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Is it combat or not? It doesn’t matter. It’s war.

What is happening right now in Iraq is politically unclear.

The main questions involve whether Canada is at war (officially, not), whether Canadian troops are on a combat mission (officially, denied) and, more importantly, whether the huge multi-pronged alliance campaign (of which Canada is a part, undeniably) will actually succeed in destroying the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS).

This is really a debate
about the role politics plays
in our foreign
military missions.

To be sure, our troops are not in Iraq as principal combatants. We will have approximately 800 soldiers there, working along with other coalition forces, to train, advise and assist the Iraqi security forces in developing their military skills so they can deal with the threat. Still that does not mean our troops won’t end up in combat.

Straight from the Canadian Armed Forces, here are the relevant definitions:

Combat operations are military operations designated by the chief of defence staff where the use or threatened use of force, including lethal force, is essential to impose will on the opponent or to accomplish a mission; and non-combat operations are military operations where weapons may be present, but their use or threatened use is for self-protection purposes and not otherwise essential to the accomplishment of the mission. Non-combat operations are normally peace support or humanitarian operations.

This is not a peace support or humanitarian operation. This is a large group of allies trying to bludgeon an evil force to death using every appropriate tool. This is, clearly stated, an effort to destroy ISIS. It’s a war against ISIS.

So what’s wrong with saying that? Putting troops in harm’s way—sending them to war—is the most serious thing a nation can do. So why not call it what it is?

Beyond what the troops are actually doing on the ground, this is really a debate about the role politics plays in our foreign military missions and, more importantly, a debate about leadership.

It’s clear what’s happening here: an election promise was made. “Canada will withdraw from combat,” and so the fighter jets have stopped bombing and the mission must be made to appear non-combat.

Why? Domestic politics. Polls indicate that the war in Afghanistan was unpopular and Canadians prefer peacekeeping.

But this is not the same as the last war. We are not fighting the Taliban. This is not a war of choice, but of necessity.

As Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan told Legion Magazine (see page 46), the Islamic State is far more dangerous than the Taliban ever was, and there is no negotiating
with it.

Peacekeeping is not a solution to ISIS. And the best policy for dealing with ISIS certainly isn’t for our leaders to pretend that we aren’t a part of an alliance at war.

It’s often said that the worst mistake a general can make is to fight the last war. Perhaps the best approach a politician can make is to call war what it is.

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