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August 26, 2009

Why is Canada fighting in Afghanistan?

Dr. Peter Eglin

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Why is Canada fighting?

Peter EglinWhy is Canada fighting? To build a stable society based on the rule of the law that will join the community of nations and not give shelter to terrorists who threaten the West’s security (Editorial, Globe and Mail, February 2, 2008, p.A22).

Terms such as “stable society,” “rule of law,” “community of nations,” “terrorists” and “Western security” are some of the buzzwords one finds in mainstream political discourse about “Canada’s” purpose in “Afghanistan.”

Other related expressions include “development,” “developed societies,” economic “take-off,” “democratization” and “societies like ours” (meaning peaceful, orderly and well-governed).

However, there is a problem with such talk, irrespective of how well intentioned or sincere its utterers.

The wording comprising this ideological construction of “us” versus “them” conceals the roots and nature of the phenomena they intend to describe, including the origin and nature of societies like “ours.” (In this discourse the names of the countries themselves are ideological representations that mask the identities of the actors and interests involved.)

Put simply, Canada is assumed to have been an exceptional country: born in, and maintained by, non-violence in its pursuit of peace, order and good government.

In this context, it is difficult to associate violence in pursuit of wealth and power with what “Canada” brings to “Afghanistan.”

Yet, it is precisely what “we” are doing there. (I won’t continue to use scare quotes for the words so marked above, but you may assume they are there.)

What does the Manley Report on Afghanistan say? Provided we get the weapons and people to wage a bigger war, we are prepared to occupy Afghanistan indefinitely.

The solution to a losing war is more war.

Nonetheless, it is said, we will eventually move away from the aggressive war component of our triple-D “mission” to focus more on providing defensive security and doing redevelopment work.

Nobody should doubt for a second that our mission is entirely justified (if currently ineffective), and in keeping with our values and traditions. The UN and NATO have blessed us, the Afghan government wants us, and the Afghan people need us, especially women and those girls going to school.

We are good. Our mission is noble. Peace and security, democracy, human rights, economic and social development - these are our goals.

It almost seems unpatriotic to criticize any of this, unseemly to question its assumptions. The clue to this argument’s clay feet is in how United-States American it sounds.

The government of our neighbours to the South and their fawning intellectual acolytes, including a slew of media commentators and academics here, have - forever it seems - represented their foreign interventions as motivated by the best of intentions (including self-defence), if sometimes clumsily or heavy-handedly or ineffectively carried out.

Being defined as fundamentally good, no amount of such altruism is too much. Thus, just as the US “War on Terror” is slated to go on indefinitely (even if the term itself is dropped), so we will stay in Afghanistan indefinitely.

Canada is dressing itself in the shining robes of US beneficence. The light they reflect is so dazzling one can hardly see.

For many years I have been struck by a particular contradiction in the views of many otherwise tough-minded realist exponents and analysts of the harsh, cynical world of international relations.

These individuals universally write off the critiques of leftist intellectuals, accusing them of indulging romantic, utopian fantasies about human nature and society. Yet, they go all soft and mushy themselves when it comes to articulating US, and more broadly Western, global intentions.

Whereas “their” (communist, nationalist, Islamic) interests, values and intentions are always malign, “ours” (American, British, Western) are always noble.

Canada’s national voice never quite fit this mould (though our actions usually did). Now we are fitting right in.

So what’s wrong with the Harper-Manley, conservative-liberal stance on Afghanistan?

Let me mention the unmentionables - imperialism, colonialism, and ruling class self-interest.

Consider why it is that our soldiers are in Afghanistan and not Darfur (300,000 dead) or the Congo (4 million dead) or in the reserves of aboriginal First Nations in Canada, home to “death, disease and despair.”

As Christie Blatchford wrote in the Globe and Mail (Saturday, March 15, 2008, A2), Afghanistan is “a country bedevilled by many of the same problems that plague so many Canadian reserves – poverty, unemployment, drugs, incompetent governance, lack of education and even harsh geography.”

 I would put it to you that the US government and the capitalist class it serves (George Bush II – “you are my base”) have little or no immediate interest in the people and places mentioned, and therefore the Canadian government and the ruling class it serves have none either, and that’s because the first interest of the Canadian government is to serve its ruling class, including allying itself with US foreign policy in a subaltern role.

In short, Canada is in Afghanistan because of two reasons. (a) The US wants us there - as Michael Mandel, Lawrence Martin in the Globe and Mail (April 6, 2006, A21), Brian Stewart “inside the mission” on CBC-TV’s The National (October 11, 2007) and Global TV (“Revealed: the path to war,” March 11, 2008) have said, the latter two based on Janice Gross Stein and Eugene Lang’s The Unexpected War  (Viking Canada, 2007). (b) The second reason is that our military and our capitalists – the Canadian Council of Corporate Executives – want to please the US as part of their continentalist strategy, as Maude Barlow and Michael Byers, among others, have written.

So then what does the US want in Afghanistan?

US imperial goals were set out following the end of the Cold War in Paul Wolfowitz’s draft “Defence Planning Guidance” of 1992. They were reiterated in subsequent documents of the Project for a New American Century and endorsed as US foreign policy in George Bush’s National Defence Strategy of 2002 following 9/11.

As reported by, among others, Noam Chomsky, Linda McQuaig, Gwynne Dyer and Michel Chossudovsky, the imperial CEO is bent on preventing the emergence of any rival superpower by controlling the Middle East and Central Asian oil and gas supply to its competitors China and Europe, while exacting obedience from the lesser orders by punishing anyone who as much as frowns in defiance of their assigned place.

Thus follows the punishment meted out to Afghanistan and Iraq (with or without Israeli lobby influence), the building of military bases in both countries and the attempted takeover of the Iraqi economy, as Naomi Klein and, more recently, Linda McQuaig have shown. John Foster’s “A Pipeline Through a Troubled Land: Afghanistan, Canada, and the New Great Energy Game” published online by the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives in their Foreign Policy Series in June 2008 is absolutely essential reading on this topic.

Canada’s job is to go along, please Uncle Sam, do some of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan, put a human face on the killing of a few thousand or more Afghan civilians and bring the virtues of peace, order and good government to the benighted colonials.

“Our” reward is profits for corporate executives from deeper “integration” with the US economy as, for example, in $660 million in contracts to Boeing and Lockheed Martin for aircraft for the Canadian forces to be built in Quebec, part of a larger $3.4 billion deal, as reported by the CBC in January 2008.

Benefits are already flowing to one Canadian university in the form of a $2 million donation to Dalhousie from Lockheed Martin.

We should not be surprised by any of this. As Tom Naylor has so brilliantly shown in his Canada in the European Age, 1453-1919 (McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2nd ed, 2006), Canada is “a country that from the beginning of European penetration had been caught up in extensive international political and economic networks that powerfully shaped its development. For instance, from early times Dutch and Russian entrepreneurs had been involved in the felting of beaver fur for Paris hatters” (from Bruce Trigger’s “Introduction,” p. xiii).

More relevantly, Prime Minister John A. Macdonald declared at the state’s beginning that for Canada, “Independence is a farce. Canada must belong either to the British system or the American one.” He continued, “If we had to make the choice between independence and annexation, I would rather that we should have annexation and join with the United States at once.” By 1896 both Tory and Liberal party platforms were essentially the same  – closer imperial trade ties and tariff protection (Naylor, p. 373). The rest, as they say, is history.

This article is slightly modified from Development Forum 1.1 (Spring 2008), pp. 8-9.

Dr. Peter Eglin is with the Department of Sociology, Wilfrid Laurier University.

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Reg: Why is Canada fighting in Afghanistan?

  By Dr. Peter Eglin

Thank you for an excellent article and for giving us permission to translate the same:

http://alternativalatinoamericana.com/HtmlFiles/Sep09/sept09-7.html

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