CANADIAN MILITARY INTERVENTION ABROAD: A HISTORY OF CUTTING & RUNNING

By Scott Taylor

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier upon arrival at Kandahar Airfield for his first official visit to Afghanistan in March 2006.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper greets Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier upon arrival at Kandahar Airfield for his first official visit to Afghanistan in March 2006.

Shortly after being elected in 2006, Prime Minister Stephen Harper flew into Kandahar Airfield to deliver a rousing pep talk.

At that juncture, the Canadian contingent was experiencing a dramatic increase in casualties, and for the first time Canadians were beginning to question our military involvement in Afghanistan.

To rally the troops, Harper uttered the Churchillian phrase “Canada does not cut and run.” This was grist for the tub-thumpers’ mill, and the pro-war pundits hailed Harper’s words unquestioningly.

Those with clearer memories pointed out that, since the Korean War, Canada has pretty much “cut and run” from every military intervention we embarked upon: Cyprus, Bosnia, East Timor and Kosovo are all still patrolled by international forces that no longer include Canadian contingents. Canada was also part of the ill-fated intervention into Somalia in 1993 that ended in withdrawal and embarrassment for the United States-led coalition.

By 2009, with casualties still mounting and victory still elusive, Harper’s defiant tone softened considerably and the phrase “exit strategy” came to the fore. Following a whirlwind fact-finding trip led by former Liberal cabinet minister John Manley, it was decided to extend the mission in Afghanistan, but not indefinitely. Canada was to end the combat mission in 2011 and then conclude its training mission by the spring of 2014.

This decision to “cut and run, just not right away” displeased the warmongers immensely. “We didn’t set an arbitrary date when we were fighting the Nazis,” they whined collectively, “we fought until the job was done.”

Despite these protests, Canada did lower the flag in Afghanistan and staged a “Day of Honour” ceremony in Ottawa to mark the occasion because a victory parade was too ridiculous a notion to even suggest.

However, even as the crowds gathered on Parliament Hill to salute our Afghanistan veterans, a new phenomenon that called itself ISIL, ISIS or Daesh was sweeping out of Syria and capturing a vast swath of Iraq. The overwhelmed Iraqi security forces fled in the face of the ISIS threat, leaving behind the multibillion-dollar arsenal that had been provided to them by the U.S.

In a desperate move to halt any further advances of these fanatical beheaders, the impotent regime in Baghdad called for U.S. and Iranian military assistance. The U.S. agreed to help, and Canada quickly joined the newly formed anti-ISIS coalition.

Last October, Parliament agreed to a six-month deployment of a small combat, reconnaissance and refuelling air force contingent and a training cadre of up to 69 army personnel. No one, at that time, seriously believed that ISIS would be defeated within a six-month window, especially since there would be no actual international combat troops on the ground.

But there was no outcry from the Colonel Blimps and war hawks over the fact that, once again, Canada was fixing a date to our commitment. Results didn’t matter as long as our sons and daughters were once again off to a real shooting war. Wave that flag and thump that tub.

Last month, when Canada agreed to extend the mission in Iraq and violate international law by expanding the bombing campaign into Syria for one more year, again no one mentioned victory. Hell, given the complexity of the multi-layered conflicts in both Iraq and Syria, it seems no one can even define what victory might look like, let alone how we will achieve it in a year.

The government is also a little hard-pressed to define Canada’s role against ISIS that means we are allied with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s forces, Hezbollah, Shiite militias commanded by Iranian officers, the PKK (Kurdistan Workers’ Party, a Kurdish terrorist organization) and Kurdish al-Qaida — all of whom are also fighting ISIS.

If one needs a clear example of what results occur when you don’t fully think through a military intervention, the recent migrant drowning deaths in the Mediterranean should do the trick.

Canada proudly took the lead role in the 2011 NATO air campaign to oust Libyan president Moammar Gadhafi. Following his death at the hands of the rebels, Canada cut and ran, celebrated with a victory parade and conveniently ignored the fact that Libya was still wracked with inter-factional violence. Libya is now a completely failed state, engulfed in violent anarchy, a breeding ground for Islamic extremists, including ISIS, and, as evidenced by the human wave seeking sanctuary in Europe, a thriving haven for human traffickers.

At the very least, Canada should be contributing heavily to the naval search and rescue efforts off the coast of Libya. After all, we took great pride in creating the power vacuum that led to this current crisis.