The Sunday Magazine·The Sunday Edition

Why is Canada at War? - Michael's essay

With the extension of Canada's military mission in Iraq to Syria, questions must be asked.
Canadian CF-18 Hornets making their way to Kuwait, to join the fight against the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. (Credit: The Canadian Press/Jason Franson)

It is more than a little disconcerting on a bright Easter morning, on a quiet Passover weekend to realize that once again Canada is at war. The war resolution passed the Commons this week by a vote of 142 to 129. The Canadian Forces mission, begun last October, is now extended for another year.

Our last war, in Afghanistan, lasted 12 years. The kill count was 158 Canadian service men and women, one diplomat, one journalist and two civilian contractors. There are some 2,100 Afghanistan veterans trying to recover from combat and other non-battle injuries. In terms of treasure, the total bill to the country is $12 billion. This includes $8.4 billion for the mission itself and $447-million to take care of our veterans.

When the Iraq operation was announced, the government ministers and the prime minister made it clear that this was not a ground combat mission. Our forces were in Iraq as advisers to Iraqi and Kurdish forces only. We were assured that the six CF-18 jet fighters would bomb Islamic State targets only in Iraq.

As with the length of the mission, the scope of the mission has now changed. Canadian pilots will begin bombing IS targets inside Syria any day now. The government has formally disburdened itself of the argument that Canadians are only advisors. In fact of all the countries involved in the coalition against Islamic State, only Canada and the United States are conducting bombing missions. Which puts us firmly on the side of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad, whose family has been slaughtering Syrians for decades and continues to do so.

We can't say we haven't been prepped to accept the current war. The prime minister and his ministers have been warning us for months, how Canada is under threat, under siege in the words of one minister. IS has declared open war on this country, we are told. We must mobilize to protect ourselves. Expect rationing and scrap metal drives any day now.

Our Foreign Affairs Minister Rob Nicholson recently told a group of diplomats that the Iraq, now Syria mission was a matter of moral clarity. But before you can have moral clarity, shouldn't you have intellectual clarity? For example, no one has explained to me in any satisfactory way, how bombing IS warriors in Iraq or Syria will prevent a terrorist from attacking the West Edmonton Mall? The polls suggest that the majority of Canadians support the new war initiative of the government. And in doing so, it will be hard for that majority to vote against a wartime prime minister in the October federal election.

War is the ultimate acknowledgement of collective failure. War means that we don't know how to confront evil by any means other than killing and dying. We should prepare ourselves for more solemn funeral corteges along the Highway of Heroes, more saluting the flag, more fear rhetoric, coupled to patriotic oratory.
And our television networks will continue to broadcast the sordid propaganda films of Islamic State.

We are now firmly entrenched in a sectarian war between Shia and Sunni Muslims in the bedlam that is the Middle East. Simple question: How do we get out?


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