Saturday, August 25, 2007

Bring them home

According to Yahoo News this morning, the family of Christian Duchesne issued a statement in which they said, “We encourage Canadians and Quebecers to continue supporting our soldiers, if only by putting a “Support our Troops” sticker on their vehicles. In our eyes, the best way to honour Christian's memory is to continue the mission with confidence and determination.” Christian Duchesne, 34, of the 5th Field Ambulance, died Wednesday when the vehicle in which he was riding was struck by what was apparently an improvised explosive devise as Canadian troops were driving the Taliban off a strategic hill west of Kandahar.

For those who oppose the war, such pleas from the families of the slain, while fully understandable, are frustrating. I can understand why the death of a young father, husband and son in the performance of his chosen career would raise such strong sentiments. Anything less would constitute acquiescence to the notion that soldiers’ deaths in Afghanistan serve no purpose, and possibly that their putting themselves in danger voluntarily was the consequence of misguided fervour, like a person dying while hang gliding. We honour such deaths (hang gliding, mountain climbing, etc.) by saying that “they died doing what they loved to do, and they knew the risks,” putting aside the fact that responsibilities to family and community were put aside in a selfish pursuit of a private obsession; to do otherwise would hurt too much. Is soldiering like this? I sometimes wonder.

Recently, George W. Bush compared the effort in Iraq to the American involvement in Vietnam, saying that the withdrawal of American troops there left that country to chaos and death, and—I think he said—genocide. Historians quoted on the news said that it was the American involvement in Vietnam in the first place that paved the way for the chaos and bloodshed. We all know the end of that story, of course. The deaths of all those American soldiers was “in vain;” they accomplished nothing of value, and the returning soldiers were not honoured by their fellow citizens, they were neglected, even vilified.

The very concept of making and using machinery designed to kill other people is an abomination. We have to keep reiterating that. War happens because we make and use weapons; the more deadly the weapons, the more deadly the war. Imagine removing all explosives, guns, knives, bombs, land mines, tanks, armoured troop carriers, etc. from Afghanistan. The civil war there (and in Iraq, Darfur, Palestine, I might add) would be over and the boys would be coming home. Conversely, if we sold deadly weapons to high school students, there would be wars raging room to room before the first recess bell. If we armed everyone in a mall, the bargain hunters would shoot at each other over the counters. That old saw of the simplistic thinkers, “guns don’t kill people, people kill people,” needs to be rewritten. “Guns introduce us to the idea that we can solve our disputes in an easy and permanent manner, and then provide us with the means to follow our imaginations down the road to war, and ultimately, chaos.”

Nobody knows the end of the Afghanistan story yet. We’re at the stage now where our leadership is saying that withdrawal will definitely mean failure, and continuing guarantees nothing except hope. The fact remains that we are in a foreign country with guns, and that can be a recipe for disappointment. If I put a sticker on my car, it will read, “Bring them home.”

One thing is certain: Afghanistan’s future is in Afghani’s hands. No matter how hard we try to remake that country, the people who are at home there will determine their own direction in the end. They may as well get on with it.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Summit meetings, conspiracy theories and the public’s right to know.

Summit meetings, conspiracy theories and the public’s right to know.

On Tuesday, Aug. 21 2007, Stephen Harper, George W. Bush and Felipe Calderon of Mexico wrapped up a series of discussions at Montebello, Quebec. (CTV news carried the story at The meeting took place under the aegis of the Security and Prosperity Partnership (SPP), a trilateral dialogue initiative under which the three North American countries are supposedly finding ways to harmonize everything from border security to the piracy of intellectual property. In this round of talks, Harper and his guests claimed to reach an understanding on a number of matters including the strategy for preventing and/or responding to a viral pandemic, a joint defense against unsafe imports like Chinese toys and toothpaste, and an agreement to disagree on whether the water between Canada’s Arctic islands is international or is Canadian territory.

The summit concluded with a meeting with the North American Competitiveness Council to discuss ways to harmonize trade practices in order to enhance profitability and competitiveness for North American corporations.

Peter Julian, international trade critic for the NDP, is skeptical about the goals of the SPP, as is the Council of Canadians. Julian is quoted in the CTV story as saying: “The NDP was able to obtain a meeting summary—through a freedom of information request—from a meeting that was held last February with the SPP ministers. Very clearly that document refers to a very deep agenda, a very wide-ranging agenda. And it's an agenda that has, front and centre, the objectives of the North American Competitiveness Council—a group of about 30 un-appointed, unelected company CEOs, who are pushing forward the agendas of their companies.”

Here in Canada, we tend to be skeptical about the Americans’ intentions much of the time. We remember the softwood lumber debacle, the furor over the Canadian Wheat Board and other incidents that seem to show that the USA chooses to exercise “free trade” only as long as it favours them, and unilaterally imposes tariffs whenever Canada or Mexico appear to be gaining a greater slice of the North American market. George Bush conceded in a news conference after the summit that “The United States does not question Canada’s sovereignty of Arctic islands, and the United States supports Canadian investments used to exercise its sovereignty,” meanwhile maintaining that the Northwest Passage is international waters. What’s up with that? I suspect that future access to oil exploration and exploitation may lie at the bottom of that, but then I’m just a skeptical Canadian. (Canadian sovereignty over the islands serves to simplify that future for the USA by cutting out any intrusion from Denmark, Russia or any other claimants, making the exploitation of the North a monopoly of the North American triumvirate.)

The NDP is right in insisting that the discussions of the SPP must be open to the publics of the involved countries. They are also right in maintaining that having the North American Competitiveness Council as the only dialogue partner at such summit meetings is scary, and fosters skepticism.

Stephen Harper vigorously pooh-poohed the alarms raised by Maude Barlow of the Council of Canadians and the NDP international trade critic. He led us to believe that the discussions with the North American Competitiveness Council were nothing more than an attempt to facilitate better movement of jelly beans, for instance, and George Bush iterated that criticism of the SPP was borne out of the imaginations of people who deal in conspiracy theories as their modus operandi.

My feeling is that Harper, Bush and Calderon are way too naïve to be throwing any criticism at their critics, certainly not of the sarcastic kind that Harper did at the news conference. The North American economy is being driven by corporate interests. I’m pretty sure, for instance, that the proposed massive arms deals with Saudi Arabia and Israel are much less about security than they are about the arms lobby’s pressing for government-sanctioned sales. And only the really naïve believe that oil companies had nothing to do with the decision to invade Iraq.

Conspiracy theories? Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t prove that no one is following me.