Tag Archives: war on terror

Stephen Harper Thinks You’re Stupid

For years, Stephen Harper has, through his words and actions, displayed what could charitably be described as a lack of confidence in anyone other than himself. This extends not only to his MPs and members of the civil service, but also the Canadian public at large. In his memoirs, Preston Manning wrote of the Harper he knew from the Reform party as someone who “had difficulty accepting that there might be a few other people (not many, perhaps, but a few) who were as smart as he was with respect to policy and strategy.” In a June 1997 speech to an American think tank Stephen Harper said, “I was asked to speak about Canadian politics. It may not be true, but it’s legendary that if you’re like all Americans, you know almost nothing except for your own country. Which makes you probably knowledgeable about one more country than most Canadians.”

In short, he doesn’t trust us. He doesn’t think we’re smart enough or knowledgeable enough to make good decisions about the direction of our country.

One of the ways he displays this disrespect is by making completely ridiculous statements that us idiotic citizens couldn’t possibly see through. For example, right after the most recent meeting to advance the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP) Harper attempted to diminish the importance of the multilateral talks, describing the SPP as an effort to “standardize the jelly bean.” As if such a thing would require a meeting of three world leaders, massive security (including US Army interference with Canadian rights and disturbing police tactics), and a top secret agenda.

Today, Conservatives turned their guns against the Green Party (again) in an equally insulting attempt at spin. This time, it had to do with our position regarding Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, and specifically our response to the Manley report. The Green Party believes (quite rightly) that the nature of our military presence in Afghanistan must change. One of the major reasons for this is that we are currently perceived by many people in the region (and not without reason) as being aligned with George Bush’s War On Terror, which in turn is seen by many as a quasi-religious war of West vs. East, or Christianity vs. Islam. As long as that perception exists, danger to our soldiers is increased while our chances for success are decreased.

The Conservative party responded with the following:

Green Party Leader and Stéphane Dion ally Elizabeth May criticized the presence of Canadian and other ISAF forces in Afghanistan as representing a “Christian/Crusader heritage,” that would actually “fuel” the “jihad.”

Elizabeth May’s comparison of the Afghan protection and reconstruction effort as a Christian Crusade is evidence of her shocking ignorance of foreign policy, Afghanistan and the current mission.

The Canadian Forces in Afghanistan are serving at the invitation and with the active encouragement of the Afghan Government. Every day the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces are risking their safety and security to help the people of Afghanistan live peaceful and secure lives. Considering that Canadian soldiers have lost their lives protecting the people of Afghanistan, it is outrageous that a Canadian politician would make such an insult of this sacrifice.

Ms. May’s comments also betrayed a shocking lack of knowledge about Afghanistan’s people and its history. None of the Crusades ever came anywhere close to Afghanistan.

Even people who think the Green press release should have been more clear recognize that the above statement is ridiculous and lowers the level of discourse. Fortunately, Canadians are smart enough to understand the difference between saying that we need to “counter the Islamic militants’ portrayal of the war as a ‘clash of civilizations'” to prevent the Taliban from being able to continue to “frame the Afghanistan conflict as a ‘Jihad'” and saying that Canadian soldiers are actually engaged in a Christian Crusade. Canadians are also smart enough to realize that the real negative perceptions of our involvement have very little to do with the physical locations of the Crusades. (To not grasp that last fact could almost be characterized as, say, a “shocking ignorance of foreign policy, Afghanistan and the current mission.”)

And Canadians are smart enough to realize that if anything is “risking the safety and security” of the brave men and women of the Canadian Forces, it’s overly partisan rhetoric that’s designed to shut down real democratic debate. (It’s also worth noting that this government also continues to place our soldiers at risk of being accused of involvement with war crimes, and has demonstrated through their actions that “supporting the troops” is sometimes little more than a soundbite.)

Details aside, the second most discouraging thing about this is that our prime minister has such little respect for foundational democratic principals that he frequently tries to trick the public into believing partisan distortions of reality. The most discouraging thing (at least for the moment) is that this kind of nonsense moves people like Rick Mercer to write what he did today: “[Liberals and Conservatives] both say they support our troops, but what they really love is using them.”

Benazir Bhutto, and Canada in Afghanistan

I was driving from Brantford (my family’s Christmas) to Almonte (Claire’s family Christmas) when I heard of Benazir Bhutto’s death. (I couldn’t help but have the same initial thought as James; that the interruption of the holiday season by tragic news has seemed all too common in recent years.) All sorts of politicians and observers filled radio airtime for hours with the painfully obvious: that this was a sad and deplorable act, that it was an attack on democracy, and that it has ramifications for the whole world, including Canada.

Interestingly, it wasn’t until we switched to Radio Canada (en français) approaching Ottawa that we heard the first reports of inevitable conspiracy theories involving various aspects of the government and/or military. Feeding that distrust is the ever-changing explanation of how, exactly, Bhutto was killed. First there was a shooter and a bomber. Then just one person, who was both the shooter and the bomber, and shot her in the neck and head. Then a report from the hospital said that she hadn’t been shot, but instead had been hit with a piece of shrapnel from the explosion. Now, the government is saying that she wasn’t shot or hit with shrapnel, but instead hit her head on her car’s sunroof. (Eye witnesses who were in the car have called this latest explanation a “pack of lies.”)

After a failed assassination attempt in October of this year, Bhutto gave an interview calling for an independent international investigation to uncover the truth surrounding the attack. Today, that request resonates as a request from the grave. Canada should do everything it can to advocate for and assist with such an investigation. Only the truth can lead to the conditions needed for peace, stability, and democracy.

Around the same time, Bhutto was asked by a CBC reporter what she thought of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan, given the close relationship between the Afghan Taliban, the Pakistani “neo-Taliban” and al-Qaeda. She was diplomatic in her answer, saying that while she understood it was hard for Canada to suffer the casualties and sacrifices of serving in Afghanistan, it was necessary to ensure that the country didn’t fall back into the hands of those who would oppress human rights and oppose moves towards democracy. It helps to illustrate why this obsession that the parties of the past have with our withdrawal date from Afghanistan misses the point. The NDP would have us withdraw our troops right away, likely leaving a civil war in our wake. The Liberals propose the same thing, but would wait a year to do it. The Conservatives refuse to propose anything of substance and instead resort to shameful partisanship and perverse patriotism.

What’s needed, instead, is a rebalancing of the mission. A recognition that there is no military solution to George Bush’s “war on terror,” and that the NATO-led mission in Afghanistan cannot succeed since it is viewed as a “clash of civilizations,” along with a realization that the people of Afghanistan do need and will continue to need our help rebuilding critical infrastructure, promoting regional diplomacy, development assistance and the training of the Afghan national army and police force. I’m proud to be associated with the Green Party’s sensible, balanced, and realistic approach towards building peace in Afghanistan.