Doomsday always sells: a military expert tells tall tales to hook readers on foreign policy.
Professor Granatstein is an authority on military affairs, a prolific author and one of the band of senior academics who provide intellectual support to the Conservative party and government. His last book, Who Killed the Canadian Military? (the Liberals, of course, but ultimately the voters who elected them) was a best seller. No doubt he, his agent and publisher hope for a similar success with this volume, which would explain why they have wrapped serious content in horror fiction and chosen a gimmicky title.
At the same time that we pose Granatstein's title question, "Whose war is it?," we also need to ask "Which war are we talking about?" Afghanistan would seem the obvious answer because there is an ongoing debate about whether our troops should be there at all. Granatstein would be just the man to make the case that the war in Afghanistan is our war. Indeed, he does think that war is our war--but that's not the war to which the title refers. How about Iraq? You might think this is the right answer because Granatstein was one of those Canadians who believed we should have been over there shoulder to shoulder with the Yanks when they invaded, at least in spirit if we had no troops to send. Granatstein now believes George W. Bush is the worst president since Warren Harding (his phrase) and has made a mess of the war. But, he quickly adds, if the Chretien government seems to have been right to stay out of it, its motives were wrong.
It turns out, though, that the title refers to the War on Terror--in capital letters. But hold on, who is arguing that this isn't Our War, except perhaps Osama bin Laden and his followers? Isn't every sensible Canadian against terrorism? Aren't our police and security experts tracking suspect terrorists--sometimes too enthusiastically? Aren't our forces in Afghanistan fighting terrorists and their allies, the Taliban? One might argue with the use of the word "war" because most dictionaries define war as a conflict between states, so when Bush declared a War on Terror he dignified a rabble of jihadists who had little support at the time. They must have been delighted, since a principal goal of terrorism is to provoke the victim to over-respond. Even so, terrorism was not a serious threat to western society until Bush created a real war by invading Iraq. Young Muslims flocked to bin Laden's cause, in Canada as elsewhere. So, no, if by a War on Terror Granatstein--or whoever wrote the title--means Bush's war, not many Canadians will agree it is our war. But if he means opposing terrorism, almost all will agree.
Curiously, the book has little of substance to say about a war on terrorism, raising the suspicion that the title is bait, as in bait-and-switch. To justify the title, I suppose, the book opens with "A Bleak Scenario" in the form of a horror story set in 2008: Vancouver and all around is laid waste by a massive earthquake, and by unhappy coincidence Islamic terrorist cells in Montreal and Toronto are ready to strike and seize the opportunity, exploding a huge bomb in Montreal and releasing anthrax spores in the Toronto subway. Interestingly, the members of the Montreal cell are immigrants, mainly from Algeria, while the Toronto cell members are all sons of Pakistani immigrants. But all are motivated by the godless immorality of Canadian society, what with gay marriage, public nudity and pornography. Canada's war in Afghanistan and friendship with the Great Satan are apparently secondary motives. Anti-Muslim riots follow, the U.S. closes the border and business collapses, followed by stock prices.
What is a prime minister to do? But first, about this prime minister in Granatstein's story: he is not named but seems to be new in office, has an explosive temper and uses not merely bad but blasphemous language when the public is not listening. He discovers that most of Canada's soldiers are in Afghanistan and not available to restore and keep order on the streets. There are no heavy-lift planes available anywhere to carry equipment and supplies to stricken British Columbia. You could hardly blame even an upstanding, clean-living and church-going westerner for raging, "Who in Christ's name got us into this fucking mess?" You could also take a stab at the answer and realize that if you were one of those who voted for the previous government with its wrongheaded policies, you too are to blame for failing to understand: "Whether we liked it or not, the Western world was at war with terrorism and, as always, with nature. Whose war was it? It was Canada's war."
Is this melodrama intended to attract readers to a book about other matters? Yes, but it also has a teaching purpose, as one would expect from a distinguished research professor emeritus at York University and chair of the Advisory Council of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute. At the close of the book Granatstein repeats the horror scenario but explains how much better things would have been had more and better trained forces been available to respond to the disasters. This argument for enlarging the military is not persuasive. If responding to civil disasters is the goal, there must be a cheaper way than recruiting, training and keeping on standby soldiers whose primary task is to fight.
Having hooked his readers with fiction, Granatstein abruptly changes pace to address what he conceives as six key issues. This is the book described in the subtitle "How Canada Can Survive in the Post-9/11 World," although even that idea is problematical. The world now is largely of Bush's making; had he not invaded Iraq it would certainly be a very different world, and his time in power is ending. One hopes a new U.S. president will create a new post-9/11 era with different goals and strategies to which Canada will have to adjust. Nevertheless, Granatstein has interesting things to say about current issues.
He believes--correctly in my view--that too many Canadians are still wedded to the idea that the only proper role for Canadian forces is to put on United Nations blue helmets and go peacekeeping. He writes: "Even those who recognized the UN's structural failings still believed that because we were polite and nice, everyone loved us, and our Canadian boys could resolve the differences between warring factions anywhere and everywhere that conflict reigned." As long as this myth prevails there will be powerful opposition to expanding and equipping our forces for a more realistic role, such as war fighting in Afghanistan. Granatstein goes to lengths to expose the unreality of most peacekeeping missions, but goes too far, I think, in dismissing what he sees as the bureaucratic and corrupt UN. Whatever its failings, the UN remains an essential forum, as even Bush seems to have discovered.
Granatstein next addresses what he suggests is a conflict between national values and national interests, and here the core of his thought emerges: Canada's overriding national interest is to be a reliable friend and ally of the United States. This for him is realpolitik, making nonsense of the ideas of two Liberal foreign ministers, Lloyd Axworthy's "soft power" and Bill Graham's "Canadian values"--"preachy squishiness" to Granatstein. We long ago surrendered defence of our territory to the U.S., and "reality for us is that Canada's prosperity depends on our proximity to and trade with the United States." He does not deny there are sound Canadian values, arguing only that they cannot replace hard-nosed national interests. For my part, I question whether values are the same in all parts of Canada--that is to say, that there are national values--and I don't understand how any belief can be valuable if it is not in the national interest. But Granatstein is forthright and worth reading on a squishy subject. Obviously, whoever gets to define values and interests wins the argument.
This leads naturally into his next key issue: getting on with Washington. Here he focuses on what he sees as Canada's endemic anti-Americanism and the stupidity of those in public life who insult Americans. He is right, of course--it is stupid--but I dare to question his view that "anti-Americanism was the founding myth in Canada, and remains the state religion--accepted, tolerated, even encouraged." I would suggest most Canadians are confused about the U.S., admiring, irritated and above all envious. Americans have a better climate, a more productive economy, a popular culture we can't resist, and economic and military power to which we cannot even aspire. We have medicare but--damn it--they are going to have that too, or something very like it, because the inefficiency and injustice of the mess of state and private insurance they now suffer is driving them step by step toward national insurance. Mostly, Canadians can agree to be anti-Bush, but so too can most Americans, and sometimes they have presidents we like better than our prime minister of the day. Sometimes they act like bullies or, worse, ignore us, but when we meet them as individuals they seem okay; and, of course, lots of us have family down there. To be anti-American would be racism--discrimination against a race--and most Canadians, I believe, would indignantly deny being racists. Prejudiced perhaps, but not racists. It does not help when Granatstein and so many others keep telling us it is our destiny to be anti-American.
Having dealt with the land to the south, Granatstein turns north and discusses Arctic sovereignty. With global warming comes the prospect that the northern seas will open to shipping and vast new mineral, oil and gas wealth will be found. Suddenly, it is important to reinforce Canada's claim to sovereignty. Prime Minister Harper exploited the topic in his election campaign last year, making bold promises including a plan to build armed icebreakers to frighten off any foreign power that might have designs on our north. It was never clear on what the icebreakers would fire, or whether they planned to depth-charge U.S. submarines using the Northwest Passage without permission. Liberal governments had made similar promises, but never acted on them. Now Granatstein tells us the Conservatives are backing away from the mighty icebreakers. The fact of the matter, as he points out, is that the U.S. and other countries have never recognized Canada's claim to sovereignty, and it seems pretty obvious that if and when the passage becomes a viable route for shipping, the issue of sovereignty will be settled by international law rather than by blazing guns. However, Granatstein states the case for making Canadian forces more visible in the Arctic as a symbol of sovereignty.
In turning to Quebec, he raises an issue seldom discussed because it is too sensitive. Quebeckers tend to be pacifists in the sense that they are reluctant to approve of military action anywhere anytime. (Granatstein reminds us that Prime Minister Trudeau tried to pull Canada out of NATO but had to settle for cutting by half the number of troops in Europe.) In these times of minority parliaments, parties depend on winning seats in Quebec to be able to form a government, and once in power they are careful not to offend that province's citizens. Granatstein believes it was this that persuaded Prime Minister Jean Chretien to refuse to support Bush's invasion of Iraq, but surely that goes too far. Chretien sent troops to support the U.S. in Afghanistan, although opposition was much stronger in Quebec than in the rest of the country. The difference was that the UN sanctioned an invasion of Afghanistan but not of Iraq. In addition, as a member of NATO, Canada is required to go to the aid of any other member that has been attacked, and it was in Afghanistan that terrorist attacks on the U.S. had been launched. Most European countries felt just as Canada did. On the other hand, Granatstein may be correct in saying it was fear of Quebec voters that kept Canada out of the U.S. plan for ballistic missile defence.
How to reconcile a bigger military and a closer alliance with the U.S., with the need to keep Quebec in Canada? Granatstein believes a strong leader in Ottawa could change opinion in Quebec by showing the people where their true interests lie. He has great hopes that Prime Minister Harper will fill this role, striking a deal, as it were, to give Quebec more room within Canada plus a limited international role in return for acceptance of Ottawa's supremacy in foreign and defence policy. Such unwritten wink-and-nod understandings do not usually last long in politics, but as long as Quebec can unduly influence policy on national security, it remains a serious problem. Quebec is not a province like the others and has its distinct social and cultural priorities. On some such matters, when the constitution allows for shared jurisdiction, Quebec can reasonably speak with a louder voice than the others and receive special attention. Defence policy is not in that category.
The problems with Quebec on foreign affairs are as nothing to the problems with immigrant groups in our multicultural society, says Granatstein. This is his sixth issue to be sorted out if we are to survive in the post-9/11 world. Immigrants have always tried to influence foreign policy: Jews and Ukrainians, for example, not to mention the British. Many more groups are now trying to bend Canadian policy to serve their racial and/or religious purposes overseas. The Middle East, of course, is currently a subject of fierce debate among groups within Canada, partly because the fiction persists that Canada can be a neutral peacemaker in the region. Granatstein reminds us of other instances in which groups have tried to enlist Canadian policy in support of their side in a foreign dispute, and writes:
These things may be right or wrong in and of themselves; some of them unquestionably are right. They ought to be Canadian policy, however, only if they meet the test of Canada's national interests. They are not good foreign policy if they are done merely to win the support of padrones of the ethnic groups who deliver votes during Canadian elections. If we play this game to its logical conclusion, and there is every indication our politicians are eager to do so, it will become increasingly obvious to Canadians and everyone else that multicultural Canada is completely unable to define and act upon its national interests.
It is a fair point, but it raises the question of whether a multicultural, multinational state has dominant national values and interests. Granatstein has no doubts that it does, and adapts a speech by Australian Prime Minister John Howard to proclaim that Canada's dominant cultural pattern comprises Judeo-Christian ethics, the progressive spirit of the enlightenment, and the institutions and values of British political culture. Newcomers are expected to commit to Canada and its laws and values, and to enrich it with their loyalty and patriotism.
There might have been a Canada like that at one time, but does it still exist?
Anthony Westell is a retired journalist and a contributing editor at the LRC.
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|Title Annotation:||Whose War is it? How Canada Can Survive in the Post-9/11 World|
|Publication:||Literary Review of Canada|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||May 1, 2007|
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