Back to the Middle East – What a Military Mission Against Islamic State could Mean for Canada

The NDP dislike the idea, the Liberals believe Canada can do better. However, as things go, Canada is set to join the U.S.- led military campaign against the Islamic State by the end of this month. The motion to join the fight against Islamic State was first raised by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on October 3, 2014. Three days later, on October 6, the motion passed 157 -134 in a House of Commons vote. If all goes as planned, Canada will have up to ten military aircraft and 600 personnel in the Middle East for up to 6 months. Yet, as the conflict in Iraq and Syria escalates and becomes increasingly complex, many have started to question the merit of Harper’s decision to involve Canada militarily in the crisis, and whether Canada’s mission will benefit or hurt the nation’s intent to resolve the conflict.

The Islamic State, otherwise known as IS, ISIS, or ISIL, rose to infamy following its blitzkrieg advance across Iraq and its publishing of four videos, all of which depict the beheading of western journalists and aid workers. Over the course of several months, the Islamic State changed from being yet another jihadist organisation to a war-mongering “state” promising the demise of all who oppose its ideology. The ensuing conflict then grew from involving those in Iraq and Syria (the affected region) to involving the United States. Other countries including France, the U.K., the Netherlands, Australia, and a host of Arab nations soon joined as well.

At this point, with IS allegedly gaining thousands of recruits and millions of dollars in funding per day, the conflict is set to become greater. For this reason, Harper may be right in saying that Canada’s military involvement is necessary to ensure that the conflict does not spiral out of control. However, for the same reason, it is unlikely that Harper’s plan to involve Canada for only 6 months will be realistic. Pointing to previous Western-led missions to the Middle East such as NATO’s campaign in Afghanistan, NDP leader Thomas Mulcair emphasized that Canada’s involvement may very well drag far beyond its intended duration. The emergence of such a quagmire will result in a an unproductive waste of Canadian economic and human resources, harming both Canada itself as well as those in the Middle East.

Aside from the potential for quagmire, there has been evidence that Canada’s military role against IS may actually endanger Canadians, contrary to protecting them. As Israelinewspaper Haaretz reports, as many as 6000 individuals chose to fight with Islamic State following the U.S. decision to begin airstrikes. The presence of foreign military forces in against Islamic State has convinced otherwise peaceful Muslims in the area that, contrary to fighting extremists, the West is in fact fighting Islam itself. In sending its military to fight in the Middle East directly, Canada could inadvertently label itself as the aggressor as opposed to the peace-maker, and as a consequence acquire additional opponents.

The prospect of a long war that could unnecessarily endanger Canada has caused many to think twice about the government’s decision to fight IS militarily. The greatest concern, however, remains with the merits of the U.S.-led Coalition Canada plans to join, whether the mission itself has been and will be an effective solution against IS. The jihadists have advanced in recent days in spite of continuing Coalition airstrikes. Furthermore, some claim that Coalition airstrikes have played a role in worsening the current conflict. Accidental damage to civilian infrastructure as a result of Coalition bombing has outraged citizens within the region, and subsequently given impacted Muslims a cause to join the Islamic State. In an article published last week, The Economist suggested that Coalition attacks on the Islamic State have allowed the jihadists to use vengeance as a way to appeal to recruits, further fueling the conflict. In light of such reports on the ineffectiveness of the current campaign, many are questioning whether Canada’s participation in the coalition will do anything to improve its effectiveness and the current situation. It may not be in Canada’s best interests to join a mission that is already encountering unexpected difficulty. In doing so, Canada may waste its valuable efforts and take on unnecessary burdens attempting to push forward a campaign that refuses to progress.

Although questions pertaining to the Prime Minister’s decision to send Canada into war remain, there are not many who question the necessity to intervene against the Islamic State, in one way or the other. Harper’s motion to intervene militarily may have been necessary to expand Canada’s current role in remediating the IS crisis, but it may not have been the best way to tackle this ambiguous issue. Whether Harper is right in sending a military campaign to Iraq will only become clear once the mission is under way. However, regardless of whether the government’s military campaign succeeds, Canada’s decision to participate in the fight against Islamic State will no doubt mean a lot more than just one military campaign, what “a lot more” means, though, no one knows for sure yet.Payton, L., & Elliott, L. (2014, October 8). ISIS threat to Canada not imminent but real, CSIS director warns.

– Jack D.

Retrieved October 9, 2014. Berthiaume, L., & Levitz, S. (2014, October 6). Canada at war: Vote to launch combat mission
against ISIS passes 157-134 in House of Commons.

Retrieved October 6, 2014.Reyhanli. (2014, October 4). The war against Islamic State – Unintended Consequences.The
Economist, 53-54.

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