Monday, July 23, 2007

Canadian Ally in War and Propaganda

In recent years, the Canadian government has ramped up its public relations efforts in the US. The promotion of Canada-US economic, energy, and military ties have been the feature of a campaign to 'sell' US elites on Canada since the May 2004 launch of the
website. The program only really made headlines in March 2006, when we learned, "Canada is advertising its military role in Afghanistan with seven massive posters and banners in the U.S. capital area's subway stations." The posters read:

''Canadian troops in Kandahar, Afghanistan. Boots on the ground. U.S.-Canada relations. Security is our business.''

The website has targeted "
the litany of Washington-based thinks-tanks [and] opinion-shapers in the capital who routinely deal with large U.S. media." The DC-based office, headed by an 'advocacy secretary' has undertaken an "intense diplomatic focus on Congress," as part of what a former director calls "the hidden wiring of the Canada/U.S. relationship."

While it was the brainchild of former Liberal PM Paul Martin Jr., the Conservatives have spruced it up to better reflect their shift to a more overt drive toward a deepening of the Canada-US "partnership." Unabashed in its hammering away at the key points it is driving across to its elite constituency, the website boasts: Canada is an 'emerging energy superpower,' the 'largest provider of energy to the US,' and, most importantly. "Canada has deployed 23,750 military personnel in the War on Terror since October 2001."

They've also added faux 'news' videos, produced by the Canadian Army's public affairs department (modeled, presumably, on 'The Pentagon Channel') featuring stories about 'Canada-US' 'ties of friendship,' and human interest stories about Canadian soldiers serving in Afghanistan.

In covering Harper's recent visit to Colombia, a country of relatively minor economic significance to Canada (while evidently one of major political significance), the Globe and Mail's Alan Freeman noted that in pursuing a free trade deal with the hemisphere's most repressive government, Harper "
would be emulating U.S. President George W. Bush." Freeman also noted how despite Bush's good intentions, the free trade deal has:

stalled in the U.S. Congress, where Democrats have vowed to stop the deal over allegations that Mr. Uribe's allies and top generals colluded with paramilitaries who have murdered union organizers, teachers and journalists over the past decade.
With the program in mind, one has to wonder to what extent diplomatically-emboldened Canadians are whispering in the ears of the US policy elite, pushing Canada's 'third way' of supporting Colombian state terrorism. The Conservative media backgrounder (handed out at a Hill press briefing prior to Harper's departure) emphasized Canada's military role in Colombia, "in the pursuit of a peaceful resolution to the ongoing internal conflict." Despite a torrent of mainstream media coverage of Harper's trip, no one even speculated that Harper's visit might be fulfilling some lobbying purpose for the Bush regime. What else are 'dependable allies' for?

As it happens, in a recent ZNet commentary, Justin Podur writes:

One can imagine the process that led to the visit. Uribe's regime is shaky, his own role in paramilitarism is becoming increasingly public, and he needs to demonstrate his closeness to the US, one of the only sources of prestige he has left. Bush wants to help Uribe out for his years of loyal service. Bush calls Harper and asks him to go associate publicly with Uribe. Harper does what he's told. If Canada can say it wants free trade with Colombia, why not the rest of the world? Canada has long played a role of selling the unpalatable to the world for the US - the Korean war in the 1950s, the Congo coup in the 1960s, the Vietnam war in the 1960s and 1970s, the Iraq wars of the 1990s, the Afghan war in 2001, the Haiti coup in 2004 and the sanctions on the Palestinians in 2006, as just a few examples...
The other would-be significant angle ignored by the Canadian press corps are the increasing parallels drawn by the US war machine between Colombia and Afghanistan. As discussed in detail on an episode of CBC's On the Map last month (link), "largely under the radar, the United States is in the first stages of exporting its patented 'war on drugs' strategy from Colombia to Afghanistan."

Even with headlines such as "Afghanistan haunts prime minister on Americas tour," (James Travers, Kitchener-Waterloo Record, July 19, 2007) there was no discussion of the similarities between the narco-wars in Colombia and Afghanistan, or what the Ottawa Citizen called on May 18, 2007, "The Colombia Experiment." Presumably, because (as the issue has been covered by the Canadian press) Canada is not 'officially' engaged in counter-narcotics operations in Afghanistan, how those operations are carried out by the UK and US has no bearing on Canada's counter-terror and counterinsurgency operations in Afghanistan. One would think this might have made for interesting copy last week. But then, this might have led to some uncomfortable questions being raised, especially as Harper carried on to Barbados and Haiti, two transshipment points for the cocaine that departs Colombia. Someone might have even noted how ironic it was that only a few days before Harper arrived in Port au Prince, the US DEA attempted to arrest paramilitary and alleged murderer (turned Presidential candidate Guy Philippe, for his alleged drug trafficking ties. They failed and Philippe remains in hiding. Philippe has recently denied the charges.

In a recently published interview with Peter Hallward, Philippe revealed that, contrary to the propaganda delivered to the world at the time of the coup, his "rebels," who had entered from the Dominican Republic in early February 2004, were financed by the political opposition that was 'peacefully' rallying for the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Although TransAfrica founder Randall Robinson presents evidence in his new book, "Haiti: An Unbroken Agony," (which he discussed today on Democracy Now!) that the Philippe-led paramilitaries were only providing a diversionary pretext for a US-led invasion that eventuated in Aristide's kidnapping on February 29th, 2004, the role that the rebels played is by no means an insignificant one. When on February 5th, 2004, the "rebels" entered Haiti from the DR, the leader of Guy Philippe's political wing, Paul Arcelin, was in Montreal meeting with then-MP (and future foreign affairs minister) Pierre Pettigrew. Many of Philippe's collaborators from the Haitian elite have close ties to Canadian officials; since the coup, Canada has funneled millions of dollars to organizations that were rallying for Aristide's ouster. In keeping with the script none of these, or myriad other potential questions, were raised by the press corps accompanying Harper on his 'whirlwind' trip through the Hemisphere, Canada's 'new backyard.'

One last note on the Colombia-Afghan question. The
New York Times article, 'Poppy Fields Are Now a Front Line in Afghan War,' which inspired the Citizen piece above, is here.

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