Ceasefire.ca is currently in the process of preparing a web-based letter-writing campaign calling on the Prime Minister of Canada to live up to the promise he made during the election campaign, and which he included in the mandate letter to his Minister of Defence, to end Canadian air strikes in Iraq and Syria.
Despite this unequivocal commitment, reiterated by the PM to the President of the United States in their first conversation after the election, Canada continues to engage in air strikes and, unbelievably, even increased the tempo over the Christmas holiday period.
Since the horrific terrorist attacks in Paris in November, there has been an incessant drumbeat in the media that Canada should reverse its decision to end air strikes, as if the decision was based on a misunderstanding of the threat posed by Islamic State, rather than on a determination that Canada could play a more useful role in other ways.
I wrote about a more effective role for Canada in an article for the Canadian International Council on December llth, 2015. In preparation for our Action campaign next week (which will be announced on the website and via email to all Ceasefire.ca newsletter subscribers), I am reposting that article below.
Bombing and training are both problematic
The United States alone can easily handle all militarily useful airstrike targets against ISIS. Participation by others is therefore symbolic and token at best. While in the case of Arab states, this might at least have been useful — in that it would weaken the idea that this is a war between the West and Islam — those coalition members have abandoned their bombing in Iraq and Syria in favour of decimating the already utterly impoverished country of Yemen.
But bombing even of the token variety has consequences, most notably collateral damage in the form of death and injury to innocent civilians, which in turn leads to yet more violent jihadists, seeking revenge.
Since a war cannot be won through bombing but only through the actions of ground forces, in theory at least training of local Iraqi and Syrian forces should be a more productive role for Canada. In practice, however, problems abound. The Americans to date have spent about US$500 million on training local, so-called moderate Syrian fighters with shockingly abysmal results: namely a total of four or five fighters trained and with countless American-supplied weapons ending up in extremist hands in the process.
Training of Kurdish Peshmerga, which Canada is already doing, may yield better fighters but not a stronger Iraq, since what the Kurds have in mind is an independent Kurdistan, something about which our NATO ally, Turkey, has grave concerns. Then there are the disturbing allegations of grave human rights abuses by Kurdish forces including their refusal to allow non-Kurds to return to their villages, once the Peshmerga “liberate” them from ISIS.
And we have precious few Iraqi Sunnis to train since, in their stronghold of Anbar province, Sunni tribes have largely chosen what they see as the lesser of two evils, ISIS, over a corrupt and sectarian Iraqi government utilizing Iranian-backed Shia militias as its main fighting force against ISIS.
Bombing Islamic State and training local fighters is doing little to end the civil war in Syria. But without an end to that war, ISIS cannot be effectively contained. Canada, then, urgently needs to throw its support wholeheartedly behind the UN-facilitated peace negotiations which now involve all but the most hardline Syrian factions, and to participate actively in the Vienna process of the so-called Syrian Support Group, which finally includes virtually all of the external backers of the various warring factions, including Russia and Iran.