POLITICS

Liberal Shift On ISIS Mission Motivated By Politics, Philosophy

02/08/2016 05:30 EST | Updated 02/08/2017 05:12 EST
OTTAWA — The Liberal government says it's making a different choice when it comes to the ISIL mission, pulling out of bombing in favour of more training and intelligence work, more humanitarian aid, more diplomacy.

But why is a different choice even necessary? What is the real reason they can't keep six CF-18 fighter jets in the mix, in addition to doing the rest of the things they want to do?

Gen. Jonathan Vance, the chief of the defence staff, told reporters Monday it's not about finances, nor is there a tactical reason they can't do airstrikes and train Iraqi troops at the same time. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said he's not morally opposed to military bombing sorties — in fact, the government is still providing refuelling aircraft for coalition allies.

justin trudeau

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau arrives to press conference at the National Press Theatre. (Photo: Sean Kilpatrick/CP)

That leaves the conclusion that it was a political choice, informed by the philosophy of Trudeau and the people around him, but also by electoral considerations.

The Liberals sought to stake their ground on the electoral stage, particularly conscious of distancing themselves from Stephen Harper's Conservatives. Trudeau made reference to the politics at his news conference on Monday.

"During the last election, Canadians had a choice between three different parties: One that wanted to get involved in any military situation at any cost, the other that didn't think we had a role to play in the Middle East and us, the Liberal party, that presented a measured, responsible approach ...," he told reporters.

Trudeau took thinly veiled jabs at the Conservatives in particular, suggesting their approach to the ISIL threat was based on overheated machismo rather than reason.

"We are for what will be effective, not for what will make us feel good to say at any given moment," Trudeau said.

"We are for what will be effective, not for what will make us feel good to say at any given moment."

Thomas Juneau, a professor at the University of Ottawa's Centre for International Policy Studies and a former defence department analyst, said the components the government are putting in place are good — particularly helping neighbouring Lebanon and Jordan cope with the fallout from the Syrian conflict.

But Juneau said there's no good strategic reason for stopping the airstrikes. Canada's air force expertise is also top-notch, and it has helped keep ISIL at bay. Just a few days ago, CF-18s hit an ISIL fighting position near Ramadi in Iraq.

"On political grounds, it was by all accounts a smart decision," Juneau said of the campaign promise to withdraw from airstrikes.

"On strategic grounds, they have never been able to justify it. So they had this commitment, they had this decision and then they tried to build a policy around it."

Building the policy took months and now the government will start marketing it to the wider public.

Within hours of the announcement Monday, the Liberal party was communicating with donors, encouraging them to show support for the ISIL policy.

Ambrose blasts Trudeau

Interim Conservative leader Rona Ambrose criticized Trudeau for diminishing the contribution of the CF-18 fighter jets and for stepping away from a combat role.

"If reason is the answer, what reason justifies backing away from a just fight?" she said in a news conference from Moncton.

"Across the country, and when Parliament reconvenes, the Conservative party will continue to stand for a Canada that fights against barbaric terrorist groups like ISIS."

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