In The Media

Five reasons Ottawa shouldn't extend Iraq mission

by Daryl Copeland

Toronto Star
March 23, 2015

Joining the bombing, training and special operations mission in Iraq was unnecessary; continuing and expanding it will compound the costs.

The government has announced that it will table a motion in Parliament to extend and expand the bombing, training and special operations mission in Iraq. Syria may now also be included.

Joining this mission was unnecessary; continuing and expanding it will compound the costs.

Canada need not participate in this campaign. Following are five reasons why the application of armed force is ill-advised:

It doesn’t work. Look no further than the disastrous results of recent Western military interventions. Afghanistan, where support for the Mujahidin gave way to the creation of Al Qaeda, is fractured and failing. Libya, where conditions of life once topped the African continent on the UNDP’s Human Development Index, is imploding. In Iraq, the current problem with the Islamic State is a direct result of the security, governance and justice vacuum engendered by the ruinous U.S.-led invasion and occupation of 2003 to 2011. Blowback, big time.

It plays into the hands of Islamic State strategists. Recourse to high-tech violence iscounter-productive and bolsters impressions of Western imperial bullying. Equally important, in a communications environment dominated by social and digital media, the recorded carnage (from barbaric executions to dead children, urban devastation, ruined schools and hospitals) provides the raw material that facilitates domestic Jihadi recruitment and the virtual formation of extremist communities worldwide. Anti-Western attitudes, especially in Arab and Islamic countries, are reinforced and hardened.

It spoils the Canadian brand. Within international organizations and among members of the NGO set, Canada is already seen as a retrograde player. Participating in U.S.-led wars undercuts what remains of Canada’s international reputation as a force for peace and progress, while exacerbating the threat to domestic security and the safety of Canadians abroad. How many red maple leaves have you noticed on backpacks lately?

It reinforces the gross imbalance in the distribution of international policy resources. With the military enjoying the limelight and adulated as the instrument of choice, diplomacy and development are suffering. The Department of Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development, the combined department now responsible for bringing coherence and direction to these portfolios, is rudderless and marginalized. Diplomatic initiatives — once a hallmark of Canadian foreign policy — are non-existent, and our ineffective aid expenditures test OECD lows.

It is militarily insignificant and wasteful. At a time of shrinking revenues and cutbacks, Canada’s expensive and purely symbolic contribution is making no measurable difference to the conflict’s outcome. If demonstrating alliance solidarity — rather than playing warrior nation wannabe — is the underlying objective, then there are preferable options.

What might constitute a better way forward? A national debate on all elements of international policy — defence, diplomacy, trade, aid and immigration — is desperately needed. One of the government’s most disturbing tendencies is its insistence on muzzling, message control and the centralization of all communications. It is time to open the floor.

Secondly, our Middle East policy needs drastic re-orientation, moving away from unconditional support for Israel — something even the U.S. is now reconsidering — to a balanced and comprehensive regional strategy. Civil society support, reconstruction and humanitarian assistance to Iraq, coupled with working towards a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria, would be cornerstones.

Finally, at a time when terrorism is again being trumpeted as the greatest threat to Canadian security, Canada should publicly withdraw from the ill-starred Global War on Terror and redeploy resources to address more profound global challenges. Our increasingly heteropolar world is riven by a host of wicked, complex, transnational issues, including climate change, environmental collapse, diminishing biodiversity and resource scarcity. Each is immune to military solution and imperils the entire planet. The inordinate emphasis on countering terrorism is a distraction which feeds the politics of fear.

Fast forward to the government’s chilling determination to grant more power to the security services under bill C-51. All part of the same agenda, and another big hit on legal rights and civil liberties.

Iraq is the latest blunt instrument being used to inflict trauma on the quality and integrity of Canadian politics and public administration — not to mention our international security, reputation and influence. The institutional corrosion resulting from the policy of militarization has generated grave and enduring costs.

It remains to be seen whether or not the transformation is reversible; the forthcoming election may provide an opening.

Evidence of lessons learned?


Just as was the case during the nine-year misadventure in Afghanistan, Canada is once again showing how to put out fires — with gasoline.

Former diplomat Daryl Copeland is an educator, analyst and consultant, the author of Guerrilla Diplomacy and a Research Fellow at the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. Follow him on Twitter @GuerrillaDiplo.

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