The last time I was asked to become involved with armed adversaries, some years ago when undertaking national service, I would not have appreciated it if my side had told the opposition what we would do and not to do if they attacked us. This is not how one usually plays lethal or non-lethal games. And yet this is pretty much what the US and its allies are saying when they state that they will not put boots on the ground in combating terrorist fighters in the Middle East. You don’t tell your opponents on the sports field in advance what plays you will make, and you don’t tell people who are pointing a gun at you that you will not defend yourself, especially when they may behead you. Even Gilbert and Sullivan might have had difficulty in dreaming up such a scenario for a musical opera.
And yet this is the situation politicians have created for themselves and their forces in the Middle East. The US President and his allies including Canada have said they would help. Like the others, Canada is being asked by some to spell out exactly how far it will go in letting its forces intervene in Iraq and Syria. Canada’s parliamentarians want a debate and some want to know what instructions the troops will have. Will they be allowed to shoot if the occasion arises? This is not just silly, but dangerous for those on the ground. The ISIS forces must either be laughing or at least welcoming the good luck they enjoy from having stupid adversaries.
I would expect Canadian troops will be there to assist the anti-ISIS forces, but exactly what they are allowed to do should not be spelled out in public. To do so would be to arm the enemy and place the Canadian forces in more danger than they will already experience. If the NDP requests more detailed information, then they should be held morally and financially accountable to the troops and their families as well as to the Canadian public for any adverse consequences. Have a debate by all means, but don’t ask for detailed tactical information.
On a related topic, why is it that the Iraq army, after all its training by the allies, is so incompetent? A New York Times journalist gave some answers. First, the professional army of Saddam Hussein was disbanded by the US. Many of these soldiers are now working for ISIS. The replacement Iraq army has few trained professionals and those who command pay the troops while receiving kickbacks from them. At the same time, there is no effective chain of command where orders are passed down and executed. The Iraq army is a poorly run criminal organization except for the transfer of monies to the bosses. In contrast ISIS appears to be fairly well administered, although they have other problems which will become more apparent. This is a war where the enemies’ mechanized vehicles are often Toyota trucks with machine guns mounted on them. Use of captured sophisticated tanks and planes require not only fuel supplies, which ISIS has, but parts and mechanics to service the equipment, which may be in limited supply. Moreover, large items are easier to detect and destroy.
For me, the moral of this story is that when a country fights a war that is largely unconventional relative to many past conflicts, such as the use of beheadings by the enemy, poison gas and fighters living amongst civilians, then it has to be fought using unconventional methods. These may in the future become conventional, such as the bombing of ISIS targets in Syria without asking permission from the government of Syria, if one still exists. Apparently this took place on Septemeber 22, 2014.
The public has to be educated in both the nature of the conflict and the means which our side will need to use. I would hope that our politicians will take the lead in providing this education and not undermine the forces sent to the front lines on their behalf.