I actually don’t object to the “whip out our CF18s and show how big they are” quip that got Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into some political hot water. It was, in reality, rather good and quite apt, too … where he failed, where he is still failing, today, was and is in his inability to explain what could and, now, can be done better or, even, differently. He doubled down on a somewhat juvenile quip rather than offering reasons for his reluctance to use air power against Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS.
I wish, back in June of last year, when first challenged in the media, Justin Trudeau had said something based upon these “talking points:”
- In foreign policy we don’t have only a hammer and every problem is not a nail. There may be alternatives to bombing. If I’m elected to be PM then I want to explore them with other world leaders.
- I understand that Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS are barbarians and I understand that they need to be cleaned out, but I’m not convinced that bombing from 20,000 feet is the only or the best way to do that.
- I’m well aware of the philosophical underpinnings of a “just war,” but I’m unsure if we have always followed them. I know that World War II and Korea and the first Gulf war, for example, were “just wars,” and all Canadians take pride in the roles our armed forces played in fighting them all. But what about this or these wars in the Middle East, are they “just,” and even if they are, is our intervention in then “just?”
- It seems to me that the Middle East, indeed, North Africa, the Middle East and South West Asia is embroiled in a crisis that is, very likely, going to result in a long, bloody series of revolts and rebellions, civil wars and internecine regional wars, too. I am not persuaded that we, the US led West has much to offer the contending sides, beyond trying to help with refugees and selling weapons to one and all.
- I’m reminded of the great statesman Lord Palmerston who once remarked, about some obscure but troublesome European dispute, that it had been said that he was one of only three people in the world who understood the issue: one had died, one was in an insane asylum and he, Palmerston, had happily forgotten all about it. It may be that the “solution” to the problems in the Middle East are equally intractable, and, perhaps, the best thing we, in the US led West, can do is to back away and let the locals sort it out amongst themselves. But I’m not claiming to have all the answers, in fact I don’t even know all the right questions, but if I’m elected as your prime minister I will start asking some hard questions, here, at home, and in foreign capitals, too.
Now, I am on the record as saying that I actually oppose all interventions in the Middle East. First, as I have explained, the situation is complex beyond belief … it’s worse than Palmerston’s Schlesweig-Holstein muddle, and we cannot, really, be sure that we have any friends there or that we really even know which side is which. Second, as I have also mentioned, I am skeptical of the USA’s strategic vision and its leadership … since about 1960. Those are, in my opinion, sufficient strategic reasons for Prime Minister Trudeau or any Western leader to want to stand back, for a moment at least, and consider what is being done and why.
Now, perhaps we simply cannot leave well enough alone. Perhaps there really is a moral requirement to “do something” about or, at least, to Da’esh/ISIL/ISIS; perhaps this must be answered:
But, is bombing from 20,000 feet the best answer? Is it, and the “collateral damage” that almost always attend it, morally justifiable? And if we do want to eschew bombing on moral grounds, then is targeting for the bombers, which we swill still be doing, perhaps doing even more, morally justified? If we are not quitting the bombing effort on moral grounds then why? There is no suggestion that our CF-18s are anything less than effective; in fact it has been suggested that they are better than others. Who has asked for more training? What are the unintended consequences of providing support for on group, like the peshmerga that may, inadvertently, draw us into other undesirable situations? In short, did we think this through?
We have a new, refocused policy, one that, it appears, General Jon Vance seems to understand better than Prime Minister Trudeau, Foreign Minister Dion, Defence Minister Sajjan and International Development Minister Bibeau do …
… it’s not supposed to be that way, friends; the ministers are supposed to tell us “why,” and the CDS is meant to explain “how.” In my opinion the answer to my own question is: No, they did not think this through.
I’m not saying that Prime Minister Trudeau was wrong, many months ago, to joke about “whipping out our CF-18s,” nor is his brand spanking new, refocused policy wrong … but if it’s right he doesn’t seem to know why it’s right and that is a worry.
Policy needs to be thought through … by the prime minister and cabinet ministers.