Sixteen years have now passed since the ‘war on terror’ began with the invasion and occupation of Afghanistan. The decade and a half which has passed since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Centre has been characterized primarily by a new era of war and occupation around the world – a war drive which has killed and injured millions and forced millions more to flee their countries. Under the vague justification of ‘combating terrorism’ and ‘building democracy’, the United States and their allies have bombed, invaded, and occupied countries in the Middle East and throughout the world.
The beginning of this new era of war and occupation also marked a significant increase in Canada’s war drive and combat missions abroad. Canadian Forces deployed to Afghanistan in 2001, playing a major role in occupation of that country. The Liberal government released a White Paper on Defense in 2005 calling for Canada to make its mark in the world diplomatically, economically, and militarily, noting that Canada had to “break through the glass ceiling of its middle-power status” and “compete in a world of rising giants”. In 2008 the Conservative government followed with their own Canada First Defense Strategy, a $490 billion plan to increase Canada’s military over the next 20 years.
For the first time since the Korean War, scores of Canadian soldiers began returning home in coffins. Military recruitment ads popped up everywhere, urging young people to “Fight Fear. Fight Boredom.” Parks and even city streets have occasionally become military training grounds.
Afghanistan became the longest war in Canada’s history, with as many as 2,500 troops there for 12 years. Canadian Forces played a leading role in the NATO combat mission in Kandahar province, one of the most heated battle zones in the country and a hub of Afghan resistance to the US/NATO occupation. One hundred fifty-eight Canadian soldiers were killed in Afghanistan; an additional 54 took their own lives after returning home from the battlefield.
Today, Afghanistan remains in shambles. For all the talk of ending terrorism and bringing democracy and human rights to the country, little, if any, has been achieved. Terrorism, both within Afghanistan and around the world, has increased exponentially since 2001. ISIS/Daesh, one of the most brutal terrorist organizations in the world, has gained a foothold in Afghanistan. The official government has little influence beyond Kabul. Much of the country remains under the control of the Taliban, or worse, the corrupt and bloodthirsty warlords often supported directly or indirectly by the US and NATO.
Tens of thousands of Afghans have died in this war, although there is no official count. Each year has brought an increase in civilian casualties. Sixteen hundred civilians were killed in the first half of 2016 alone. Nearly all were children.
Nearly a million people are internally displaced in Afghanistan, and around six million are refugees abroad. The number of people displaced by fighting continues to grow.
For the vast majority of Afghans, nothing has improved since the war began, and in fact they face more insecurity from fighting than before. Taliban rulers have been replaced by corrupt warlords, often flush with cash from NATO reconstruction contracts.
This is the legacy which Canada has left to Afghanistan. Yet the war there is not over yet – the US currently has 11,000 troops stationed in Afghanistan and over 3000 more are soon to be deployed. Some foreign policy critics suggest that Canada should rejoin the NATO mission there.
While Canada did not officially send troops to Iraq in 2003, the government of Canada quietly supported the US/UK invasion and occupation from behind the scenes. Former US Ambassador to Canada Paul Cellucci noted that, “Ironically, the Canadians indirectly provide more support for us in Iraq than most of those 46 countries that are fully supporting us.” This support included $300 million to help ‘rebuild’ the country and train the new Iraqi police force after the invasion, as well as sending over one hundred soldiers there to serve with US and British troops, and stationing warships in the Persian Gulf.
The war in Iraq has killed over a million people, decimated the country’s infrastructure, and fomented sectarian violence and division along religious lines. The division, instability, and desperate poverty which the war created helped give rise to Daesh, which now extends its reign of terror over large parts of Iraq, Syria, and other areas of the Middle East and North Africa. Former US military advisor David Kilcullen has declared that, “there would be no ISIS if we had not invaded Iraq”.
The rise of ISIS gave renewed justification for the US and their allies to continue war in Iraq, fighting a monster of their own creation. This time, however, Canadian troops are directly involved in the fray. A total of 850 Canadian troops are currently in Iraq, 650 of which are part of the elite Joint Task Force 2 (JTF-2). While the government of Canada claims their mission is solely to “train, advise, and assist” Kurdish forces fighting ISIS, it has become clear that Canadian forces are routinely engaged in direct combat on the front lines – as shown recently when a JTF-2 sniper was celebrated for a kill shot on an ISIS fighter. In addition, the Canadian Air Force has flown over 3,000 missions, including refuelling missions for bombers and reconnaissance operations.
Canada also participated in the military intervention in Libya and the overthrow of President Muhammar Gaddafi. Two naval vessels and over a dozen aircraft were deployed to the country, along with JTF-2 commandos. The Canadian Air Force dropped 240 bombs on the country and supported other NATO aircraft in bombing operations.
The NATO mission succeeded not only in overthrowing Gaddafi, who they labelled a dictator, but also set the country back decades in terms of development and human rights. The country, which once was the wealthiest in Africa and boasted free education and health care for all, has been fragmented into a society ruled by rival gangs and terrorist organizations – including al-Qaeda, with whom the CIA directly worked with to overthrow Gaddafi.
Far from bringing human rights to the country and increasing regional stability, the NATO mission destroyed one of the wealthiest countries in Africa, dramatically increased the refugee crisis, and created yet another haven for terrorist organizations in the region. This is Canada’s legacy in Libya.
In February 2004, Canada’s JTF-2 forces participated in the invasion of Haiti along with forces from the US and France, overthrowing the democratically elected president Jean-Bertand Aristide. The United Nations Stabilization Mission that followed did nothing to stabilize the country. In fact, the UN forces were documented on several occasions committing terrible human rights abuses such as widespread rape and mass murder. Today, Haitians remain in desperate living conditions, with nearly 60% of the country living in poverty (UN Development Program). The UN-installed government is one of the most corrupt in the world, with Haiti ranked as fifteenth most corrupt country in the world by Transparency International.
Eastern Europe and Beyond
The government of Canada’s involvement in wars abroad does not end at these direct military interventions, however. Canada currently has hundreds of troops stationed in Latvia, leading a NATO battle group there, supposedly to deter the threat of a Russian invasion.
As well, the government of Canada has sold millions of dollars worth of military equipment, including automatic weapons, bombs, and military vehicles to Israel and Saudi Arabia, who are fighting brutal wars against Palestine and Yemen, respectively.
What is Behind Canada’s War Drive?
Why has the government of Canada, a country which once preferred to stay behind the scenes of wars abroad, now taking a leading role?
The world we live in today is marked by increasingly frequent capitalist economic crises. As well, new countries have begun to rise as economic powerhouses – such as China and Russia - which threaten the hegemony of the current economic powers like the US. In order to delay these crises and to maintain their status as economic powers, the US and their allies have launched ever more frequent wars to gain control of resources, trade markets, and militarily strategic locations. These wars are not a ‘war on terror’- they are a war for military and economic control.
As for Canada’s role, there is perhaps no better explanation of the reasons the government of Canada has joined this war drive than the International Policy Statement written in 2005:
“Make no mistake: We are in the midst of a major rebalancing of global power. New nations are rising as military and economic forces. Many established powers are striving to maintain their influence through regional integration and new alliances. In a world of traditional and emerging giants, independent countries like Canada—countries with small populations—risk being swept aside, their influence diminished, their ability to compete hampered. That may sound dramatic, but the stakes are that high. We will have to be smart, focused, agile, creative and dogged in the pursuit of our interests.”
The Policy Statement then goes on to explain the need (among other things) for the extension of Canada’s influence in the world diplomatically, and the expansion and strengthening of Canada’s military and for an increasing involvement in military interventions abroad. In short, the government of Canada is not sending troops to fight a ‘war on terror’, but to ensure that the Canadian state establishes itself in a strong position among global economic competitors.
The Oxford Dictionary defines imperialism as “a policy of extending a country's power and influence through diplomacy or military force”. This is essentially the definition of Canada’s foreign policy! The wars and interventions by the government of Canada are not about stopping terrorism; they are pursuing a policy of imperialism.
Why We Need an Anti-War Movement
None of these wars have ever been about stopping terrorism. They have not made the world safer or expanded democracy or human rights – quite the opposite. The only beneficiaries of these wars are members of the wealthy elite – the capitalist class – who are protecting their economic position. Poor and working people in Canada and around the world have nothing to gain and everything to lose from these wars.
We have a moral and ethical duty to defend our fellow human beings from what amounts to little more than slaughter. The vast majority of casualties in this war drive are not soldiers but innocent men, women, and children. Beyond defending our fellow human beings though, we must stand up for our own rights as well. This war drive has had a deep impact here at home too. Budgets for health care, education, and other vital services are being slashed because there is ‘no money’ even as the military budget has been expanded exponentially.
At the same time, our basic democratic rights and right to free speech are being eroded through legislation such as the Conservatives’ Bill C-51 and the ‘modified’ version proposed by the Liberals, Bill C-59. This legislation allows detention for up to a week without charge, sharing of Canadian citizens’ and residents’ personal information among various government agencies without a warrant, and vastly expanded data collection capabilities. Under the guise of ‘anti-terrorism’, this legislation can and surely already is being used to target anti-war, social justice, and environmental activists, making it easier for the government of Canada to silence voices of dissent against this war drive.
It is vital that we build a strong, united, and effective movement to demand an end to the wars abroad and the war against poor and working people at home. Building an anti-war movement is about more than just opposing bombs being dropped; it is a fight for our own rights, a fight for the very survival of humanity, and the first step toward building a world which is fundamentally based on justice and peace.
Follow Nita Palmer on Twitter: @NGP1z0
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