June 25, 2006

Canada: From one Empire to Another?

By Rodrigue Tremblay


Canada was a French colony for over two centuries, from 1534 to 1759. It then became a British colony for about two centuries, i.e. from 1760 until the signing of the Treaty of Westminster, on December 11, 1931. However, it was only after World War II that Canada exercised fully its international independence.  Canada was an active original member of the United Nations, in 1945, and has provided the U. N. with peacemaking forces on numerous occasions. It is a legitimate question to ask if Canada's independence is threatened by the new minority conservative government's willingness to acquiesce to almost everything the Bush administration wants from it. Indeed, Stephen Harper's Conservatives seem to embrace wholeheartedly the puppet role the Bush administration wants it to play in the New American empire's adventures around the  globe.


Let us review the moves made by Harper's Conservatives to please George W. Bush, since they replaced the Liberals to form the government of Canada, on February 6, 2006. Harper's Conservatives started on the right foot when they disclosed their plans to assert Canada's sovereignty over the Arctic waters with armed forces, despite the open criticism of U. S. ambassador David Wilkins.


Then, after a meeting with President Bush Jr. at the end of March 2006, everything seemed to go downhill. First, Bush slapped Canada in the face by approving a U.S. law that will require Canadian citizens to show their passport when crossing the border into the United States. Second, the Harper government renewed the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) agreement with the United States, making it permanent, and adding maritime defense to the agreement, which previously covered only air defense. Some have argued that this arrangement will reduce Canadian sovereignty over the country's internal waters. Third, the Harper government signed a preliminary Softwood deal with the Bush administration, designed to manage softwood trade between the two countries. A close analysis of the proposed agreement indicates that it is, at best, a mediocre deal for Canada. Fourth, in a move that profoundly pleased the Bush administration, Harper announced that his conservative government would scrap the Kyoto protocol on climate change. Fifth, to make sure that it is in the good graces of G. W. Bush, Harper let it be known that he is 100 percent behind him in his gambit with Iran.


But, sixth and foremost, and just as the U.K., Italy and Japan were announcing that their countries will be withdrawing troops from Iraq, the Harper government announced that it will increase the contingent of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and extend their stay until 2009. This move, combined with the taking over of the Afghan mission by the 27-member NATO, is designed to please the Bush administration. It will allow some U. S. troop withdrawal from Afghanistan and their redeployment in Iraq.


Mind you, the Bush administration never cherished the idea of having American soldiers bogged down in Afghanistan in the first place. The Bush people had fresh in memory the fate suffered by the Soviets after spending twelve frustrating years in Afghanistan, their occupation even leading to the break-up of the entire Soviet empire. For instance, Paul Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld's deputy-secretary, was of the view, in 2001, that "attacking Afghanistan would be uncertain," and he feared that American troops would be "bogged down in mountain fighting." He much preferred a war against Iraq, even though that country had nothing to do with the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, because "Iraq was a brittle, oppressive regime that might break easily. It was doable." (See, Bob Woodward's Bush at War, p. 83). Now, it seems that it will be countries like Canada which will be bogged down in Afghanistan for years to come, in the intensifying conflict with Taliban militants. There is a clear danger that Canada could be engulfed by the anti-American sentiment now prevalent in Afghanistan and become a target of hatred for Muslims around the world.


The Harper conservative government copies the Bush administration so closely that it even refused to allow the media to cover the return of Canadian soldiers killed in Afghanistan. After general condemnation, it had to recant. As one commentator put it, "how many Canadian soldiers have to be killed in Afghanistan in order for Canada to export one additional ton of lumberwood to the US? Harper and his Minister Of Public Safety Stockwell Day also borrow from Bush's rhetoric ("They hate our freedoms – our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble") and  repeat the nonsense that Muslims do not like Canada "because it is a democracy." —In fact, some don't like us because we have soldiers in their lands who are killing them, and because we support countries that are killing their families. —Period. It is not because of what we are, it is because of what some governments do to them. How low will the Harper government stoop to please George W. Bush?


By jumping so readily into George W. Bush's bed, the Harper conservative government risks destroying Canada’s reputation of independence and generosity around the world that previous governments took half a century to develop. Moreover, by giving the impression that Canada is a puppet of the unpopular United States, the Harper government is putting Canada at risk of becoming a target of Islamist terrorism.


Canada had an international reputation as an independent, peace-loving nation and a staunch supporter of the United Nations and of international law. However, by siding so openly with the  Bush-Cheney administration, possibly the worst American administration ever, Harper is severely tarnishing Canada's reputation. It is said that Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan look and act just like American soldiers, shooting first and asking questions later. The maple leaf symbol is tarnished.


What has changed is the perception that Harper is content placing Canada in a junior partnership role within George W. Bush's grand plans for imperialistic adventures around the globe.


Even though Canada and Mexico are part of a continental trade agreement with the United States (NAFTA), neither Canada nor Mexico accepted to follow the militaristic Bush administration when it decided to ignore the United Nations, in March 2003, by launching an illegal war of aggression against Iraq. In this case, the liberal Chrétien government saved Canada's honor, and the Canadian people were strongly behind the decision. All indications are that a Harper government would have acted differently and would have been subservient to the Bush administration. This would have made Canada, in the eyes of the world, a colony of the United States. For Canada, to align its diplomacy with Bush's, is like lashing itself to a sinking ship.


The Canadian people are very ambivalent regarding the U. N.-backed mission in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is somewhat different from the American-led war in Iraq. It was recognized that Afghanistan, under the Taliban, was a training ground for international Islamist terrorism. It is the country in which the 9/11 terrorists received their training. As a consequence, the U. N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1373, on September 28, 2001, under section 41 of the Charter of the United Nations, which allows UN member states "to adopt specific measures to combat terrorism" and "to combat by all means threats to international peace and security caused by terrorist acts." U. N. Security Council Resolution 1390, of January 16, 2002 made it even clearer that the activities of Osama bin Laden and the Al-Qaida network in supporting international terrorism had to be stopped.


Therefore, it is clear that contrary to the war in Iraq, the war against the Taliban in Afghanistan is legal, having been sanctioned by the United Nations in order to prevent the spread of international terrorism. Nevertheless, the Canadian people do not accept the proposition that foreign troops, especially Canadian troops, should remain in Afghanistan indefinitely, in a colonial-like posture, as the Harper government seems to think. This is amply demonstrated by polls that indicate a clear majority of Canadians (54 %) opposed extending the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. Moreover, the vote in Parliament to extend Canada’s mission in Afghanistan by two years was very close, 149-145, with the help of 30 Liberal MPs who were anxious not to have an election at this time.


Nevertheless, the extremist Muslim Taliban are not very popular in Canada, as in most Western countries. Therefore, Stephen Harper could probably get away with the extension of the Canadian mission in Afghanistan. But he should not push his luck too far. If he is perceived as morphing into a junior 'Bush of the North', his political fortune may take a turn for the worse, even if his principal opponents are presently in dissaray.



Posted by Rodrigue Tremblay, June 25, 2006, at 9:00 am


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