Global Independent Analytics
Jay Watts
Jay Watts

Location: Canada

Specialization: History, Marxism-Leninism, Imperialism, Anti-imperialism.

The Bloody Myth of Canada The Good

The cherished belief in Canadian benevolence in global affairs is a reactionary, dangerous but also unrealistic myth – better suited for the rhetoric of federal elections than describing the reality of Canada as a global actor.

With the new Liberal government in Canada settling in on power, deciphering the aims of Canadian foreign policy has become slightly more difficult than during the Harper years. Committed to a return to the market-tested, universally-appealing brand of Canada The Good, the Liberal government has placed itself ostensibly to the left of the previous Harper government. “We’re not Harper, we’ll take a prudent, multilateral approach to foreign engagement." No more bombing of Syria, no more bombing of Iraq: instead training security forces.

For the Canadian press, dominated by pundits (male, middle-aged and medieval) like Andrew Coyne, Paul Wells, Terry Glavin[1], Michael Den Tandt, and Jeffrey Simpson - the type of shills who see the Halifax Security Forum as a highlight of their work year - this is anathema: the language of retreat.

Criticism from the right is to be expected, especially as a radically challenging (from the left) critique of the official narrative of Canadian foreign policy has never found a home in the pages of the National Post or Globe & Mail. (Quebec’s historical hostility to imperial adventure is present in Montreal’s papers, but also over-stated).

But while the old dads of the op-ed pages, braying for jihadi or Baathist blood, might find it a useful way to fill column inches portraying Justin Trudeau as meek, weak and thoroughly unfit for The Most Dangerous World This One World-Weary Dad & Student of History Has Ever Seen, the myth that animates the policy decisions of Prime Minister Trudeau, that is, Canada The Good, is truly a better fit for the type of global capital penetration Canadian capital seeks.

And what is Canada The Good? Canada The Good is a reactionary myth. It’s surprisingly long-lived: it’s even withstood the dark days of Stephen Harper. At various points in the Harper years, it seemed a national healing exercise to try to remember Canada The Good: peacekeeper, foreign aid distributor, blue-helmeted bullet dodger.

To many, Canada The Good was a CIDA-funded water well project in sub-Saharan African villages. Canada The Good was the humanitarian deployment in Somalia (conveniently less remembered are the racist Airborne soldiers in Somalia who tortured and murdered unarmed Somali civilians).

Canada The Good inspired the delusion that the diplomatic corps, being of sound mind and impeccable education, could be turned against the Harper government’s nefarious foreign policy aims. Those most bitterly disappointed in the political career of Conservative Chris Alexander came from certain left-leaning media and political types, who hoped that this multilingual, young, ex-diplomat could be some sort of tempering force. He turned out to be such an utter shit, but the myth of Canada The Good persisted.

During those dark days, the left-liberal line was, “Stephen Harper represents a foreign neo-conservative ideology that has nothing in common with the Lester B. Pearson’s peacekeeping. We used to be loved on the world stage!”

The high kitsch of Canada The Good.

An election ad, christened Spitbomb (and declared by its own creators at Adbusters to be the Most Powerful Attack Ad ever) played to this painful sense of loss. It illustrated the most chilling expression of horror that any upper middle-class, left-leaning Canadian could imagine going through: rebuke at an international airport. Following a montage of well-recognized touchstones of Canada The Good (hockey, Mounties, Terry Fox), a Blackberry-thumbing baby boomer is approached by a furious bearded man who spits at her and asks “What happened? You used to be the good ones.”  The ad ends with spittle covering the sewn-on Canadian flag and the admonishment “We are better than this."

During the federal election, even Elizabeth May of the Green Party and Thomas Mulcair of the New Democratic Party, played to this idea of a one-time peaceful nation, beloved by the United Nations and feted globally - a bizarre tactic considering neither of their parties had ever formed government in Canada, and the one party, the Liberal party, that did lead during those halcyon days was direct competition.

The NDP has had an ambivalent relationship with Canadian military expansion, preferring to celebrate their own parliamentary triumphs in trimming the sails of Canadian militarism rather than truthfully examining the scale and reach of it. In the case of the bombing of Libya, they joined in on the fun by voting twice for it.

But the recent history of the Liberal party in power is as violent, full of incidents of military deployment in the name of capital as the Harper government.[2]

While the decision by Prime Minister Jean Chretien not to outwardly participate in the Iraq invasion was motivated by political calculation and domestic hostility, the reality was Canada did participate, and on a very significant level. Three Canadian generals had combat roles in the Iraqi invasion, Canadian pilots and support crews helped coordinate air strikes, Canadian airports were used for refueling American aircraft, C130s ferried US troops and weapons into Iraq, C17 GlobeMaster aircraft ferried weapons systems to battle zones, and the Canadian arms industry benefitted from brisk trade with the US (approximately 75% of Canadian arms sales goes to the United States).

Not well remembered in the myth of pre-Harper Liberal Canada The Good is the case of General Walter Natynczyk, given a medal by Governor General Michaelle Jean for leading 10 brigades of 35,000 US soldiers from January 2004 to 2005.

So while Canadians patted themselves on the back and smugly accepted accolades from American friends for their non-participation in the utterly bloody destruction of the sovereign state of Iraq, Canadian military engagement was at a fever pitch and Canadian companies would eagerly participate in ‘restructuring.'

The necessity of involvement in Iraq was understood by big players in finance capital like the Royal Bank of Canada. In 2003, RBC joined a JP Morgan & Chase-lead consortium in the carving up of the remains of the Iraqi social state (the private sector was broadly nationalized since the 50s), funneling contracts to Canadian companies and providing high levels of return for capital that remain elusive in more socially beneficial endeavors.

Canadian participation in Iraq calls to mind our role in the imperialist war against the Vietnamese people, despite a reputation as a refuge for war-resisters. During the Vietnam War, the number of Canadian soldiers participating as volunteers (not counting advisors, logistical support, training) was estimated to be 40,000; the Pentagon Papers revealed extensive Canadian involvement in military logistics; cash transfers to the southern puppet regime were approximately $29 million, and Agent Orange was tested at CFB Gagetown, New Brunswick.

And now we have a Minister of National Defense, Harjit Sajjan, who’s a veteran of a Liberal war (Afghanistan) that has lasted longer than the Harper government did.

Warmly welcomed by the Canadian press corps, a “seasoned veteran” and even a “bad-ass” (according to the National Observer and Vice), Sajjan was deployed three times to Kandahar, Afghanistan.

During this period, local detainees were routinely tortured by the noxious and notorious Brigade-888, led by Asadullah Khalid. Khalid himself was said to initiate beatings, and reports of sleep deprivation, electric shock, and other forms of torture. The reports were well-documented in the Globe & Mail, and a Military Police Complaints Commission is investigating whether Canada was complicit in torture by handing prisoners over to Khalid and his security forces.[3] (The UN Convention Against Torture, ratified by Canada in 1987, expressly forbids handing over people to another state if there’s a basis to believe they’ll be tortured).

Harjit Sajjan was an intelligence liaison with Asadullah Khalid.

There was hope that years of Conservative government stonewalling would lead to a public inquiry into Canada’s complicity with torture, but with Minister of National Defense Harjit Sajjan being so close to the action, can the Canada The Good brand afford the scrutiny?

Only one outlet, the alt-weekly newspaper Now Magazine, has published a story questioning Mr. Sajjan’s involvement with torturers and knowledge of torture allegations.

For its part, the Globe & Mail thinks Sajjan’s time with Khalid was “a proving ground for the complexities and murky choices of Ottawa.” A clear sign that, as in years past, there’s little appetite for questioning of Canada The Good in our press.

So yes, it is a good thing for Canadian forces to stop bombing Syria and Iraq, but we should have no illusions about the Liberal government. The alternative engagements in Iraq and Syria they’re currently pursuing involve training security forces: rarely a humanitarian endeavor (as evidenced by Mr. Sajjan’s several sojourns in Afghanistan).

Previous Liberal governments have shown themselves to be adept at masking the scale and breadth of Canadian military engagement in ghastly US imperialist adventures. Whatever the result of the current adventure in Iraq & Syria is, Canada will be fully involved and complicit, and unfortunately, all signs are that the Canadian press is also committed to its historic role: unwilling to ask even the most basic of questions.
 


 


Comments:

[1] Terry Glavin is an Ottawa Citizen scribe who, during the height of the Neo-Conservative ascendancy, hit upon the idea that playing up a (claimed) brief stint as a teen Trotskyite might give him some sort of market edge in the overstocked field of war-cheerleading. While he’s never been forthcoming about exactly what Trotskyite or Communist group he was organized in, he has remained admirably on-brand as "clear-eyed supporter of benevolent, if messy, humanitarian intervention against creeping Baathism wherever it might crawl,” ready to proclaim that everyone on the left had sold out the high values of Western Civilization, etc. He never did achieve any following south of the border or a column, despite a number of photo shoots involving a flack-jacket, a beret and a semi-automatic machine gun, and even some with barefoot children in scampering about in the dust.

[2] There are countless other examples of Canadian imperial adventure & collusion in the Liberal years before Harper - planning the coup in Haiti and subsequent RCMP training, for one. I recommend the works of Todd Gordon (Imperialist Canada) and Yves Engler (Canada in Africa: 300 Years of Aid & Exploration) as two good places to start. Derrick O’Keefe’s book on one-time Liberal party leader Michael Ignatieff (Michael Ignatieff: The Lesser Evil?) is also recommended, showing the political development of a man and his imperialist Empire Lite doctrine that so closely resembles the
foreign policy fixations of R2P aficionados like Minister of International Trade (and one-time Boris Yeltsin ghostwriter) Chrystia Freeland.

[3] Think of Chile in 1973, when Pinochet’s coup forces depended upon the goodwill of a number of American intelligence operatives to provide names of people to stock the soccer stadium, rural farms and basements with victims. In Afghanistan, Canadians have actively provided detainees, not just names, to security forces widely known to torture.

 

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