Peter Van Loan Defines Combat

Yesterday, the Opposition raised a question of privilege, accusing the Harper government of misleading the House on the nature of Canada’s military role in Iraq. (The mission is known as Operation IMPACT, and you can find the official DND page describing it here.)

Specifically, the Opposition wanted to pin the government down on the definition of combat. Responding was house leader Peter Van Loan, and his response, while underreported (hey, it wasn’t Question Period) is still a pretty good one:

We think self-defence is not combat. We think it is common sense. We think it is what anyone would expect their troops in the field to be able to undertake. The mission is a mission to advise and assist. There is nothing in that mission to prevent our soldiers from defending themselves if they should come under fire.

The opposition, keeps using some funny terms that seem very odd to me. One is “front lines”. Another is “combat zone”. The opposition seems to think that the advise and assist mission means that our forces will never be on the front lines of the combat zone. “Front lines” is an archaic image. This is what we had in World War I, when soldiers were in trenches. There is nothing like that right now. Right now, in a place like Iraq, where our special forces are on the ground, everything is the front line. Everything is the combat zone.

In fact … the combat zone is not just in Iraq. The front lines are not just in Iraq. The combat zone, the front lines, are in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where a Canadian soldier was killed. They are at the National War Memorial. Those are the front lines now. It is a terminology I frankly do not understand from the opposition.

I heard the hon. member say that he expects that Canadian soldiers will be “behind the wire”. They are in Iraq. There are no Canadian bases in Iraq. There is no wire to be behind. It shows a remarkable lack of understanding of what our forces are doing there.

The fact is that they are in a dangerous place, and in that dangerous place, doing the dangerous work of advising and assisting, they have, and should have, every right to defend themselves. No one has ever told this House of Commons or suggested, not this government at least, that our soldiers should go there with their hands tied behind their backs, restricted from doing that. That is the fundamental difference in this debate, and that is what it is. It is a debate.

Of course, the Opposition are right to be worried that Canada’s current role may, in the long term, escalate into something protracted and more deeply involved. But at the same time, it’s important to emphasize that the nature of the beast is, most definitely, not the same as the one that drew Canada into Afghanistan, and Mr. Van Loan does deserve kudos for drawing attention to that fact.

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I'm a professional librarian currently working in Ottawa, Ontario.
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5 Responses to Peter Van Loan Defines Combat

  1. Nathan B. says:

    I should also mention that the K.S.A. used its military force to affect a political outcome in Bahrain, at a critical juncture when the Shiite majority was gaining momentum in its peaceful quest for equality of opportunity–something the Sunni majority denies them. Why are we supporting the K.S.A with military contracts worth many millions when it invaded the sovereignty of a neighbouring nation in this way?

  2. Nathan B. says:

    The loss of the two Canadian soldiers is tragic indeed, but frankly, the government needs to get serious about the long-term viability of immigration from certain countries whose religion and culture seems so easily to warp into extremism even, or perhaps especially, in the second generation here. Fighting ISIS in Iraq or Syria does nothing to help Canada in Canada. But it does put us on jihadist radar.

    One could make the case that many of the problems of the Middle East are due not only to its intrinsic misogyny and intolerance of diversity and free thought, but also to Western meddling. The UK redrew the map during its colonial era. The US actively supported and continues to support dictators who practice torture, arbitrary detention, and murder. And hundreds of men from western countries flock to the Middle East to rape innocent women and blow up ordinary people.

    Nor is Canada free of blame. While we deplore ISIS for beheading, for instance, Saudi Arabia beheads dozens of innocent men and women each year on the charges like “witchcraft” and “blasphemy.” It flogs bloggers for daring to write what they think about society. It tries women who want to drive in anti-terorrism courts. It denies all freedom of religion. And our Harper government cozies up to Saudi Arabia in an unhallowed eagerness to sell it arms worth unprecedented amounts of money.

    I’m for drawing a line in the sand: domestically, make sure that each immigrant to Canada accepts Canadian values regarding equality of the genders and freedom of thought and expression. If not, swift loss of citizenship and deportation. Meanwhile, sell arms and give advice only to countries that accept those same values. Finally, when giving military aid, go all out in an effort to win. Either that, or stay out entirely. The Kurds, at least, are a worthy partner, but I’m not sure that Canada can be one for them without some serious soul-searching in the halls of Parliament.

  3. oldwhiteguy says:

    the babbling fools in Ottawa will change their tune when we are actively fighting here in Canada. oh, I forgot, we are actively fighting in Canada, just not at the same level they are in the middle east. we will be if we keep importing those who wish to kill us.

  4. Lorne Russell says:

    What a fantastic explanation that needs to be repeated LOUDLY and OFTEN:
    “Front lines” is an archaic image. This is what we had in World War I, when soldiers were in trenches. There is nothing like that right now. Right now, in a place like Iraq, where our special forces are on the ground, everything is the front line. Everything is the combat zone.
    In fact … the combat zone is not just in Iraq. The front lines are not just in Iraq. The combat zone, the front lines, are in Saint-Jean-sur-Richelieu, where a Canadian soldier was killed. They are at the National War Memorial. Those are the front lines now. It is a terminology I frankly do not understand from the opposition.”

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