Americas

Canada at War: Dr. Jekyll Becomes Mr. Hyde

A member of Recon Platoon, 1st Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry, keeps watch for trouble during a long range patrol in northern Kandahar in April. (Photo: John D. McHugh / AFP-Getty Images)

Canada's foreign policy has taken an abrupt, almost head spinning right turn. But that is not news to anyone in the "true north strong and free" as the national anthem goes. What is news to the world is how the country has morphed from a peace-loving nation with a history of rejecting anything to do with warfare into a militaristic "middle power" marching in lock step to Washington's drumbeat. It seems an almost overnight transformation from Dr. Jekyll to Mr. Hyde to those of us who have viewed this change with abhorrence and deep dismay. Once known as an "honest broker" that steadfastly denounced and at times even derided the use of force in the world almost as if it were beneath the country's dignity to resort to violence and long considered a peacemaker, Canada is now a warrior nation in the best traditions of military campaigns.

How did this come about? Ottawa in the past resorted to influencing policy by being "nice" through the injection of a massive amount of foreign aid cash into the persistently troublesome zones of Africa, the Middle East, and Asia. It worked within the U.N. to get "negotiated settlements" in place to solve intractable conflicts. To every hockey lover's delight, the art or nasty business of war was safely confined to the scholars of Clausewitz at the Kingston, Ontario, military college and was practiced on the ice, not on the battlefield. So it was but is no longer.

Recently Canada has adopted an increasingly interventionist and bellicose profile worldwide. This became increasingly noticeable both at home and abroad in the post-9/11 era. One sign of this was the almost opaque and dissimulated manner by which its leadership — first the Liberals and now the governing Conservatives — entangled Canadians unwittingly into this foreign quagmire. Without an open and public debate about its war role in Afghanistan, the country began to send over its boys (who seemed spoiling for a real fight) to "wipe out" poppy-growing, women-enslaving, and Buddha-statue-destroying barbarians. This was supposedly done at NATO's request. But whether Ottawa offered to go to war with its Western partners or was prodded to do so by its American ally is a moot point now that the body bags are piling up. Canada is now up to its eyeballs inside the war zone and there seems no way out of the bog.

Whatever the outcry may be over the mounting Canadian casualties in the war one thing is sure: Prime Minister Stephen Harper has not been penny pinching and has not spared any expense when it comes to the most monumental struggle of our times known as "the war on terror." To get the army the tools it needs to get the job done, this summer the Harper government announced a huge increase in arms spending. The shopping spree price tag stands at a trifling $17 billion and counting. Which is hardly small change for a state that has traditionally had one of the smallest military budgets for a NATO member state.

In terms of manpower, Ottawa has sent over 2,000 troops to "weed out" the Taliban fighters and other terrorists in the south of the war-torn warlord-run nation. Officially, the Canadians are there as "peacekeepers" ensconced or embedded in the bosom of the U.S.-led Western military pact as part of a NATO mission. To the dismay of pacifists from coast to coast, Canada has had to engage with its other "coalition partners" in an all out and rather unseemly offensive and very deadly campaign against the fanatically driven Taliban fighters.

Over the past week, ominously baptized "Operation Medusa" has resulted in five dead Canadian soldiers and still counting. One of fallen was the victim of "friendly fire," shot by a fellow coalition soldier. Images of their soldiers' coffins sliding into military cargo planes draped in red and now blood stained maple leaves have dismayed the inhabitants of this peaceful land. These loses have added to the highest body count which Canada has suffered since the Korean War.

During the Cold War, Canada kept a low profile within NATO preferring to earn a reputation as the world's trusted and credible referee among warring opponents at the U.N. That role seems outdated today when one looks at Canadian military operations in Afghanistan. The imagery associated with the white Canadian blue helmeted dove — coming to the rescue during the Suez crisis, sending troops to a divided Cyprus as part of a U.N.-mandated mission — seems long gone these days. Canada's peacemaking credentials have been badly discredited due to its NATO-run attacks in Afghanistan. This fact has been made clear by the opposition New Democratic Party whose leader has called on Canadians to pull out right away. The well-intentioned yet somewhat quixotic mission is justified as bringing democracy to the country. Yet its critics charge it is propping up a crumbling and corrupt puppet regime unable to deliver on its development promises to its people.

View the Worldpress Desk’s profile for Michael Werbowski.

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