issue 00)

Isn't it amazing what happens when parties come into power – when the realities of governing, exposure to new information, and actually producing results are considered?

30 May 2016

Isn't it amazing what happens when parties come into power? 

Headline-grabbing positions held in the rhetorical cauldron of election campaigns are routinely cast aside when the realities of governing, the exposure to new information, and actually producing results are considered.

Take for example the next generation fighter aircraft.

In the election, the Liberal position was that the F-35 would not be acquired due to its high cost. The exquisite technology was beyond Canada’s more modest requirements, we were told. Lower cost options would permit, in part, the recapitalization of the Navy (which was considered critical), while the concepts of a stealthy fighter, fully networked and interoperable, seemed (during the election at least) beyond Canada’s requirements. 

And yet, the new defence minister, during his address at the CANSEC trade show in Ottawa on 25 May, literally swept the entire election platform off the table.

First, the F35 has come down in cost to something approximating $85 million per aircraft, according to the USAF project office. That price puts it into the same budgetary envelope as other potential fighter choices for Canada. Clearly, adopting another fighter will not produce the savings once assumed to exist.

Second, the question of whether to be stealthy or not stealthy never came up. Perhaps the minister and his government have grown to understand that decreasing the electronic signature of an aircraft is the predominant trend in military aviation. Stealth does not imply a role, it is a characteristic that leads to survivability. Comparatively, we would no longer send troops to fight in scarlet uniforms, as in days of old, we expect that they be camouflaged, whether for sand, snow or forest. Reduced electronic signature is nothing more than electronic camouflage.

Thirdly, it appeared that the Minister had embraced the fact that replacing the fighter aircraft had now emerged as his top priority. The Navy does need refuelling capability, but the bulk of the fleet, the frigates, have just undergone a major life extension project which gives the government some breathing room, and the Arctic offshore vessels are at least being built now. The fighter however is a different story.

Introduced to service in the early 1980s (during Pierre Trudeau’s Prime Ministership – eight Prime Minister’s ago!), the CF18 was only intended to fly for 20 years. It is now approaching 40 years of service. It is only flying due to careful husbandry of hours flown, and particular care in avoiding high stress (high G) manoeuvres. Notwithstanding all the care and attention to how they are used, their useful life is quickly running out.

In his remarks, Minister Sajjan, never mentioned the F-35, perhaps implying that, to truly have an open and transparent competition, the F-35 must be on the short list that Canada will evaluate. Interestingly, the Minister iterated and re-iterated that the next aircraft must be fully interoperable with our key ally, the United States, in the context of our bi-national NORAD commitment.

That language would seem to indicate a preference for either the F-35 or the CF-18.

In making the final choice, it would make sense to acquire an aircraft at the very beginning of its service and design life rather than an aircraft approaching the end of its production. Especially now that technology and future interoperability no longer come at an increased cost.

If only we had not frittered away so much time in a debate that served little purpose except political differentiation.

– George Petrolakas

issue 00)

Tomorrow, the defence ministers from six nations will meet in Paris to discuss an acceleration and intensification of the coalition's efforts against the Islamic State. Canada will not be present. What does this absence mean?

19 Jan 2016

Tomorrow, the defence ministers from six nations will meet in Paris to discuss an acceleration and intensification of the coalition's efforts against the Islamic State. Canada will not be present. What does this absence mean?

For many, this has been interpreted as an insult, after all, Canada was one of the first nations to join the coalition, and one of the very few to enlarge its participation to include airstrikes on Syrian territory. However, given the insistence of the new government to withdraw the fighters from the coalition, and not having announced alternatives – such as retaining the enablers (refuelling aircraft and surveillance aircraft) or articulating what the alternative contributions might be, Canada's exclusion is not so much an insult as it is a recognition by allies that if you have nothing to contribute, why should you take up space?

Canada has stated it will continue as part of the coalition, however, without any other details, we can rest assured that people such as Defense Secretary Ash Carter will question Canada's commitment as an ally. Days ago, Carter in a speech noted that “The lasting defeat of ISIL must be a global undertaking, because it’s a global threat. And any nation that cares about the safety of its people or the future of its civilization must know this – America will continue to lead the fight, but there can be no free riders."

There are certain risks to Canada, no matter how quickly they are glossed over by government spokespeople.

  1. Not being at the table, we will not be able to influence the direction of the campaign, notwithstanding U.S. claims to leadership.
  2. We may hear of the results of the meeting, but will not be aware of the nuances, nor necessarily all the details. In other words, our diplomacy will be navigating somewhat in the blind – reliant on whatever details the allies decide to share with us.
  3. Inevitably, since ISIS is not a threat that is uniquely confined to Iraq and Syria, wider issues, including Libya, Mali, and the Sinai amongst others will inevitably have been discussed.
  4. Finally, and perhaps most importantly – as a neighbour to the U.S., with whom trade, security and defence rely on a close relationship, it is distinctly possible that Secretary Carter's characterization as a "freeloader" may gain traction in Washington, with policy spillovers to other areas of the Canadian U.S. relationship.  That would be deeply inimical to our interests.

It is highly unlikely, having invested so much political rhetoric, confirming time and time again that the fighters will be withdrawn, that there is any chance the government will reverse itself despite the dire situation the world is in today. However, to preserve our country's credibility, it is now paramount that the governement announce something instead of continuing to vascillate on its future plans. Whether that plan includes expanded training, a new mission with the British in Libya, assistance to the French in Mali, it matters not.  The important thing is to make Canada's future intentions known soonest, lest the perception of being a freeloader again take root.

– George Petroleka

issue 00)

08 Dec 2015

It is difficult to characterize 14 dead and 17 wounded as anything other than a shock to the United States. If Paris changed France, San Bernardino changes America.

08 Dec 2015

It is difficult to characterize 14 dead and 17 wounded as anything other than a shock to the United States. If Paris changed France, San Bernardino changes America.

The shock and gravity has been so great that it occasioned a speech from the President from the Oval Office on Sunday night, only his third in eight years.  There is no greater pulpit in the world.  Whether you are American or not, everyone the world over is familiar with the Oval Office and its symbolic power groomed into our consciousness by film, photo’s, television and documentaries.  None of us have been there, but we are all familiar with it.

And yet, given the power of that office and the relentless repetition of terror acts the past three weeks,  the President sadly offered no new plan, no new insight, no new mobilization of national purpose to defeat the IS.

But he tried to make a link with mass shooting violence that has plagued the US this year, 355 in this year alone, but his words were completely eclipsed by the inherent fear of Americans that they had somehow seen a pivotal moment occur; one they were seeking answers to but he did not provide.  The context of the day was lost; it wasn’t a mass shooting, it was a terrorist act and unfortunately the President’s words were completely overshadowed by that perception.

In the incendiary climate of the U.S. primaries, Donald Trump raised the bar by calling for a halt to the entrance of Muslim visitors to the U.S, on top of a previous plan for a Muslim register.  Whatever moment of national attention the President had, was completely lost as a consequence. Regardless of how much most people have ridiculed Trumps musings,  it won’t take long for databases to expand and a "Fortress America" discussion where all travel will be checked and visa free travel drastically curtailed.  With  no sense on how ISIS will be defeated, the moats will be raised.

Policing will change as well.  In the United Kingdom in the aftermath of the Paris attacks, the Metropolitan Police have been given new guidelines to stop the perpetators first, rather than attending to wounded or containing the scene. Policing will inevitably change from guardian to warrior as the next time, and in the U.S. especially, there seems to always be a next time, police will not immediately know if they are dealing with the deranged or the disciples of terror.

Exposed as Canada is to U.S. discourse and dialogue over the airwaves, it will be difficult to avoid being infected by this new American contagion of fear, yet we must if we wish to remain the peaceable kingdom we have always thought ourselves to be.

Communities in Canada, and especially the Muslim community must become as outspoken as possible against the ideologies of radicalism and in turn, each and everyone of us must reach across religious and ethnic divides to the ties that bind us rather than divide us as Canadians. We can be stronger than any fear of terrorist attack.

Otherwise, as in the United States, too many hospitals will plan for mass casualty protocols, too many schools will rehearse active shooter scenarios, and all of us will have our travels, calls, online presence catalogued in databases like never before.

That surely is not where we wish to go.

issue 00)

At first, I thought the government was going to be tone-deaf to the entreaties of the military, of pundits, and premiers that the refugee airlift to Canada needed to be slowed down...

8 Nov 2015

At first, I thought the government was going to be tone-deaf to the entreaties of the military, of pundits, of premiers that the refugee airlift to Canada needed to be slowed down. The reasons behind the demand for delay were legion; from an assurance that the security screening would not in anyway be circumscribed to meet the needs of a '01 January' promise to concerns that the infrastructure to receive and accommodate 25,000 in the space of weeks would overload Canada's capacity to do it well. For whatever reason, the government's decision to delay the full inflow until the end of February is a welcome change, and it should be congratulated for that.    

It is a little troubling that some media and commentators could not resist pointing out that the government was not going to be able to meet its promise, adding that many of the first arrivals would be privately-sponsored refugees, not government-sponsored ones.

But that kind of reaction crystallizes why so many Canadians are fed up with the discourse surrounding our politics.  Many – premiers, mayors, refugee groups – asked for a short delay, with the understanding that a two-month delay was not a break in the promise at all, but perhaps a refinement, necessary because of new information or a better understanding of the complexities.  

We do want governments to keep promises, but in this case, we should be applauding government for actually having listened, considered, and adjusted accordingly, rather than what appears to be the opposite reaction by some.    

With respect to whether they are government sponsored, or privately sponsored, they are still refugees fleeing the horrors of a civil war.  The government effort with respect to screening, and transport here, will be the same.  

After all, we should remember, it isn't all about us, but about them... for once, can we not ditch the politics?

issue 00)

16 Nov 2015

One month in, we're getting an idea of the new government's decision making.

When asked what is most likely to blow governments off course, Former UK PM, Harold Macmillan, is reputed to have answered "Events my boy, events."

16 Nov 2015

One month in, we're getting an idea of the new government's decision making.

When asked what is most likely to blow governments off course, Former UK PM, Harold Macmillan, is reputed to have answered "Events my boy, events."

Already, with ISIS attacks in the Sinai, Beirut and now France, events are starting to shape the new Canadian government. The new PM has been adamant that Canada would withdraw its fighters from the anti-ISIS campaign. Canada also committed to taking 25,000 Syrian refugees and, despite the fact that there has not been enough time to properly organize, it is still full speed ahead. The concerns voiced by many resettlement groups that extending the deadline to February or March might help Canada better succeed has been ignored, and the government has been persistent and insistent that it will not reconsider either. But beyond events, there is another indication of how decisions are shaping up – and that being the refusal to allow a runway extension at Billy Bishop airport.

In each case, Liberal campaign promises are being tested. With respect to Billy Bishop airport, the refusal caters to a small group of vocal opponents, and does not strongly enough consider of the economic benefit to Toronto – let alone a key order for 30 airplanes to Bombardier, the troubled manufacturer of the C-Series low-noise, low-emissions jets. This decision affects jobs.

Promises politicians make should be kept, after all, we tend to disdain what we would call flip flops in politics. But more importantly, we expect politicians to adjust promises on the basis of new information, or events which should force a recalculation. That does not seem to be happening.

So far, the new government seems inclined to to stick to its promises, no matter the impact of events or new information. That does not sound like evidence-based decision making. 

issue 00)

The Munk Debate on Monday was by far the best debate so far in this campaign. It was civil, generally not a cacophony, and Canadians could hear leaders positions on a variety of themes – well articulated and without interruption.  We are better for that, and congratulations to Munk and Rudyard Griffiths for that success.  

30 Sep 2015
The Munk Debate on Monday was by far the best debate so far in this campaign
It was civil, generally not a cacophony, and Canadians could hear leaders positions on a variety of themes – well articulated and without interruption.  We are better for that, and congratulations to Munk and Rudyard Griffiths for that success.  
Alas, except for the Arctic little new ground was covered. There were questions on standing up to Putin, but on the same day when Putin and Obama spoke at the UN on Syria with competing visions on the road forward, no questions delved into what the leaders thought of these developments in Syria.
Surprisingly, when most analysts see defence as the handmaiden of foreign policy, whether in peacekeeping, in disaster relief, in aid, in capacity building, or in more muscular responses to crises, not a word on how the foreign policy tool would be used, equipped, nor how it would be supported fiscally – a surprise given that defence represents the largest component of direct federal program spending.
From a strategic standpoint, the horizon was all near term – what we can see in front of us now with an event horizon extending a few years hence.  What of the world 20 years from now, and how do we position for it?  Defence investments today, will limit or enhance government options long into the future.
And though it was indeed a great debate, one was left aching for more.
issue 00)
18 Sep 2015
Both opposition leaders speak of evidence-based policy, and they are right to say that.  But equally, they should refrain from fallling into the trap of emotions-based policy – which is what we risk falling into now.
18 Sep 2015
Both opposition leaders speak of evidence-based policy, and they are right to say that.  But equally, they should refrain from fallling into the trap of emotions-based policy – which is what we risk falling into now.
There is no doubt that in bringing refugees to Canada, we can improve, streamline, expedite shorten security checks, but we absolutely cannot dispense with them. Its not just about the risk that refugees are infliltrated with the unsavoury – that risk exists with anyone coming to Canada from anyplace, not just Syria – it is about prudent policy. Just as we didn't want former Nazis fleeing here from the post WWII migrations, so too do we not want to risk sheltering people who have blood on their hands, as has happened from Rwanda for example.  That is in our self interest.
But there is another strategic reason to ensure we follow basic standards, even truncated ones, and that is the reassurance we have to be able to give to our American allies. This does not mean that U.S. policy dictates Canadian policy – not at all – but from time to time there is a perception in certain U.S. circles that Canada represents an open back door into the United States. When those sentiments gain traction, it affects trade as the U.S. piles on additional security checks or procedures which slow down the movement of goods, services and people across the border.
If the economy is the number one issue in this election, then the U.S. border must also be a key consideration.  $2B a day and 400,000 people cross our border on a daily basis.  This two-way trade eclipses U.S. exports to China, Japan, Korea and Singapore combined.
And so, yes, bring as many refugees as we can sustain, and quickly. But do not bypass security checks – which are good policy, both from a security standpoint and an economic one.
issue 00)

18 Sep 2015

It is 39 days into Canada's federal campaign, and there's a sense of "enough already"… at least the daily dose of the economy.  We know now the details of each leader's priorities with respect to balanced budgets, spending and deficits. We have a pretty good idea of how the economy would grow under the three differing options . There's enough information to make choices on that front. Enough already.

Being the leader of a G7 nation is far more than keeping a stringent eye on the books, growing the economy, and our national taxation rates.

18 Sep 2015

It is 39 days into Canada's federal campaign, and there's a sense of "enough already"… at least the daily dose of the economy.  We know now the details of each leader's priorities with respect to balanced budgets, spending and deficits. We have a pretty good idea of how the economy would grow under the three differing options . There's enough information to make choices on that front. Enough already.

Being the leader of a G7 nation is far more than keeping a stringent eye on the books, growing the economy, and our national taxation rates.

Half way into the campaign, we know little of how our prospective leaders would act on the world stage, and less so on how they would act on the security front.

Yes, Bill C51 is security-related with its mirror image of Charter of Rights protections, and the position of most parties is fairly clear on that front.  On the current ISIS mission we know the party positions, but no one has tested their positions.  The Prime Minister will continue the campaign as he rightly describes the never ending litany of horrors that ISIS perpetrates, but clearly the Coalition strategy is flawed as, in over a year, no ground force has materialized and the air campaign has created a stalemate, at best. Think of it just in economic terms… at $300 million a year, for how many years are we going to be involved or conversely what will Canada convey to its allies to finish this war as quickly and expeditiously as possible?

On the other hand, Tom Mulcair's plan to remove the Canadian Forces from the region needs to be tested further.  Yes, we have no legal commitment to remain, but we gave our word to our allies that we would be there to share the load.  Of course any government has the sovereign right to withdraw, but Mulcair must explain how our allies would then see us.  Furthermore, to not engage in the destruction of the so-called "Islamic State" militants, which each day plumbs new depths in the horrors of the human soul, is to <em>defacto</em> accept its existence.

And Mr Trudeau needs to explain how throwing in more trainers, will instantly reverse an effort which has produced minimal results in over a year.  His is an option that at best can be described as "one foot in".

For all who speak of a diplomatic solution, please remember that those are indeed fine words, yet no one has been able to come up with a model or path which makes noble words believable when it comes to diametrically opposed cultures.

Back at home, Canada has several acquisition projects coming online.  Key decisions on ships, SAR aircraft, fighters, and what occasions the government envisions it would utilize the Canadian Armed Forces. Procurement decisions made in the expected course of a four-year mandate will have an impact for close to 40 years in the future (given how long we presently operate platforms we buy).  And the use of the CAF will say much about our own vision in the world and our independence.  For example, some have postulated that Canada would only send forces into places or missions that have UN sanction – which would mean Canada's scope of action would be limited by the wishes of any dissenting security council member.  Major nations do not act in that way.

So yes, the economy and budgets are important, as is the refugee crisis, but PLEASE let us know more about how you will govern, how Canada will act in the world, and where and when we would be prepared to act – and with what.

issue 3)

Three recent events should have been responded to with greater vigor; communicating in a frank and timely manner is the only way to maintain the trust of the Canadian public.

General Hillier used to say that the Canadian Forces’ relationship with its public was based on a giant reservoir of goodwill – that one could not draw on it without refilling it, or better yet, to not be placed in a position where you had to draw on that goodwill in the first place.


April 2015 – Members of Joint Task Force-Iraq (JTF-I) and coalition members from the USAF participate in Exercise Emergency Response during Operation IMPACT in Kuwait. (Photo: Op Impact, DND)

Unfortunately, the last few months have seen the Canadian Forces draw on that goodwill with little done to replace it or vigorously defend the institution when it needed defending the most.

Three recent events should have been responded to with greater vigour, in my humble opinion. The first being the utter belief by some, within hours of Sgt Doiron’s friendly fire death, of the initial Kurdish assertion that Canadians were the authors of their own tragedy. The second was the almost complete rollover and submission to every assertion made in Justice Marie Deschamps’ report on sexual misconduct in the Canadian Forces. And the third being the reaction to a CBC story which asserted that the CDS’s initiating directive for the Whitecross study was somehow to ignore the Deschamps recommendations.

In the Kurdish version of events, and in the assertion that the CF would ignore the Deschamps recommendations, nothing could be further from the truth.

Friendly Fire
It says much of how the Canadian Forces have become the new whipping post, or in turn that the automatic inclination of many is to believe the assertion of a local Kurdish “general” who placed blame on Canadians for having supposedly shown up to a position unannounced, at night, and having used the wrong passwords and code words.

First of all, media surely recognizes that the first information is almost always wrong. The fact that first reports blaming Canadians emerged within mere hours of the event should have reflexively triggered doubt on the part of many. Instead, the Kurdish assertion was repeated with such frequency that it began to be coloured with a patina of truth to the point where major media outlets dispatched reporters to the scene to abet the Kurdish version.

Of course our media should report countervailing accounts, but they should also question them as vigorously as the CAF response was, in equal measure.

But this is not about the media – in a democracy we should desire and expect our media to question government and its institutions – it is about how tepidly the CAF responded.

In the case of the friendly fire incident, there were certainly alliance politics at play, and without doubt the Forces responded in a correct and mature fashion to say “let’s wait and see what the investigations reveal”. But in doing so, for close to two months, some of the most egregious assertions went unchallenged. For instance, that this was some kind of rogue mission, or that the visit to the Kurdish front line was unplanned.

May 2015 (from left): Lab Technician, MCpl Veronique Côté; Supply Technician, Sgt Henri Leroux, and Medical Technician, Sgt Kelly Finimore connect the frame of the S6 Shelter at the Nepal Orthopaedic Hospital in Japarti, Nepal. (Photo: MCpl Cynthia Wilkinson, CF Joint Imagery Center)

In another perplexing aspect, the time the investigation took was never explained in comparison to the time investigations take here at home, be they coroner’s or police investigations; why should the Forces investigation into a death be any different?

Surely, the information that it was a planned visit was known early on, and should have been more vigorously stated than it was. This way, the confused public would be informed that the investigation would rest on what went wrong rather than calling the entire mission and the actions of our soldiers into question for over two months.

Sexual Misconduct
Response to the Deschamps report is also of concern. There is no doubt that parts of the institution failed the female members of the service on more than one occasion and at many levels – from its lowest level of workplace conditions to more serious and disturbing accounts of misconduct and sexual assault.

However Justice Deschamps took a series of anecdotal accounts and painted the entire Armed Forces with a wide brush as being misogynistic. And these words have been repeated, without challenge, every time the report is referred to.

There is no question that significant problems exist, but is it rampant and viral, affecting the entire culture, or are individual cases sprinkled throughout the entire organization? That clarification makes an important difference to those who have neither abetted, engaged in, or suffered from such abuse – and I think the vast majority of CF members fall into this category, but the report did not provide this critical distinction.

It is difficult to argue against a former Supreme Court justice, especially when she delivered a report that the Canadian Forces itself commissioned. Though Deschamps revealed disturbing instances of abuse, leadership failures, and reluctance by some to address complaints (or worse, by minimizing them), the methodology of the report, as some academics and writers have pointed out, did not provide a statistical basis to understanding the scope of the issue and how broad it is.

The most definitive study of its kind, conducted by RAND, employing some 41 researchers and using a statistical base of some 500,000 U.S. service members was able to point out that there were significant differences between services, and also in components of the Armed Forces, in other words between the Reserve and Active Duty components. It also pointed out that issues of reporting were not simply based on institutional culture. The Deschamps report did point out alternative reporting systems in the United States and Australia, and the importance of creating a system that is independent of the chain of command as a means of breaking down reporting barriers and eliminating fears of professional and social retaliation or even punishments that have occurred.

That suggestion was taken to mean that the entire sequence of reporting, victim assistance, gathering of evidence leading to disciplinary or more serious criminal charges would be removed from the military entirely. In fact, the U.S. example cited by Deschamps doesn’t do that at all, military police still collect evidence needed for a prosecution and military judges try the most serious offences. Not surprisingly, this led to an erroneous report on CBC that the CDS’s initiating directive to MGen Whitecross and its assumption that the “existing investigative and judicial authorities would not change” was proof that the CAF would ignore the Deschamps report recommendations. That was not the case at all.

A reporting mechanism is wholly different than a police-based criminal investigative process and also apart from the final step which is the judicial authority – in other words, the prosecutorial and judicial trial and punishment system.

May 2015 – Sgt Jérôme Caron and WO Dina Trussler, both members of the DART medical team, treat the first patient of the Level 1 Care Field medical clinic at Camp SUMITRA, a forward operating base in Sindhupalchok District, Nepal. (Photo: MCpl Cynthia Wilkinson, CF Joint Imagery Center)

In plain English, the CDS’s statement meant that the CAF would not form an entirely new police force or replace its military justice system, which has military judges acting in their capacity as Federal Court justices hearing evidence from both a prosecutor and the defence prior to passing judgement. The reporting system on the other hand, would change, creating a system that would permit reporting of a full range of workplace offences and gender bias, up to and including any form of assault, completely outside the chain of command.

What Defence?
What is common in all three events, is that the CAF was unable to defend itself and unable to publically explain its positions in a coherent fashion.

Others were driving the narrative, and official responses were simply “it isn’t true” – without taking the time, or making the effort to explain specifics.

This is about much more than institutional defence, it is about engaging with the public, to whom the CAF and the Government of Canada are ultimately responsible.

By not communicating in the frank and timely manner that used to be a strength of the CF, the organization is drawing on that bank of goodwill, without ultimately replenishing it.
George Petrolekas is a Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and on the Board of the CDA Institute. He has served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and with NATO, and has been an advisor to senior NATO commanders.
© 2015 FrontLine Defence

issue 1)

A look at the allied strategies against this brutal group of killers.

In the Spring of 2014, the West began hearing about the emerging dominance of an Al-Qaeda splinter group in the Syrian civil war. For many observers, the group – calling itself by ­geographic iterations of “Islamic State” (ISIL, ISIS, or IS) – appeared to be yet another jihadist group in the mosaic of anti-Assad fighters, and only confirmed in most people’s minds that it was all the more reason to not get involved in Syria’s troubles.


But in a matter of months, and a few name changes, this group vaulted from the backwater of people’s consciousness to the forefront of global fears – propelling CNN to call the rise and brutality of the so-called “Islamic State” as the number one international news story of 2014. The end of the year found UN Security Council resolutions passed in an attempt to stem its support and growth, and an aerial bombing campaign in place (in which Canada has participated in since October).

Although its lineage and provenance are not clear, the organization finds it roots in Sunni Iraq, a population that has undergone a tempestuous cyclical experience altering between being powerful to being marginalized – all dating back to the effects of the U.S. invasion on Iraq in 2003.

That invasion opened rifts in the somewhat fictitious nation state known as Iraq – a nation of artificially-drawn borders that mask the internal divides of three ethno-religious groups – the Kurds to the North, Sunnis to the West, and Shia to the South.

For North Americans schooled in secularism, multi-culturalism, and inclusiveness, with rule of law and equality as the basis of a state, states based on ethno-religious foundations are difficult to truly understand. Our interventions in fragile or failing states seek to create a non-sectarian replica of our system as a better way of governance. But clearly, for many states in the world, societal foundations are derived from their religion, colour, or ethnicity, either separately or in combination.

For the past decades, in both Iraq and Syria, divisions were held in check by a single powerful man (usually abetted by a loyal Army) and a state security structure that continually hunted and eliminated any outcroppings of resistance. The U.S. invasion opened those rifts in Iraq by toppling Saddam Hussein and his Sunni power base. Not surprisingly, the long-oppressed Shia faction took advantage of the opportunity to avenge past injustices. This was not helped by the U.S., which had begun a process of removing the Ba’ath Party’s political influence (De-Ba’athification) and, in one fell swoop, disbanded the Iraqi Army, putting 200,000 out of work and, worst of all, destroying what might have been called Iraqi civil society, or at least its controlling mechanism, without something available to replace it.

As a consequence, a Sunni insurgency grew in intensity, however, the combination of aggressive military action, the U.S. surge, skilful negotiation, and an earnest effort to create a secular and capable Iraqi Army within a secular government, meant that by 2011 the Sunni insurgency had been defeated. In this way, the building blocks for a functioning Iraqi state had been laid by the U.S. prior to its withdrawal.

Unfortunately, the man chosen to lead the government, Nouri al-Maliki, was not up to the task, quickly reverting to his own ethno-religious roots. Key government posts were given to Shia leaders while prominent Sunnis (even ministers who were part of his government) were arrested. This pattern repeated itself within the newly formed Iraqi Army (purging commanders or favouring acolytes – eventually destroying it.

Two things occurred in the aftermath – Shia militias thrived, and Sunni protests were heavily put down.

In the meantime, the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq, along with sympathetic followers from the Sunni resistance, migrated to Syria where the concentration of Assad’s civil war against his opposition in the western regions of Syria created a vacuum in the Northeastern and Eastern part of Syria (predominantly Sunni), where the displaced Sunni Iraqis would find a new home. The key thing to note is that many of these are battle-hardened and ­different from many other jihadi fighters as they come from a background of professional military training (either from the old or the new Iraqi Army).

Dec 2014 – The Honourable Rob Nicholson, then Minister of National Defence, meets with Kuwati Minister of Defence, Khaled Al Jarrah Al Sabah, in Kuwait during Operation Impact. (Photo: OP Impact, DND)

Stepping back, we can see that an unfortunate confluence of events created fertile conditions for the emergence of the Islamic State. Attempts to reverse the clock by “fixing Iraq” or the Iraqi Army, or to answer issues of Sunni marginalization, only address elements of what led to their rise. Hence, any strategy based on such objectives is bound to fail, as the symptoms have far outpaced the root causes.

While academically interesting, we must leave examination of the root causes of IS emergence for later generations, as the challenge of combatting these fighters in the present has become the immediate challenge of all Western governments.

The fact that these violent extremists have been successful at inciting home-grown, angry young men to bring terrorism to the West bears witness to a new dawn of violence and fear. The fact that representatives of Muslim organizations are now stepping up to condemn violence in the name of Islam means they too recognize the potential demise of hope for peace. People of all religions, including Muslims, crowded the streets of Paris in solidarity and defiance of violence and fear tactics on 11 January 2015.

Why ISIS is different
As befits its organizational background, the IS established a system of command and control of the towns and villages its fighters are found in; manifesting itself, reportedly, in the creation of a government – replete with ministries, financial objectives, masterful propaganda, codified governance and an extremist vision that has been able to draw adherents and recruits from far and wide. In doing so, and drawing lessons from its own emergence, the group does not see itself as terrorist. It does not seek to destabilize the state to enact concessions; it simply seeks to be the state.

Many accounts suggest the group is organized and, although its governance is harsh, there seems to be little resistance. Success does not mean it is palatable, it simply means the group provides for its populations (that aren’t apostates) and keeps civil peace and adherence to its own laws. It is also well-financed (mostly through the sale of oil). It is a singular mistake to suggest that smuggling on the black market implies an ad hoc economic system. The organization required to pump, produce and transport oil, and in some cases refined product, to market (licit or illicit), indicates a sophistication of organization, industrial and economic processes as befits a state. The system, which kills, crucifies, beheads or enslaves adversaries – as hated and incomprehensible as this is to our psyche and mores – is entirely logical and rational in the view of adherents.

When a teenaged former hostage says “they don’t kill without reason, it is only when you have been ‘proven’ to be an apostate, do they kill” reveals a logic that is built on a completely different foundation than ours; as logical and codified for them as this was in the time of Salem and the witch-hunt trials, as logical and codified as it was for Hitler’s racial courts. So too is it for the “Islamic State” and explains, in part, why they are so utterly proud of what we would call atrocities.

Having dominion over vast swaths of land and population in Syria and Iraq, its state-like basis of thought seeks to establish and expand its borders. The geo-political stability threatened by the redrawing of borders is not to be taken lightly.

Therefore, to treat ISIS as “any other” terrorist group is to fundamentally misunderstand them. And if strategies employed in the destruction of the group are similar to those applied to other terrorist groups, they are bound to fail.

The Allied Strategy
Strategies in response to the “Islamic State” require an understanding of the world as the IS was emerging. Following close to 13 years at war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya, public opinion in the West clearly showed a war-weariness (in some cases bordering on neo-isolationism). A litany of frustrated effort – Iraq’s well-documented failures post-2011; a decade-long effort in Afghan­istan which, charitably, can be characterized as a ‘work in progress’ but which many saw as another example of the limits of foreign intervention; and the violence in Libya, which left the nation worse off after Gadhafi was deposed – led to a new axiom in western discourse, that of “no boots on the ground”.

A CP-140 Aurora aircraft crew member from Air Task Force-Iraq conducts a mission during Operation Impact. (Photo: OP Impact, DND)
Reflected in public polling, over 70% of citizens in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and France had concluded that nation-building begins at home. An equal number – soured by the past decade, though supportive of containment strategies – absolutely eschew any involvement overseas where the use of military force might become a possibility.

“No boots on the ground” has come to mean many things, depending on the audience. Literally, it means soldiers are not in place, ready to patrol or fight in a theatre of operations. Metaphorically, it indicates that some problems are intractable and that we should not be involved in other people’s problems (it’s their problem, they should fix it). It also reflects a fear of escalation – that once ground troops are introduced, the inevitable ending too often becomes an interminable engagement. And even when public attitudes are galvanized to agree that something must be done, the “no boots on the ground” stricture imposes limits on what strategies can be considered. It is in this context that the current strategy employed against ISIS must be considered.

In September 2014, President Obama announced the formation of a U.S.-led coalition to destroy ISIS in Iraq, and to degrade it in Syria. The means by which this was to be accomplished was three-fold. First, initiate a bombing campaign to halt IS advances, destroy its economic underpinnings, and slowly degrade its military potential. Second, provide advice and support to the IS opposition in Iraq by arming and assisting the Kurds, retraining the Iraqi Army, and fixing the sectarian damage caused by former Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki to reincorporate the Sunni’s and the Kurds into the Iraqi government. The third element is the training and establishment of a far more cohesive, but moderate, anti-Assad opposition.

It is a strategy borne of what is politically and publically palatable, not of what is militarily preferable to defeat a state-like violent opponent. It bisects the IS into two areas of operation – Iraq and Syria – based on internationally-recognized boundaries (which have little or no meaning on the ground), and compounds that error by assigning two different mission outcomes: defeat in Iraq, degradation in Syria.

The “no boots on the ground” axiom is also at play here, limiting western response to airpower until such time as an Iraqi Army can be re-constituted and assisted, and a “new army” created from scratch in Syria. It is a recipe for a long war, the very thing that soured Western publics to any overseas engagement in the first place, and what led President Obama and many of his advisors to say that success against IS would be measured in years not months.

Canada joined this coalition, on the margins, in late August by providing non-lethal assistance to the Kurds, transporting weapons, ammunition and humanitarian aid. In September, special forces advisors were dispatched to Kurdistan to aid the Peshmerga and, following a Parliamentary debate, Canada formally joined the anti-IS coalition by pledging two Aurora surveillance aircraft, a Polaris air-to-air refuelling aircraft, and six CF-18s to join the coalition.

Some have derided the Canadian contribution as minimal or marginal but, though small in overall number, it is nevertheless significant. Canada has a substantial breadth of capability, it just doesn’t have a lot of depth. Few countries our size have aerial refuelling capability, surveillance capability and both tactical (short range) and strategic (long range) transport ability. Nor do other militaries our size have such a well developed and combat-capable Special Forces component. Canada’s contributions play out in five ways:

Surveillance – The Aurora CP-140 is an extremely valuable coalition asset. It is believed that only three countries have deployed aerial surveillance capability to the theatre, and so these Canadian assets service the needs of multiple coalition partners. If required, an Aurora can loiter over Iraq for up to 14 hours, looking down on the landscape with optical, radar and electronic warfare sensors that can detect IS activity. If an IS target presents itself, the crew can vector any coalition fighter to it. If no fighters are available, or the information does not need to be acted on immediately, Aurora-sourced data is fed into the coalition targeting cycle which produces missions for every allied Air Force flying missions over Iraqi airspace.

Refueling – The Polaris CC-150 refuelling aircraft is also a vital coalition asset. Fighters can conceivably fly from Kuwait to Northern Iraq and back, but to engage targets or loiter, it will need to be refuelled. Likewise, coalition fighters launching from the Persian Gulf, or coalition aircraft based as far as Qatar cannot complete a round trip mission without refuelling. And unless based in Jordan, coalition aircraft engaging the IS in Syria equally must also refuel due to the distances involved. According to publicly available information, refuelling aircraft have been available above a safe area near Baghdad, and any coalition fighter requiring fuel en route to distant targets obtains it. Based on information released by DND in November, many dozens of coalition aircraft have benefited from this capability.

Airpower – With half of the territory controlled by the IS in Syria (including Ragga, its notional capital), and with France, the United Kingdom, Australia and Canada deciding to not engage targets in Syria, the onus has fallen on the U.S. and several Gulf states, plus Jordan, to attack targets in Syria – including up until now defending Kobani to which two-thirds of all airstrikes were committed. Every allied fighter committed to Iraq frees up coalition aircraft to attack the IS in Syria. Also, with fighter missions typically lasting four to six hours, and given the distances involved (the size of the United Kingdom) Canada’s contribution of six fighters, seen in the context of the overall coalition effort, is significant.

January 2015 – CF-18 Hornet fighter jet pauses to refuel while conducting a night mission over Iraq during Operation Impact. (Photo: OP Impact, DND)

Special Forces – Though the actual JTF-2 role is shrouded in official secrecy (of course), it is probably training Peshmerga fighters – in small unit tactics, how to call and direct allied airpower; and how to use some of the new weapons it has received.

Transport – Though not a formally declared contribution, Canadian transport aircraft did deliver supplies to the Kurds early in the anti-IS campaign, and are also able to provide sustainment flights to the Canadian contingent in Kuwait and, if needed, to coalition partners.

While important contributions, it must be recognized that Canada is a consumer of strategy rather than a producer. Canada’s choices are almost always where, when and whether it chooses to contribute to a wider alliance or coalition effort.

In the overall context of the coalition effort, the value of Canada’s contribution is somewhat beyond debate – Parliamentary debate should instead focus on whether the overall U.S.-driven strategy will bear fruit; what the limits of the Canadian contribution will be; and the time and costs to be borne by Canada.

The following example underlines the difficulties ahead: The coalition assumes that two to three divisions (48,000-60,000 troops) will be required to dislodge the IS from Iraq. At present some 5,000 Iraqis are in the training pipeline. The contributions of trainers to advise and assist Iraqi forces will have to increase exponentially in order to turn the Iraqi Army to the offensive.

This will require additional trainers, but will also require time – paradoxically time permits the IS to continue to grow, through recruitment and through the indoctrination of youth in the lands it presently controls. The more time it takes, the more difficult the coalition’s task will be. If the world is exposed to yet another bestial killing, like that of the Jordanian fighter pilot in early February, the more acute the pressure to decisively act against the IS will be.

It took four months and 700 airstrikes, to force IS fighters to withdraw from the town of Kobani – leaving some 50 percent of the town destroyed. Mosul, 10 times the size of Kobani will be a far more difficult battle and test of western tolerance, as airpower inevitably will be used in an urban setting to assist the Iraqi Army.

Based on the plan to degrade IS control in Syria, Canada can expect at some point to be asked to expand its area of operations into that airspace.

Smoke billows from Syrian town of Kobani, also known as Ain al-Arab, in the southeastern village of Mursitpinar, Sanliurfa province, on 15 October 2014. U.S. warplanes hit Islamic State jihadists with 18 bombing raids near the Syrian town of Kobani on October 14 and October 15, to support besieged Kurdish militia there, Central Command said. The latest raids targeted several IS positions and 16 buildings occupied by the group, the military said. (AFP Photo: Aris Messinisi)

Turkey, ostensibly an ally, watches from just across the border and does little militarily to assist, though it does help assuage the humanitarian cost with the establishment of refugee camps on its soil. The pressures on Turkey will increase even on the humanitarian front, as the campaign to expel IS from Iraq takes shape.

There are simply not enough planes, not enough ground troops, and not enough trainers to achieve what the Obama strategy has laid out. These are the issues that our Parliamentarians must debate – not the ultimately irrelevant semantics of whether a few shots fired in self-defence constitute combat. The issues are far greater, and far more serious than that.

George Petrolekas is on the Board of Directors of the CDA Institute and co-author of the 2014 Strategic Outlook for Canada which was rated in the top 40 best policy papers in the world by this years’ Think Tank Index. He served with NATO, in Bosnia, and Afghanistan and as an advisor to senior NATO commanders and two Canadian Chiefs of Defence Staff.
© 2015 FrontLine Defence

issue 2)

Casting the anti-ISIS mission as some sort of immoral misadventure, as it has by some, propagates a view that the world’s misfortunes are all the fault of the West and that liberty, democracy, freedom, and equality are inventions best kept to ourselves.

Casting the anti-ISIS mission as some sort of immoral misadventure, as it has by some, propagates a view that the world’s misfortunes are all the fault of the West and that liberty, democracy, freedom, and equality are inventions best kept to ourselves.

Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya are well-worn examples exhorting us to do nothing. However, recanting those interventions does not draw in-depth lessons but rather caricatures to justify a 21st century version of splendid isolation. What might the world have looked like otherwise?

Had appeasement not reigned in the 1930s, would Fascism have gained root? Should we have abstained from fighting Hitler because Stalin was, for a time, our ally, or because the atrocities weren’t in our backyard? Would a contemporary South Korea under Kim-Jong-Il’s suzerainty have been a better moral outcome had we not fought the Korean War?

Historical caricatures forget that the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, and to say that the West gave rise to al-Qaeda is a distortion of history. The Mujahedeen resistance was not a western creation; Mujahedeen have fought infidels on religious grounds since at least 1829.

Al-Qaeda and the Taliban did indeed emerge out of Afghanistan but would have regardless of U.S. anti-Soviet support. If anything, western assistance in Afghanistan hastened the demise of the Soviet Union. Was that a good outcome? The Poles, the Hungarians, the East Germans and citizens of the Baltic States would likely agree it was.

Most images are too brutal to imagine. (zerofiltered.com/islamic-state-massacres-80-yazidis-in-north-iraq-officials)

After 9/11, would anyone argue that al-Qaeda and its Taliban hosts should have been left untouched? If there are lessons from post 9/11 Afghanistan, it is that the West forgot everything it had learned from the reconstruction of post-Second World War Germany or Japan. There was no international cohesion remotely resembling the investment of those post-war efforts.

The other non-interventionist banner is Iraq. The U.S. invaded without justification, but in doing so also ignored the ­lessons in what have become known as the Powell-Weinberger doctrine. In short, when the use force is deemed necessary and appropriate, the following criteria should be considered: Are vital national interests involved? If so, decisive force with a clear intention of victory is required; political and military objectives must be clearly defined and resourced; and interventions should not occur without public support.

In 1990, the US, with a large coalition including Arab armies, intervened to expel Saddam Hussein from Kuwait, and a force of close to 500,000 was assembled. After a short air campaign, the ground war lasted a mere 100 hours. There was no mission creep or leap, and the exit strategy remarkably simple – come home when the objective is achieved. President Bush senior resisted all entreaties to continue the advance into Iraq proper, and the reconstruction of Kuwait, was left to Kuwait’s Gulf State members who had a vested interest in its success.

The difficulties experienced in 2003 Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya was because both Presidents Bush (Jr) and Obama tried to achieve victory on the cheap, without following those principles. Only a third of the forces used a decade earlier were sent, with a wider failure being to plan properly for the aftermath of invasion. Those errors were compounded by Rumsfeld’s policy of a post-Saddam catharsis. In no society can 400,000 people be put out of work without repercussions. That financial and social crisis helped cause the Sunni/Shia divide, and this was compounded by a fickle Iraqi PM, Nouri-al-Maliki who disregarded all chances for pluralism.


In Libya, a clear and limited UN mandate was usurped by political leaders who conflated what was possible with what they perceived as desirable. The most far reaching consequence is the distrust of Russia and China on the Security Council, which has impaired any effort to halt Assad or achieve UN sanction.

The list of IS atrocities is so long, one barely knows which to mention first – its beheadings, burnings, crucifixions, enslavements, or its inspiration of ­brutality.

Theirs are not simply war crimes, but crimes against humanity. There are other movements that are bad, but none of which approach the codified evil made possible by its pretensions to be a state. Its ideology can be defeated, but the precursor must be to eliminate the state structure that supports the ideology and whose very existence inspires others.

It is amoral to characterize Syria’s rulers as war criminals, mass murderers and ethnic cleansers while at the same time insisting it is immoral to enter Syria without permission to attack a group that is even more deadly. If this is what international law protects, it would be akin to asking the Nazi’s for permission to save Jews from Auschwitz.

If the coalition had not acted, we would have ISIS in undisputed control of most of Iraq and roughly half of Syria, with a $2 million a day revenue stream, and its military expansion unchecked. Kobani may have fallen, and Yazidis massacred on Mount Sinjar – at the time, no one argued these actions helped Assad. It is difficult to see how they argue so now.

It is simply amoral to argue that what we are doing is immoral.

George Petrolekas is a Fellow with the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute and on the Board of the CDA Institute. He has served in Bosnia, Afghanistan and with NATO and has been an advisor to senior NATO commanders.

For more information and news on ISIS and the deadly conditions, visit http://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/iraq-turmoil/thousands-yazidi-flee-isis-iraq-syria-n176881
© 2015 FrontLine Defence