He refused to accept that we were a soft power, but was determined to make Canada a nation of warriors.
Following in the footsteps of George Bush, and in fact aping most of Bush's rhetoric, including "cut and run", he made his first foreign visit, a trip to Afghanistan, and one of his first official photo-ops was similar to Bush's with a military plane.
A New Direction for Afghanistan
Though the U.S. led invasion of Afghanistan began on October 7, 2001, Canadian troops did not begin arriving until January of the following year. Then prime minister Jean Chretien, assigned our units to a safer mission, in an attempt to keep them out of harms way, as much as possible.
Then in 2005, General Rick Hillier showed up on the doorstep of a new prime minister Paul Martin, armed with maps and big dreams, claiming that the military were not public servants but that "their job was to kill people".
It was the Martin government that appointed Hillier chief of defence staff and began pumping large amounts of new money into military spending. Soon after his appointment, Hillier began pressuring Martin to agree to U.S. requests to increase and intensify Canadian involvement in the Afghan war. Martin was initially hesitant, but agreed to the deeper commitment in Afghanistan, only after extracting from Hillier a promise that the Canadian military would also have sufficient troops available to participate in vital UN peacekeeping missions. (1)And according to Stephen Maher in the Chronicle Herald: "In December of 2005, while Canada was in the middle of the election campaign that brought Stephen Harper to power, then-Chief of Defence Staff General Rick Hillier signed a deal establishing our detainee transfer protocol — an arrangement that did not provide for Canadians to monitor their prisoners."
In 2006 Stephen Harper became prime minister, and told Hillier to forget about Peacekeeping. We were warriors. As a result, Canada, the country that created the peacekeepers, now ranks 66th in Peacekeeping efforts. And remember, Peacekeeping isn't about handing out milk and cookies. It is a system that combines combat and diplomacy to reach and protect the world's most vulnerable.
In fact, what Harper did was to move our troops to the most dangerous places in the war, to prove how macho he was. On June 3, 2008; Canada's then Ambassador to Afghanistan, Arif Lalani, was interviewed on a U.S. radio program via telephone. What the morning talk show host, Renee Montagne, wanted to know was why Canada was suffering a disproportionate number of losses in the war. The highest ratio of all NATO forces.
Whenever you hear that a NATO soldier has been killed in the Taliban heartland of Kandahar, it's probably a Canadian soldier. Canada only has 2,500 troops in Afghanistan but they are fighting in one of the most dangerous regions of the country. So while Canadian troops make up only a small fraction of NATO forces, they've suffered the highest number of fatalities proportionately.
Selling a War
Wars have always been a time of propaganda and PR, but the first attempt, at least in modern times, to completely control the message and engineer the selling of war by a government, took place under Dick Cheney when he was Defense Secretary for George Bush Sr. Journalist Arthur Kent*, then with NBC, discusses this in his 1996 book Risk and Redemption.
With everyone from the Joint Chiefs to the lowliest janitor at the Pentagon warning that the American press had to be kept "on side" for this one, and not allowed to repeat the tough coverage of the Vietnam War, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney presided over the most restrictive set of controls ever clamped upon U.S. reporters in time of war. Cheney had a small army of capable public-affairs officers to operate this censorship regime, and as the system took shape in the autumn of '91 there was an astonishing lack of resistance from the chiefs of the big U.S. TV networks, newspapers and wire services. Despite warnings from their correspondents in the field, too many top executives allowed themselves to be smooth-talked and co-opted into believing that the Pentagon would act honourably if and when the whistle blew for total war. The result: coverage packaged by U.S. military authorities. (2)Stephen Harper also tightly controls the messaging for this war, in what one NATO official described as a 6,000 mile screwdriver. Embedded journalists homogenize the mission, being sure not to report on the civilian casualties, including many children. Canada is also the only country without an independent media there.
But Harper also adopted something else from Dick Cheney. The use of Hill and Knowlton and their Yellow Ribbon campaign. Harper's first defense minister was Gordon O'Connor, a man who had come right from H&K where he lobbied for military contracts, to a position where he determined who actually got military contracts.
And the rehash of the yellow ribbon campaign was brilliant strategy. We no longer questioned what we doing in Afghanistan. We just supported the troops.
Why is This Important?
In his new book, Rogue in Power, Christian Nadeau outlines how Stephen Harper is attempting to recreate Canada in his image of a powerful and warring nation. Not at all who we are.
From its former status as a peacekeeper, Canada has taken on the aura of a militar?istic country, even though it lacks the means. As Louise Arbour, the former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, noted in an October 2009 speech at the Universite de Montreal, our country has switched from a preventive logic, with a major role in UN peacekeeping missions, to a warrior logic, turned increasingly towards NATO. (3)Canada has already lost its moral voice in the world.
It was learned in November that DND was recruting soldiers on soft porn sites:
In advertising its recruitment drive to 18-to-34-year-olds, DND received quite a few hits from a placement on hollywoodtuna.com, a tamer site featuring Britney Spears’ “Nasty Panty Flash,” Blake Lively’s “Kinda See Through” dress and photos of Rihanna suggestively touching herself. DND also bought keyword search terms for their online advertisement, including “James bond girls,” “poor man’s James bond” and “can t find a jobs.”Is this the best place to recruit our soldiers?
We are becoming increasingly isolated, as evidenced by our loss of the UN Security Council Seat.
Is this really how we view our country?
Imagine if you will for a moment, Stephen Harper returning to power after the upcoming election. The voices of those who oppose his style of government will be silenced for a very long time. It won't matter if he only has a minority, Parliament will be rendered nonfunctional. Harper controls the Senate, who have been putting a stop to any bills he doesn't like.
We saw this with both the Climate Change and generic drugs for Africa, passed by our ELECTED representatives, but rubber stamped DENIED by unelected political operatives.
The Opposition will be impotent, because they wouldn't dare force another election, no matter what he did.
This is not about simply denying him a majority. He's had one for five years. It's about not giving him a mandate, and every effort must be made to ensure that happens.
It's up to us to get everyone we know to vote. Arrange rides if you have to, anything short of kidnapping. And make sure that everyone votes smart. Catch 22 Harper Conservatives are promoting strategic voting and can provide a lot of useful information to be sure that our votes count.
This is not a time for partisan chest thumping, because the outcome on May 2, will set the course for this country. We can continue on the one set by Harper, or that desired by most Canadians.
*Arthur Kent is the younger brother of Conservative MP Peter Kent. He has been openly critical of the Harper government.
1. HOLDING THE BULLY'S COAT, Canada and the U.S. Empire, Linda McQuaig, Doubleday Canada, ISBN 978-0-385-66012-9, pg. 73-74
2. Risk and Redemption: Surviving the Network News Wars. By Arthur kent, Viking Press, 2006, Isbn: 0-670-86672-5, Pg. 135.
3. Rogue in Power: Why Stephen Harper is remaking Canada by Stealth, By Christian Nadeau, Lorimer Press, ISBN: 978-1-55277-730-5, Pg. 130