On Tuesday afternoon, Justin Trudeau tweeted, "It's time for Canada to once again work constructively with its allies. A new Liberal government will do just that." Also on Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Trudeau spoke with U.S. President Obama. He told the President that Canadian fighter jets would no longer be part of a U.S.-led, international coalition bombing the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. It's not immediately obvious how this is an example of "working constructively" with Canada's closest allies.
In his first phone conversation with Mr. Trudeau, Mr. Obama said he understood that the prime-minister-designate had made commitments during the campaign on limiting Canada's role in the anti-IS mission. Of course, Mr. Obama is a politician, too, so he doubtless does understand. But the U.S. government has made it clear it would prefer Canada to continue with the air mission.
Mr. Trudeau plans to withdraw Canada from air combat in Iraq and Syria, while continuing an on-the-ground training mission in Iraq. Again, this is as promised. But it would be a good thing for the PM-designate, who has just made his first foreign policy move, to clearly explain his reasoning to Canadians: Why should we train but not fight?
The promise in the Liberal Party platform is this: "We will refocus Canada's military contribution in the region on the training of local forces, while providing more humanitarian support and immediately welcoming 25,000 more refugees from Syria."
A long explanation was offered months ago, from the now newly elected MP for Orléans, Andrew Leslie, a former lieutenant-general and Chief of the Canadian Forces Land Staff.
In February, before the election campaign got underway, Mr. Leslie told Global News with regard to Canadian planes striking IS, "Just going overseas and bombing does not work. It has never worked before, it's not going to work in the future." But he also said, "Doing nothing is not a good option."
That was not a complete explanation, but it's a start. So what is Mr. Trudeau's justification for his pledge? Were our strikes ineffective? Counterproductive? There are principled and practical arguments for bombing IS, and for not. Mr. Trudeau should do more than just fulfill his election commitment. He should explain it.