When Prime Minister Stephen Harper rose on Friday afternoon to announce that Canada would be sending fighter jets and more to join an international coalition again the so-called Islamic State, he chose to open with an arresting argument for the war – arresting, but problematic.
Mr. Harper said that ISIS "has specifically targeted Canada and Canadians, urging supporters to attack" and "vowing that we should not feel secure, even in our homes." He said that no one should "minimize these declarations" because ISIS "links its acts to it words." He returned to this theme repeatedly. The government, he said, was acting to protect regional and global security and "of course, the security of Canadians." In closing the speech, he reiterated once more that this mission is not only about aiding Canada's allies in the region, or our NATO partners. "The menace presented by the Islamic State is very real, it is grave, and it is explicitly directed, in part, against our country." The government must act because, said the PM, its "ultimate responsibility is to protect Canadians, and to defend our citizens from those who would do harm to our families."
ISIS is plainly a threat to the people of Iraq and Syria. It is proudly murderous and dreams of committing genocide on those who will not submit to its perverted brand of Islam. It wants to destabilize the whole region. And if given the opportunity, there is no doubt that ISIS would be happy to spend its days decapitating Westerners and Jews. What is harder to say is that ISIS currently has an ability to mount attacks on faraway enemies such as Canada, when it is already at war with so many enemies at home. And in the confusion of the multiparty civil wars racking Syria and Iraq, it is difficult to say that Canadian intervention by means of air-delivered weapons is likely to make our targets less rather than more interested in finding Canada on a map, or less rather than more likely to radicalize a few misguided young men here at home.
There are arguments in favour of a limited, focused Canadian campaign in support of regional allies in Iraq and in concert with NATO. But is war in Iraq justified by the alleged need to preempt a threat at home? How real is the threat, and can a military campaign address it? It's something that needs to be questioned on Monday, when Parliament debates the mission.