We will not stumble into war

By Thomas Mulcair

Royal Canadian Air Force members of Air Task Force-Iraq  participate in the SHAMAL SERIALS, a combat search and rescue exercise held for personnel of the Middle East Stabilization Force, currently conducting operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a training area in Kuwait on March 16, 2015. (Combat Camera).

Royal Canadian Air Force members of Air Task Force-Iraq  participate in the SHAMAL SERIALS, a combat search and rescue exercise held for personnel of the Middle East Stabilization Force, currently conducting operations against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) in a training area in Kuwait on March 16, 2015. (Combat Camera).

A prime minister has no more sacred duty than the decision to send young Canadian women and men to fight, and — as we saw with the tragic death of Sgt. Andrew Joseph Doiron — all too often die, in a foreign war.

On September 5, last fall, Stephen Harper announced he was ordering a 30-day non-combat training mission in Iraq. He did so while Parliament wasn’t even sitting, avoiding an inconvenient vote, let alone having a democratic debate on the matter.

On October 3, just two days before the 30-day deadline was up, Mr. Harper announced he was extending the Iraq mission for another six months. By the time he finally brought a motion to the House for debate, the mission had escalated to include CF-18 airstrikes as well.

As Canadians would learn later, that escalation also included something never approved by Parliament: Members of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR) would be involved in combat, on the frontline, painting targets for those airstrikes. In fact, the Prime Minister didn’t just fail to inform Parliament that he had committed Canadian troops to this dangerous new role, he flatly denied it.

On September 30, I asked the Prime Minister twice whether Canadian troops would be involving in directing airstrikes by Canadian or U.S. warplanes. Both times he insisted they would not, saying there would be no combat role for forces on the ground.

Step-by-step, without accountability, transparency or informed debate, the Prime Minister pulled Canadians into the War in Iraq.

That was six months ago. Now Mr. Harper is poised to do it again.

Mere days before the six-month mission in Iraq is set to end, Mr. Harper is now planning not only another extension of the mission, but another escalation as well.

The details? Less than a month from the deadline to have our troops out of Iraq, Canadians still don’t know — still not one word from the government.

If it is the Prime Minister’s sacred duty to decide whether to send our troops to war, then it’s the Opposition’s equally sacred duty to scrutinize every aspect of that decision. We owe it to our sons and daughters, who put themselves in harm’s way to protect us, to ensure they’re never sent to do so recklessly or without the support they need to get the job done. As Leader of the Official Opposition, I feel the weight of that responsibility every time I stand across from the Prime Minister in Parliament; I feel it every time I meet a veteran who has been left behind by the Conservatives.

Since the Vietnam War, military planners have agreed on two key conditions for undertaking any conflict: an unambiguous mission objective and a viable exit strategy — a clear beginning and a clear end. Stephen Harper has given us neither.

Royal Canadian Air Force members of Air Task Force-Iraq participate in a training exercise in Kuwait as part of Operation Impact. (Combat Camera).

Royal Canadian Air Force members of Air Task Force-Iraq participate in a training exercise in Kuwait as part of Operation Impact. (Combat Camera).

Just last year, Canada’s mission in Afghanistan was brought to an end. It was the longest military action in Canadian history. More than 40,000 Canadian soldiers served there for more than 12 long years — 160 killed, more than 1,000 wounded and thousands more suffering from PTSD. The utter failure to deliver on Canada’s commitment to the veterans of that war has already become one of the darkest blights on the record of Stephen Harper’s government. Like today in Iraq, that mission began with only a handful of special operations forces.

Without a clear, well-defined goal, a realistic plan to achieve it or any sense of how to handle the aftermath, Mr. Harper has now plunged Canada into another war — one we so wisely avoided a decade ago.

The United States has been embroiled in this conflict for more than ten years with no end in sight.  Will Mr. Harper fare any better in his War in Iraq than Mr. Bush faired in his?

For more than 10 years, insurgents in Iraq have thrived precisely because the country lacks a stable, well-functioning government capable of maintaining peace and security within its own borders. Canada’s first contribution to Iraq should be to use every diplomatic, humanitarian and financial resource at our disposal to respond to the human tragedy unfolding on the ground and strengthen political institutions in both Iraq and Syria. With the hard-earned credibility Canada earned by rejecting the initial ill-advised invasion of Iraq 10 years ago, we are well positioned to take that initiative.

The struggle against ISIS terrorists won’t end with another Western military action in Iraq and Syria. It will end by helping the people of Iraq and Syria build the political, institutional, and security capabilities they need to oppose such groups themselves.

Canada, for its part, must not stumble into war.