Make Iraq mission quick

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It’s a good thing we didn’t go into Iraq a decade ago. As opposition leader, Stephen Harper fought Jean Chretien on this decision. But he’s since admitted it was the right move. It wasn’t our fight.

But is it our fight now? Back in September – when the House of Commons and foreign affairs committee debated the matter – the answer was "not really."

Sure, the Islamic State was bold and villainous. But they hadn’t poked us in the eye. Yet.

In early October we joined the coalition by sending a few dozen Canadian Forces members to advise and assist the Kurds in northern Iraq.

While ISIS atrocities filled our television screens, this was still abstract. The narrative didn’t have any impact on the home front. Then all of that changed.

The attacks on Parliament Hill and Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, Quebec, happened weeks later. The culprits were homegrown but committed jihadis, followers of the Islamic State death cult.

Then, almost weekly, we heard about Canadians abroad fighting jihad or at least arrested while allegedly attempting to do so.

There was Ottawa man John Maguire, calling for our deaths. There was the handful of Quebec youth allegedly trying to join up. Meanwhile the VIA plot trial played out in the background, with Chiheb Esseghaier refusing to acknowledge our justice system. He only wanted to be judged by the Qur’an.

In other words, things got very real for Canadians very fast. This explains why the majority clearly feel this is our fight.

An Ipsos Reid poll from mid-February put 76% of Canadians strongly or somewhat backing the mission. Back in September it was 12 points lower. It’s pretty clear what’s caused that uptick.

No matter how much you think we shouldn’t be wading into the affairs of others, there can be no denying this is now our affair too.

It’s folly to pretend the jihadi homefront war is completely isolated from the Islamic State surge.

Anyone who suggests the attacks were only direct retaliation for Canada joining the coalition and nothing more just doesn’t understand the jihadis.

They want excuses to go after us. If their pretext hadn’t been us joining the coalition, it would have been something else.

It’s hard for those of us in the West to grasp such theatrics, but when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced they were shortening the name of ISIS to just Islamic State last June, it was their way of proclaiming world domination as their end goal. Seriously.

Whether they make further headway depends on just how pacifist the comfortable Western mindset has become. (Please keep in mind that pacifists generally don’t write the history books… because they’re dead.)

But what do we do? Back in September I wrote: “What do we want to accomplish? You’ll get a different answer from everyone.” The politicians seemed clueless. So far we have little evidence that things have changed. We can’t go in guns ablazing without purpose.

Harper needs to have a clear goal and timeline in mind – one that doesn’t get us entrenched in the region for years to come. No nation building, please. It never works.

Let’s not get involved to the point where the main issue of contention is how many safe injection sites we build in Fallujah.

The hawks need to acknowledge that we will never obliterate insane Islamists. One jihadi group dies, another is born. They’re fluid – always changing and morphing into each other. So destroying the Islamic State is an end goal without end.

Our goal should be to destroy their capacity to make good on their threats against us. Eliminate compounds, artillery and infrastructure and do it from the air so we’re not tempted to turn a ground game into a nation-building sortie.

When I made this point on a talk radio panel last week, my fellow panelist Liberal MP Adam Vaughan pointed out that Canada currently doesn’t have the ability to entirely execute such a plan. Fair enough. But this should be the broader goal of the coalition, regardless of the role Canada plays in it.

That will cripple their forward march and weaken them to the point that the Kurdish peshmerga and Iraqi forces can handle them.

That is, until they surge five or 10 years later. But we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it.

Whatever the scope of the looming extension, it needs to have clear and achievable goals that can be executed within a reasonable timeframe. If not, get ready for an ugly long haul that hopefully nobody truly wants.