03.24.2015 07:47 AM

The war against ISIS: write your own talking points (updated)

As expected, the Harper government is moving to extend and even expand our participation in the international force targeting ISIS.

The Conservatives – with the possible exception of Michael Chongwill be unanimous in their support for that motion.

The NDP – with no exceptions that I’m aware of – will be unanimous in their opposition.

So what of the Liberal Party? Everyone agrees they are now in a bit of a dilemma. Justin Trudeau strenuously opposed the mission, and even seemed to mock it – but then subsequent polls showed overwhelming support for our participation, and concurrent decline in Liberal support. Trudeau then went on to support C-51.

In light of that, how would you craft talking points for Trudeau for tomorrow today? When he emerges from his weekly caucus meeting office, he will be facing a gargantuan scrum, with reporters demanding to know which way he will vote. It will be interesting.

Below is my stab at some talking points, pro and con.

Continue to oppose the mission:

  • We support our men and women in uniform.  We support efforts to combat terrorism.
  • What we do not support, however, is a military effort that lacks definition, lacks transparency, and is wholly different from what the government said it would be.
  • The Conservative government said we would not have a combat role.  That is what the Prime Minister said, repeatedly.  But it is clear to everyone that we are engaged in combat – and we have already lost one of our men in uniform, just a few days ago.
  • No one seems to know exactly how how Sgt. Andrew Doiron died.  At whose hands? In what circumstances? Why?
  • The loss of Sgt. Doiron is a loss for us all.  He is a Canadian hero, now gone.  We in the Liberal Party believe that we owe all of those heroes – all of those women and men in uniform – a clear sense of their mission.  Its rules of engagement.  Its strategic objective.  Its end date.
  • Canadians are owed that, too.  And, until we get it, we will stand with our troops – but not with this government.

Support the mission

  • Our party – unlike the NDP – is not afraid of a fight.  We do not oppose combat in each and every instance.
  • The Liberal Party of Canada sent Canadian forces into battle to fight fascism in World War II.  To stop genocide, in Bosnia.  To contain terror, in Afghanistan.  It was Liberal governments who made those difficult decisions.
  • Equally, the legacy of past Liberal governments is peacekeeping.  Prime Minister Pearson won a Nobel Prize for Canada’s peacekeeping efforts. We are proud of that legacy.
  • With that legacy uppermost in our minds, the Liberal caucus this morning agreed to support the international effort against ISIS.  We will be voting to extend Canada’s role there.
  • We do so for one reason, above all others: the situation on the ground in Syria and Iraq has gotten dramatically worse in recent months. ISIS has revealed itself to be a well-funded, well-organized genocidal cult – a malignant force unlike any that we have seen in our lifetimes. They are not going away.
  • We opposed the war in Iraq in 2003 because that American-led effort lacked evidence of weapons of mass destruction.  It lacked United Nations support.  In recent weeks, however, the United Nations has clearly documented horrors carried out by ISIS – including the murder and enslavement of children.
  • In light of the UN’s findings – in light of the radically-changed circumstances – we will now support this international effort, with conditions. We want to know the rules of engagement, our strategic objective, and – of course – the end date. If those conditions are satisfied, we will support this motion.

Personally, I see them sticking with their original position – however wrong-headed that was.  I found the “support the mission” talking points were a lot more difficult to compose.  Ipso facto, they’re trapped.

Now you take a stab, dear reader.  Both sides – not just the one you support!

UPDATE: And…sigh. No one can accuse him of simply following public opinion, I guess. And, at least no one is being called a traitor for taking the opposite view (yet).


  1. sezme says:

    Ladies and gentlemen, unlike the Government and the Official Opposition, who are limited to unilateral utterances, we in the Liberal Party of Canada are willing and able to talk out of both sides of our mouths!

    • Ensign says:

      “Et rappelez-vous, le ciel est bleu, l’enfer est rouge!” (And remember—Heaven is blue, Hell is red!)

  2. doconnor says:

    When has nonsensical or contradictory talking points ever stopped a politician before?

  3. cgh says:

    Warren, your key sentence is this:

    “I found the “support the mission” talking points were a lot more difficult to compose.”

    It’s easier to find justifications for why not to take some action on most things. The statements that are most convincing are those which speak to principles. The mission opposition statements may have been easy to write, but they all quibble about specifics. I could respect a position based on genuine pacificism, but not these. And the last one “we stand with the troops but not the mission” is simply hypocrisy.

    Your supportive statements may have been more difficult to compose, but they all speak more clearly and with less moral ambiguity than the previous.

    • doconnor says:

      “we stand with the troops but not the mission” is not hypocrisy.

      It is the government who decides on the mission that is a different group of people the troops who go on the mission. You can support one, but not the other.

      The Canadian Forces troops volunteer to go on sometimes dangerous missions whether or not they agree with them and they should be respected for that.

      • cgh says:

        Of course it’s hypocrisy. When you’re in the armed forces, the government decides where you go. It’s part of the job description, and everyone from lieutenant general to PFC knows it.

      • MC says:

        I agree that there is no clear hypocrisy in supporting the troops but not the mission and think you’ve captured what is meant there. But I also think Warren’s “support the mission” option makes the more compelling argument. I have difficulty believing Trudeau will make either argument as well as they have been put here, however, but suspect he is more likely to go for option #1 (now that Warren has written it for him).

  4. Tiger says:


    “We do not mind a fight. However, whenever you send someone overseas in a mission in which they may well die, you had better make sure that it is worth it. There are enough complications on the ground that it is difficult to see what the endgame is here, and until we can see that, this is not a mission we can support.”


    “As we learn more about ISIL, the depth of their depravity becomes still more apparent. If Canada were to take a pass on this — if we were to stand on the sidelines — our allies (and adversaries) would be justified in wondering, just what WILL Canada fight for? Our contribution is modest, yes, but that’s the level needed here — if the major members of the international community each make a modest contribution, that is sufficient to defeat this great evil early; if we wait, it may take much more blood and treasure to do so. When circumstances change, we change our minds — isn’t that what Canadians expect of their leaders?”

  5. Bill says:


    Use whatever influence we have to try and protect innocents being slaughtered abroad


    Like Afghanistan, there is no end game here, exactly what are we looking for and how do we make that happen?
    At its core, this really isn’t our business. If people want their lives to change for the better, it will involve civil war but it’s really not our business. We can arm them but it’s their own values that dictate their outcome (see Iraq & Afghanistan)

  6. Matt says:

    1) The situation on the ground there hasn’t gotten worse in recent months. It’s as bad as it ever was. Large numbers of religious minorities raped and murdered. Long before the last vote there were verified reports of ISIL murdering children and selling others as slaves. We got those reports directly from children who escaped. No need to wait for a UN report.

    2) Canada’s history of peacekeeping is 100% irrelevant here. There is no peace to keep.

    Trudeau may vote to support it, but it won’t have anything to do with any of your talking points. It won’t be because he’s had a sudden revelation ISIL are bad and need to be stopped. It’s because of what you said at the beginning of this entry: Since they opposed the mission in October, the Liberals have plummete10 to 15 points in the polls, depending on the pollster. THAT is the ONLY reason the Liberals pledged support for C-51 before it was even tabled.

  7. King Prick says:


    We oppose the mission because at this time in our history, we are being sued by our so called allies under NAFTA and it’s draining Canadian coffers. We must concentrate on a Canada where we can support those fleeing war torn parts of the world.

    We oppose the mission because Canadian infrastructure is crumbling, our education system is in rapid decline, hundreds of native women have disappeared and we need to find out why, the middle class has less than ever before and health care is enduring unnecessary cuts that continue to mount while we play cowboys and terrorists in the Middle East.

    We oppose the mission because it would be nice if we could fix our own shit first.


    We’re in favour of the mission because we really don’t give a shit about making Canada better. We’d rather make any place that isn’t Canada, better. (From my I-phone that’s haunted by the suicidal child slave that built it.)

  8. Doug says:

    How about …”Hey, let’s insert ourselves into a civil war in the Middle East. What could possibly go wrong?”

    And Warren – surely you know public support for a war is often high at the “cakewalk” beginning. Public support for Iraq war in US was at 72% in 2003. Five years later it had dropped to 38%.

  9. Matt says:

    All moot now.

    CBC reports Trudeau indicated he will be voting against the mission.

    Same talking points as Mulcair:

    No exit strategy
    Harper lied – Our ground troops are involved in a combat mission.
    Blah, blah, blah… Same crap from Mulcair as always.

    Question for the opposition – Our spec-ops guys are there on an advise AND ASSIST mission. WTF do they think the assist part means? Sometimes they need to go to front lines and ASSIST in showing the Kurds how to for example, call in airstrikes.

    Chances are they will be fired upon. They’ll return fire. Doesn’t make it a combat mission.

    • doconnor says:

      Going somewhere where “Chances are they will be fired upon,” sounds like a combat mission to me.

      • cgh says:

        Which means, Matt, that Justin is now advocating “cut and run”. He’s finding out that there’s no middle ground in a yes/no question. He’s also going to find out that political cowardice is not particularly rewarding. Trimmers never prosper.

        It’s been amusing watching assorted confused individuals split hairs over “combat mission”. What do these folks think a military is for and how it does what it’s supposed to do? What’s even more illuminating, they imagine that time and circumstance will not change situations as they emerge.

    • MississaugaPeter says:

      Trudeau and the entourage had to decide where would he bleed more (Blue Liberals or Orange Liberals) and which stand is politically wiser. A very difficult decision.

      Trudeau’s decision may have given the Conservatives the few percentage points they needed for a majority, but it may have insured that the Liberals will be the Official Opposition after the next election.

      On the other hand, this may not be the issue that decides the next election. My feeling on the ground is that even though people have an opinion about this mission (and I as an Orange Liberal have stated bomb ISIS into Hell), it will not determine who they will vote for in an election.

  10. m5slib says:

    I’m actually glad Trudeau and the Liberals continue to oppose this. Some of the Liberal bench didn’t seem overly pleased, but that’s what a leader does – makes tough and unpopular decision. If Justin caved to public opinion, it would have looked weak and unprincipled. Additionally, I think the polling on this issue isn’t completely accurate. If the debate goes deeper, I think the numbers will change. On a personal level, I don’t feel comfortable with this. Our intervention in the mid east hasn’t been stellar, and I see nothing indicating this edition will be any different. All the sensationalism about ISIL/ISIS creeping in here is just that. Engaging in some drawn out affair won’t make a positive difference; it might potentially do the opposite. This, however, isn’t a reason to no support the mission. If we are going to stop homegrown terrorism, it has to be done at home on multiple fronts – intelligence, culture, and economy. I’m glad the Liberals and the NDP took the stand they did, and my instincts (which I rely on above anything else in politics) tell me Canadians will respond positively.

  11. James Smith says:

    Put aside for a moment the potential war crime of an act of war against a sovereign state the Present PM has proposed (Air Strikes into Syria – we’ve not been attacked nor asked by that state to intervene) Mr K, you, like most of the country have fallen for the present PM’s False Dilemma.

    ISIS has a corrupt & evil view of religion. They need to be stopped & brought to justice.
    The question is not only how to do that but how and why are they even a thing?
    The why is simple: Bush, Cheney, Powell, Rice, et cetera on one side & Sadam on the other.

    The how is not solved by Air Strikes but by getting the reasonable people to take charge. Canada could and should be playing a role in this way. Canada’s expertise in this field has been shelved and replaced by war mongers & I wonder if we have the expertise any longer to make a contribution to a complex situation such as Iraq or Syria.

    Ask yourself if the present PM were the PM in 1956 would he or one of his minions win a Nobel Prize? No, he would have sent troops to support the British Army. This present crisis is no more complex than 1956. A wise leader can and should be looking and asking how to help the citizens of broken countries fix their countries rather than increasing the bloodshed.

    The Good Friday Accord between two groups who used religious differences as a form of hatred and division. The Hard Men in Ulster were as evil in their actions as ISIS is today but Canadian general John de Chastelain helped broker the deal that helped set the peaceful path after 400 years of bloodshed. One needs willing parties yes, but one also needs those who are willing to help. Canada has been that help in the past, and should be that help in the future.

    • Scotian says:

      Very well said, and good historical comparisons in my view. You are speaking to the role Canada played for decades, and which under this government has been trashed and dismantled. This next election will be the very last chance to repudiate this, up until the prior election people could convince themselves Harper governed the way he did because he was in constant election mode because he was a minority government, that in a majority he would be calmer, more stable and less electioneering 24/7. Well, we have see the truth of that, it got worse, not better, and we have gone farther from our historical positions, policies, basic precepts, and principles than ever before, and it all starts with PM Harper. Our respect for the rule of law internationally has been utterly destroyed by the choices and actions of Harper. So your argument is exactly right I submit.

    • wsam says:

      Catholics and Protestants practically invented religious hatred. Glad you brought up Canada’s role in helping bring some measure of peace to poor Northern Ireland. Peace has happened before, it could happen again

      • James Smith says:

        As a Dogan, I’d like to quote my grandfather who was from Cavan Town & what he said about he Hard Men “If you act like dog, you turn into a dog, if you act like a pig, you turn into a pig, and if you act like a rat, you turn into a rat.”

  12. Ronald O'Dowd says:


    Who can stare into the face of evil, and do nothing?

    Improvisation is the mother of lost causes.

  13. Sean says:

    At this stage, the most responsible position would be:

    This morning I tendered my resignation to the President of the Liberal Party of Canada. A leadership convention will be held in June. I urge Liberals to unite behind their new interim Leader, Marc Garneau. Sophie and I would like to thank Canadians for letting us into their homes over the past two years. It has been an honor and privilege to serve as Leader of this once great party. I have recently learned through my advisers that this job entails more than just photo ops and fundraising. Serious decision making based on consultation is not an aspect of the job I ever anticipated and it is time to move on.

    • Marlene Anderson says:

      And there’s the crux of the matter for why Justin Trudeau is completely unsuited to be PM. JT’s a very nice fellow but, from the evidence, he doesn’t do well in adversity. A privileged upbringing will do that to you. You never develop any muscle when life is easy. It takes tough people to make tough decisions.

  14. !o! says:

    I don’t understand why people keep conflating C-51 with military action against ISIS. They’re very different things.

    • davie says:

      I think the government ties them together…ministers will say that Islamic State has declared war on Canada, and in the same sentence refer to the murders of the two soldiers here in Canada.

      (I notice when ministers say that Islamic State ahs declared war on Canada and Canadians, they always leave out the part about hos we announced and sent our military to bomb people in Iraq, THEN Islamic State made their declarations about Canada and Canadians. Borders on telling us a half truth, and pretending it is the whole truth! )

  15. davie says:

    Okay, I’ll play too…(I notice that after the 3 party leaders pronounced on the extension announcement in H of C, that our worthy MP’s denied May the chance to speak.)

    No one in Central or South America, Africa, and most of Asia is putting resources into this war making. The air war is by the usual bomb-from-air governments, and we are killing civilians, probably more than Islamic State is accused of killing. Killing people is wrong.
    We would be bombing a sovereign country, Syria. This breaks international law.

    We initiated sectarian animosities some time ago as a way of keeping the area in chaos until such time that we can control the fuel pipeline routes, especially the proposed routes from Iran and Khazakstan across Iraq and Syria to water’s edge and the European markets. Our bombing keeps a balance of power between this Sunni Muslim rebel group that is threatening the rule of the Shia Muslim controlled government and its Kurdish Muslim allies.
    In the upcoming federal election, we want to give Canadian voters a clear choice between patriotism and pusillanimity.

    (Just trying to outdo K–g Prick in skepticism about the motives of those marching our young people off to war.)

  16. Lyndon Dunkley says:

    There is no common ground to be found between us and these groups, no mutual understanding to be had if we would just listen. In my mind, if the West was serious about defeating ISIS, we really only have two options.

    The first is to send over a large military force and defeat it on the ground with our better trained and equipped armed forces. The problem with this solution is if the West was to send over 300,000 troops, only 275,000 would come home and we don’t have the appetite for that number of casualties on our side anymore.

    The second option is to turn Mosul and Tikrit into the 21st century equivalents of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Maybe that would make us a “strong enough horse”.

    From a strictly Canadian perspective, I just don’t understand the impact some believe these half (quarter? eighth? ) measures will have on the Middle East. I see them as feel good, we gotta do something, efforts that no longer feel good the moment one of our troops dies. As Sgt Doiron proves, the number is literally one.

    • davie says:

      Might it be possible that, as in some other areas over there, we want to keep conflict and chaos going?

      • wsam says:

        It is not possible that Canada has a real plan. We don’t have a Foriegn policy the way, say, the U.S. or Russia, or even France does. We are going along to get along, because that is what the United States is doing and the U.S. is our most important ally. This is the traditional Canadian Foriegn policy, we want to be included, and is what Stephen Harper said he was going to change. We were going to be an energy superpower and base our foreign policy around Timeless Canadian values, not multilateralism for its own sake. Now we are helping Islamic revolutionary Iran achieve its geopolitical goals and helping Assad, its ally, cling to power. What a joke!

    • James Smith says:

      Just to understand your Post. Are you advocating this is an either / or between your 1st & 2nd points?

      • Lyndon Dunkley says:

        Or the West leaves and allows the myriad of disparate interests to sort it out themselves.

        Right or left, is anyone (other than MississaugaPete) arguing the West’s Middle Eastern policy is working? If we accept the premise that the previous efforts create more terrorists than it defeats, why continue with the half measures?

        If Bin Laden was right in his strong horse analogy, has anything we’ve done established ourselves as that horse?

        If our goal is to eliminate these groups, we have to obliterate them to the point where the next ISIS or Al Qaeda realizes there is no utility in doing this again.

    • MississaugaPeter says:

      No nukes! The status quo, with Western bombing and Middle East troops on the ground, has worked! It worked in Kobani. It can work everywhere else. Mosul next.

      The only problem is that the Kurds, who will deserve independence after all this, may not get it. And that will set off another conflict.

      At the end of the day, ISIS is evil incarnate, and must be the first priority. The residual afterwards, no matter how bad, will always be less worse.

      • wsam says:

        The Kurds have to be careful. Like Alberta, they have oil but no acess to the sea. They cannot anger their neighbours too much. They aren’t going to be like Stephen Harper and start publicly attempting to bully the neighbours with which they need to make a deal, a la Harper telling Obama he won’t take no for an answer and then has had to sit in his office in Ottawa stewing over Obama’s no.

  17. Doug says:

    Start of the war: Enemy=evil. Mission=decisive. Timeframe=short. Public support=high.

    1 year later: Enemy=nuanced. Mission =open ended. Timeframe=ongoing Public support=wavering

    3 years later: Enemy=who knows? Mission=who knows? Timeframe=who knows? Public support=against

  18. wsam says:

    Since I guess Trudeau has already turned down supporting the government, there really isn’t that much to debate. It clearly would have been easier to support the mission. Islamic State are pretty convincing bad guys.

    What Trudeau should be doing now is asking that, if Stephen Harper is extending the mission in Syria, does that mean Canada is aligning itself with Assad, the torturer of Demascus; are we now in bed with Assad allies Iran and it proxy Hezbullah? The American have acknowledged they have co-ordinated missions with Iran. Hezbullah is fighting both Islamic State and Israel … Has Stephen Harper told Netanyahu Canada is going to be helping an anti-Semitic terrorist organization like Hezbullah?

  19. reader says:

    I wish I understood better the arguments as to why it is so clear Canada needs to extend their mission into Syria. In the US, it seems they’ve decided they have to do this but acknowledge it is fraught with problems and they can’t really say where Syria will end up or whether they’ll end up with a worse enemy than ISIS to fight.

  20. Sam T. says:

    The root problem of the Nation of Islam is Islam. Any military engagement is a “band-aid” solution. Another head will simply spring forth from the hydra that is Islam. A modern, polyethnic, polysectarian state is simply impossible to build on the Koran alone. Until this core ideological problem if fixed, blood and treasure is tragically wasted and only further weakens the West.

    In the United Kingdom, there are an estimated 500 000 English girls gang-raped and prostituted by a vast network of Muslim, mainly Pakistani, Islamists. Google it. The same phenomenon is occurring here e.g. missing Aboriginal girls. It is totally suppressed. Why fight the Islamic State there when Islamist are ethnically cleansing here? As long as the West drifts towards open borders, maintains unqualified multiculturalism, the West is doomed. Time to wake up.

  21. Rich says:

    Before taking on the task that has been set out, I suggest you go back in time to 1940…Churchill has to respond to Hitler’s actions.
    What are the “talking points” ,how to we justify “going to war with Germany” versus not doing so. What are what the exit strategies ….the very important exit strategies. An interesting exercise before taking on the one suggested…or….maybe the talk of principles gives us what we need.
    Is this evil monumental…check.
    Do they want to conquer the world eventually….check.
    Do they advocate wholesale slaughter and torture…check.
    Would they engage in mass murder….check.
    Have they crucified and beheaded children….check.
    Please outline why anyone with principles and something we have forgotten about…a spine…would mealy-mouth to any degree about these guys.
    What more greater moral justification is there for the use of force than stopping this evil horror. They are evil by any definition chosen.
    When using force, there are no guarantees and yes troops will be killed and maimed but I maintain this is needed and we must be involved no matter the cost.
    This is about responsibility, not politics, not how the party looks, not how we minimize vote loss and it is about doing the ‘right thing’ in the face of uncertainty.

  22. Jimmy says:

    Pro: I am in way over my head. Con: He’s in way over his head.

  23. wsam says:

    There needs to be a new rule that if you reference Churchill you lose the argument. Germany in the 1930s had the most powerful and best trained armies in Europe. Germany possessed perhaps the world most sophisticated advanced industrial economy. Comparing the threat National Socialist Germany under Hitler posed to the world in the late-1930s to Islamic State in the Middle East is ridiculous.

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