Sunday, August 19, 2007

Afghanistan As Harper's Ego Trip

A lot of people have thought what Michael Byers is say - that Canada's participation in Afghanistan is essentially all about Harper's ego:

This comes back to my point that this is Stephen Harper's war.

There's a lot of other points that he makes - in particular the concerns that he raises about the direction that Harper's attempt at playing "beach muscle" with the military is headed in the long run:

You write that our mission in Afghanistan could, over time, lead to the development of a Canadian Armed Forces that is focussed almost entirely - in its training, ethos and equipment - on aggressive missions conducted in concert with the U.S. What's the evidence of that happening, and why is that not a good idea?

The evidence is widely manifest. One saw it in [Chief of Staff Gen. Rick] Hillier's comments about fighting "scumbags and murderers." One saw it in terms of the reluctance to deal with international law on detainees comparable to our European allies. We essentially embraced the American approach starting with Day One, certainly in terms of our embracing the search-and-destroy component.

Part of the reason the Dutch have not lost nearly as many soldiers is that they rejected that particular approach even though they're in the south. They're working on stabilizing and winning hearts and minds closer to their bases.

But the Canadian military has embraced the tough-guy approach. You ramp up the aggressive nature of your equipment, your rules of engage- ment, your choice of mission, your rhetoric - and then, of course, it becomes more dangerous, and that in turn justifies ramping up some more, and the end result, I fear, is we wind up with a mini-version of the U.S. Marine Corps.

While I am sure that there are many who are impressed by Harper's "tough-guy" stance - I'm not. Canada is a small nation, and does not have the resources (militarily, population and budget) to sustain an aggressive style of military. Canada needs an effective military, but that doesn't mean we need to play "heavy" on the world stage. (In fact, I would argue that in the long run, Canada is far more effective playing a more subtle game that doesn't require us to be prepared to invade or occupy foreign countries.

There are a number of reasons, but I think a lot of Canadians, particularly my gen- eration, bought into [philosopher] George Grant's thesis that Canada as an independent country has effectively ceased to exist. That has had a quite pervasive effect on how Canadians think about Canada's place in the world. And so, essentially, on the really big issues, we've been content to drift along on the slipstream of the United States.

Here's perhaps where I disagree with Byers somewhat. Canada has long played the moderating influence between US foreign policy and the countries that policy is directed to. Harper's near slavish devotion to the "six-shooter" diplomacy of G.W. Bush is in fact the worst possible thing Canada could do in the long run on the world stage. To some extent we have "drifted" along with the US, but that's perhaps better described as being "swept along" by the US. It is only people like Harper who favour deep integration with the United States that have given up on the concept of Canada as an independent state.

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