As I write this, the investigation into the attacks is ongoing in Paris and Brussels, links are being identified to a broader ISIS conspiracy for a wider range of attacks coordinated with the leadership of the caliphate in Iraq and Syria. Another attack was likely averted when a traveler bound for Paris was apprehended with a cache of TNT by French authorities. What distinguishes this series of attacks from Charlie Hebdo and the kosher supermarket was that they were directed at soft public targets that were not part of the media establishment, nor Jewish. These were acts of terror most pure, directed at the general public to create a sustained fear of congregating in public spaces. If ISIS can target a stadium, a nightclub and the scene outside a restaurant, then why not three other sites like a hospital, convention center or metro station, like the London subway bombings in July 2005? There are simply not enough intelligence resources available to follow every suspect at all times, nor to protect every possible site susceptible to attack.
The G20 summit in Antalya, Turkey has had its agenda hijacked by the Paris attacks. What is less clear is what the European nations and NATO members present at the conference are prepared to do for France to combat the horror that threatens to repeat itself. France is likely to wait until the end of the two-day conference before deciding whether or not to invoke NATO Article 5, the mutual defense clause, meaning that an attack on one member is considered an attack on the alliance as a whole and compels a united response. If Hollande’s lobbying at the G20 fails to secure sufficient support in the final communique then he may be obliged to return to his fellow NATO members for the coordinated response he seeks.
This is not the backdrop that Prime Minister Trudeau wished for at his first international summit. Trudeau would have preferred to be discussing how quickly Canada’s fellow G20 members could work to absorb Syria’s refugees rather than discussing the increased security measures required to filter out ISIS agents from legitimate migrants, and how the goal of 25,000 arriving in Canada before the end of the year is now unattainable. Most Canadians support Canada’s compassionate gesture but are legitimately concerned about the aggressive timetable and the danger of expediting or diminishing the security review process.
There is also the issue of Canada’s pulling its F-18s from the coalition’s bombing campaign. With Canada only flying three percent of the overall sorties, the Trudeau government is correct that the warplanes’ withdrawal will not have a substantial effect on the efficacy of the air campaign. The miscalculation, however, is on the optics and the political fallout of such a gesture. Following the events in Paris and the likely strengthening of Western military involvement in Syria and Iraq, Canada will diminish itself by reducing its most visible contribution to the war effort in this dire moment of need. Replacing planes with more training for local forces on the ground is a safer gesture, but it is certainly not a stronger one. One possible compromise is to stretch the withdrawal period over a period of months instead of weeks as a face-saving gesture, coupled with an increased number of training personnel over what was initially planned.
Canadians should not believe that by doing less in the War on Terror that they are keeping themselves safe. ISIS has cloaked itself in the guise of international terror pioneered by its predecessor in these endeavors, Al-Qaida, by expanding beyond the borders of its territories to strike at the innocent populations of democratic nations. ISIS has been assisted by the Syrian civil war that has allowed its agents to slip into Europe along with legitimate refugees in order to propagate further terror and incite local converts to radical Islam to rise up with them. As I have written before, this is a long war and we are all at risk, whether on the battlefield or not. The youthful idealism of the Trudeau government is going to grow old in short order as it grapples with this unfortunate reality.