The latest controversy – of sorts – to surround the new Canadian government is the decision to bring home our 6 F-18s from the mission to combat Daesh in the Middle East. Canada will no longer drop bombs though they will provide refueling and targeting support. Instead of dropping bombs, Canada will triple the number of trainers working with front-line troops and expand humanitarian aid.
Some members of the media say they don’t understand the rationale behind this decision. The Conservative party calls it shameful, perhaps because they still can’t quite accept the reality of their recent defeat and the repudiation of most of their policies. Meanwhile, the Obama administration, which is the undisputed leader of this mission, welcomes the new Canadian approach. They even referred to it as ‘forward looking.’
The reason for ending the bombing mission is simple: it was what the new government said it would do in the election campaign. While Canadians didn’t specifically vote for that policy (or for any particular policy), they did vote for the whole package. If Trudeau had reversed himself, how long would it take the media to criticize him for a promise broken? The NDP certainly would have howled and even the Conservatives, who have recently shown themselves as masters of the hypocritical reversal, would have complained.
Canadians – according to the polls – support the fight against Daesh but they will likely support a boots on the ground mission as much as they support the current bombing one.
But there is more to the change in plans than that. Bombing is a fine holding tactic. It limits the growth and expansion of Daesh but does little to eliminate it. When errors are made, such as when hospitals, wedding parties and busy markets are ‘accidentally’ shelled, it serves as a fine recruitment video for the terrorists.
You may recall that the Nazis determined to bomb the fighting spirit out of the English during the Blitz. How did that work out for them? In the 60s, American generals promised to bomb the Viet Cong back to the Stone Age; a few years later they were fleeing Saigon. Even the ‘shock and awe’ campaign of the Iraq war was followed by 10 bloody years on the ground to accomplish what? A lot of dead Iraquis and Americans and the expenditure of trillions of dollars. Oh, yeah and the rise of Daesh.
Conservatives like bombing missions, especially against an enemy without an effective air defense. No body bags coming home to remind the public of the real cost of war. You may also remember how hard the Harper government tried to hide that sight from public eyes until they were forced to reverse course. No wounded or traumatized soldier either – except it turns out that the men and women who push the buttons do suffer trauma when the results are factored. Unlike some of their political bosses, they are capable of empathy and are troubled by their actions.
In the end it comes down to resources (we’ll spend even more on training and humanitarian aid than on bombing) and their effective use. If bombing isn’t going to stop Daesh, we need to find something that will. Maybe regional coalitions and a more humane face for the west is that something.
And that’s ten minutes.