Prime Minister Stephen Harper has given the clearest indication yet that he's ready to commit Canada to the fight against Sunni Islamic extremists who've created a de facto state carved out of Iraq and Syria.
On Friday, Harper said that a "terrorist caliphate" (often called ISIS) constitutes "a direct threat to the security of this country".
"We do not stand on the sidelines and watch," Harper said yesterday. "That's how this country has handled its international responsibilities. And as long as I'm prime minister, that's what we will continue to do."
Britain, Belgium, and Denmark have already joined a growing U.S.-led coalition to take on the ISIS extremists, whose reign of terror has forced hundreds of thousands to flee.
The attacks on ISIS will no doubt help strengthen the hand of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad. (Some moderate opponents of the Assad regime have welcomed the U.S. air attacks.)
ISIS is fortified by an estimated 15,000 foreign fighters from 80 countries, including Canada.
In an editorial entitled "A New Focus on Foreign Fighters", the New York Times called on the UN Security Council to "take on" this threat.
So far, there's been no indication that western ground troops will join the fight. So far, the attacks have been limited to air strikes.
But as we've seen in so some other conficts, notably the Vietnam War, when aerial bombardment doesn't do the job, that's invariably followed by boots on the ground.
How did we get into this mess?
American missteps and money from Persian Gulf states have created some monumental problems in the world.
In 1979, the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency and then U.S. national security adviser Zbigniew Brzezinski thought it would be a good idea to mobilize Sunni extremists to create problems for the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.
For the Americans, a side benefit of propping up the Mujahadeen was that it provided a bulwark against the U.S. arch-rival Shia-led regime in Iran, which was holding American diplomats hostage in Tehran. (I won't even get into the roots of that situation, but one major factor was a CIA-sponsored coup that replaced a democratic Iranian government in 1953.)
This chess game orchestrated by Brzezinski in the late 1970s laid the foundation for the creation of al-Qaeda by one of the foreign fighters in Afghanistan at the time, Osama bin Laden.
Bin Laden became a key conduit bringing money from the Persian Gulf states to Islamic fighters opposing the Soviet-backed regime in Afghanistan.
Ultimately, the extremists took power, creating a Pashtun-led Taliban regime. This government allowed bin Laden to base his operations there and create havoc on three continents.
The Americans retaliated for bin Laden's 9/11 attacks by launching a UN-sanctioned war in Afghanistan. In the end, 158 members of the Canadian Forces died in that country.
Iraq war fuelled more extremism
The next American blunder came in 2003 when the George W. Bush administration decided to take out Saddam Hussein. Bush and his secretary of state, Colin Powell, justified the invasion by claiming that the dictator possessed weapons of mass destruction.
This turned out to be false.
As the invasion was being contemplated, then Canadian opposition leader Stephen Harper delivered a speech in Parliament about how dangerous it was to leave Iraq with these weapons.
"If the world fails to disarm Iraq we fear that other rogue states will be encouraged to believe that they too can have these most deadly of weapons to systematically defy international resolutions and that the world will do nothing to stop them," Harper said.
(It turned out that the speech was plagiarized from a very similar address given two days earlier by then Australian prime minister John Howard.)
In short order, the American-led "Coalition of the Willing" finished off Saddam's ruthless regime, clearing the way for a Shia takeover of the government. Years of civil war ensued.
Shia regime isolated Sunnis
Iraq's prime minister from 2006 to 2014, Nouri al-Maliki, made little effort to share power with Sunni Muslims.
Meanwhile, the America-led overthrow of Saddam also strengthened the hand of his arch-enemy Iran. That government, under the control of Shia clerics, was freer to strengthen ties with the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad and offer support to Hezbollah in Lebanon.
Assad is from the Muslim minority Alawite group, which is an offshoot of Shia Islam. The vast majority of Syrians are Sunni Muslims.
Sunni extremists opposed to al-Maliki and Assad have responded by creating the Islamic State, otherwise known as ISIS.
This murderous group, which specializes in beheading westerners, is propped up in part by financial support from wealthy Sunnis in the Persian Gulf states, which are ostensibly allies of Canada and the United States.
In recent years, Prime Minister Stephen Harper has been the western leader most critical of the Iranian regime, which is ultimately under the control of the Supreme Leader, Ayotollah Sayyid Ali Khamenei.
"Other countries, however, constitute unambiguously a clear and present danger and thus demand a very sober assessment," Harper said in a 2012 speech. "First among these is the government of Iran."
The prime minister continued along these lines.
"I speak not merely, friends, of its appalling record of human-rights abuse or its active assistance to the brutal regime in Syria, or its undeniable support for terrorist entities, or its continued denial of diplomatic rights, or its pursuit of nuclear weapons, rather it is the combination of all these things with a truly malevolent ideology that should concern us," Harper said. "I believe that the appeal of our conscience requires us to speak out against what the Iranian regime stands for."
Flashforward to Harper's statement yesterday.
Now, Canada is poised to join the U.S.-led attack on the barbaric ISIS.
Khamenei is no friend of ISIS. Assad is no friend of ISIS.
They are no doubt smiling over how things have evolved.
Stephen Harper—the enemy of their enemy—has somehow become a friend, at least in a military-strategic sense.
And it can all be traced back to the Americans' efforts to contain a Soviet Union that likely would have collapsed under its own weight had things been left to sort themselves out on their own.