PHOTOS: A U.S. soldier uses a lightweight laser range-finding device to help “paint” targets for bomber aircraft in this posed Stars & Stripes photo. Below: Canadian Defence Minister Jason Kenney.

The circumstances surrounding the death of a Canadian special-forces soldier in Iraq are important because they strongly suggest the Harper Government has been lying to Canadians about what our troops are doing in that country.

Whether Canadian soldiers should be in Iraq is a policy question Canadians are entitled to argue about, but there is nothing improper about the Canadian Forces serving abroad – even in dangerous and potentially lethal fights – if the Canadian government has determined their presence is appropriate and in the country’s interest.

Likewise, whether Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his Conservatives are making the right choices about the security and interests of Canada is a political question we are also entitled to argue about, but since his party has a majority in Parliament it is impossible to claim it does not have the right to make such decisions, at least if it brings them before the House of Commons.

Nor can we as citizens of a democracy expect to be privy to every detail of our armed forces’ operations abroad. Operational secrecy must be maintained in a war zone for the protection of our soldiers and the success of our war aims, whether the war in question has been formally declared or is a murkier affair like the situation in Iraq right now.

What we do have a right to expect from our government as citizens of a democracy – indeed, what we must be able to expect – is a clear and forthright explication by the government of the nature and objectives of our country’s military activities and interventions abroad.

This is especially true when a national consensus is lacking on whether the military action in question is appropriate or likely to achieve the government’s claimed objectives.

The Harper Government has argued that Islamic State militants present a threat to Canada, a sentiment with which most Canadians appear to agree. These public concerns about the involvement of Canadian volunteers to ISIS and what they might do in future given the group’s apparent ideology are legitimate, despite the rather unsavoury attempts by the Harper Government to use them as a political fund-raising tool.

Whether fighting ISIS in Iraq is a particularly effective way to make Canada safer is another matter, but the elected Canadian Government is acting within its ambit to make such a calculation.

Accordingly, the government has sent Royal Canadian Air Force fighter-bombers to the region, with the apparent support of a majority of Canadians, and reasonably straightforward goals – stop ISIS – even if legitimate questions can be asked about the effectiveness of bombing campaigns in fights that are likely only to be won by troops on the ground.

It doesn’t appear, though, that the Harper Government has misled us about this part of the mission – except perhaps by omission in the matter of how precision-guided bombs are targeted.

The real problem has to do with our 69 special-operations soldiers – a small and oddly specific number – and what they are doing in Iraq.

After our long , painful and expensive Afghanistan experience, Canadians obviously want no part in a ground war in the Middle East or Asia. We have made this clear, and the government has responded – against its instincts – by not remaining in Afghanistan and promising us that Canadian troops will not get involved on the ground in Iraq.

For this reason, the Harper Government has been careful to claim, repeatedly, that the Canadian special-ops soldiers are there as non-combatants to train and advise soldiers of the Kurdish Peshmerga, far behind the front lines of the fight with ISIS.

So what was a party of four Canadian soldiers doing Friday inside the combat zone?

According to the online edition of Stars & Stripes, the official newspaper of the U.S. Armed Forces, the Kurds say the Canadians were returning from Iraq, where they had been “directing airstrikes.” The Canadian Forces categorically deny this, Stars & Stripes reports.

However, in the past, Canadian media have reported Canadians do engage in such targeting activity in Iraq.

It is not widely understood by civilians, though, that “directing airstrikes” by aircraft using precision munitions requires the presence of soldiers on the ground very close to where the bombs will fall to “paint” targets with lasers. In other words, well within the combat zone.

So directing airstrikes for Canadian CF-18 fighter-bombers and playing only an advisory and training role far from the front are by definition incompatible missions. The Canadian government knows this.

As for Defence Minister Jason Kenney’s claim that since the Canadians were near an observation post 200 metres behind the front line they were therefore not on the front line, this is simply not credible.

The operational range of a Kalashnikov assault rifle, a weapon ISIS soldiers are often photographed carrying, is approximately 400 metres.

Furthermore, as any student of military history knows, front lines move. Sometimes very quickly. Indeed, that’s the whole idea! That’s why they’re called the front.

Finally, as everyone involved in this incident seems to agree, the fatal bullets were fired toward the front line by a Peshmerga unit that mistook the Canadians for ISIS fighters.

In other words, whatever the Canadians were doing, they were obviously not training anyone, but were operating independently at or beyond the front line. The Kurdish explanation that  they were in the battle area “painting” targets for laser-guided bombs seems quite credible.

If so, this goes farther than just a case of over-enthusiastic advisors accompanying the troops they’ve been training into battle. It is a classic case of mission creep.

Regardless, there is no common sense way to describe troop movements within a few metres of an active front line as anything but a combat role. The Canadian Armed Forces certainly know this and they have surely communicated it to the government.

At best, the government is depending on civilian ignorance of military affairs to intentionally mislead us. The suggestion you are not in a combat zone if there’s shooting going on and you’re 200 metres inside the effective range of the world’s most common assault rifle is preposterous.

All this very strongly suggests the Canadian government is lying to us. And if they’re lying about this, what else are they lying to us about?

Ukraine? Last month Mr. Kenney said Canada is considering sending trainers and advisors to that country too. Should we be reassured by his promise they “would be far out of harm’s way”?

This post also appears on

Join the Conversation


  1. This whole exercise by the Harperites in misinformation, partial information, no information or outright lying has been going on for so long that I no longer believe anything that they say. Pretty bad for a so-called democratic country, eh?

    Maybe this latest nugget is one of Harper’s “noble lies”, which Tom “The Wiz” Flanagan thought was part of any politician’s winning strategy to get and keep power. He didn’t quite grasp the meaning of the concept, though, as a noble myth, an idea or personal ethic that was almost impossible for anyone to fully realize but was more to be aspired to, with the emphasis on “noble”.

    Scott Taylor, editor of Esprit de Corps, wrote in the Halifax Chronicle this morning that Canadians don’t even know what this is all about, apart from getting the ‘bad guys’. They don’t know what the end game is, the expected results, or even how this exercise is supposed to enhance safety and security here.

    ON TARGET: Canadians must know end game before mission in Iraq is extended – Scott Taylor”

    And as for the soldier’s death by friendly fire (they must axe that expression immediately), I seem to remember that the first four Canadian casualties of the the war in Afghanistan on April 18, 2002, were killed by an American air force pilot who dropped a bomb on them – by accident. Not all that again. please.

    1. re ‘noble lies’ & Harper’s/Flanagan’s Straus’s neocon methods in service of power and neoliberalism:

      At link below, explanation by Shadia Drury, Canadian expert on Leo Strauss history and methods that arguably are informing some of the methods& strategies of Harper/Flanagan/Calgary School/rightwing thinktanks’.

      It is possible, arguably, to insert Canada and Harper and ISIL/terrorists and short-term wedge re-election politics wherever one reads USA and George Bush and Iraq/WMD and war on terror.


      Drury interview excerpt: Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics.

      Drury interview excerpt: “A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons – to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.”

      excerpt: Shadia Drury, professor of political theory at the University of Regina in Saskatchewan, argues that the use of deception and manipulation in current US policy flow directly from the doctrines of the political philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973). His disciples include Paul Wolfowitz and other neo-conservatives who have driven much of the political agenda of the Bush administration.


      excerpt: Danny Postel: You’ve argued that there is an important connection between the teachings of Leo Strauss and the Bush administration’s selling of the Iraq war. What is that connection?

      Shadia Drury: Leo Strauss was a great believer in the efficacy and usefulness of lies in politics. Public support for the Iraq war rested on lies about Iraq posing an imminent threat to the United States – the business about weapons of mass destruction and a fictitious alliance between al-Qaida and the Iraqi regime. Now that the lies have been exposed, Paul Wolfowitz and others in the war party are denying that these were the real reasons for the war.
      So what were the real reasons? Reorganising the balance of power in the Middle East in favour of Israel? Expanding American hegemony in the Arab world? Possibly. But these reasons would not have been sufficient in themselves to mobilise American support for the war. And the Straussian cabal in the administration realised that.

      1. Quite right. The Straussians and various other manipulators of political life will argue that any lie is admissible since the only outcome they pursue is to win. Of course, the ideas and policies they promote are always “right”, and the dumb peasants can’t possible figure out what’s good for them. It’s a “The peasants are revolting, Sire” outlook.

        I was going even farther back, though, to Plato, who first brought forward the idea of a “noble lie”, or more probably “noble myth”, with a bad translation from Greek giving our present noble lie idea, e.g. religious tenets that humans should live by to make the society more just, less violent, etc., something many thought those unruly humans couldn’t figure out on their own.

        I notice that idea-benders like Flanagan are quite happy to take a Straussian idea, attibute it to Plato and claim philosophical justification for their ideas.

        There’s always his best line, though, that still makes me sick even after all this time.

        “By using confidence measures more aggressively,” Flanagan wrote, “the Conservatives can benefit politically.” If the opposition backs down, Harper gets his laws passed. If not, Tories “get an election for which they are the best prepared.”

        Flanagan concluded: “‘Fortune is a woman’,” Machiavelli wrote in a now politically incorrect aphorism, ‘and it is necessary, if you wish to master her, to conquer her by force.’ It is time for the government to take advantage of its advantages.”

        I call it Flanagan’s Rape Strategy to Gain Political Advantage. Makes the “Noble Lie” idea look almost benevolent.

        1. re: Strauss’ relationship to Plato’s political philosophy

          Drury explains what Strauss takes from Plato

          Drury interview excerpt: The fundamental distinction that pervades and informs all of his [Strauss} work is that between the ancients and the moderns. Strauss divided the history of political thought into two camps: the ancients (like Plato) are wise and wily, whereas the moderns (like Locke and other liberals) are vulgar and foolish. Now, it seems to me eminently fair and reasonable to attribute to Strauss the ideas he attributes to his beloved ancients.

          …Strauss shares the insights of the wise Plato (alias Thrasymachus) that justice is merely the interest of the stronger; that those in power make the rules in their own interests and call it justice

          Leo Strauss repeatedly defends the political realism of Thrasymachus and Machiavelli (see, for example, his Natural Right and History, p. 106). This view of the world is clearly manifest in the foreign policy of the current administration in the United States.

          A second fundamental belief of Strauss’s ancients has to do with their insistence on the need for secrecy and the necessity of lies. In his book Persecution and the Art of Writing, Strauss outlines why secrecy is necessary. He argues that the wise must conceal their views for two reasons – to spare the people’s feelings and to protect the elite from possible reprisals.

          The people will not be happy to learn that there is only one natural right – the right of the superior to rule over the inferior, the master over the slave, the husband over the wife, and the wise few over the vulgar many. In On Tyranny, Strauss refers to this natural right as the “tyrannical teaching” of his beloved ancients. It is tyrannical in the classic sense of rule above rule or in the absence of law (p. 70).

      2. There is great documentary, available on YouTube, called “The Power of Nightmares” that is about just this topic. More interestingly, it posits an interesting thesis that both Straussian conservativism and the the intellectual roots of al Qaeda actually had the same roots of observations of the ‘decadence’ in post-war America by Leo Strauss and Sayyid Qutb (one of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood and intellectual father of bin Ladin and the al Qaeda movement). Chilling but a must-see.

  2. Well written indeed, but I think you let the Harper government off too easily. The justification (sic) for continuing the war on the Islamic State is a deceitful fear mongering campaign by Harperites, the like we have not seen since the hey-day of anti-communism during the Cold war.

  3. While we are officially “at war” with Team ISIS at home and in Iraq we could unwittingly become their allies in Ukraine.

    Have a look at this:

    It seems the ISIS crew are joining the fight against the Russian-backed sepratists in East Ukraine. Which is not surprising since Islamic jihadists in central Asia have been rebelling against Moscow rule for quite some time now.

    Could Canadian aid fall into the hands of Team ISIS in Ukraine. The fog of war and all that. It hurts my bones just thinking about it.

  4. Look here. ISIS is a progeny of the Shia Sunni conflict, funded and supported by Saud, USA, and us, among others. We (Canadians) have elected a government that is completely co-opted by the real politic of the neocons (not to mention the market fundies and social neoliths). We have allowed our government to align us with fascists in Ukraine, and in some strange cognitive dissonance we also allow our master the US, to para drops supplies to ISIS while we ostensibly attack them. Now, even though Iran is the only country willing to risk their military to defeat the ridiculous construct of horror that our friends the Americans have produced in the middle east we are expected to get behind low oil prices (so Saud can behead girls who sin) and the “new” tm Ukrainian oligarchy, who promise to be more lethal and less corrupt than the previous one.

    Jump Lemmings, JUMP!!!!!

  5. Interesting post on TomDispatch yesterday from Andrew Bacevich, Vietnam vet and retired Army Colonel whose son was killed in Iraq. If anyone would know about useless wars and useless death, it would be him. He teaches History now at a U.S. college.

    Andrew Bacevich: How to Create a National Insecurity State

    Shades of General Smedley Butler and his War is a Racket.

    “War is a racket. It always has been. It is possibly the oldest, easily the most profitable, surely the most vicious. It is the only one international in scope. It is the only one in which the profits are reckoned in dollars and the losses in lives. A racket is best described, I believe, as something that is not what it seems to the majority of the people. Only a small ‘inside’ group knows what it is about. It is conducted for the benefit of the very few, at the expense of the very many. Out of war a few people make huge fortunes.”

  6. Unless I missed something in my history, this operation is the first time Canadian forces have allied themselves with a non-state, irregular army. Kurdistan, despite the fervent wishes of many of the Kurdish people, is not a state; it is an ethno-cultural region which overlaps the territory of Iraq and Turkey (a NATO ally, no less), along with a bit of Syria (IIRC). The Peshmerga are not the army of a state; they are an irregular force which has from time to time been involved in low-intensity conflict with the Turkish military.

  7. Oh look, they are lying to us about what is going on in the Black Sea too!

    Along with Kenney posting fake photos of chained Muslim women, etc., he has completely lost the plot. Some may argue that Harper wants to take Kenney down a peg for being too ambitious, but Harper’s resorting to racism and religious bigotry suggests he’s gone over the edge as well.

    Are they all on drugs, or what?

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.