In the wake of the Harper government’s decision to expand Canada’s military role against ISIS in Iraq to include air raids over Syrian territory, Patrick Martin outlines three possible outcomes for the conflict: Best case, worst case and most likely. In an associated article “Ottawa says Islamic State mission cost to reach $528-million by next March” Steven Chase reports on the estimated costs of the mission as of March, 2016, noting that these projections were not revealed until after the parliamentary debate on extending the mission was concluded.

Getting Started

Appropriate Subject Area(s):

Social studies, history, current events

Key Questions to Explore:

  • What are some potential outcomes of Canada’s military campaign against the self-titled, Islamic State?

New Terminology:

ISIS, Hezbollah, jihadi, Al Qaeda, peshmerga, caliphate, Sunni, Shiites, Alawites

Materials Needed:

  • Globe articles

Time required:

  • One class period
Study and Discussion Activity

Introduction to lesson and task:

In recent years, the militant group self-titled ISIS (The Islamic State of Syria and Iraq), or IS for short, has taken its brutal and bloody brand of radical Islam into Iraq and Syria. Notorious for releasing videos depicting horrific executions of hostages and non-Muslims, ISIS drew the military attention of the United States, in particular, which has been carrying out air strikes in the region over the past year or so, including striking ISIS targets in Syria. Canada joined the US mission six months ago but has until now refrained from flying missions over Syrian territory. In a new extension of the mission, debated in parliament this spring and opposed by all opposition parties, Canadian warplanes are now operating in Syrian airspace as well, placing Canada in the unenviable position of indirectly supporting the similarly brutal regime of Syria’s President Assad.

Although the sheer brutality of ISIS presents a strong argument for military action to oppose it, most western nations are not involved in this conflict. Some argue that it is a regional conflict that ought to be resolved by neighbouring states, such as Saudi Arabia, Iran and Jordan. As well, since there are many such brutal groups in the world, there seems no obvious reason to take action against this one over others. In this election year, Mr. Harper has chosen to present himself as someone who is not afraid to stand up to brutal groups and dictators and some suggest that the decision to extend the mission is designed to burnish the prime minister’s ostensible image as a protector of Canadian freedoms.

Perhaps most significantly, neither the Canadian nor the American governments has been able to say how victory can be achieved and by when. Skeptical observers may say that our entry into the twelve-year quagmire in Afghanistan started off as a simple, short (six months or so) mission to root out the Al Qaeda terrorists responsible for 9/11 and this could well be the beginning of another long, possibly unwinnable, and costly war. By March of 2016, it estimated that the cost to Canada will have been more than a half-billion dollars and, arguably, more.

Students will work in groups to examine the three possible outcomes of this conflict as sketched by Patrick Martin, as well as the potential costs as reported by Steven Chase with the goal of taking a defensible position on the pros and cons of our government’s military commitment against ISIS.

Action (lesson plan and task):

NOTE: Use discretion in presenting this lesson since aspects of it—videos of beheadings, for example—are readily available via the Internet and may well be inappropriate and very disturbing for students—or anyone, for that matter—to view. You may wish to limit resources for this lesson to the two articles provided.

Start with a brief discussion to determine how much students know about ISIS and Canada’s mission in Iraq and Syria. If some students have family members in the military, they may wish to offer their unique perspectives on the mission.

Organize students into groups and provide them with both articles. Task them as follows:

  • Discuss the mission among yourselves for a few minutes to see if there are already strong views about the merits of Canada’s role in the conflict. Ask for a volunteer to take notes.
  • Have volunteers read the “Three scenarios” article aloud to your group and then discuss the following questions:
    • Best case: Islamic State defeated
      • What combination of military action might possibly drive IS forces from Iraq?
      • What is implied by the phrase “those who can abide an Assad administration”?
      • Describe the “very best” scenario, related to how the dictator Assad might give up power.
    • Worst case: Islamists triumph
      • What is meant by “an extensive ground campaign”? How would this be different from what Canada is now doing, if at all?
      • Which religious Islamic sect is ISIS most closely related to: Sunni, Shiite or other? What form of the Islam faith is predominant in Turkey, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon and Jordan? How might these facts play into the potential outcomes?
    • Most likely case: war without end
      • The United States and Canada have both stated that they will not put “boots on the ground.” How does this affect the likelihood of this scenario
      • Why would “Iran’s likely success against IS forces in Iraq” serve to extend the fight by the Syrian dictator, Assad? How is Iran aligned, in religious terms, with Syria?
      • What would Canada have gained in this scenario?
  • Survey your group to see which outcome each person thinks is most likely. Discuss points for and against and try to come to a consensus as a group about which outcome the group believes is most likely.
  • Have volunteers in your group read aloud the article by Steven Chase. Knowing what the mission is likely to cost over the next year, how does your group feel about Canada spending this amount of money on the campaign? Do any in your group have an opinion on the ways this military campaign is being used as political ammunition by the political parties in this election year? If so, describe how any particular party or parties are using it.
  • When asked by your teacher, present your group’s position to class in an oral report.

Ask students to report developments about this mission as they notice them in the media.

Consolidation of Learning:

  • Group presentations at the end of the class.
Success and Additional Learning

Success Criteria:

  • Students take considered positions on the conflict and are able to defend them with evidence.

Confirming Activity:

  • Students bring reports on the conflict, as they appear in the media, to class.