As perhaps the greatest current international threat to peace and democracy, the terrorist group, which has come to be known as ISIS, has taken the Middle East and news sources around the globe by their necks and squeezed mercilessly. In case you haven’t been following and know little about ISIS (other than it being that mean group that your dad is always referring to), here is a quick explanation of what ISIS is.
First, ISIS is not Al Qaeda. In fact, Al Qaeda has publicly denounced any affiliation with the group, marking the first time in Al Qaeda’s history that they pretty much admitted, “those guys? Oh, no those guys are bat-shit crazy we don’t go near them.” Al-Qaeda’s General Command said that ISIS “is not a branch of the al-Qaeda group . . . does not have an organizational relationship with it and [al-Qaeda] is not the group responsible for their actions.” The statement marks the first time that they have formally denounced an affiliate. Just for one second, consider the notion that the terrorist group guilty of committing the 9/11 attacks—a tragedy with a 13 year anniversary that just passed—believes that ISIS is overly radical.
ISIS originated in Iraq and has spread outwards, notably over the Iraqi border and into Syria. ISIS claims to be the sole representation of the official Islamic State, and states as its goal the will to bring most Muslim-inhabited regions into their political control. Some of these countries include Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Turkey, and Israel. However, ISIS is not directly affiliated with one country. Although their origins are in Iraq, the Iraqi government is actively fighting to drive them out of the country. For your reading pleasure and convenience, here is a fantastic chart off Slate.com, which gives a simple explanation for the relationships ISIS has with its neighbours. What it says, marked by a straight line of red angry faces, is that absolutely every country’s established government in the region is against the terrorist group. They’re kale salad at a fried food convention.
For readers in Canada, ISIS may sound like a distant problem, not unlike any other terrorist group. However, their effects have hit home very strongly in two different ways. First through the filmed beheadings of two American journalists taken prisoner, James Foley and Steven Sotloff. And secondly, as explained in US President Obama’s address to the nation on September 10, 2014, experts in terrorism have confirmed that a number of Americans have joined the radical group in their efforts. This is especially terrifying because it means that an American ISIS sympathizer could return home just by using their passport, without needing any sort of elaborate plan to return to an area where they could commit serious harm to Americans. It’s a pinky-swear system where you promise not to come and kill me, but I leave you the keys to my house.
Now that you have a basic understanding of what ISIS is, you’ll effectively be able to understand Western foreign policy on the matter and how it will be handled here at home. Via CBC’s James Cudmore: “any Canadian military contribution to the fight against ISIS would likely be small and specific. Canada almost never goes anywhere with its military force without allies alongside. Whatever is done would likely be in conjunction with American and, probably, British forces.” As is usually the case with Canadian military ventures, our country is willing to lend aid comparable and relative to what the United States offers. US President Barack Obama last Wednesday evening effectively outlined the commitment that the American military, and in conjunction the Canadian military, is willing to make.
Obama made it very clear that it is not his wish to put more “combat boots on the ground.” What this means is that no American soldiers will be engaging in combat. What Americans and other members of the coalition (namely Canada, and the UK) will be doing is supplying armaments and helping to train the Iraqi and Syrian soldiers so they can fight for their own freedom. The only official combat that the coalition will engage in is continuous air strikes against known pockets of ISIS presence. In addition, the Canadian military can expect to be a part of surveillance and intelligence missions. Prime Minister Stephen Harper has already announced military advisers for the Iraqis, in addition to beefing up RCMP counter-terrorism operations. On the non-military side, Canada will likely take its usual place as humanitarians in the circumstance, helping to care for the people displaced by ISIS advances in the region. Essentially, this coalition will act as a support system, and not a spearhead as it did in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade.
This is very positive news not only for American and Canadian soldiers, but for Canadian politicians as well. As our Federal elections near, the last thing that the Conservative Party wants to do is commit ten, five, or even one thousand soldiers to the Middle East. By sending minimal front line aid, but still doing our part, the Canadian government can remain out of hot water.
The nature of the war against ISIS makes it a particularly difficult one to dictate. Based on their widespread influence and the difficulty of pinning them in one sole area, it could be months, if not years, before we know that ISIS has been completely eradicated. For now, all we can do is wait and see if the coalition is successful in its venture. What is important to remember in this case is that ISIS is a group specifically driven by radical goals of widespread violence and exploitation. Although ISIS claims to be the true representative of the Islamic nation, a great majority of Muslims not only do not support ISIS, but they openly condemn it. This is likely the first and last time that I will ever agree with Al Qaeda: these bastards sure are bat-shit crazy.