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Globe editorial: Is there a Canadian national interest in sending troops to Mali?

The federal Liberal government sometimes acts as if it absolutely must fulfill one ill-considered election platform promise from 2015.

During the last election, Justin Trudeau vowed to revive the peacekeeping of the 1950s, which Canada helped to invent. Now in power in the 21st century, the Liberals are tying themselves in knots to find Canada a nostalgic role in what is now referred to as "peace support operations."

Whatever we call these operations, it is not clear that they serve the interests of Canada. They aren't the peacekeeping missions of old, in which Canadian soldiers in blue helmets patrolled an international border in support of a recognized ceasefire.

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The modern operations, as described by the government itself, more accurately resemble dangerous counter-insurgency missions. They look nothing like what Canada did 50 years ago.

Nonetheless, Canadian cabinet ministers and high-ranking civil servants are being required to turn themselves into pretzels to give meaning to the government's peacekeeping aspirations – Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, former foreign minister Stéphane Dion, International Development Minister Marie-Claude Bibeau and now Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland have all been involved.

The African country of Mali has become a leading candidate for Canada's first mission. It was part of the former French empire in Africa, and France has been hoping that partly francophone Canada will contribute to the fight against jihadi extremists there as part of the United Nations "peace stabilization" campaign – a.k.a. counter-insurgency – known as MINUSMA.

The Canadian Armed Forces shed blood and lost lives during the decade-long mission in Afghanistan. Sending them into a similar campaign in Mali may further Liberal political interests. But does it serve the national interest? An especially disturbing aspect of the mission is the Malian jihadis' use of child soldiers. The Canadian Forces have no experience dealing with such tactics.

"We know we have to make the right decision for Canada," Prime Minister Trudeau said recently about "peace support operations." Sometimes, the right decision is to stay home.

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