Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Canada Expands Its War: Qomments

The Nerdist broadcast has a thing called Qomments--questions and comments.  Which pretty much captures what this post on the news du jour. 
  • Does it matter that Canada has no legal cover for this?  This is the first time I know of (and I am no Canadian military historian) where Canada is engaged in combat (by planes, if not by SOF-ish adventures) without either an international resolution (UN or NATO or both) or an invitation by the country to be protected. 
  • Is the kind of bombing in Syria different than that which is going to happen now in Iraq?  That is, not that there are no targets left in Iraq but if the fighting shifts into the cities, such as Mosul, there may be different risks--more risks of hitting civilians.  Is the Syrian air campaign seen as cleaner?  I have no idea.
  • The plan in Iraq is clear but hard--try to get the existing government to make deals with the Sunnis that bind them better than the last time.  Not easy at all but an exit path.  Bombing helps keep ISIS down, but lasting stability requires a deal of some kind.  Syria?  I have no idea.  Bomb ISIS helps Assad, but not bombing ISIS in Syria helps ISIS in Iraq.  Damn. 
    • I hate talk of exit strategies because it means you are far more focused on the getting out rather than the doing.  But there is some need for some idea of what the strategy is here besides whacking moles.  Attrition is probably not going to work too well.
  • I do prefer renewing this thing a year at a time rather than every six months.  Not just because the media time suck is then less frequent, but because none of the actors involved benefit from the spin cycle being that frequent.
  • What will happen to public opinion now that the mission is expanded to Syria?  The recent poll does not ask this.  Given that ISIS is mighty unpopular here, especially after the events of October in Quebec and Ottawa, the best guess is that the public is not going to mind so much as long as it does not mean much more risk.  Which gets back to whether the air strikes in Syria are qualitatively different than those in Iraq?
  • I am not thrilled that there is not much of a learning curve when it comes to the language about ground forces: "Canada will not be participating in ground combat operations."  I prefer the American language about enduring offensive operations.  CANSOF are going to be doing combat, as they have already done so.  They have fought when fired upon and put themselves into places where such stuff happens.  They have participated in the air campaign by lasing ISIS targets, which means they are abetting combat from the ground.  So, "ground combat ops" is a lousy description of what they are not doing.  What they are not doing is engaging in an enduring offensive effort.  If they want to foreswear raids (something that the American language clearly permits), then they can say that.  Oy.
Just one key certainty: humility.  Canada's contribution is meaningful but it is not going to swing outcomes by themselves.


Anonymous said...

I my opinion, I don't believe it matters that Canada has no explicit legal cover for this. There is a growing precedent to intervene on humanitarian grounds especially if it can be deemed that the host state is unwilling or unable to deal with the problem themselves. Even if it is strictly illegal, which is a difficult thing to establish in international law, it is unlikely – in my opinion – that Canada, or other countries, will face any significant future backlash from the international community given the nature of the conflict. The international community in the past has shown a level of apathy when the action is likely illegal but is concurrent with the beliefs of a large enough proportion of the international community.

I don't personally like this move by the government given the loft goals/aims in the region but the legality is the least of my concerns.

Steve Saideman said...

The thing is: in Syria, it is not ISIL doing most of the damage but Asad. So, our bombing campaign will indirectly help the side that is doing the most damage. I am not saying we should not expand our effort, but that the humanitarian argument has some challenges it must address.