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Junior Partner in Global War


For Canadians, watching a televised debate of Republican presidential candidates, like the one last Saturday night, can be a bit like observing an inscrutable species.

 

Baffling as it is to us, all the candidates reject public health care and celebrate the excellence of the U.S. health-care system, apparently regarding the fact that millions of Americans lack basic coverage as a minor flaw in the system.

 

Even more disturbing, the Republican presidential hopefuls seem to see the West as engaged in an all-out war against radical Islam in what sounds awfully like a crusades-style "clash of civilizations."

 

This is instructive for Canadians. Much as Canadian political leaders and commentators emphasize the notion that we’re in Afghanistan to help with "reconstruction" and to improve the lot of women – goals Canadians readily support – we can perhaps get a better sense of the real nature of what we’ve signed on for by listening to these leading Republicans, who come from the same political pool as the war’s architect, George W. Bush.

 

And while Canadians like to think of Afghanistan as a very different war than the one in Iraq, the Republicans clearly see the two wars as simply twin parts in America‘s battle with radical Islam.

 

The view of the Republican candidates is strikingly similar, for that matter, to the view expressed by a U.S. general, Thomas Metz, who gave the keynote address at a conference (which I attended) at the Canadian Forces College in Toronto in January 2006.

 

Metz gave the high-level conference of Canadian soldiers and military think-tank experts what amounted to a pep talk for fighting the Muslim enemy. The audience included one of Canada‘s top generals, Andrew Leslie.

 

"The Islamic faith is not evil," Metz told the gathering. "But it’s been hijacked by thugs … Most of the Islamic world believes the suicide bombers of the World Trade Center are now in the land of milk and honey."

 

Metz noted that there are almost 1 billion Muslims in the world. Then, engaging in some freewheeling speculation, he added that if only 1 per cent of Muslims are radical "that’s 10 million radicals."

 

The general’s message seemed to be that Canadians are engaged in a war, not against a small group of extremists, but ultimately against millions of Muslims.

 

Will this mentality change if the Republicans lose the White House next year?

 

In the Democratic debate that followed the Republican one on Saturday, there was plenty of criticism of the disaster in Iraq. But the candidates shied away from seriously critiquing the ideas behind Bush’s "war on terror" or his doctrine of pre-emptive war.

 

Ironically, the strongest critique came in the Republican debate, from candidate Ron Paul, who challenged the notion that terrorists hate Americans "because we’re free and prosperous."

 

Paul suggested instead that it was "because we invade their countries and occupy their countries, have bases in their (countries). And we haven’t done it just since 9/11 … we have done that for a long time."

 

Paul’s argument that terrorism was a response to American foreign policy was quickly dismissed by the other Republican candidates with a resounding chorus: terrorism is purely the product of irrational, freedom-hating Muslims.

 

"Our foreign policy is irrelevant," harrumphed Rudy Giuliani, "totally irrelevant."

 

Canadians watching the debate probably suspected that U.S. foreign policy isn’t totally irrelevant to the rise of terrorism. But then, we don’t make these wars, we just fight in them.

 

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Toronto author and journalist Linda McQuaig appears fortnightly. [email protected]

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