A Canadian's perspective on domestic and international issues. Independent coverage of Canadian federal, provincial and municipal elections and anything of interest in Canada.

Sunday, February 26, 2006

Canadian troops to Afghanistan, a mistake of Olympian proportions

I think its disgraceful the new conservative government would use Canada's top soldier as a propaganda agent.
No one in Canada is going to directly challenge General Hillier, or his lieutenants, nor should they, about Canada's role in Afghanistan. Hillier's job is to follow orders, not set public policy. Therefore, it should not be Hillier who is appealing to the Canadian people to support our nation's involvement in the American-led, so-called, "war on terror." That's a job for our prime minister and the defense minister, not their underlings.
For Stephen Harper and Gordon O'Connor, to parade General Hillier in front of the Canadian people, hoping to drum up support for the mission to Afghanistan, is nothing short of extreme cowardice on behalf of our government.
Clearly there is much concern and many questions among Canadians about our new role in international politics and world affairs. There is even larger worry about our specific role in Afghanistan, and about our troops being deployed for any reason other than peacekeeping. Because of this, there needs to be a national debate in Canada about whether or not we want our armed forces changing their mandate from one of peacekeeping, to one of an assault force, which is what we are being used for in Kandahar province. And this is where the cowardice comes in. Harper and his government are afraid to put this issue to the people because they know there's a good chance the majority of Canadians will vote against it.
Make no mistake, Canada's new role in Afghanistan is not about protecting the Afghan people, as both O'Connor and Hillier have stated. It is about relieving spent US and British forces, and about propping up the failing US war strategy. Our new prime minister and his government are apparently so eager to please our American neighbours, that they are willing to put our armed personnel in harms way.
To be fair to our current political leadership, this is not entirely their doing. It was the Liberal majority, under Jean Chretien, who realized blanket support of the US led "war on terror" would be political suicide. So, instead of joining the Bush administration in Iraq, our former prime minister agreed to send troops to Afghanistan instead.
The Afghan invasion came about as a direct result of 911. Clearly, the Taliban had supported Bin Laden by harbouring him and his Al Queda forces. In the wake of September 11, 2001, it was clear the Taliban had to be removed, and Bin Laden's army usurped. Canadians supported that, just as we'd support our police going after a murderer. Al Queda attacked and killed innocent people. Canadians wanted him caught. But Canadians did not accept the pretense that the subsequent invasion of Iraq was part of that measure. Chretien knew, if he outrightly joined the US action in Iraq, the Canadian people would be up in arms. So he made a side deal. Basically, his government told the US; Look, we can't join you in Iraq because it would be politically disastrous, so we'll send our troops to relieve your forces in Afghanistan, and you can send those forces to Iraq. That way we'll appear to be fighting Bin Laden, and your soldiers will be freed up to help you out in Iraq.
Then, to cover his political backside, Chretien went down to Chicago and gave a speech that blasted the US for its foreign policy. You remember the speech, the one where Chretien told the Americans, "you are not trusted in the world." It was a very clever bit of spin, designed to help the Americans while appearing to keep Canada's role as an international peacekeeper in tact, at least in the eyes of the Canadian public.
Now our new government wants to take it a step further, by stripping away the pretense and openly supporting the US action.
This is clear from statements made by Defense Minister O'Connor, who this past week came right out and said his government intends to build stronger military association with the US.
By parading General Hillier out in front of the Canadian people the Conservatives are counting on the Canadian people not saying "No" to our service men and women. No Canadian is going to deny our brave soldiers the tools they need to do any job they've been ordered to do. So, by making Hillier the front man to the operation, the current government is avoiding having to address the backlash that would occur if the politicians were to go it alone.
If Harper were to stand up in front of the Canadian people and say, we're changing Canada's role in the world, we're no longer going to be just a peacekeeper, we're now going to become part of the American's world wide military doctrine of "bombing for democracy," he knows the backlash would swamp his government. So, instead, he parades out a widely respected General to ask that Canadians support his soldiers, knowing full well that Canadians are not going to deny that support.
Anyone who has graduated from high school in this country knows that places like Afghanistan and Iraq have been war zones since the dawn of time. Many of us remember the previous Gulf War and the Cold War, when the USSR tried for nearly ten years to take control of Afghanistan. We also remember how those actions ended in defeat. What's more, anyone who has studied the politics of that part of the world knows full well that armed occupations resolve nothing. In the end, its the people who live there who must decide for themselves how to resolve their own problems and armed occupations only exasperate the situation.
What Canadians really deserve, and what our government should be providing to us, is an open debate about our role in world affairs, and the role of our military in those affairs. Instead, we are being given no such debate, and are being manipulated into supporting US foreign policy under the guise of being supportive of our soldiers. To put it bluntly, our dog is being wagged but good!
What's at stake if we follow Mr. Harper's plan?
First, our international reputation as a peacekeeping nation will be severely damaged. We will be seen, potentially, as henchmen for the US. Yet Mr. Harper and his crew are serving it up as us being better neighbours.
Secondly, we will be inviting the terrorists onto our soil. Until now we have managed to avoid acts of terror here at home because we have appeared to not be involved. That will change to moment we start shooting up Afghan insurgents. Nothing builds a resentment like a kid watching his father get killed by someone with a Canadian flag on his shoulder.
Third, our ability to take a higher moral stand at the UN will be severely handicapped if we have innocent Afghani blood on our hands. How can we go to the people of the world and say "stop this nonsense" when we ourselves are participating in it?
Fourth, our national identity will be severely damaged. One thing we all have in common, here at home and abroad, is the perception that we are not American. People all over the world respect that about us. We're seen as the sober sister who tempers the happy trigger finger of our American cousins. If we relinquish that role, and go marching off in step with the US, that identity will be lost, and our bright red maple leaf crests will be seen as nothing more than the symbol of another American battalion.
Fifth, by allowing ourselves to become complicit with US foreign policy, we will lose our sovereignty. For all intent and purpose we may as well pack up, relinquish our national union, and join the US as states, because the moment we participate in the US incursions around the world is the moment we are going to need the US fighting force to protect us from the attacks that are certain to follow.
Sixth, our democracy itself is in peril. By not allowing and facilitating public debate on the role of our armed forces in world affairs, and on our role as peacekeepers, we are quashing public dissent, and when dissent is subverted, democracy is dead. If we are not allowed to publicly debate the role of our armed forces in world affairs then we no longer have a free society.
To be fair, Harper and his government, have not openly said there will be no debate on this issue. No, they've done something far more sinister. By parading General Hillier out to ask for support, they have attempted to stop the debate from ever starting. Its despicable, undemocratic, under handed and dishonest, and its downright Un-Canadian.
At a time when the national debate should be about whether we should even have a military, as opposed to a peacekeeping and disaster relief force, we are being dragged into a winless war that could potentially endanger each and everyone of us. At a time when Canadians should be discussing how we go about disarming the world, our soldiers are being marched off to kill or be killed. At a time when we should be leading the way towards the abolishment of war, we're being hoodwinked and spun into one. At a time when we should be questioning the intelligence and humanity of the American war machine, we're joining up with it.
Perhaps it is time for each and everyone of us to demonstrate what has made us great in the eyes of the world. Back in World War II Canadians demonstrated to the world that we are a brave nation. When former Prime Minister Lester Pearson took the idea of international peacekeeping to the UN, we demonstrated we were prepared to lead the world into a era where war would finally be abolished. Maybe its time we as people stood up to our politicians and made it clear that there will be no more Dieppes, and that peacekeeping is not some fanciful notion, but something we are willing to pursue regardless of how it affects our business relationships with corporate America.
How do we do it?
We get on the phone, we write letters, we talk to each other, to our leaders, and to people all around the world. We begin the debate that our current government seems so intent on preventing. We do it now, or we accept that Canada, instead of being the great nation we always believed ourselves to be, is nothing more than a "MIGHT HAVE BEEN", like the men's hockey team we sent to Turin.
We must act now, or we may as well fold up the Maple Leaf and add another star to the American flag.


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