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Canadian Crossroads at the Invasion of Iraq

By Norman Madarasz
International relations/economy


As a committed member of the United Nations Organization, Canada opposed the unilateral decision taken by the US and England to invade Iraq. How have the terms of its lengthy relationship with the US been affected by this internationalist stance?

The information age has made the USA every country’s neighbor. With foreign military bases gripping the planet like ants on a sugar cube, the US President is a ruler whose decision-making now literally has implications for most sovereign peoples.

At an earlier time, when communication was not computed in gigas and traveling was confluent with spatial distance, only a handful of countries could lay claim to literally being a neighbor of the US. Canada was one of them. In the words of Canada’s former Prime Minister, the late Pierre Trudeau, this privilege was “in some ways like sleeping with an elephant.” 

Shared Origins, Sovereign Progression

The modern origins of both Canada and the US go back to shared geopolitical events wrought by England in the 18th century. Ever since the flight north of the “Loyalists” during the American Revolution, Canada has seen few periods, bar Vietnam, when large groups of Americans headed north to settle within its wintry landscapes. NAFTA seemed to permanently shift the tide southward. Throughout the nineties, thousands of qualified professionals and technicians drifted into the American palisade of a stronger currency with higher salaries and lower taxes. 

Why are more Americans contemplating a move north?

Today the American flag flies high on house fronts and car hoods from Kansas City to Buffalo. American airport designs have stifled silent reading spots by force feeding confused travelers with CNN’s message of terror on scattered small screens or a few choice massive ones. The corporate media’s stake in the propaganda is to prove within a photographic cliché that Americans stand united behind their president and government. So then why are more and more Americans contemplating a move north?

Such was the inquiry provided by the Associate Press in “Discontent Americans Consider Canada” (July 19, 2003). It spotlighted a handful of American families openly discussing what it is about Canadian life that has drawn them to leave ol’ Dixie. As a couple from Minnesota put it, “the United States is growing too conservative and (we) believe Canada offers a more inclusive, less selfish society.”

The article is a rare breed, one that objectively stresses the distinctive features between the two countries. “For decades, even while nurturing close ties with the United States, Canadians have often chosen a different path — establishing universal health care, maintaining ties with Cuba, imposing tough gun control laws.” Unbeknownst to most Americans is that Canada also topped the UN’s Human Development “Best Country to Live In” Index throughout the nineties. 

“…closer to American ideals than America is.”

Many more, by contrast, are familiar with the idyllic description of a gun and violence free land given by filmmaker Michael Moore in Bowling for Columbine. To further the differences, the Canadian government has also undermined another American way of life. Its decision to decriminalize marijuana is a blow to Bush the elder’s wasteful “War on Drugs,” whose only result has been to increase the street value of cocaine and spill blood for trade in a way not seen since Britain’s Opium Wars on China. In the meantime, the War on Drugs has morphed entire tropical economies into becoming narcotic producers for the northern well-off.

Finally, Canadian initiatives to legalize same-sex marriage leads many Americans, such as a gay executive from New York completing the Associated Press survey, to single out the symbol Canada represents for the future. “Canada has an opportunity to define itself as a leader. In some ways, it’s now closer to American ideals than America is.” 

The Average American Has Spoken 

Canada has not unilaterally threatened another country with warfare since it was founded.

This message is far from being a generalized one in the US, let alone one that is widely accepted. Yet even the most contrarian of Canadians has been watchful over the way the US retracts on its stance against war, for peace and with the UN.

On May 30 at the G7 Evian summit, Condoleezza Rice, reputed to be one of Bush’s closest advisors, twisted this scrutiny into repulsion when confirming that the US will hold a grudge against Canada. With an estimated $2 billion flowing in cross border trade with 200 million border crossings a year over what was once “the longest unprotected border in the world,” the Canadian business community coiled in anguish.

On the sentimental tone akin to Steven Spielberg films, Ms. Rice reminisced on how “there was disappointment that a friend like Canada was unable to support the United States in what [they] considered to be an extremely important issue for [their] security.” Her delivery through emotional blackmail was not out of character with the recent shift in function of the US embassy in Canada. One of the major instructions for an American ambassador used to be to pressure the Canadian government to increase its military-industrial spending. 

Breaking with precedence, the current ambassador, Paul Cerrutti, chose to intervene directly into Canada’s affairs. In an address to the Economic Club of Toronto on March 23, he almost single-handedly triggered the country’s ire by pleading that the US would do anything to save Canada in the event the latter were attacked or invaded. As one astute writer, Silver Donald Cameron, rebutted: “Yours is the only country that has ever invaded ours, and it would do so again in a wink if it thought its interests were seriously threatened.”

Neither Cerrutti nor former State department spokesman Ari Fleischer understands that Canada has not unilaterally threatened another country with warfare since it was founded, save for the internal affair of its brutal crushing of the Metis nation. In the American view, this has little bearing on the force required to secure Middle East oil, help client states suppress popular revolts or the carte-blanche given to Israel in its campaign to terrorize the Palestinians into abandoning their ancestral lands.

Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien

As the American war drum beat ever louder, Canadian media reported insults flying across the border. Late in 2002, Françoise Ducros, one of Chrétien’s top aides, referred to the American President as “a moron.” When Canada refused to endorse Bush’s plan, the latter was said to be “furious.” In reference to the ideological mud being stirred on American television, a Canadian Member of Parliament labeled Americans as “idiots.” to which Pentagon strongman Richard Perle, beset by conflict of interest and illegal arms dealing allegations, did not miss the opportunity to taint Prime Minister Chrétien as a “lame duck.” 

Notwithstanding the hoopla, Canada’s one-upmanship fared much better than in the days when its leaders openly criticized the American attacks of South and North Vietnam and the not-so-secret bombings of Cambodia. At the outset of Vietnam, it had landed then-Prime Minister Lester Pearson with a hillbilly’s clutch. In 1965 the Prime Minister was invited by President Lyndon Johnson to Camp David where the latter reportedly lectured him furiously for half an hour for having spoken out against the mounting war. Johnson then grabbed Pearson by the lapel in the presence of his aids, yelling in his face: “YOU’VE PISSED ON MY RUG!” 

Cultural Make Over 

Canadian media was unduly cautious about airing voices of dissent regarding the US.

Despite large anti-war protests in Toronto and Montreal, the Canadian media was unduly cautious about airing voices of dissent regarding the US and Canada’s military partnership with it. Corporate censors in Canada have been tightening up free political opinion and criticism barely a tad less than they have south of the border. As for harboring co-existing alternate versions of history, Canadians can thank their public English and French radio/television networks. These are the same networks that the Bushes’ man in Ottawa, former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, did his best to dismantle through unprecedented cuts to its operating budget in the 1980s. 

As a result, and much to the displeasure of what neo-conservative pundits proclaim about the “pure market” strengths of the private media, Canadians are not about to swallow a single view of history. Countering the so-called “ethics” of American journalism, that is, the neutralizing tactic of simultaneously exposing pros and cons to major issues, Canadians are given these histories in their full version. They then co-exist as separate, conflicting truths, circulating freely amongst minds that argue, just as truth does when initiating its global path. Canada’s split histories only further a point recently made by Italian historian Carlo Ginzburg: “Historical writing should aspire to be democratic, by which I mean that it should be possible to check our statements from without, and that the reader be a party not only to the conclusions arrived at but also to the process that led to them.”

The dominant mentality in Washington DC, voiced earlier this month by Paul Wolfowitz on PBS’s Charlie Rose, is that only a limited few know the truth, and that only they should know the truth. This is an ideal that Iraqis may object to regarding what they wish to inform Americans most about. As Norman Mailer recently put it, “So the Iraqi Shiites may look upon the graves that we congratulate ourselves for having liberated as sepulchral voices calling out from their tombs – asking us to take a share of the blame.” 

Careful instruction given by a public administration regarding how history is to be read harbors the power to avail a population from blindly following the dictates of patriotism. Transposed to overlapping “multicultural” histories, hardly any satisfaction is provided to those in Canada deriding its lack of national identity. Yet regarding nationhood, the fact is that, comparably, the historical American dream has turned into an American delirium regarding its place in history. If Americans were prevented from such reflection through the incessant corporate media erosion of opposition politics, Canadians nearly tore themselves to shreds in the weeks leading up to the Iraq invasion in defending what is right against what is might.

In Canada there have always been those who dream of nothing else than becoming American.

So, it is fair to say that different voices in Canada have expressed conflicting opinions on the assault and occupation. On the political level, there are as many groups within Canada enamored of the US as there are those who remain cautious or suspicious. After all, with or without NAFTA many Canadian professionals have become successful south of the border. An array of Canadian artists has embraced the American way of life. What is more, a Canadian journalist turned presidential scriptwriter even boasts of coining the “axis of evil” catch-phrase. 

In Canada there have always been those who dream of nothing else than becoming American. Were they halted in that fancy; their obsession would be to make their country as similar to the US as possible. Given that Canada consists primarily of an immigrant population which was not given the luxury of entering into a homogeneously composed land, it is hardly surprising that many landed-immigrants and first generation Canadians look longingly to the US as a model of national unity. This is not to claim that they themselves are ready to be slotted among America’s ethnic divides. Then again, the Nation does tend to repair all ills. 

The decision of Canada’s federal government to oppose the invasion even sparked protests in favor of the US in the provinces of Alberta and Ontario. Alberta is home to the rightwing Canadian Alliance party, a recently formed federal organization with undeniable regionalist leanings, and is now the official opposition to Chrétien’s cabinet. On Monday, March 31, The Globe and Mail reported Albertans as claiming the archetypical reason for supporting the US was reparation for always “wanting the shade from the tree [without being] willing to do anything to keep that tree strong.” When a large mobile edifice blocks your view from light, some prefer the sun.

Canadian philosopher Taiaiake Alfred 

Still, such division has no place resting merely on the doorsteps of immigrants. For decades, North America’s indigenous peoples have been split by division between the nations and the Nation almost to the point of being dissolved in it. Earlier this year, Canadian philosopher Taiaiake Alfred, a member of the Mohawk nation and director of the Indigenous Governance Program at University of Victoria, staged the tension in “Never Forget: The Real War on Terrorism Began Five Hundred Years Ago.” 

A former US Marine, Alfred’s piece speaks a language common to natives who chose the armed forces as a means of acquiring a technical education. He ferrets out the fault lines of affiliation appearing as quickly as when his alter-ego “Jimmie” declaims “I do not consider the elders of long ago, the ones that signed the treaties with the Europeans as naïve dupes. I see them as intelligent forerunners of modern thought.”

Who could not claim Iraqi leaders to be confronted with the pressure of similar treaty signings under today’s occupation and the threat of ever-increasing violence? Taiaiake’s rejoinder stresses that the commercial benefits Indigenous North Americans have reaped from joining the American military lie in sharp contrast to the destruction wrought on the ancestor nations by the same measures of violent subjugation and land grabbing. “When an indigenous person accepts an identity as a citizen of Canada or the United States, he forfeits his birthright and any access to treaties and rights [signed and granted by the British and the French]. To claim otherwise is trying to have it both ways, against all logic.”

Every Canadian, to say nothing of Americans, has all to learn from mixing national identities without complete identification with the Nation. Canada’s current Prime Minister has run three terms of government on economic lines not dissimilar to the US’. Yet Canada has never resembled the US more than now. Still, Chretien’s mentor was Pierre Trudeau, a man of conviction and the shrewdest of statesmen. For his final term in office, Chretien had policies up his sleeve which were bound for posterity. They have coincided with a vast period of corruption in the US when the black of hole of security has come to excuse any infringement upon democracy. Part of Chretien’s craft has been to leave behind a country as healthy in its accounts as in its minds.

Norman Madarasz is a Canadian philosopher residing in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. With a Ph.D. from the University of Paris, he teaches and writes on international relations, political economy and philosophy. He is also a regular contributor to Counterpunch and has published think pieces and philosophical research extensively. You can reach him at nmphdiol2@yahoo.ca

The articles posted on this page reflect solely the opinions of the authors.

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