As many parents have warned their children, real friends do not encourage stupid, embarrassing, or life-threatening behaviour.
But because of our “friend” to the south, Justin Trudeau’s government has deepened ties to a repressive 250-year old monarchy in Kuwait and pursued other questionable policies.
After participating in the recent African Union Summit in Ethiopia Trudeau jetted off to meet the Emir of Kuwait, which has been part of the coalition bombing Yemen. The prime minister’s visit marked the most high-profile step in a bevy of diplomatic activity with a government where questioning the Emir or Islam is punishable with a significant prison sentence. During their meeting, notes the official press release, Trudeau “welcomed the long-standing friendship between Canada and Kuwait and thanked the Government of Kuwait for its support of our CAF [Canadian Armed Forces] personnel stationed in Kuwait as part of Operation IMPACT. The two leaders discussed recent developments in the region and agreed on the importance of working towards long term stability and security.”
Before the PM’s visit defence minister Harjit Sajjan had traveled to Kuwait City twice since December 19. In AprilSajjan also met Prime Minister and Defence Minister Sheikh Nasser Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah “to bolster and consolidate bilateral ties.” Three months earlier Governor General Julie Payette visited the Emir in Kuwait City. In November Payette sent a cable to the Emir to wish him well after an illness and the next month Assistant Deputy Minister of Global Affairs Peter McDougall met a Kuwaiti counterpart “to strengthen bilateral relations.” In August 2018 the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding on establishing regular consultations between senior officials.
At the Munich Security Conference last week foreign minister Francois-Philippe Champagne met his Kuwaiti counterpart Ahmad Nasser Al-Mohammad Al-Sabah. At an event in the Canadian Embassy on Monday Kuwait’s deputy foreign minister Khaled Al-Jarallah described the “distinguished … ties between the two countries” and “continuous communication and common interests.” On Thursday Minister of Veterans Affairs and Associate Minister of National Defence Lawrence MacAulay attended a celebration at Kuwait’s Embassy in Ottawa for Canadians who fought in the 1991 Iraq war.
The inaugural Kuwait and Canada Investment Forum took place in April. Finance minister Bill Morneau and parliamentary secretary Omar Alghabra participated. At the time Alghabra wrote, “let’s celebrate and continue our efforts to grow the relationship between Canada and Kuwait in investments, trade and defence.”
So, why the budding romance?
Relations with Kuwait are important to Ottawa because of the Canadian Forces base there. About 300 Canadians are stationed in Kuwait to support the Canadian special forces deployed to Iraq as well as two intelligence and one Canadian air-to-air refuelling aircraft. Alongside 200 highly skilled special forces, there’s a Canadian tactical helicopter detachment, intelligence officers and a combat hospital in Iraq. Despite being labeled a “training” mission, the Canadians called in US airstrikes, provided up-to-date battle intelligence and repeatedly engaged the enemy. A Canadian even killed someone with a record-breaking 3.5-kilometre sniper shot. The Canadian Forces backed Kurdishforces often accused of ethnic cleansing areas they captured. Canadian special forces supported a multi-month battle to dislodge ISIS from Mosul that left thousands of civilians dead in 2017.
Alongside the special forces and air support operations, Canada assumed command of the NATO Mission Iraq in November 2018. A Canadian commands 580 NATO troops, including 250 Canadians. They train instructors at three military schools and advise Iraq’s defence ministry.
The Liberals failed to properly explain why Canada took on a second mission in Iraq. But, it was likely tied to weakening the influence of the Iranian aligned Popular Mobilization Forces, Shia militias that helped defeat ISIS. According to Scott Taylor, “Canada agreed to take command of the NATO-led training mission in Iraq because the Liberal government knew it could not sell the Canadian public on sending troops back into the war in Afghanistan. That is where the NATO leaders wanted Canadians, which seems an incredibly ironic twist in that we originally agreed to go into Afghanistan because it was not Iraq.”
Trudeau and Sajjan’s recent missions to Kuwait are part of the fallout from Washington’s decision to assassinate Iranian general Qasem Soleimani and Iraqi Shia militia commander Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis. After the January 3 killings some Canadian forces in Iraq were withdrawn to the base in Kuwait. Iraq’s parliament passed a resolution demanding foreign soldiers leave the country and Iran threatened to retaliate against US troops in the region.
The flurry of recent diplomatic activity is likely designed to reassure Kuwaiti officials of Canadian backing and to ensure Kuwait doesn’t back out of the base arrangement. The Trudeau government has happily deepened ties to a repressive monarchy to support US policy in Iraq.
To maintain foreign troops in Iraq the Trudeau government has also pushed back against the Iraqi parliament’s call for foreign troops to leave. After the country’s parliament passed a resolution calling for foreign troops to go, defence minister Harjit Sajjan sought to convince his Iraqi counterpart of the importance of Canada’s presence. Last week Sajjan celebrated Iraqi leaders willingness to keep Canadian troops. Additionally, Middle East Eye reported on Iraqi and US military officials holding a secret meeting “in the private residence of the Canadian ambassador to Jordan in Amman” to discuss pulling back US troops from Iraq.
Makes one wonder what else the Trudeau government has done or will do to support US policy in Iraq?