is a fluid, religion-based extremist entity that uses innocent civilians as shields. This makes finding and dealing with them a tricky as well as dangerous undertaking. Countless civilian lives, including women and children, stand to be lost in attempts to bomb ISIS into submission.
Also, it must be taken into consideration that while both World Wars, like the old song says, were “over there” – Pearl Harbor notwithstanding, these terrorists have a way of bringing their war over here.
Is the possibility of retaliatory terrorist attacks on Canadian soil by ISIS, should we agree to send fighter jets to the Middle East, coupled with the vague chances for the success of the mission worth it?
How will Canadians react when and if one of our own is the victim of an egregious ISIS beheading video should we take part in a combat mission as is the ISIS modus operandi?
I’m not saying a combat mission should be avoided, I’m merely pointing out that we may find ourselves with a tiger by the tale.