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Fog of war

What is war good for? Absolutely nothing. So said the peace movements from the 1960s onwards. And for the most part, we still tend to agree today.

Justin Trudeau relied on that sentiment when he promised to recall Canadian fighter jets from the fight against ISIS (also called ISIL) during last fall’s election campaign.

A broad cross-section of his supporters would likely hold him to that promise. So he feels he must follow through.

Unfortunately, Trudeau may have picked the wrong hill not to die on.

Polls show most Canadians believe the country should fully participate in the effort to rid Iraq and Syria of this murderous cult. And right now, the prevailing strategy in that effort is air strikes.

What Trudeau revealed lsat week as a beefed up contribution to the campaign against ISIS seems more like window dressing than a substantial alternative.

As the National Post’s John Ivison suggested last Tuesday, it resembles something that would normally happen towards the end of combat - more troops for training and intelligence-gathering, and increased humanitarian resources - not in the middle of it.

“It’s the equivalent of the Americans introducing the Marshall reconstruction plan in Europe in 1943 - two years before the Second World War was won,” Ivison wrote.

In a news conference in which answers bounced from Trudeau to his ministers, the prime minister did little to shed light on how Canada is both participating and not participating at the same time.

“It is clearly not for moral reasons, since we will continue to provide aerial refuelling and surveillance to assist other nations in bombing ISIL,” said Ivison. “The most honest answer would have been: because we said we would to win votes.”

Trudeau did offer the kind of circular answer he’s becoming known for: “Because it’s the right thing to do.”

And that may not be as facile as it sounds. He likely has a sense he’s on the right side of history - the same way Jean Chrétien was when he declined to join the American-led “Coalition of the Willing” a decade ago.

But many of those who scorned George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq feel quite differently about the much more immediate threat of ISIS. Not only has this brutal caliphate caused grave instability and suffering at home - it has proven itself capable of recruiting warriors abroad.

“This is not about ‘peace’ versus ‘war,’” former Liberal leader Bob Rae wrote in 2014. “This is about something different - the collective capacity of governments and international institutions to deal effectively with perpetrators of violence.”

In short, perhaps this is not the right time for Canada to be leaning on its reputation for soft diplomacy.

Perhaps, in the here and now, we need to act decisively.

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