The Harper Index

Afghanistan – Harper imitates Bush's cut-and-run, support-the-troops rhetoric

Canadian deaths up ante in patriotic slogan debate.

Harper backed aggressive US military behaviour (photo: PMO)Canada became involved in the NATO occupation of Afghanistan to placate the Americans for not sending troops to Iraq. The nature of Canadian involvement changed radically, however, once Stephen Harper's minority government was elected in January 2006.

Harper has always backed the aggressive military behaviour of the United States. He enthusiastically supported the US invasion of Iraq and complained bitterly when Canada did not send troops there.

"I don't know all the facts on Iraq, but I think we should work closely with the Americans," he told Report Newsmagazine, March 25th 2002. He voted against a motion urging the Canadian government not to participate in the US military intervention in Iraq on March 20, 2003.

On April 4, 2003, he told a Friends of America Rally, "Thank you for saying to our friends in the United States of America, you are our ally, our neighbour and our best friend in the whole wide world. And when your brave men and women give their lives for freedom and democracy we are not neutral. We do not stand on the sidelines; we're for the disarmament of Saddam and the liberation of the people of Iraq."

Most Canadians, however, did not support Canadian involvement in Iraq. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien arranged to send a few troops to relatively safe parts of Afghanistan as a quiet, face-saving endorsement of America without high costs. Later under Prime Minister Paul Martin and Defence Minister Bill Graham, Canadian troops were deployed to more dangerous southern regions on the advice of newly-appointed chief of Canada's land forces Rick Hillier. When the Harper Conservatives won their minority government, things intensified.

Canada rapidly became involved in the same kind of high-stakes, high-risk war-fighting activities as the US. With this new emphasis came casualties. "As Canada's troop casualties in Afghanistan mounted in the summer and fall of 2006, so did the calls for us to stay the course and 'rally behind our troops.'" writes Toronto Starcolumnist Linda McQuaig in her 2007 book Holding the Bully's Coat. "With each new death there were new pledges not to 'cut and run,'" echoing the rhetoric of George W Bush.

McQuaig points out that the war in Afghanistan was an illegal war of aggression at the outset with questionable status today. It was launched without regard for international convention, negotiation attempts made by the Taliban government or the human rights abuses of its Northern Alliance allies. By definition it is illegal. She quotes Canadian international law professor Michael Mandel as saying that Afghan civilian deaths represent "'very serious crimes, in fact supreme international crimes,' because according to international law asserted at the post-World War 2 Nuremburg Trials, 'To initiate a war of aggression... is not only an international crime; it is the supreme international crime... '."

The persecution of women persists as badly as under the Taliban, as confirmed, she reports, by the women of RAWA, the same women's group that resisted the Taliban government. The government is elected but controlled by the US and the warlords, civilians continue to die in large numbers as a result of NATO and Canadian actions, leading to the creation of more insurgents.

"The Harper government claims (among other things) that the fight in Afghanistan is about the establishment of a democratic government that respects human rights, in particular the rights of women. In fact, this fight is not about human rights and never has been," wrote political scientist James Laxer in Straight Goods in February 2007.

"The Taliban and Al Qaeda grew out of the earlier struggles of the Mujahideen from the 1970s to the 1990s to overturn the pro-Soviet regime that was kept in power by Soviet troops. The United States provided enormous financial aid and direction to the Mujahideen, knowing that they were virulently opposed to the rights of women. Now the US and its NATO allies are fighting the political forces Washington helped create.

"While the human rights record of the Taliban government was atrocious... we must never forget that the US played a large role in creating the Taliban. Moreover, the Northern Alliance and other allies of the US in the struggle to overturn the Taliban government have been guilty of major human rights abuses including rape, public executions, bombing of civilians and the massacre of prisoners."

Stephen Harper casts Canada's role in a heroic light. "There are too many unsung heroes in Afghanistan.... helping the Afghan people reclaim and rebuild their war-ravaged country," Harper told a large "red Friday" rally in Petawawa, Ontario, May 11. He made the surprise visit along with Chief of Defence Staff Gen Rick Hillier and Defence Minister Gordon O'Connor.

Harper said that criticism over Canada handing detainees over for torture have diverted public attention from the "positive stories."

"They did not get the attention they deserve because their stories were eclipsed by arguments in the House of Commons over the allegations of Taliban prisoners," Harper said. His words came close to implying that raising human rights concerns and international law is disloyal to troops in the field.

To quell public criticism of the Afghanistan mission, Conservatives have relied on the motto "support our troops." "There will be some who want to cut and run, but cutting and running is not my way and it's not the Canadian way," Harper told a rally of troops in March, 2007.

Even those who oppose the war risk encouraging its support when they use the phrase, which is intended to invoke patriotic emotions.

Related individuals, organizations and significant events
"Support Our Troops" frames war as loyalty

Harper Conservative vs. Public Values Frame
  Support our troops / Illegal war, aggression, quagmire
  Cut and run / Peacekeeping
  Fighting for humanitarian goals / Diplomacy

Links and sources
  Linda McQuaig, Holding the Bully's Coat, Doubleday Canada, 2007
  Linda McQuaig, Being pushy, February 2006
  James Laxer, Mission of folly: Why Canada should bring its troops home from Afghanistan, February 2007
  Canada committed to Afghan mission, Harper tells troops, CBC News, March 2006
  Eugene Lang, We Never Discussed the Real Afghan Option, Globe and Mail, May 2006

Posted: May 15, 2007

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