We may never know exactly why Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is pulling Canada's fighter jets out of the coalition air campaign against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. All we know is that Mr. Trudeau promised during the election campaign that he would. His reasoning was vague back then, but it didn't matter. He was really just trying to differentiate the Liberals from the Conservatives, who were vociferously pro-bombing.
On Monday, the PM kept his promise but was just as ambiguous about the reasons as ever. He claimed that it's the "Canadian way"; that bombing only works in the short term, whatever that is; that we as a country are best at training and aid-giving, without offering evidence. At the same time, he said Canadian military planes will continue to refuel other countries' jet fighters and do aerial surveillance to guide those fighters. So we're still part of the air campaign, sort of. But, hey, promise kept.
The only question now is, is this a good move? For those caught up in symbolism, such as the Conservatives, the gesture is unforgivable. Are we trying to kill the terrorists or not? Nothing is ever that simple, though, especially in Syria and Iraq. We know IS is bad, but what about the murderous President Bashar Al-Assad of Syria? What about the Russians and Iranians, who are bombing Aleppo and other targets? What about Saudi Arabia, which plans to support the rebels fighting the Russia/Iran-supported Assad forces? And what are Turkey's interests? Are they fighting IS or the Kurds?
In that context, Canada's decision to refocus its efforts by sending personnel to "various Global Coalition headquarters" to help train soldiers, plan missions and do intelligence work makes sense. The skies over Syria and Northern Iraq are lousy with the jets of countries pursuing their own agendas. Canada will be on the ground, trying to help the people fighting what is now a proxy war. And we will be arming and training the Iraqi security forces who will take on IS in the ground battle that follows the air campaign.
Our country will also provide more than $1-billion in humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in the region. Canada will ultimately be more involved in the Syrian crisis than before, but no longer according to the dictates of the defeated Conservative government or of a coalition of countries whose alliances become more complicated and suspect all the time.
Looked at that way, Mr. Trudeau's decision could prove to be wise, even if he can't quite express it himself.