News item: Canada has been excluded from a high-level meeting of "significant contributors" to the fight against the so-called Islamic State, despite the fact that two other invitees, Australia and the Netherlands, are currently contributing no more than Canada to the Middle East military mission. What gives?
What gives is Canada's plan to withdraw its CF-18 fighter jets, ending participation in coalition bombing missions over Iraq and Syria. It was one of the Trudeau government's major election promises. And though the planes are still in the air three months after the election, the government has repeatedly reminded Canadians and our allies that the mission will end soon – even though Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan admitted last weekend that "of course" Canada's partners want the CF-18s to stay. It's hard to conclude anything other than that there's a good reason Canada is off the guest list. If you RSVP to say you're not coming to the party, don't expect to be named to the party-planning committee.
On balance, we think it's better for Canada to be a player in the anti-IS coalition. Given that IS doesn't have an air force or modern anti-aircraft defences, using CF-18s to bolster our allies on the ground makes a lot of sense, and carries little risk. Pulling them out makes sense if the government believes the whole military mission is a mistake and that this is a Middle Eastern quarrel that ought to be left to Middle Eastern governments, or if, unlike Canada's closest friends, the Trudeau government believes that dropping bombs is ineffective or counterproductive. We might not agree with those propositions, but we'd at least see the logic of the argument.
But the government has never made those arguments. It hasn't really made any arguments. It ran on the promise to withdraw the CF-18s, and it plans to honour that promise, because it ran on it. At the same time, the government stands ready to continue a dangerous mission to train Kurdish troops so close to the front lines as to be effectively in combat – but it doesn't want them to have the support of Canada's most effective weapon, the CF-18s. It is also willing to militarily support the fighter jets of our coalition partners as they fly the combat missions that Canada will soon abandon, even though those same partners want our jets to remain.
If Canada's allies are frustrated, is anyone surprised?