Summary: Yves Engler outlines the reality of Canadian Imperialism in the world and the Canadian left’s reluctance to accept it as reality.
As hard as it is to admit for a former junior hockey player who spends many hours writing at the neighbourhood Tim Hortons, some things are better in the USA.
For example, comparing Green Party leader Elizabeth May to her American counterpart Jill Stein on foreign-policy issues puts Canada to shame. While Stein has articulated forthright criticism on various international issues, May spouts nationalist platitudes as often as she challenges unjust policies.
Recently, Stein endorsed the Palestinian boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel, called for Washington and Moscow to work together and said, “US pursuit of regime change in Libya, Iraq, and Syria created the chaos that promotes power grabs by extremist militias. Many of the weapons we are sending into Syria to arm anti-government militias are winding up in the hands of ISIS. This isn’t a clever foreign policy — it’s disastrous militarism.”
For her part, May spent last weekend undermining her party’s internal democracy to protect the explicitly racist Jewish National Fund and Israel from censure. At their convention in Ottawa May and most of the Green leadership succeeded in eliminating any mention of the JNF in a resolution, which was rewritten from targeting that institution to call on the Canada Revenue Agency to revoke the status of all charities engaged in international human rights violations. Fortunately, the party leadership failed to block a resolution endorsing BDS in what is probably the single most significant pro-Palestinian victory in Canadian history.
While the Green members who bucked the party leadership to support the JNF and BDS resolutions deserve to be congratulated, the anti-Palestinian, right-wing Israeli nationalist groups who terrorized May in the lead-up to the convention raised an important, if disingenuous, point: Why were there only two resolutions dealing with foreign-policy at the convention? Why didn’t the Greens debate Canadian mining companies’ abuses abroad, special forces in Iraq/Syria, international tar sands promotion, troops on the Russian border, among numerous other important international issues?
The Green’s 2015 federal election foreign-policy platform paper was peppered with nationalist platitudes. It said “Canada is fundamentally a peaceful country” and “defender of human rights.” In laying out the party’s 2015 election position in Esprit de Corps magazine May wrote, “the world needs more Canada” and argued, “we should also support the United Nations’ ‘responsibility to protect’ (R2P) doctrine”, which was used to justify bombing Libya in 2011 and ousting Haiti’s elected government in 2004.
May backed the Conservative government’s National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $30-$40 billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades. But the naval upgrade will strengthen Canadian officials’ capacity to bully weaker countries. The 2000 book Canadian Gunboat Diplomacy details the navy’s extensive history of flexing its muscles, including dozens of interventions in the Caribbean and pressuring Costa Rica to repay money the Royal Bank loaned to an unpopular dictator. And it’s not just history; over the past 25 years the Canadian Navy has played an increasing pro-imperial role in the Middle East and off parts of Africa.
May and Green Party policy statements have also mythologized Canadian foreign policy, citing Lester Pearson as some sort of hero. May claimed “a Green Party approach to international issues will return Canada to the values of Lester B. Pearson.” But, as I detail in Lester Pearson’s Peacekeeping: The Truth May Hurt, the former external minister and prime minister was an ardent cold warrior, who played a part in dispossessing Palestinians, creating NATO and helping the US wage war in Vietnam and Korea.
Of course, the problem runs deeper than May or the Green Party. Much of the Canadian ‘left’ is highly nationalistic, wedded to both the idea this country is a US “dependency” and international “peacekeeper”.
While far from what’s needed, internationalist minded Americans have helped expose US imperialism. Progressive people in this country have largely failed to do the same with Canadian imperialism. In fact, left-wing Canadian academics have probably written more books and articles criticizing US foreign policy than Canada’s.
Certainly the US left has built more of an infrastructure/culture willing to genuinely challenge US foreign policy. A number of prominent academics are highly critical of US foreign policy and left-wing US media outlets such as CounterPunch, Z, Dissident Voice, Common Dreams, etc. shun foreign-policy apologetics.
In Canada the most prominent ‘left-wing’ foreign-policy think tank is led by Peggy Mason who was a key adviser to Conservative foreign minister Joe Clark in the late 1980s and has held numerous diplomatic postings and UN positions since. During a 2012 National Defence Committee parliamentary meeting on NATO the head of the Rideau Institute noted, “I’m talking as someone who has spent the better part of the last 10 years working with NATO.” Mason trained NATO commanders for peace and crisis stabilization operations and boasted she trained the general Charles Bouchard, who led the 2011 NATO bombing of Libya, which the Rideau Institute head described as a “very important mission.”
The Rideau Institute’s lead collaborator/advisor is an employee of the Canadian Forces who aggressively supportedCanada’s worst foreign-policy crime of the first decade of the 21st century (the coup in Haiti). Walter Dorn’s Rideau Institute reports are usually co-published by Canada’s leading left think tank, the Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. While the CCPA Monitor publishes some articles critical of Canadian foreign policy, its international affairs reports, which receive the bulk of resources, do not offer serious criticism. A number of recent reports have called for adjustments to military priorities while accepting the broad outlines of Canadian militarism. In February they co-published Unprepared for Peace?: The decline of Canadian peacekeeping training (and what to do about it). On the cover of the report a white Canadian soldier, with a massive M-16 strapped around his shoulder, is bent over to hold the hand of a young black boy. In the background are Canadian and UN colours. A call for the Canadian Forces to offer its members more peacekeeping training,Unprepared for peace? is premised on the erroneous notion that UN missions are by definition socially useful and it repeatedly implies that Canada’s most significant recent contribution to a UN mission — the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH) — was an operation we should be proud of.
Last year the CCPA and Rideau Institute co-published Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada’s Military, which introduces the issue this way: “When the Harper government came to power in 2006, it pledged to rebuild Canada’s military. But for nine long years, it has failed to deliver on most of its promises, from new armoured trucks and supply ships to fighter jets and search-and-rescue planes.” Author Michael Byers peppers the report with various militarist claims. Canada “faces challenges at home and abroad that require a well-equipped and capable military,” he writes. At another point he says “the Canadian Army cannot deploy large numbers of troops overseas because of a shortage of armoured trucks.” In other words, let’s improve Canada’s military capacity.
While mostly providing a counterpoint to the dominant media, Rabble also publishes some blatantly establishment foreign-policy pieces. It regularly runs Gerald Caplan’s apologetics for the US–Britain–Canada backed Paul Kagame, Africa’s most bloodstained dictator. In late 2015 Rabble ran interviews by CCPA research affiliate Christopher Majka of Libyan, Syrian and Russian invitees to the Halifax International Security Forum, which is sponsored by NATO, the Department of National Defence and various arms firms.
Last week Rabble published a blog by Penney Kome, former editor of the now defunct left website Straight Goods, claiming Donald Trump is soft on Russia. She wrote: “Three of Trump’s top aids have extensive Russian connections, (Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, and Carter Page) and Trump’s policies — such as they are — are strongly pro-Russian. It’s only fair to wonder what his Russophillia means for NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and for former Soviet Union countries that Vladimir Putin may still want to annex, such as Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia.” Kome’s piece comes a few weeks after Ottawa announced it would send 450 troops and armoured vehicles to Latvia to be permanently stationed on Russia’s border.
During his campaign to win the Democratic Party nomination Bernie Sanders, who largely avoided foreign-policy before endorsing a hawk for president, at least criticized Washington’s role in overthrowing Jacobo Arbenz in Guatemala, Mohammed Mossadegh in Iran, Salvador Allende in Chile as well as the US war in Indochina. It made me wonder if a leading Canadian politician had ever criticized a past foreign policy.
It’s hard to imagine an NDP leader saying, “we shouldn’t blindly follow Washington’s war aims since that led Lester Pearson’s government to deliver US bombing threats to North Vietnam in violation of international law.” Or, “as we evaluate our support for this UN mission let’s not forget the blow Canadian peacekeepers delivered to central Africa when they helped undermine Congolese independence leader Patrice Lumumba.”
Further reading: Canada’s Role in the Assassination of Patrice Lumumba
It’s as if there’s a sign hanging in Parliament that says: “foreign policy mythologizers only.” A maxim Elizabeth May seems to have embraced, to the shame of all Canadians who really do want this country to be a force for good in the world.
About Yves Engler