Satellite State

Posted on Wednesday, March 08 at 09:01 by Reverend Blair
While O’Connor was taking the poll as a sign that the Canadian people are ignorant, Brigadier General David Fraser offered the opinion that the poll had to be wrong. “Everybody was coming up to me when I'm wearing my uniform, shaking my hand, saying ‘Congratulations, we support you, we want you to go over there,’” Fraser said. It is unclear who Fraser was speaking to, exactly. Was he speaking to other members of the military or to partisan Conservatives? How many people did he speak to? It seems unlikely that Canadians would approach somebody in uniform to say they didn’t support them, in any case. Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay offered his own spin on Canada’s new role, suggesting that a discussion in Parliament on Canada’s new role in Afghanistan would undermine the mission in Afghanistan and to question the political decision to take on a new role was tantamount to betraying members of our military currently serving in Afghanistan. All of this political spin to justify a decision to go to war is familiar. It is very reminiscent of the cries of anti-Americanism the Bush regime and their supporters use to try to silence critics of Iraq. The Conservatives are trying to convince us that questioning Canada’s role in Afghanistan makes us un-Canadian and they appear to be using well-worn American political tactics to do it. The stretching of truth by Conservative politicians is familiar. They have claimed that our role in Afghanistan is part of a NATO operation conducted under the auspices of the United Nations. That is not exactly true. Many of Canada’s operations in Afghanistan from the very beginning were part of the USA’s Operation Enduring Freedom, which has never been under the auspices of the United Nations and is not part of the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Our latest role, which our generals keep warning us will result in casualties and last for at least a decade, is a slow takeover of Enduring Freedom by NATO. It is not a UN peacekeeping mission. The United Nations has spoken out against the mistreatment of prisoners by the US, has not endorsed their actions. We are in Afghanistan to aid the Americans in their war on terror, or so we are told. There has yet to be a clear definition of that war or Canada’s role in it, but our actions and our silence on some very large issues are defining our role. We have been handing prisoners over to the US. The US has been shipping them off to be held illegally in Guantanamo Bay, that much we know. What we don’t know is how many have been sent to illegal prisons in Europe, how many have been the victims of illegal renditions to countries that commit torture, and how many have been tortured by US troops in Afghanistan as part of “softening them up” for interrogation. We are not told if Canadians have been involved in these crimes or the extent of their complicity. Unlike other allies of the United States, we do not question the Bush administration’s apparent disdain for international law. Unlike Britain, we do not demand the release of Canadian citizens held in Guantanamo Bay. Unlike Germany under its new, pro-Bush, government lead by Angela Merkel, we have not asked questions about illegal prisons in Europe. Unlike the United Nations, who the Harper government likes to say we are working under in Afghanistan, we have not come out against illegal detentions and the conditions at Guantanamo Bay. We have not spoken out against torture or illegal renditions. We have not questioned the government of the United States about their policies on torture. On these issues Stephen Harper and the few members of his party that he trusts to speak in public have been as silent as their predecessors in the Martin government. We seem to have a bit of a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy when it comes to our military, what our politicians have sent them to do, and what is acceptable behaviour. Have any Canadians, in Afghanistan or serving with exchange programs with the US military, participated in any of the “softening up” of prisoners that the rest of the civilised world considers to be torture? One would like to think that Canadian soldiers are not part of anything like that, but our soldiers have made similar mistakes in the past and we do pass prisoners to the US even though we know that the US commits torture. Seldom discussed is that Canada’s ever-increasing commitments in Afghanistan allow US troops to go and fight in Iraq or that the US may need every warm body available to invade Iran. Instead we are told that we are on a humanitarian mission that is not peacekeeping, but war-making. We are then told that we don’t understand our mission. Even less often are we allowed to hear discussion on exactly who we are working with in Afghanistan. We get the list of NATO countries, but we don’t get a list of CIA contractors, Blackwater mercenaries, regional warlords and other unsavoury characters; many of whom the United States would no doubt dub “illegal combatants” were they on the other side of this war. Contrary to Gordon O’Connor’s hypothesis that Canadians need to be educated so they will support our war in Afghanistan, David Fraser’s feeling that the poll was wrong because of some unverifiable, casual conversations, and Peter Mackay’s contention that questioning the actions of politicians shows a disrespect for our troops and our country, there are more likely possibilities. It is likely that Canadians have seen the Prime Minister’s former blind support for Iraq, noticed that our soldiers are not keeping the peace but waging war, and understood that our soldiers are being put in harm’s way for increasingly nebulous reasons. It is likely that Canadians, who have accepted casualties in peacekeeping missions, will not accept many casualties in a war-making mission when the reasons for that war are vague and the goals unclear. It is also likely that Canadians have seen our American allies torturing people on the news, heard reports of the use of banned weapons, and noticed that there are a lot of dead civilians where the US military chooses to operate. It is likely that Canadians realise that one of our main roles in Afghanistan is to free up US soldiers for the war in Iraq. It is probable that the poll was accurate and the people who took it well-informed. It is probable that Canadians who speak out against our involvement in Afghanistan are not against the members of our military sent to represent us, and certainly not against Canada. It is probable that most Canadians are familiar with the word “quagmire” and would prefer not to see it used in reference to our foreign policy or our involvement in what is becoming yet another dirty American war. Most probable of all is that Canadians simply do not want to be a satellite state and don’t want our soldiers to be cannon fodder in a war to fulfill George Bush’s imperialist wet dreams. Stephen Harper and his government are fond of saying that they do not govern by the polls. That is to be expected from a government that two-thirds of Canadians voted against, since it is unlikely that many polls will fall in Harper’s favour. The Conservatives should have to answer questions about their policies, however, and insinuating that Canadians who question them are ignorant, un-Canadian, and do not support those who serve in our military is not a sufficient answer. The Conservative government should hold a full debate on our involvement in Afghanistan and they should hold a vote in the House of Commons as to the acceptability of our role there. Canadians should make note of how their Members of Parliament vote in that and keep it in mind when the next general election rolls around. That’s a poll that even Stephen Harper will have to pay attention to. [Proofreader's note: this article was edited for spelling and typos on March 8, 2006]

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