Friday, February 24, 2012
The Perversion of Canada's Military
Since he clawed his way into power, Steve Harper has wasted little time turning Canada's public and armed services into political agencies of the prime minister's office. He began by gagging the public service and the armed forces. Under Harper's iron fist communications policy, the public were not allowed direct contact with public servants or members of the military. Communications commissars in the PMO were appointed to ride herd, filtering requests for information, deciding what could be or wouldn't be answered, and then doctoring the response to ensure it conformed to Stevie's message. Undemocratic? You bet your ass. Authoritarian? Ditto.
Now further evidence of the political perversion of the armed forces has emerged. When Harper defmin Peter MacKay ran into controversy for his personal use of an armed forces Cormorant helicopter, he instructed military officers to dig up dirt on a Liberal MP, Scott Simms.
The Toronto Star got its hands on some military e-mails from Major Byron Johnson in Gander, MacKay's appointed sleuth. The first e-mail reported that, “Staff continuing search but nothing found thus far placing MP Simms aboard Cormorant. Will advise if something located.”
In a follow-up e-mail, Gumshoe Johnson exclaimed "Found it." He noted that Simms had in fact spent a whole day aboard a Cormorant. Johnson then sleuthed into who requested the flight and whether Simms had reimbursed DND for its costs.
It has now surfaced that Simms was aboard the helo at the suggestion of MacKay's office in order to learn about the search and rescue role of the Cormorant. He wasn't using it as an aerial taxi to ferry him from a luxury fishing resort to a political appearance.
Was Major Johnson acting on behalf of the RCAF or the Conservative Party in trying to get the goods on Simms? It's pretty obvious it wasn't the RCAF that had a dog in that fight. And Johnson's "found it" exclamation seems to bear that out.
Byron Johnson crossed the line. It is a cardinal rule that military personnel must never, ever dabble in political matters. They serve the country not some political party. Was Johnson (and his staff) serving the country? No. Was he serving the RCAF? No. Was he serving his minister and the Conservative Party? Yes, on both counts.
We need a zero tolerance approach to this sort of thing. What's going on today in the United States makes that plain. We've seen American generals like Petraeus and McChrystal freely intrude into the political sphere, even to the point of challenging their Commander in Chief, president Obama. The impertinence these two clowns displayed played no small measure in the failed fiasco that is Afghanistan today.
We've had our taste of that too. Now safely retired general Dick Hillier, the architect of Canada's hapless Kandahar mission, used his celebrity to slag the Liberal Party. Under Harper, Hillier talked about the restoration of the Canadian Armed Forces and made pointed reference to the "dark days" of cutbacks under the Liberals.
What the Rancid Cod deliberately overlooked is that Canada was in a fight back when the military budget was cut. It was a fight, by Chretien and Martin, to wrestle the country's finances back under control, to restore balanced budgets, to pay down the national debt. Everybody in Canada felt some effects of that, made some sacrifices, and there was absolutely no reason that the military should have objected to doing their share too. But, with Harper constantly patting his back, Hillier felt quite comfortable getting into politics and taking his cheap shot.
Professor, author and retired US Army colonel Andrew Bacevich has chronicled the politicization of his own country's military in The New American Militarism. He reveals how, in a very direct, political manner, America's military leadership has forged a compact with the radical right, the bloated military-industrial complex, and radical Christian fundamentalists. Bacevich contends that, with this political, industrial and religious backing, top generals at times even challenge their Commander in Chief to implement political policy of their own making.
The Canadian military increasingly appears to be emulating their American counterparts. That's hardly surprising given that we train with the Americans, we follow common procedures and tactics and we equip our forces with their weapons. And, more importantly, when we do get to use all that training and all those weapons, it's always in conjunction with the much larger American military, sort of as America's Foreign Legion. It's as though Canadians are embedded with their American Big Brothers.
We don't need a politicized military in Canada. If we don't want that we need to ensure that the American military contagion doesn't sweep north. One way to do that is to make damned sure that officers like Major Johnson understand the line they must never cross and that nothing good lies in store for them if they forget it.