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A new political narrative

A new political narrative is emerging in Canada. It suggests that, somehow or other, Prime Ministers Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin let go of the levers of power over foreign and defence policy and General Rick Hillier seized control.

Ruxted understands the need for political parties to create these narratives for election campaigns – in order to differentiate one from the other on complex issues. We also understand that journalists will want to weave these political narratives into their stories – sometimes for their own partisan purposes. The Ruxted Group encourages both politicians and journalists to take some care to be honourable and honest with Canadians, especially when their narratives involve the Canadian Forces.
The new narrative emerged nearly a year ago when Eugene Lang, a former political aide to, inter alia, one time defence minister Bill Graham, penned an article which suggested that Gen. Rick Hillier had, somehow or other, bamboozled Graham, then Prime Minister Paul Martin and Canada’s then top civil servant (Clerk of the Privy Council) Alex Himmelfarb.

Lang laid out his thesis in the Canadian media nearly a year ago. It was picked up a few times – most notably by sometimes Ruxted target Steve Staples in an article he wrote for the Council of Canadians. It was expanded upon, totally beyond reason, by Liberal spin doctor Scott Reid in a (Toronto Star) newspaper column for which The Ruxted Group took him to task two weeks ago. It surfaced again, just recently in another Toronto Star article, this one by reporter James Travers.

Whereas Reid simply tossed the truth out of the window and declared that “the unmistakable truth is that this is Harper's war and he alone is responsible for our current predicament,” Travers was much more balanced but he still accepted, quite uncritically, the Lang narrative: “the devil (Hillier) made us do it.”

The Ruxted Group does not believe Mr. Lang; nor should journalists.

He was, he tells us, in the room when the key decisions were made, so we do not challenge the assertions that Gen. Hillier was gung ho for a combat mission in Afghanistan – because he wants to stamp out the harmful myth of ‘Pearsonian peacekeeping;’ or that he promised that, if tasked, there would be enough resources to commit to e.g. Darfur.

What the Ruxted Group does not believe is that Gen. Hillier, in Steve Staples’ words, “had convinced Martin’s government that the best way to impress the Bush administration would be to take on the dangerous redeployment of Canadian Forces, including a battle group for counter-insurgency operations, in Kandahar province for one year, ending February 2007.”

This is not sensible – not in the least.

The room, as Lang reported, was full of the ‘high and mighty’ – the Prime Minister of Canada, a man famous for his grasp of the details of policy, and his Clerk of the Privy Council – the most powerful ‘Mandarin’ in the land. In this company the Chief of the Defence Staff is a lightweight, a pygmy – his views are solicited within a very, very narrow range.

At the time Prime Minister Martin was faced with two problems:

1. He wanted, in his own words, to “project Canadian values and interests into the world and make a real difference in the lives of its embattled peoples;” and

2. He needed to find a way to eschew US pressure to join its unpopular (especially in Québec and Toronto) missile defence project without, yet again, offending our good friend, giant neighbour and vital trading partner.

He seized upon having Canada lead one of the NATO/ISAF provincial reconstruction teams in Afghanistan even as he eyed increased commitments to Haiti and Darfur. In this Prime Ministers Martin and Harper were united: they wanted Canada to lead in the world and they needed a robust, combat capable military force to show the world we were leading. Gen. Hillier promised to build it for them – if they would give him the resources.

Travers says, correctly, in Ruxted’s view that: “If war is too important to leave to generals, then democratic governments can't shirk full responsibility for its declaration and prosecution ... Canada does better on the first test than the second. Along with much of the world, this country has good reason for denying Al Qaeda a state sponsor. And protecting some of the most vulnerable people is admirable, even if the concern doesn't stretch to, say, Darfur.”

Darfur is the key to the new narrative. The premise, mightily popular amongst Canadians thanks to Senator Romeo Dallaire’s constant propagandizing, is that: Canada should be in Darfur and would be in Darfur, except for Gen. Hillier’s machinations. It’s all the fault of Gen. Hillier and PM Harper – they have conspired to upset the plans of all the nice, baby blue beret wearing, Canadians.

That is, quite simply, untrue.

First: it defies reason to suggest that any general – a fairly lowly species in official Ottawa – could bamboozle the Prime Minister of Canada, his defence minister and the country’s top civil servant - all supported by coteries of political aides (like Eugene Lang) and bureaucrats jealous of their authority over policy matters. If Gen. Hillier’s views were accepted it was only because they were fully in accord with the views of Prime Minister Martin and his political advisors.

Second: notwithstanding the bleating of the media and special interest groups, sending the Canadian Forces to do ‘peacekeeping’ in Darfur is neither practical nor even desirable. Does no one find it strange that no other NATO country appears eager to intervene in Saharan-Africa either against the wishes of the host government and without UN authorization? Probably their lack of enthusiasm is for the same reasons as Canada's; matching the huge military and logistical effort needed to achieve a positive result in Darfur to Darfur’s (and the Sudan's) limited impact on the national interests.

An invasion of Sudan – an act of international aggression – is what would be required to ‘solve’ the Darfur problem because the legitimate Government of Sudan continues to reject peacekeeping forces beyond the currently deployed and ineffectual African Union Forces. There is no international will to invade Darfur. There is no way Canada can play any sort of leadership role in Africa. Our capacity for independent action is near zero until Gen. Hillier’s transformation plans – including new strategic airlift – are in place. Canada is a paper tiger, thanks to 35+ years of neglect of the military by successive Liberal and Conservative governments. We may be a ‘moral superpower’ – tossing unheeded platitudes thither and yon with gay abandon, but we lack almost any means of asserting our influence in any meaningful way. Therefore: we are not going to do more in Darfur because there is nothing more to do – except, perhaps, to send more money.

The new narrative is neither true nor well conceived. Gen Hillier did not scheme to thwart Paul Martin and Kofi Annan in Darfur. He has supported the decisions of the governments of the day – Jean Chrétien’s government, Paul Martin’s government and Stephen Harper’s government. In concert with those ministries he is trying to give the Government of Canada options when it is faced with crises in the world.

Thanks to decades of neglect and worse the Canadian Forces are barely able to conduct more than one major mission at a time. It will take more than money to put things right and the transformation of the Canadian Forces is really about transforming the attitudes of Canadians about the utility and use of their military. Baby blue beret wearing peacekeepers will not give Canada the ‘weight’ of a leader in the world. We need a combat ready, combat capable, globally deployable military which Canada can use, when required, to “project Canadian values and interests into the world and make a real difference in the lives of its embattled peoples.”

Making Canada’s soldiers into political props – which is what this new narrative does - may be good politics in the 21st century, and it may sell more newspapers too, but it is neither honourable nor honest. The Ruxted Group hopes that journalists, at least, will eschew such tactics – there are many and varied ways to convince Canadians that they should not re-elect Mr. Harper without denigrating our soldiers.


The Ruxted Group on : Big Lies

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Big LiesCanada is a free and open society in which everyone may criticize the government, politicians (in general), and public servants, including high profile, highly public figures like General Rick Hillier and unknown soldiers, too.Amongst the critics

The Ruxted Group on : Fight and Win

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Fight and WinIn a recent Globe and Mail column Jeffrey Simpson makes a series of points, including:1.   Canada became involved in Kandahar without, at the highest levels of government, thinking things through. Now there is no easy way out;2.   No NATO cou


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