Canada, we are told, is being snubbed. The fact that Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan was not invited to a meeting of seven nations at war with the Islamic State shows, the critics say, that we are no longer one of the gang.
Conservative critic James Bezan says the decision to exclude Canada from Wednesday’s Paris meeting, co-hosted by the French and American defence ministers, indicates that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s new Liberal government is not fully trusted by its allies.
In particular, the Americans are said to be miffed at Trudeau’s promise to end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria and bring home the six RCAF fighter planes operating there.
Are the Americans miffed? Probably. Washington wants other nations to shoulder more of the military burden of this war.
Does that much matter? Probably not.
First, let us put things in perspective. In announcing the meeting earlier this month, U.S. Secretary of Defence Ashton Carter said he wanted to talk to his counterparts from nations “that are playing a significant role” in the fight against the Islamic State.
Who knows what Carter meant by “significant role”? But the nations he cited — France, Britain, Italy, Australia, Germany and the Netherlands — are certainly not all involved in the bombing war.
Italy and Germany have no fighter planes operating in Iraq or Syria. The Netherlands has four.
Italy has promised 500 soldiers to provide security for an Italian firm rebuilding a dam in northern Iraq. That may explain its attendance.
Presumably, Germany was invited because it is an important European country, regardless of what it does militarily.
So perhaps Canada was snubbed. Yet if it was, so were others. Denmark, which has sent seven fighter jets to the war and which this week announced it has undertaken military actions in both Iraq and Syria was not invited.
Neither was Belgium, which has committed six combat jets to the Iraq portion of the war.
I’m not sure whether the great snub is big news in Denmark or Belgium. Danes and Belgians may not be prickly about how they are perceived by the rest of the world.
Canadians, however, are. We routinely criticize the Americans. But we hate to be ignored by them.
If the election campaign is any indication, a good many Canadians don’t want their armed forces to be involved in combat against the Islamic State. But we find it insulting to be excluded from a meeting of combatants.
We want to be at the table — even if we are not sure what that means.
Over our history, various Canadian governments have spent much energy trying to persuade other nations we are serious players.
In 1918, then-prime minister Robert Borden authorized the ill-fated Siberian expedition, which sent Canadian troops to Vladivostok in order to oppose Russia’s Bolshevik revolutionaries.
Borden’s real aim was to convince imperial Britain that Canada could act as an independent nation of consequence. Some 24 Canadian casualties were incurred before this futile mission came to an end.
In 2005, then-prime minister Paul Martin agreed to send Canadian troops to Kandahar, Afghanistan. There, too, the primary motive was to impress a major power — in this case, the U.S.
There, too, the results were tragically unsatisfactory.
I don’t know if Carter was trying to send Trudeau a message by excluding Canada from Wednesday’s meeting. My guess is that he was too busy sending messages to Saudi Arabia and Turkey (they, too, weren’t invited) to worry about Ottawa.
But if he was: So what?
Trudeau’s Liberals won power on a pledge to end Canada’s combat mission in Iraq and Syria — in the air and on the ground.
If they are serious about this, why should we expect the Americans to include Ottawa in their combat deliberations?
More to the point, why should we want to be included?
True, we won’t be at the table. But we won’t be in the shooting part of this war either. And that, presumably, is what the country voted for.