In a recent interview with the CBC’s Terry Milewski, federal Liberal leader Justin Trudeau laid out, in broad strokes, what Canada’s foreign policy might look like under his leadership. Trudeau said he would bring back our CF-18 jets from the Middle East, where they are currently participating in the allied bombing campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. (He actually referred to them as CF-15s, but no matter.) Trudeau also said he would deploy more Canadian soldiers, beyond the current 70, to assist in training the Iraqi security forces, so that they might fight their own battles more effectively. And he “hoped” that, as prime minister, he’d be able to re-establish normal diplomatic relations with Iran. Canada closed its embassy in Tehran, and expelled Iran’s ambassador to Ottawa, in 2012.
(He actually referred to them as CF-15s, but no matter.)
Foreign policy has been much on the the Liberal leader’s mind of late. Trudeau recently spoke in Ottawa, where he laid out his view of Canada’s relationship with the rest of North America. The Conservatives have spent too much time hectoring Washington, he said, and not enough time working to look past the contentious Keystone issue. This is at least half right: the tone has not always been helpful. No doubt our relationship with the U.S. would also be well served by establishing a new cabinet-level committee, as he proposed, specifically tasked with managing our dealings, and especially our busy border, with the United States. Pursuing North America-wide agreements on energy and carbon reduction are likewise worthwhile goals, if for no other reason than that it would mitigate a major irritant and make our dealings with the U.S. simpler on other files.
Trudeau’s proposals for the Middle East, however, leave much to be desired. He insists the case has not been made for direct Canadian military engagement, via our CF-18s, with the forces of the Islamic State. We disagree – the case has been made by the Islamic State itself. On the same day Trudeau was saying he’d bring the jets home, the Islamist terror organization, which now controls a quarter of Iraq and perhaps as much as half of Syria, released another propaganda video, in which 15 men – purportedly spies – are executed in grisly ways. Some are locked in a car, which is then blown up with a rocket-propelled grenade. Others have explosives wrapped around their necks and then detonated. Most ghastly of all, some are locked in a steel cage, which is then lowered slowly into water. Execution by drowning.
It’s horrific, but not shocking. The Islamic State boasts of its barbarism, including the mass executions of enemy soldiers and civilian men and the wholesale rape and sexual enslavement of women. Confronted with a ruthless gang of killers who are raping and butchering their way across whole countries, destabilizing the region and gathering to themselves the revenue and manpower to emerge as a proto-state in their own right, Trudeau has got it precisely backward – in the face of continued Islamic State strength, the case has yet to be made that Canada should be doing any less than it already is. Had we a bigger air fleet, we’d argue we should be doing more.
Trudeau’s comments regarding Iran are equally perplexing. Canada’s suspension of diplomatic relations with Iran in 2012 was done with good reason – Canada had finally decided to officially list Iran as a state sponsor of terror. Canada had also, months earlier, warned Iran to stop using its embassy here as a base to mount intelligence operations in Canada. In the time since, Iran’s regime has hardly moderated. It remains a leading supporter of terrorism. It continues to advance its nuclear and long-range ballistic missile programs. It continues to imprison and abuse its own citizens. Engagement is a fine principle, but there is simply nothing to be gained by engaging with this regime, at this time.
On balance, it’s good to see Trudeau beginning to lay out the foreign policy a Liberal government would pursue. On North American affairs, he has added some worthwhile proposals to the debate. On the Middle East, however, he might have done better to have said nothing.