The Ugly Canadian

Review of:

Whose War Is It? How Canada Can Survive In The Post 9/11 World. By J. L. Granatstein. (Harper Collins, Toronto, Ontario, 2007.)

The ‘ugly American’ – arrogant, ignorant, hubristic, militaristic – has in this instance a good Canadian counterpart. Whose War Is It?, to continue the image, is one of the ugliest books I have read about foreign policy in relation to the Americans and the ‘war on terror’. It is similar in style to Michael Leeden, Charles Krauthammer, and Thomas Friedman, all writers who support the transcendence of America, and the use of the military to set right the world. They all support the Orientalist approach to the declared war in that ‘we’ are being attacked because they dislike our democracy and licentious freedoms without any consideration given for previous American actions around the globe that have created significant ‘blowback’ – the major and highly unexpected one being 9/11. It is perhaps uglier from my perspective in that as a Canadian military historian, Granatstein professes those same beliefs while writing a book containing many examples of patriotic military jingoism in relation to Canada.

The book is not all bad, given some decent thinking on Canadian sovereignty in Canada’s Arctic territories, and valid concerns about Canada’s citizenship regulations, but those are mainly internal matters. His views on foreign affairs, the military, the ‘war on terror’ are just as misinformed as his American counterparts. Throughout the work, there are many underlying premises that are not fully supported. The writing style is weak (again as with Ledeen, Krauthammer, and Friedman), using unsupported and somewhat fanciful conjecture, using such technically defined approbation such as “piss on”, “twaddle”, and “woolly headed thinking”, and assuming the general foolishness of the reading public (ignorance can be overcome with education, foolishness is simply a trait).

The book starts with a conjectural story about an earthquake in Vancouver on February 12, 2008 with the ‘big one’ happening at 8:08. Along with all the other local scenarios, a terror group in Toronto has been waiting for just this kind of event to release anthrax in the Toronto area. The writing is a combination of Star Wars, End of Times, and Fear Factor rolled into one, setting the scene to support his subsequent arguments. It might seem a good start for some to begin with a conjectural rant of fiction and fear, and it sets the tone for the rest of the book.

There are several premises that are utilized, some with more weight than others, but all adopting the militaristic code of conduct that is prevalent in the White House today.

The first premise is that of the “war on terror”. Well, yes, there is a war on terror, created and defined by the American government, but it is unnecessary as well as illegal and only furthers the blowback of terrorism from regions affected. As mentioned above, Granatstein sees the “war on terror” as an “Islamist war.waged against the West, against democracy, and against secularism” – not realizing of course that “the struggle of a global medieval theocracy” reflects as much the Christian right in America as it does the extremities of Islam. It is a “war against western civilization.a war against Canada’s freedom.” Canada’s freedom is not endangered by a clash of civilizations; rather it would be endangered by flying our flag on the American flagpole, by accepting trade agreements that give away our resources – we are certainly not threatened by hordes of Taliban fighters marching across the Siberian tundra in order to get at Canada, nor by any Taliban naval, air, or missile force.

Much attention is given to Canadian troops fighting the Taliban in Afghanistan and the effect that has on Canada’s prestige as a “good international citizen”. The more probable argument is that Canada is seen as cozying up to the United States war effort as an occupying force trying to tie Afghanistan into the American geopolitical strategy of containing Russia and China, and controlling global oil resources. Granatstein supports Michael Ignatieff’s view (the fellow who in turn supports the lesser evil concept of harming others for their own good and who supported the illegal war in Iraq) that “if we want to have any legitimacy in Washington, if we want to have any legitimacy as a multilateralist” then we need more military spending (and buying into American war efforts does not make us multilateralist).

Therefore the war on terror needs more money thrown at it. There is no consideration given that the best use of that money would be for international organizations and international criminal courts and national courts of justice that are supported not by national militaries but by national and international police forces, who have already demonstrated that they are perfectly adequate for watching and apprehending terror suspects (unfortunately with mistakes made along the way, but hopefully with a positive learning curve along the way). By acting internationally and multilaterally, without pre-emptive war and wars of occupation, perhaps then our own proper legitimacy globally will be enhanced.

An accompanying premised argument to this is that Canada has always relied on the American military umbrella for its defence. The larger question, in concern for Canada’s sovereignty, is who would be most likely to attack Canada, as Canada – like the U.S. – has large ocean expanses offering the best protection from invasion. In another disingenuous piece of conjecture, Granatstein poses the scenario of Canada invading Greenland because of an Inuit threat or the Inuit wanting to be part of a “Greater Canada”, saying a “realpolitik view of the world conceivably might suggest such action.” Conceivable? Well, yes, perhaps, but mostly idiotic. In a democratic world, the Inuit themselves would be asked if they would like to control their own territory, to control their own resources, but when it comes to diamonds and oil, democracy tends to be reinterpreted as a sanctimonious free-market system run by corporations based in some other clime.

Recognizing perhaps that he is presenting a rather ludicrous argument, he then presents an only slightly less ludicrous conjectural attack of Russian forces claiming the Arctic Islands. Again, not likely the Russians, more likely the Americans will try this claim. If this is military thinking at its best, we are seriously in deep trouble, not from the Russians, but from our own military’s fear scenarios.

Other countries are suggested that might attack Canada. Iran and North Korea being the strongest fear factor with their conjectured use of nuclear missiles. With an unproven and so far unworkable Ballistic Missile Defence Shield (BMD), no military preparedness would stop a nuclear missile attack, nor can I believe that, as wild as they may appear, neither country would attack, knowing full well they would cease to exist as a consequence. Because of American actions around the globe, the only reasonable response to American aggression or hints thereof is to have at least some limited nuclear capability as a deterrent. The Soviet Union had lots during the over-hyped cold war and it worked; China has many and has been circumvented politically and militarily along with Russia; North Korea may have one or two and it appears to be working; Pakistan has lots and this often violent Islamic country was enlisted to the American side; Iraq had nothing, resulting in an invasion and illegal occupation; Iran is ‘in process’ and hanging on the eve of destruction. Typically for these arguments, Israel’s nuclear capacity is never mentioned, nor is the American lack of support for the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (that indicates member countries entitled to enrichment activities, thus Iran) by revoking its nuclear limitations treaties with Russia and starting a new round of nuclear weapons development, all contrary to the agreement.

No, the country most likely to attack Canada is the U.S., but even that is mostly fanciful conjecture. Returning to the above scenario of Arctic attacks, the main belligerent against Canada for sovereignty over the Northwest Passage has been the United States. During the 1930s, the U.S. had full scale plans to attack Canada, “Plan Red”, including chemical warfare and toxic agents. Interestingly enough, there was no war plan for Germany. But the Americans do not need to attack.

The true threat to Canadian sovereignty comes not from our lack of military preparedness, but from our economic give-aways to American corporate interests. The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) gives corporations more rights that the citizens of the country (the infamous Chapter 11), has created an increasing gap between the wealthy and the average worker, and has resulted in a decrease in social services in all sectors (even though the dollar amount may be increasing, there is a steady advancement towards privatization and its resultant lower wages, poorer working conditions, and removal of profits to the corporate owners). More importantly, it opens the door for full American access to Canadian resources, such that when the time comes that oil and gas are in short supply, the U.S. is served first, and Canadians then are second, buying resources at world prices from other countries if needed to supply the U.S. The sale of water may in the future have a similar story told.

No, Canadian sovereignty is threatened mainly by American interests, not by those of other overseas countries. No, we do not need American protection, nor do we need to bolster our own military for international stature or legitimacy or influence to get our way in the world (no one’s going to push skinny little Canada around anymore!).

In juxtaposition to the premise of having a stronger military, is the presentation throughout the work that Canada needs to be acquiescence to American needs if we are to get along with our powerful southern neighbour. Canada should express its dissent “quietly through diplomatic channels”, we should “examine issues through an American lense” (when we are already saturated with American news channels?), we need a “voice at the table” (when all other global voices are ignored anyway?). This argument comes from another argument about Canadians being almost hysterically anti-American and being ignorant of the good that will come from sucking up to the Americans.

Throughout the book is the premise that the Canadian public as an ignorant bunch of fools and needs to be led and educated by government. “Governments must.provide a sensible rationale…that can only improve the public’s knowledge”, “Canadian political leadership must help form Canadian public opinion”, “leadership can be exercised by politicians on sensitive foreign policy issues [which presumably the public are too stupid to understand]“, without leadership, Quebec’s “public opinion was completely predictable [against the BMD and also the war in Afghanistan]“, and Harper must “explain the country’s national interests to the people”.

This unfortunately has two negative connotations (other than the people being too stupid to be listened to). First, is the similarity with the usual American political exhortations about changing the “image” of what the U.S. is doing, whether it be concerned with climate change, the war on terror, or any other publicly disputed action by the government. It certainly wouldn’t do to change one’s actions when it is more beneficial, especially to those in power, to change the image. Secondly, in a truly democratic society, the government should not assume the ignorance of the public yet should take more credit for their own ignorance; as well, in a truly democratic society, the government should be listening to the people, not chastising them. True democracy is messy, and it is usually not prone to starting wars – in both world wars Canada had to resort to conscription in order to fulfill its supposed obligations to the British empire’s service.

Not surprisingly in Canada’s makeup, more than sixty per cent of Quebecois and more than sixty per cent of the “university educated were most supportive of.peacekeeping and more opposed to confrontational peacemaking.” Fully “80 per cent of the public wanted the Canadian forces to do “peace-building” while only 16 per cent favoured combat roles.” Wow, smart people don’t want war! Granatstein derides this tendency for Canadians to see themselves as peacekeepers rather than combatants, with a small touch of reason, as no peacekeeping role is without its potential and actual combative components. But to set out on a purposeful combative mission of occupation, fighting an insurgency that is entirely local, supporting the terror strategies of our American neighbour can in no way be construed as anything with ‘peace’ involved.

The Canadian people did not want the NAFTA treaty; the government gave it to them anyway. The Canadian people do not want universal medical care to be privatized; the government is doing that anyway, slowly, but surely. The Canadian people did not want any war in Afghanistan; the government gave it to them anyway. The Canadian people do not support American foreign policy and its imagined then self-realized war on terror; the government has brought it to us anyway. The Canadian government in this sense is far from democratic, but has its own entanglements with big business and the military, in Canada and the U.S., which makes it ignore public opinion from an informed and socially conscientious society.

Along with these major premises (the war on terror in which Islam is against the West, Canada’s sovereignty under attack and our reliance on the American defensive umbrella, the ignorance of the Canadian public) there are other errors in the work that are too numerous to edit through. One of the more significant ones from my personal viewpoint is his view of the Taliban (see above), Hamas, and Hezbollah. All three of these organizations are the result of military occupation and subjugation of an indigenous population. All three have participated in some form of democratic action. Ironically, al-Queda, a non-territorial terrorist group, is mentioned only in passing and is only briefly identified as being a terror organization.

The Taliban bear the brunt of the criticism as Canadian troops are fighting them in Afghanistan. They are an indigenous force (created in part with Pakistani-American cooperation) , with some ex-Taliban and current Taliban belonging to the government in Kabul, which in itself is composed to a large degree with current and ex-warlords and current and ex-drug dealers (one and the same most likely). But what can one expect from a country that has been war lording and drug dealing for the past several decades, aided and abetted by several outside sources ranging from the Russians and Americans to their foreign mujahideen counterparts? At least they are attempting to create a democracy in spite of their past troubles and current occupation. The Afghan government has also recently granted an amnesty to all combatants from the past twenty-five years and has called for dialogue and negotiation with the Taliban. It hardly appears that the local government wants the Canadian military (or NATO) to remain.

Hamas is touched on only briefly with Harper “acting harshly” as a “terrorist is not a freedom fighter under another name.” No, war is terror in and of itself, and occupation of another nation’s territory is terror in and of itself, in spite of all attempts to make it ‘just’, to make it a cause for democracy and freedom (at the end of a gun barrel?). Suicide bombing of civilians and random rocketing of civilians is terror, just as aerial bombing of towns and cities, and helicopter gunship missile attacks on civilians is terror. Hamas is another group set up by the occupier – Israel – in order to challenge Fatah, another case of unintended, unthought of, consequences.

He refers to Hezbollah as “a large, well armed terrorist organization.supplied with armaments by Iran and Syria”. Hezbollah is of course designated as a terrorist group by the Canadian and American governments, but it was created as a counter-insurgency against the Israeli occupation of Lebanon. Nor is there any mention of all the American armaments supplied to the Israelis, but then again, citizen deaths from cluster bombs and Lockheed-Martin made Hellfire missiles are perfectly legitimate, as they can be ignored as the ‘other’. Granatstein then supports the fallacy of Hezbollah attacking a neighbour and starting the war in the summer of 2006, again ignoring (or perhaps he suffers from the critical historical amnesia that seems to be pervasive among those that support the American line of thinking) the ongoing series of over-flights and kidnappings by the Israelis combined with ongoing Hezbollah cross-border raids. Harper’s view of ‘proportionate’ retaliation is parroted here. This raid no more started the war than the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand started the First World War.

The Americans keep insisting that all foreigners should get out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and stop meddling in events there. And by golly, for Granatstein, “The brute truth is that nations want to fight their wars and guerrilla campaigns when and with who they want, and they don’t like the UN or anyone else telling them what to do.[italics added].” In a grand case of historical amnesia, Granatstein does not relate any of America’s misadventures around the globe as having anything to do with creating the climate that gives power to terror. There is no mention of Vietnam, Cambodia, Chile, Greece, Haiti, Honduras, and all the other countries that the Americans have either directly or indirectly denied their own democratic actions. Yes, to be truly democratic, Canadians will stay home; Canadians will be antagonistic to American policies.

“Whose War Is It?” presents a militaristic, terror preaching, self-righteous grandstanding view of Canada’s supposed role in foreign affairs. Both Canada and the U.S. need to listen to the voice of their own people and not to the resource and wealth grabs of the big corporations to be truly democratic, truly a power of the people, by the people, for the people. Both countries need to support international policing, international courts, international treaties and agreements, and other international venues of operating, and change the militaristic swagger at home to one of a more civic minded defence force, one that can deal with the conjectural disasters and Katrina’s of nature. As with the ugly Americans who should just go home and let the world try to recuperate in peace (I’m sure they will still sell you the oil, you just won’t control it), so the ugly Canadians should do the same.

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