Justin Trudeau: ’The Iraq fiasco haunts choices’

For the record: Justin Trudeau on PM Harper and Canada’s role in Iraq
CORRECTED VERSION - CORRECTS DAY - Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau speaks at a Canada2020 event in Ottawa on Thursday, October 2, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Sean Kilpatrick

For the record, prepared remarks for Justin Trudeau at the Canada 2020 conference in Ottawa. (Ellipses indicate where we’ve removed the French.)

We’re a few years away from 2020. But each challenge we face now… is a chance to work toward that future Canada.

And as we do, we should consider our actions in a future tense. How will we stay true to our country’s character? How will we live up to our own high standards? How do we make judgments today with that future in mind? … Before us is a question of the most serious and consequential kind about how Canada ought to act in the world.

More to the point: how can Canada deploy its resources and resourcefulness in a world of ongoing and complex threats? How do we ensure our own security, and help build peace for people in the world’s most embattled places.

This is what we face with ISIL. It is a threat to regional and global security, and to millions of innocent people in an already war-ravaged part of the world.

You know as well as I do that ISIL’s acts are horrific. They are designed to be. ISIL murders ethnic and religious minorities across Iraq. They murder innocent civilians, humanitarian workers and journalists. These awful acts have been fully documented – often by the perpetrators themselves.  This humanitarian crisis and security threat needs to be dealt with.  But when we ask ourselves what Canada should do about it, a lot of tough questions arise. … The 2003 Iraq war was waged on false pretenses and flawed intelligence.

It was a mission that destabilized the region … sowed further conflict … cost our allies three trillion dollars … and cost thousands of people their lives. The world is still dealing with the consequences of that mistake.

Let us never forget how that mission was sold to the public:

With overheated, moralistic rhetoric that obscured very real flaws in the strategy and the plan to implement it.

I thought about this the other day in Parliament when Mr. Harper called the current military campaign a “noble effort.” Back in 2003, he called President Bush’s Iraq war a matter of “freedom, democracy and civilization itself.”

Clear answers. Honest answers. Complete answers.

We know the Iraq fiasco haunts the choices we have to make today. But we cannot make the wrong decision now because the wrong decision was made then.

Liberals supported that non-combat mission in good faith. And how was that faith rewarded?   They won’t reveal the goals of that mission. They won’t reveal how that mission might end. They were not upfront about exactly how many members of our Forces are part of that mission.

They wouldn’t even give us a start date… let alone an end date.

That last bit of information did come eventually.

But by that time, Canadian Forces were already involved. Canadians still don’t know what those advisors – members of our Forces – have been doing all this time.

Or what sort of risks they may be facing. That 30-day mission is almost up.

How did Mr. Harper let Canadians know that he was thinking about sending their fellow citizens into war? He announced it casually in New York – during an interview with the Wall Street Journal at Goldman Sachs.

And as we later learned through the US State Department, Mr. Harper’s description of events was only loosely related to the truth.  He had been the one to offer the help first.

Instead of being honest and upfront with Canadians, he dissembled. Instead of being open and transparent Mr. Harper gave his own version of events. The one that helped him make his argument. He remains secretive, and with a purpose.

Unlike prime ministers for decades before him, Mr. Harper has made no effort to build a non-partisan case for war. Instead he dares us to oppose his war, staking out not moral territory but political territory.

As a consequence, all these critical questions go unanswered. We don’t know exactly what he has offered the Americans. We don’t know what our role will look like.

We don’t know how long our contribution is expected to last.

We don’t know how helpful our CF-18s will truly be.

In place of these facts we get rhetoric about the nobility of combat. This all makes Canadians understandably anxious.

What we do know is this:

It has been more than a week since Mr Harper said he might shift Canada’s contribution in the fight against ISIL from a non-combat to a combat role.

It has been more than a week since he said we could be sending the Canadian Forces into war. Which means it is now more than a week since he set us on a path to doing something we can’t – and he won’t – define. This is troubling, my friends. On this issue of all issues. In that place of all places, it is very troubling.

Canada has asked a lot of our men and women in uniform over the last decade. And too often they have returned home only to be let down. If we are to ask more of them now, we had better have a good reason. … Mr. Harper is intent on taking Canada to war in Iraq. He needs to justify that.

He has not made the case for it.

He hasn’t even tried.

In the time since Mr. Harper raised this idea of an extended Canadian mission in Iraq on Wall Street… Our ally, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, reached across partisan lines and held a full and informed parliamentary debate.

It’s quite a contrast.

We are told a debate is finally coming to our own House of Commons.  Well, here are the core principles Liberals will take to that debate.

One: That Canada does have a role to play to confront humanitarian crises and security threats in the world.

Two: That when a government considers deploying our men and women in uniform, there must be a clear mission overall and a clear role for Canada within that mission.

Three: That the case for deploying our Forces must be made openly and transparently, based on clear and reliable, dispassionately presented facts.

And four: That Canada’s role must reflect the broad scope of Canadian capabilities. And  how best we can help.

It comes down to this:

Canadians expect the highest standard of openness and honesty from a leader who wants to send our Forces to war.

Prime Minister Harper has so far failed to meet that standard. … Here’s the thing: Prime Minister Harper would have you believe that Canada’s best contribution to this effort is a handful of aging war planes.

I think Canadians have a lot more in them than that. We can be resourceful, and there are significant, substantial, non-combat roles that Canada can play … And some we can play better than many – or perhaps any — of our allies. Whether they are strategic airlift… training… or medical support.

We have the capabilities to meaningfully assist in a non-combat role, a well-defined international mission.

And we should also answer the call from our allies to provide more help with a well-funded and well-planned humanitarian aid effort.

Our Canadian values and principles are reflected in our commitment to the Responsibility to Protect. And while that does not require us to take a combat role it does compel us to help. … Political reform has to occur in Iraq. It needs informed partners to help build these institutions. This is something we do well.

The country needs an inclusive government that speaks for and represents all Iraqi men and women. Iraq needs a government that is fair-minded and which respects the many ethnic minorities within its borders.

Canada has that expertise.

In the end this all comes down to leadership. Who do we want to be? What are our values? What are our interests and how do we want to pursue those interests in the world? In this case, it is about the prime minister’s sacred responsibility to be honest and truthful with people, especially about matters of life and death. At the end of every decision to enter combat is a brave Canadian in harm’s way. We owe them clarity. We owe them a plan.

Most of all, we owe them the truth. Mr. Harper has offered none of those.

There is another question Canada 2020 puts to us. It’s right there on the website: Where do we want Canada to be on the world stage? I think the answer to that one is actually quite easy. We do not want a Canada that only believes itself to be a leader while in reality it merely follows along in global affairs ….Canada should be a true leader. One that has earned its place at the front of the pack, based on the role we play internationally and our commitment to uphold human rights and security. A Canada that stays true to its founding values… and that will be an example to the world.