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(Re)call of Duty: Pulling Out of the Middle East

Updated: Jul 19

Now that Soleimani is dead, what is next for Canadian Troops abroad?

With the assassination of Qasem Soleimani – an Iranian General and commander of the Quds division of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard – by an American Hunter-Killer drone, debate has risen regarding the future of international involvement in the Middle East. American interventionism in the region over the past 30 years has always been shrouded in secrecy and lies, and now with the US seemingly yearning to topple another belligerent regime, memories of the numerous bloody and brutal wars fought by American and allied forces are being recalled.

But it is not only the US who has a militaristic stake in the Middle East and Arab World. Canada, dozens of our NATO allies, and other friendly/aligned nations are also working in the region in roles of capacity building to aid these nations as they develop. Over the past decade, a western – specifically Canadian – presence in the region has begun to decline as regional actors have begun taking charge and becoming more independent, but Canada is not completely out of the region as of yet. From the Sinai to Jordan, Lebanon to Afghanistan, Iraq to various waterways, Canadian men and women continue to represent the maple leaf in some of the most hostile environments on the planet.


Seeing though that the Trump Administration has taken action against the Iranian theocratic regime without the consultation of its Allies or even its own Congress, understanding what may come next is impossible. Iran has promised retaliatory actions for the killing of Soleimani, however understanding the limited capabilities of the Iranian military in face of Coalition forces and combined armies, what ‘retaliatory actions’ means remains unclear. One thing that is for sure thought is that western forces will be targeted. Understanding this, how should the Canadian government react in terms of each of the six Canadian Forces operations deployed across the Middle East?

If the Canadian government were to base any decision simply off of proximity to Iran, Operation’s Calumet (in the Sinai Peninsula with the Multinational Force & Observers) and Jade (in the Golan Heights with the UN Truce Supervision Organization) should remain seeing their relatively safe distance from Tehran. Their neutral standing as well as the work both forces do to ensure Egyptian, Israeli, and Lebanese peace not only reflects well on to Canada but bode well to promote Canadian peace interests across the globe. Jade and Calumet are vital to global peace and security in nations where both were lacking during the mid to late 1900s.


However, the remaining four missions are where the Trudeau government may encounter some difficulty when attempting to balance duty and safety. Operations Impact, Artemis, Foundation, and various police deployments (hereby referred to as CANPOL deployments) are located all near the Iran frontier or coast, placing Canadian troops directly in the line of fire should Iran attempt any form of retaliatory action.


Both Impact and CANPOL deployments focus predominantly on the training of local forces to better prepare them for day-to-day challenges. Seeing this and taking into consideration the Iraqi Parliament’s decision to expel all foreign troops, to not be dragged into another middle eastern war, the Trudeau government should comply with this Iraqi order. Impact, although being a NATO mission, Canadian Maj.-Gen. Jennie Carignan now has the operational control, thus the onus would be hers to suggest a total NATO withdraw from Impact to her superiors in Brussels.


Canada – since the 2015 recall of Canadians from the War in Afghanistan– has been able to maintain a relatively low, middle-power profile on the world stage, with the general consensus seemingly being that the nation’s foreign policy tends to follow that of our ‘older brother’, the US. But as the globe enters the new decade, with a US administration that has become more hostile to foreigners and the Trudeau government looking to vie for a Security Council seat, it is time for Canada to waver away from the former Harper-era stance on foreign policy and create a new global perception of our nation. As the globe becomes more and more hostile, the international community is in need of more neutral nations to act as mediators. While this does not mean retire from our NATO and other organizational commitments, should Canada be seen in more neutral, peaceful roles such as with Operation Calumet or any UN peacekeeping mission, much like Nordic nations such as Norway or Sweden, we will be seen as an impartial party. This will then play big in to convincing other nations to vote for our bid to the Security Council as we will have our own path and agenda of peace.


But in the present, Canada must ensure that the safety of our men and women in uniform is paramount. There is no telling how the situation between Trump and Khamenei may escalate, however a Canadian presence, while beneficial for the fight for international peace, must be carefully examined to ensure a balance is found. What is known is that the killing of Qasem Soleimani has brought into the light the idea of Western intervention in the Middle East for the first time since debatably the 2011 killing of Osama Bin Laden. However, unlike the War on Terror where coalition forces were up against a stateless enemy, operating out of unknown areas in the middle east, the US has struck the core of the Iranian military complex, a state which has the capability to aggressively fight back, however unlikely victory may be for the Islamic Republic.


Entry by Nelson Mahmoudi

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University of Ottawa Model United Nations Association