Could we please have a war debate without all the posturing?
Fat chance. The politicians can't help themselves. Stephen Harper tells us the Islamic State is a direct menace to "our families," which is baloney. Thomas Mulcair condemns a "rush into war" that could produce "thousands or tens of thousands of veterans, " which is more baloney. Meantime, Justin Trudeau cracks witless jokes about whipping out the big ones.
Maybe everyone could just get a grip. For now, and likely for the future, Canada's commitment is tiny – a few fighter jets, a few hundred support personnel, a few advisers, no boots on the ground. To be reviewed in six months. We could scarcely do less without doing nothing at all.
This time there will be no stirring tales of how our troops are nation-building, and fighting off the bad guys so that little girls can go to school. There will be no new Highway of Heroes, and no body bags either. Been there, done that. (Hey! Wasn't it a Liberal who got us into that one?) Our main reason for joining up is to show solidarity with our allies so that they will keep taking us seriously. Stephen Harper's strategy is to speak loudly and carry a small stick.
As for where all this goes, nobody knows – not Mr. Harper, and not Barack Obama, either. Which is one more reason for Mr. Harper to be prudent. Mr. Obama has screwed up everything he's touched in the Middle East (one wonders if Justin will mention that) and there's no sign things are about to change.
Among the main critics of the small-stick strategy are those who warn that the West's response is not muscular enough. Ironically, in Canada they include plenty of suddenly hawkish Liberals – people who agree with Mr. Harper that we have a moral obligation to intervene whenever we see people's heads getting chopped off by crazed, genocidal fanatics, but think we should be doing even more. Their views are a sharp smack upside the head to Mr. Trudeau, who, as we know, advocates diplomatic solutions (because that's worked so well before!) and handing out Band-Aids to refugees.
"If you really want to stop them, you're going to have to give a full-court press, " said Lloyd Axworthy, who is a founding member of the Responsibility to Protect club. In his view, the terrorists "have to be whacked and whacked good." Bob Rae, the former Liberal leader, wrote pointedly that people who draw parallels with the invasion of Iraq (such as Justin Trudeau) are simply wrong, because this situation is completely different.
Roméo Dallaire, the retired general and humanitarian, is another liberal hawk. Air strikes are not enough, he said. We need boots on the ground. Even Robert Fowler, the former diplomat who was kidnapped in Mali, argues that the West has failed to take the Islamic threat seriously enough. "We appear to have lost the capacity to play the long game," he wrote in this newspaper last week. "We, neither the elected nor the electorate, neither in Canada nor more broadly in the West, appear willing to commit to going the distance, to doing what needs to be done to defeat such an essentially hostile ideology."
Yet there is no appetite in Canada – or the West – for that. Although public support for a military mission is widespread, it is also finite, and Mr. Harper surely knows it. Having fighters flying airplanes 30,000 feet above the fray is one thing; having them face the Islamic Caliphate in hand-to-hand combat is another. Sure, we're morally engaged – so long as it doesn't cost us much.