War apples and terrorism oranges

I have been listening to the debate in Parliament about the Canadian government’s decision to continue the mission in Syria and Iraq against Islamic State (IS) but pull back the CF-18s that have been contributing airstrikes since last year.  There have been passionate speeches and what I saw as sincere calls for the government to change its mind and keep our aircraft in theatre.  On the other hand, I heard the phrase “cut and run” a lot and I must admit I do not understand how tripling our contingent, increasing humanitarian aid and boosting our training efforts for local actors (remember: the locals have to step up and defeat this enemy in their own front yard) constitutes cowardice. We are neither cutting nor running.

I heard a lot of accusations that this policy is not “how Canada does things”.  Again, I fail to see how this is true (how does Canada “do” things?), but to each his own.  But what really worried me was the practice in speaker after speaker to recall Canadian military experience going back to WWI and to imply that the CF-18 withdrawal was a slap in the face to veterans.  That is where I draw the line.

I am a patriotic Canadian and I am eternally grateful for the supreme sacrifice paid by our men in women in uniform to protect what we have.  Last fall I stood with my daughter on Juno Beach, and in the trenches of Beaumont-Hamel and at Vimy Ridge and at countless Commonwealth War Grave Commission sites all over northern France to pay our respects to the fallen.  I do my utmost to attend the annual Remembrance Day ceremony at the National War Memorial and recognise those that serve today.  These were and are exceptional people.

This does not mean that I, or anyone else for that matter, has the right to offhandedly compare what is happening in Iraq and what we are doing about it to what happened a century ago.  What our soldiers did in WWI, or WWII and Korea for that matter, all of which many parliamentarians waxed eloquent about in the debate, has little bearing on what we have to do with Islamic State.  First and foremost, we were at war with foes in the examples provided: we are not, and should not be, at war with IS.  As I have written ad nauseum, IS is not an army, not a state and not worthy of being called a combatant.  Calling our fight with a terrorist group a war is simply a bad idea.

Canada and Canadians will confront many challenges and dangers as we continue to contribute to the international campaign against IS and other terrorist groups.  More lives will be lost and a greater number will be injured, physically and psychologically.  To dismiss this commitment by so many, just because they are not flying CF-18s, is both a slap to Canada’s role and to the blood, sweat and tears of our men and women of the Armed Forces.

By all means commemorate and thank the fallen in previous wars.  Just don’t abuse their cause to cast doubt on today’s venture.  Canada’s soldiers, as well as its diplomats, humanitarian workers, and others, deserve better.

By Phil Gurski

Phil Gurski is the President and CEO of Borealis Threat and Risk Consulting Ltd. Phil is a 32-year veteran of CSE and CSIS and the author of six books on terrorism.

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