Risk Aversion Unlimited?
In Whose War Is It? How Canada Can Survive in the Post 9-11 World (2007) Emeritus Professor Jack Granatstein attempted a wake-up call to Canadians. Tom Friedman's "Flat World" presents unique challenges to Canadian security. Canadians need to get serious about the post 9/11 world even if the leader of that effort was/is a discredited U.S. President, George W. Bush, whom he ranked as "the worst...since Warren Harding." Like Peter Newman years ago, Granatstein attempted a coldly realist perspective. Because of its geographical position Canada, he argued, has long-term responsibilities not only towards the United Nations Organization (UNO) but also as partners in Northern Command (formerly NORAD) and as a founding member of NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, with commitments since 1949 that include the use of military force.
In true professorial style, he neatly pinpointed six critical areas Canadians now need to consider:
1. Getting beyond the one-dimensional and (he argues) largely fictitious view of Canada as world peace maker and the dire need to reinvigorate our armed forces;
2. A clearer focus on what our national interests are as a country rooted in the Western Civilization tradition of the rule of law but one also with long-standing commitments to both NATO and North American defense;
3. Cultivating a realistic relationship with the United States (which doesn't always mean saying "Yes" to the Americans);
4. Awakening to the opportunities and complexities in the Arctic as new tests for Canadian sovereignty;
5. The reality of a "virtually pacifist" Quebec which hampers effective national action against foreign threats. This charge was refuted by authors Roussell and Boucher in the Spring, 2008 American Review of Canadian Studies.
6. Insisting on a minimum standard of allegiance to Canada by new arrivals and recent immigrants.
Granatstein is no warmonger even if his argument to support the Iraq misadventure weakens his stance on Afghanistan. He is a resolutely passionate Canadian of another generation. I remember hearing Granatstein speak in 1991 at a Toronto conference where he warned that Canada's peacekeeping forces were being placed into more and more perilous situations. "This is not what Lester Pearson meant by peace keeping," he insisted. Earlier he had caused a minor hoo haw about the Mulroney government's inserting Canadians between the two "lunatic governments" of Iran and Iraq as United Nations Military Observers in 1998. Peacekeeping was popular, Granatstein said then, "because it was something we could do and the Americans could not."
In Whose War Is it? Granatstein offers a "damn the torpedoes," hard-hitting polemic. In spite of harsh, blunt assessments of George W. Bush, sweeping indictments of Quebec as a pacifist state, and worrisome solutions to how to make New Canadians toe the line, Granatstein nevertheless raises some important themes. "Peacekeeping does not mean disarming Canada," he was saying, "It was made possible in the first place by our World War Two military buildup." Granatstein outlines the limitations of peacekeeping. This was apparent in the Sinai in 1967 when the Canadian peacekeepers were ordered out so President Nasser of Egypt could more easily plan to attack Israel. Nor is peacekeeping a neutral endeavor, he charged, as when Canadians went to Cyprus at President Lyndon Johnson's worried request to keep two NATO allies, Greece and Turkey, from coming to blows. Most importantly and passionately, Granatstein feels that peacekeeping does not mean inserting blue helmets into the vicious ethnic rivalries that now dot the globe. This, he feels, is acting recklessly with young Canadian lives..
Granatstein's harsh polemic often makes good sense. Unscrupulous policy makers have too often gone for the quick fix of peacekeeping rather than paying attention to our defenses or outlining the specifics on how Canada would respond to terrorist attacks. Furthermore, it is no great credit to our dedicated foot-soldiers when the Americans often have to escort the CAF to their assigned destinations, a point Andrew Cohen confirms. Nor does he spare the Americans in his critique. "Within a year their attention was badly distracted by their planning for the invasion of Iraq and looked to hand off responsibility for Afghanistan to others." Above all he offers clarity on the central point. "Stripped of all the rhetoric, Canada's soldiers are at war to prevent the re-establishment of a Taliban government in Afghanistan," he states. "Canada continues to fight in Kandahar because the government of Afghanistan asks for its continued presence and support." Sometimes he reaches sonorous heights as when he stresses "one operational effect from the Afghan conflict...the soldiers have seen enough combat to become blooded--a terrible, old-fashioned, but not wholly inappropriate word. They have learned as their great-grandfathers and grandfathers did in two world wars and Korea that well-trained soldiers can fight and survive and that a unit can sustain casualties and continue to function."
At such times Garantstein almost acts as our town crier. This side of the Millennium, wars are not going away. In this connection, the respected American journalist David Halberstam quoted the Russian revolutionary leader Leon Trotsky on a PBS program after the events of September 11, 2001. "You may not be interested in war, but war is interested in you." In such a tone did Professor Jack Granatstein, a distinguished Order of Canada winner and a chairman of the Royal Military College's Board of Governors, lay out his forceful polemic. His hard-edged realism is often grating but perhaps deserved, on balance, a better hearing even if forces seem to be already moving towards an eventual negotiated settlement in Afghanistan.