Since well before George Bush paid his first official visit to Canada at the end of November, there has been a veritable chorus of voices from across the political spectrum â€“ at least from conservative to left-liberal — urging reconciliation with (or rather capitulation to) the U.S. administration. And so we had the now-ubiquitous Rick Mercer urging that we keep any anti-Bush sentiment to â€œa dull roar,â€ a version of the oft-repeated mantra that too much protest would hurt Canadian interests in beef and softwood lumber. MacLeanâ€™s magazine ran a cover photo of Bush and Martin sharing a laugh, with the subtitle, â€œwhy itâ€™s time to be friends again.â€
The only place that Bushâ€™s visit went off script, from the perspective of Martin and Canadaâ€™s ruling elite, was when the U.S. president openly pushed for Canada to join in the missile defense program during a December 1 speech in Halifax ostensibly scheduled to thank the locals for their hospitality and support in the days following September 11, 2001. There is dissent within Liberal ranks over Canadian participation in the program, especially in Quebec, where a recent policy meeting of the ruling party recently voted overwhelmingly to oppose the program. The other embarrassing spectacle, of course, was large protests across the country; the Halifax rally was particularly impressive, as more than 5000 mobilized on a Wednesday morning on less than a weekâ€™s notice.
Bushâ€™s two-day visit — along with Martinâ€™s subsequent hosting of occupied Haitiâ€™s â€œinterim prime ministerâ€ Gerard Latortue and the overall current discourse surrounding Canadian foreign policy — marks a significant convergence of the neo-conservative doctrine of regime change emanating from Washington, D.C. and the liberal â€œhumanitarianâ€ interventionism espoused in Ottawa. Though previous Liberal and Conservative governments may have acted in compliance with U.S. foreign policy, Martin seems determined to be as explicit as possible, reshaping the language of Canadian foreign affairs. Recent feature television interviews, for both domestic and U.S. consumption, are worth citing at length to illustrate the case.
Appearing on Wolf Blitzerâ€™s CNN program on December 5, Martin opened with assurances of Canadian support for â€œinstitution buildingâ€ in Iraq and, specifically, for help with the elections scheduled for January 30. When pressed about putting Canadian troops on the ground to buttress the occupation, Martin responded defensively:
Well, we are very, very heavily involved in Afghanistan. We’re increasing our troops going into Afghanistan. We’re in Haiti. We’re being asked to look at sending advisers into certain parts of Africa.
Our commitments are such that it would be very hard for us to commit troops into Iraq, especially with the provincial reconstruction we’re about to take on in Afghanistan.
But in terms of the election structures, in terms of providing the people to make sure that other people are trained and that the whole thing can work efficiently, we’re prepared to provide whatever people are required.
The clear implication is that Canada would send troops if it could. Not satisfied by the Prime Ministerâ€™s statement, Blitzer pressed on, asking if Canada couldnâ€™t even spare, say, 1000 troops to put on the ground to secure the success of these comprador elections. Martin, sheepish, could only reiterate all the other good things his government is doing in service of the U.S. Empire:
No, our troops are stretched very, very thin.
This is not only a Canadian issue, by the way. If you take a look at the number of failed and failing states around the world and the need for peacekeepers, all of us are stretched very heavilyâ€¦
But look it, you know, in terms of Iraq, at the present time we’re training police. We’ve put over $300 million — we’re one of the major donors to Iraq. So we’re certainly doing our share. (CNN)
In a December 13 interview on CBCâ€™s As It Happens, Martin elaborated on his foreign policy aims:
Do I think we’ve got to increase our defense spending? The answer is yes, absolutelyâ€¦ But we also have to increase it for the larger security role in the world.
We were the ones who secured the airport in Haiti. Those were Canadian forces who did that. We’ve got to be able to play that kind of role.
Indeed. Martin was referring to Canadaâ€™s role in facilitating the ouster of Haitiâ€™s democratically elected Jean-Bertrand Aristide. On February 29, 2004, it was Canadian Special Forces who secured the airport from which Aristide was whisked away, paving the way for the current occupation and puppet regime of Latortue.
None of this to suggest that Canadaâ€™s foreign policy has changed qualitatively. Trudeau proclaimed that â€œCanada should be a refuge from militarism,â€ while his country was the largest foreign weapons supplier for the U.S. war on Vietnam; Chretien made his much vaunted announcement not to put Canadian troops on the ground in Iraq after a decade of helping to enforce the brutal sanctions on Iraqâ€™s children.
If anything, Martin simply reflects a more brazen and swaggering posture, as his government seeks to carve out a role for Canada as a â€œmiddle power.â€ The buzzwords to watch for are â€œfailed states,â€ â€œresponsibility to protect,â€ and the timeless rationalization of â€œhumanitarian intervention.â€ From Afghanistan to Haiti, the high-sounding proclamations of this liberal interventionism are coming to more closely mirror the foreign policy aims outlined by the cowboy neo-conservatives to the south. Maybe Martinâ€™s new strident pose will help some people lose their illusions in Canadian neutrality and benevolence, specifically with respect to the occupation of Iraq where, as the PM says himself, â€œweâ€™re certainly doing our share.â€
With files from Roger Annis of www.Socialistvoice.com.
Derrick O’Keefe is a Vancouver-based activist and founding editor of www.SevenOaksMag.com.