Category Archives: A Propaganda System

Canadian, US complaints about Russian election meddling hypocritical

If a guy does something bad to someone else, but then complains later when another person does that same thing to him, what do we say? Stop being a hypocrite. Either you change direction or you got what you deserved.

Does the same moral logic apply to countries?

Purported Russian meddling in U.S., French and other elections has received significant attention recently. “Russian meddling abroad underscores need for electoral reform in Canada” declared a rabble.ca headline this week while CBC noted “Russian attempts to infiltrate U.S. election systems found in 21 states: officials.” An earlier Globe and Mailheadline stated “Russia was warned against U.S. election meddling: ex-CIA head,” while a Global News story noted “Canada should worry about Russian interference in elections: former CSIS head.”

Interference in another country’s election is an act of aggression and should not happen in a just world so these accusations deserve to be aired and investigated. But, how can one take the outrage seriously when the media commentators who complain about Russia ignore clear-cut Canadian meddling elsewhere and the decades-long history of U.S. interference in other countries’ elections around the world, including in Canada.

Ottawa has interfered in at least one recent Ukrainian election. Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group and promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing” in the 2004-05 poll. Ottawa also paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the elections. Three years after Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon explained: “[Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called “donor coordination” sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovich [winning].”

Canada has also interfered aggressively in Haitian elections. After plotting, executing and consolidating the 2004 coup against Jean Bertrand Aristide’s government, Canadian officials interceded in the first election after the coup. In 2006 Canada’s then-chief electoral officer, Jean-Pierre Kingsley, led a team of Canadian observers to Haiti for elections that excluded the candidate — Father Gérard Jean Juste — of Haiti’s most popular political party Fanmi Lavalas. With the country gripped by social upheaval after widespread fraud in the counting, including thousands of ballots found burned in a dump, Kingsley released a statement claiming, “the election was carried out with no violence or intimidation, and no accusations of fraud.” Chair of the International Mission for Monitoring Haitian Elections, Kingsley’s statement went on to laud Jacques Bernard, the head of the electoral council despite the fact that Bernard had already been widely derided as corrupt and biased even by other members of the coup government’s electoral council.

In the 2010 election Ottawa intervened to bring far-right president Michel Martelly to power (with about 16 per cent of the votes, since the election was largely boycotted). Canada put up $6 million for elections that excluded Fanmi Lavalas from participating. After the first round, our representatives on an Organization of American States Mission helped force the candidate the electoral council had in second place, Jude Celestin, out of the runoff. The Center for Economic and Policy Research explained, “the international community, led by the U.S., France, and Canada, has been intensifying the pressure on the Haitian government to allow presidential candidate Michel Martelly to proceed to the second round of elections instead of [ruling party candidate] Jude Celestin.” Some Haitian officials had their U.S. visas revoked and there were threats that aid would be cut off if Martelly’s vote total wasn’t increased as per the OAS recommendation.

Half of the electoral council agreed to the OAS changes, but half didn’t. The second round was unconstitutional, noted Haïti Liberté’s Kim Ives, as “only four of the eight-member Provisional Electoral Council (CEP) have voted to proceed with the second round, one short of the five necessary. Furthermore, the first round results have not been published in the journal of record, Le Moniteur, and President Préval has not officially convoked Haitians to vote, both constitutional requirements.”

The absurdity of the whole affair did not stop the Canadian government from supporting the elections and official election monitors from this country gave a thumbs-up to this farcical exercise in “democracy.” Describing the fraudulent nature of the elections, Haiti Progrès explained “the form of democracy that Washington, Paris and Ottawa want to impose on us is becoming a reality.”

Washington has, of course, interfered in hundreds of elections in dozens of countries, including Italy, France, Greece, Chile, Ecuador, Vietnam, Dominican Republic, Australia and, yes, Canada.

You haven’t heard about that one?

During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis the Kennedy administration wanted Ottawa’s immediate and unconditional support in putting the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) on high alert. Diefenbaker hesitated, unsure if Washington was telling him the full story about Soviet/Cuban plans or once again bullying the small island nation.

Not happy with Diefenbaker’s attitude during the Cuban Missile Crisis or his ambivalence towards nuclear weapons in Canada, President John F. Kennedy worked to precipitate the downfall of his minority Conservative government. Kennedy preferred Lester Pearson’s Liberals who criticized Diefenbaker on Cuba and were willing to accept nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles.

“In the fall of 1962,” notes Peter McFarlane in Northern Shadows: Canadians and Central America, “the State Department began to leak insulting references about Diefenbaker to the U.S. and Canadian press.” Articles highly critical of the Canadian prime minister appeared in the New York Times, Newsweek and other major U.S. media outlets. On January 3 the outgoing commander of NATO, US General Lauris Norstad, made a surprise visit to Ottawa where he claimed Canada would not be fulfilling her commitments to the north Atlantic alliance if she did not acquire nuclear warheads. Diefenbaker believed the US general came to Canada “at the behest of President Kennedy” to set the table “for Pearson’s conversion to the United States nuclear policy.”

A future prime minister, Pierre Trudeau, concurred. He asked: “Do you think that General Norstad, the former supreme commander of allied forces in Europe, came to Ottawa as a tourist on January 3 to call publicly on the Canadian government to respect its [nuclear] commitments? Do you think it was by chance that Mr. Pearson, in his speech of January 12, was able to quote the authority of General Norstad? Do you think it was inadvertent that, on January 30, the State Department gave a statement to journalists reinforcing Mr. Pearson’s claims and crudely accusing Mr. Diefenbaker of lying?…you believe that it was by coincidence that this series of events ended with the fall of the [Diefenbaker] government on February 5?”

A State Department official, Willis Armstrong, described Kennedy’s attitude towards the March 1963 Canadian election: “He wanted to intervene and make sure Pearson got elected. It was very evident the president was uptight about the possibility that Pearson might not win.” Later Kennedy’s Secretary of State Dean Rusk admitted, “in a way, Diefenbaker was right, for it was true that we preferred Mike Pearson.”

During the 1963 election campaign Kennedy’s top pollster, Lou Harris, helped Pearson get elected prime minister. Kennedy backed Harris’ move, though he opposed an earlier request for the pollster to help British Labour leader Harold Wilson, which Harris then declined. Since Harris was closely associated with the US president the Liberals called Kennedy’s pollster by a pseudonym.

Washington may have aided Pearson’s campaign in other ways. Diefenbaker wondered if the CIA was active during the 1963 election while External Affairs Minister Howard Green said a U.S. agent attended a couple of his campaign meetings in B.C.

To Washington’s delight, Pearson won the election and immediately accepted nuclear-armed Bomarc missiles.

The lesson? Perhaps Washington and Ottawa should treat other countries in the same way they wish to be treated. Perhaps it is time for a broader discussion about election meddling.

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The lies told to justify Canadian foreign policy

Lies, distortions and self-serving obfuscations are to be expected when political and business leaders discuss far away places.

In a recent Toronto Star column Rick Salutin observed that “foreign policy is a truth-free, fact-free zone. When leaders speak on domestic issues, citizens at least have points of reference to check them against. On foreign affairs they blather freely.”

Salutin vividly captures an important dynamic of political life. What do most Canadians know about our government’s actions in Afghanistan or Haiti? Most of us have never been to those countries and don’t know anyone living there, from there or even who’ve been there. We are heavily dependent on media and politicians’ portrayals. But, as I detail in A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and Exploitation, international correspondents generally take their cue from the foreign policy establishment or diplomats in the field.

Journalists are prepared to criticize governments and corporations to a certain extent on “domestic” issues, but the spirit of “challenging power” largely disappears regarding foreign policy. One reason is that nationalism remains an important media frame and the dominant media often promotes an “our team” worldview.

Another explanation is the web of state and corporate generated ideas institutes, which I review in A Propaganda System, that shape the international discussion. In a forthcoming second volume I look at the Canadian Left’s contribution to confusing the public about international policies.

The state/corporate nexus operates largely unchallenged in the Global South because there is little in terms of a countervailing force. Instead of criticizing the geo-strategic and corporate interests overwhelmingly driving foreign policy decisions, the social democratic NDP has often supported them and contributed to Canadians’ confusion about this country’s international affairs. The NDP endorsed bombing Serbia and Libya and in recent years they’ve supported military spending, Western policy in the Ukraine and the dispossession of Palestinians. The NDP has largely aligned with the foreign policy establishment or those, as long time NDP MP Libby Davies put it, who believe a “Time Magazine version” of international affairs.

Closely tied to the NDP, labour unions’ relative indifference to challenging foreign policy is another reason why politicians can “blather freely” on international affairs. On many domestic issues organized labour represents a countervailing force to the corporate agenda or state policies. While dwarfed by corporate Canada, unions have significant capacities. They generate hundreds of millions of dollars in annual dues and fund or participate in a wide range of socially progressive initiatives such as the Canadian Health Coalition, Canadian Council for Refugees and Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives. But, unions rarely extend their broader (class) vision of society to international affairs. In fact, sometimes they endorse unjust international policies.

To the extent that politicians’ “blathering” is restrained it is largely by other countries. The recent political conflict in the Ukraine provides an example. Canadian politicians have aggressively promoted a simplistic, self-serving, narrative that has dominated the media-sphere. But, there is a source of power countering this perspective. Moscow financed/controlled media such as RT, Sputnik and others have offered a corrective to the Western line. A comparatively wealthy and powerful state, Russia’s diplomats have also publicly challenged the Canadian media’s one-sided portrayal.

An important, if rarely mentioned, rule of foreign policy is the more impoverished a nation, the greater the gap is likely to be between what Canadian officials say and do. The primary explanation for the gap between what’s said and done is that power generally defines what is considered reality. So, the bigger the power imbalance between Canada and another country the greater Ottawa’s ability to distort their activities.

Haiti provides a stark example. In 2004 Ottawa helped overthrow Haiti’s elected government and then supported an installed regime that killed thousands. Officially, however, Ottawa was “helping” the beleaguered country as part of the “Friends of Haiti” group. And the bill for undermining Haitian democracy, including the salaries of top coup government officials and the training of repressive cops, was largely paid out of Canada’s “aid” to the country.

A stark power imbalance between Ottawa and Port-au-Prince helps explain the gulf between Canadian government claims and reality in Haiti. Describing the country at the time of Jean-Bertrand Aristide’s ouster, former Globe and Mail foreign editor Paul Knox observed, “obviously, in the poorest country of the Americas, the government is going to have fewer resources at its disposal to mount a PR exercise or offensive if it feels itself besieged.”

With a $300 US million total budget for a country of eight million, the Haitian government had limited means to explain their perspective to the world either directly or through international journalists. On the other hand, the Washington-Paris-Ottawa coup triumvirate had great capacity to propagate their perspective (at the time the Canadian International Development Agency and Foreign Affairs each spent 10 times the entire Haitian budget and the Department of National Defence 60 times). The large Canadian embassy in Port-au-Prince worked to influence Canadian reporters in the country and their efforts were supplanted by the Haiti desks at CIDA and Foreign Affairs as well as the two ministries’ communications departments and Canadian military officials.

While an imbalance in communications resources partly explains the coverage, there is also a powerful ideological component. The media’s biased coverage of Haiti cannot be divorced from ‘righteous Canada’ assumptions widely held among the intelligentsia. As quoted in an MA thesis titled “Covering the coup: Canadian news reporting, journalists, and sources in the 2004 Haiti crisis”, CBC reporter Neil McDonald told researcher Isabel McDonald the Canadian government was “one of the most authoritative sources on conflict resolution in the world.”

According to Isabel McDonald’s summary, the prominent correspondent also said, “it was crazy to imagine Canada would be involved in a coup” and that “Canadian values were incompatible with extreme inequality or race-based hegemony”, which Ottawa’s policies clearly exacerbated in Haiti. (Neil Macdonald also said his most trusted sources for background information in Haiti came from Canadian diplomatic circles, notably CIDA where his cousins worked. The CBC reporter also said he consulted the Canadian ambassador in Port-au-Prince to determine the most credible human rights advocate in Haiti. Ambassador Kenneth Cook directed him to Pierre Espérance, a coup backer who fabricated a “massacre” used to justify imprisoning the constitutional prime minister and interior minister. When pressed for physical evidence Espérance actually said the 50 bodies “might have been eaten by wild dogs.”)

The Canadian Council on Africa provides another example of the rhetoric that results from vast power imbalances and paternalist assumptions. Run by Canadian corporations operating on the continent, the council said it “focuses on the future of the African economy and the positive role that Canada can play meeting some of the challenges in Africa.”

Similar to the Canadian Council on Africa, the Canadian American Business Council, Canada China Business Council and Canada-UK Chamber of Commerce also seek to advance members’ profit-making potential. But, the other lobby groups don’t claim humanitarian objectives. The primary difference between the Canadian Council on Africa and the other regional lobby organizations is the power imbalance between Canada/the West and African countries, as well as the anti-African paternalism that dominates Canadian political culture. A group of Canadian corporations claiming their aim was to meet the social challenges of the US or UK would sound bizarre and if they said as much about China they would be considered seditious. (Ironically the US-, Britain- and China-focused lobby groups can better claim the aid mantle since foreign investment generally has greater social spinoffs in more independent/better regulated countries.) But, paternalist assumptions are so strong — and Africans’ capacity to assert themselves within Canadian political culture so limited — that a lobby group largely representing corporations that displace impoverished communities to extract natural resources is, according to the Canadian Council on Africa’s previous mission statement, “committed to the economic development of a modern and competitive Africa.”

To counter the “fact free zone” individuals need to educate themselves on international issues, by seeking alternative sources of information. More important, we should strengthen internationalist social movements and left media consciously seeking to restrict politicians’ ability to “blather freely”.

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How Canadian military tries to control what soldiers think

The Canadian Forces spends hundreds of millions of dollars a year to shape popular discussion of military affairs. But, did you know that commanding officers also aim to control the flow of information to rank and file soldiers?

Recently, the newspaper at the Esquimalt, British Columbia, naval base rejected an ad from a law firm seeking to represent CF members who had been sexually harassed/assaulted. Quoting a comment by Chief of Defence Staff Jonathan Vance on the impact of sexual assault in the military, Acheson, Sweeney, Foley and Sahota sought to advertise a “safe and supportive environment to tell your story.”

Esquimalt’s Lookout is among dozens of military run newspapers, journals and websites aimed at armed forces personnel. CF public relations officials generally decide what is published in them. The top brass has also sought to control independently owned media targeted at soldiers, notably Esprit de Corps, which aims “to contribute to the esprit de corps that has made the Canadian military one of the finest professional armed forces in the world.”

To gain access to Air Canada military charters in the late 1980s, the magazine was supposed to obtain DND “approval for all editorial content prior to publication.” But, in 1991 Esprit de Corps criticized the appointment of Marcel Masse as defence minister and interviewed Vice Admiral Chuck Thomas after he resigned as vice chief of defence. In response DND directed Air Canada to stop carrying Esprit de Corps. According to founding editor Scott Taylor in Unembedded: Two Decades of Maverick War Reporting, the airline sent the magazine a note saying, “due to concerns over editorial content, the Department of National Defence has ordered Air Canada to cease distribution of Esprit de Corps aboard military charter flights.”

Almost entirely distributed in-flight at the time, DND’s move would have crippled the magazine. The CF only backed down after Esprit de Corps went public and then privately threatened to reveal a possible conflict of interest between Chief of Defence Staff John de Chastelain and Canadian Defence Quarterly.

When Esprit de Corps helped expose the military’s attempt to cover up the 1993 Somalia Affair killings, the CF again targeted the magazine. Taylor writes, “memos were sent to the CANEX military retail stores, ordering them to cease the sale of our publication; the copies we had donated through the Royal Canadian Legion were to be burned, according to the official directive from National Defence Headquarters.” Even more debilitating for the magazine, DND asked Esprit de Corps defence clients to “cancel their advertising contracts.”

The military seeks to control what active soldiers can say publicly or post online. Under the Defence Administrative Orders and Directives and Queens Regulations and Orders, soldiers are not allowed to discredit the CF or discourage other troops from their duties.

With the rise of social media the Chief of Defence Staff ordered CF members to obtain authorization before posting information on Facebook or other online outlets. In 2006 Rick Hillier wrote, “[CF] members are to consult with their chain of command before publishing [CF]-related information and imagery to the internet, regardless of how innocuous the information may seem.”

In a reiteration of standing policy, in 2013 the CF required soldiers wounded in Afghanistan to sign a form saying they wouldn’t criticize senior officers on Facebook or other social media. Given to injured personnel transferred to the Joint Personnel Support Unit, the form stated “it must be clearly understood that the inappropriate use of social media can have serious ramifications for the CAF; it can erode public trust, cause serious breeches of security and destroy team cohesion.”

Alongside overt information control, DND operates numerous educational institutions. With two television studios, two radio studios, editing suites, a control room and 25 staff, the Defence Public Affairs Learning Centre trains soldiers in public relations. The Canadian Special Operations Training Centre trains Joint Task Force 2 and the Canadian Special Operations Regiment. Canadian Defence Academy includes the Toronto-based Canadian Forces College, Royal Military College Saint-Jean and Royal Military College of Canada (RMC) in Kingston. With over 150 faculty the RMC is the only federally run degree-granting university. DND provides about $70 million annually to RMC and the defence minister is chancellor of a university with 2,500 students.

The federal government spends heavily on shaping soldiers attitudes. With 120,000 active soldiers, reservists and DND employees the military’s internal ideological capacity has a wide reach.

In a mainstream media story about one of Canada’s “enemies,” this sort of activity would be called brainwashing.

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Does NDP support Trudeau’s caving in to Trump, spending more on military?

It’s no wonder the Trudeau government has moved to ramp up military outlays. Even “left” commentators/politicians are calling for increased spending on Canada’s ecologically and socially destructive war machine.

Recently Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan announced a more than 70 per cent increase in military spending over the next decade. Canada’s new defence policy includes a significant increase in lethal fighter jets and secretive special forces, as well as enhancing offensive cyber-attack capabilities and purchasing armed drones.

A Globe and Mail story about the defence policy yesterday quoted David Perry, an analyst with the unabashedly militarist Canadian Global Affairs Institute, and UBC Professor Michael Byers, who has been described as the “angry academic voice of Canadian foreign policy” to denote his purportedly critical stance. In the story titled “Canada’s new defence spending must come quickly, experts say,” the paper reported:

Byers said the Forces are currently in a state of ‘extreme crisis,’ with the Royal Canadian Navy running out of functioning ships and the Royal Canadian Air Force still years away from getting its new fleet of fighter jets. ‘The government has inherited a badly broken Canadian Forces and it clearly has a monumental task ahead that is only beginning,’ he said.”

Despite his affiliation with a peace organization, Byers supports increased military spending. The Rideau Institute board member has repeatedly expressed support for Canada’s war machine.

In 2015 the UBC professor published “Smart Defence: A Plan for Rebuilding Canada’s Military” which begins:

“Canada is a significant country. With the world’s eleventh largest economy, second largest landmass and longest coastline, one could expect it to have a well-equipped and capable military. However, most of this country’s major military hardware is old, degraded, unreliable and often unavailable. When the Harper government came to power in 2006, it pledged to rebuild Canada’s military. But for nine long years, it has failed to deliver on most of its promises, from new armoured trucks and supply ships to fighter jets and search-and-rescue planes.”

The Rideau Institute/Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives report was partly an attack against the Stephan Harper government’s supposed lack of military commitment. In “Smart Defence,” Byers writes, “Prime Minister Stephen Harper has reduced defence spending to just 1.0 per cent of GDP — the lowest level in Canadian history.”

Byers has long called for increased military spending. In a chapter in Living with Uncle: Canada-U.S. relations in an age of Empire, edited by then CCPA leaders Bruce Campbell and Ed Finn, Byers notes that “the defence budget, roughly 1.2 per cent of GDP, is a bit low by comparable standards.” He describes writing a 2004 paper for NDP Defence Critic Bill Blakey that called for a $2- to 3-billion-per-year increase in military spending. “A defence budget increase,” it noted, “essentially repairs some of the damage that was done by a decade and a half of neglect.” But the military budget was about $15 billion and represented 10 per cent of federal government outlays at the time.

A former NDP candidate and adviser to Tom Mulcair, Byers’ position is similar to that of the social democratic party’s leadership. After the federal budget in March the NDP Leader criticized the Liberals for not spending enough on the military. “Canadians have every right to be concerned,” Mulcair said. “We are in desperate need of new ships for our Navy, we’re in desperate need of new fighter aircraft for our Air Force, and there’s no way that with the type of budget we’ve seen here that they’re going to be getting them.”

The NDP has staunchly defended Canadian militarism in recent years. During the 2011 and 2015 federal elections the party explicitly supported the Harper government’s large military budget. In 2011 party leader Jack Layton promised to “maintain the current planned levels of Defence spending commitments” and the 2015 NDP platform said the party would “meet our military commitments by maintaining Department of National Defence budget allocations.”

In addition to backing budget allocations, the NDP has criticized base closures and aggressively promoted the National Shipbuilding Procurement Strategy, a $60-billion effort to expand the combat fleet over three decades (over its lifespan the cost is expected to top $100 billion).

I’ve yet to come across a formal party statement about yesterday’s announcement. What do those currently vying for NDP leadership think of the Trudeau’s new defence policy and how will they respond?

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Dallaire does not deserve accolades from progressive organizations

Repeat after me: Roméo Dallaire is not progressive. And paying Dallaire to speak at your meeting does not further the cause of international peace and a just system of international relations.

I was reminded yet again of how many supposed “progressive” organizations seem confused about Dallaire and what he represents after learning he and Irwin Cotler were the keynote speakers at a recent human rights forum. As it was about to begin I interjected to tell attendees that these two former politicians don’t deserve the label “human rights champions”. While I mentioned Cotler’s endless apologetics for Israeli belligerence, my focus was the famed general’s support for the “Butcher of Africa’s Great Lakes” region, Paul Kagame.

Conference cosponsor Amnesty International – and many progressive Canadians – consider Dallaire an internationalist, humanist, “hero” (The Ontario Public Service Employees’ Union, Canadian Auto Workers and Unifor have all given awards or a convention platform to Dallaire.) But, this ignores a background rooted in an authoritarian institution and his pro–military/imperial positions.

A retired general, Dallaire is the son of a military man (his son and father-in-law are also military men). Before his 1993 deployment to Rwanda, which he said at the time he couldn’t find on a map, “his defence knowledge was predicated almost exclusively on the needs of the NATO alliance”, according to biographer Carol Off. Aren’t progressives usually reticent of the international outlook of those close to NATO and the military command?

Beyond his background, Dallaire has taken numerous positions hard to align with championing international human rights:

  • Dallaire opposed calls to withdraw Canadian soldiers from Afghanistan, saying they should stay until the job is done.
  • Dallaire has called for increased military spending.
  • Dallaire is a proponent of Canada joining US Ballistic Missile Defence.
  • Dallaire spoke alongside Paul Kagame, who runs a North Korea style dictatorship, in February 2016  (among other occasions). In 2004 Dallaire described Kagame as an “extraordinary man.”
  • Dallaire regularly speaks to Israeli nationalist groups and repeated their claims about the “genocidal intent of the Iranian state”. At a 2011 Senate inquiry looking at the plight of the Baha’i in Iran, he claimed “the similarities with what I saw in Rwanda are absolutely unquestionable, equal and, in fact, applied with seemingly the same verve. We are witnessing a slow-motion rehearsal for genocide.”
  • Dallaire argued that Canada should have secured Baghdad before the 2003 US invasion, according to an October 2006 Edmonton Journal article titled “Canada should have led Iraq invasion, Dallaire says” (but he did not want Canada to participate in the actual US-led coalition).
  • Dallaire said Canadian air strikes in Iraq/Syria in 2014-16 weren’t sufficient. “There is no way that you will destroy that enemy without boots on the ground,” he said.
  • Dallaire supported the overthrow of Haiti’s elected government in 2004, according to the Montreal Gazette. In a story five days after the Canadian backed coup titled “Dallaire fears new Rwanda disaster in Haiti: Ex-UN commander urges Canada to act”, the former General said, “anywhere people are being abused, the world should be involved.
  • Comparing Darfur in the mid-2000s and Syria last year to Rwanda, Dallaire called for western intervention there.
  • Dallaire backed the 2011 NATO war on Libya. He said Gaddafi was “employing genocidal threats to ‘cleanse Libya house by house’”. After the war he complained we didn’t go in “forcefully enough … when Gaddafi said ‘I am going to crush these cockroaches and stay in power,’ those were exactly the words that the genociders in Rwanda used.”

The General is also an aggressive proponent of the liberal imperialist Responsibility to Protect (R2P) doctrine. Dallaire publicly promoted the Paul Martin government’s push to have the UN adopt R2P in 2005 and cited the doctrine to justify the 2011 NATO war on Libya. Dallaire is co-director of the Will to Intervene Project, which seeks to build “domestic political will in Canada and the United States to prevent future mass atrocities.” But the architects of W2I don’t mean the “political will” to stop Washington from spurring “mass atrocities” à la Iraq, Vietnam, Somalia, Haiti, Korea etc. Human rights rhetoric aside, W2I is an outgrowth of the R2P doctrine, which was used to justify the 2011 NATO war in Libya and 2004 overthrow of Haiti’s elected government. While the less sophisticated neoconservatives simply call for a more aggressive military posture, the more liberal supporters of imperialism prefer a high-minded ideological mask to accomplish the same end. W2I is one such tool.

For many Dallaire embodies R2P and his name has been invoked to justify imperialist interventions. On January 31, 2003, Liberal Secretary of State for Latin America and Minister for La Francophonie Denis Paradis organized the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” to discuss that country’s future. No Haitian officials were invited to this two-day assembly where high-level US, Canadian and French officials discussed removing Haiti’s elected president, re-creating the dreaded army and putting the country under UN trusteeship. To justify the government’s plans in Haiti, Paradis cited purported inaction in Rwanda and Dallaire’s personal breakdown thereafter. The minister told the March 15, 2003, issue of l’Actualité, which brought the “Ottawa Initiative on Haiti” meeting to public attention, “I do not want to end up like Roméo Dallaire”, which was his reason why Canada needed to intervene in Haiti.

In the House of Commons debate after Haiti’s elected president and thousands of local officials were ousted in February 2004, Liberal MP and self-described human rights activist, David Kilgour, repeated the theme. “Canadians have much to learn from the experiences of General Roméo Dallaire in Rwanda. We must intervene when necessary and we must do so expeditiously and multilaterally. This is why I am delighted to hear that 450 Canadian troops are set to join U.S. forces in Haiti.”

To be fair, one should not blame an individual just because someone cites his name to justify a dastardly deed. Unless, of course, that individual has deliberately twisted the events in which he has participated in a way that aligns with those seeking an ideological cover to justify Western interventions (and a US backed dictatorship in Kigali). According to the standard narrative of the Rwandan Genocide, ethic enmity erupted in a pre-planned 100-day rampage by Hutus killing Tutsis, which was only stopped by the Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF). A noble Canadian general tried to end the bloodletting but a dysfunctional UN refused resources. Washington was caught off guard by the slaughter, but it has apologized for failing to intervene and has committed to never again avoid its responsibility to protect.

Dallaire has propagated this wildly simplistic account of the tragedy that gripped Burundi and Rwanda in the mid-1990s. He has ignored the overwhelming evidence and logic that points to the RPF’s responsibility for blowing up the presidential plane that unleashed the mass killings in April 1994. Prior to the murder of the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and much of the Hutu-led Rwandan military command, Dallaire was seen as favouring the US-backed RPF in contravention of UN guidelines. In response to the general’s self-serving portrayal of his time in Rwanda, the overall head of the UN mission in Rwanda, Jacques-Roger Booh Booh, published Le Patron de Dallaire Parle (The Boss of Dallaire Speaks). Almost entirely ignored by the Canadian media, the 2005 book by the former Cameroon foreign minister claims the Canadian general backed the RPF and had little interest in their violence despite reports of summary executions in areas controlled by them.

To align with Kagame’s claim of a “conspiracy to commit genocide” Dallaire has changed his depiction of the Rwandan tragedy over the years. Just after leaving his post as UNAMIR force commander Dallaire replied to September 14, 1994 Radio Canada Le Point question by saying, “the plan was more political. The aim was to eliminate the coalition of moderates…. I think that the excesses that we saw were beyond people’s ability to plan and organize. There was a process to destroy the political elements in the moderate camp. There was a breakdown and hysteria absolutely…. But nobody could have foreseen or planned the magnitude of the destruction we saw.”

To a large extent the claim of a “conspiracy to commit genocide” rests on the much celebrated January 11, 1994, “genocide fax”. But, this fax Dallaire sent to the UN headquarters in New York is not titled, to quote International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda lawyer Christopher Black, “‘genocide’ or ‘killing’ but an innocuous ‘Request For Protection of Informant.’” The two-page “genocide fax”, as New Yorker reporter Philip Gourevitch dubbed it in 1998, was probably doctored a year after the mass killings in Rwanda ended. In a chapter devoted to the fax in Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Year Later, Edward Herman and David Peterson argue two paragraphs were added to a cable Dallaire sent to UN headquarters about a weapons cache and protecting an informant (Dallaire never personally met the informant). The two (probably) added paragraphs said the informant was asked to compile a list of Tutsi for possible extermination in Kigali and mentioned a plan to assassinate selected political leaders and Belgian peacekeepers.

Mission head Booh-Booh denies seeing this information and there’s no evidence Dallaire warned the Belgians of a plan to attack them, which later transpired. Finally, a response to the cable from UN headquarters the next day ignores the (probably added) paragraphs. Herman and Peterson make a compelling case that a doctored version of the initial cable was placed in the UN file on November 27, 1995, by British Colonel Richard M. Connaughton as part of a Kigali–London–Washington effort to prove a plan by the Hutu government to exterminate Tutsi.

Even if the final two paragraphs were in the original version, the credibility of the information would be suspect. Informant “Jean-Pierre” was not a high placed official in the defeated Hutu government, reports Robin Philpott in Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction. Instead, “Jean-Pierre” was a driver for an opposition political party, MRND, who later died fighting with Kagame’s RPF.

Incredibly, the “genocide fax” is the primary source of documentary record demonstrating UN foreknowledge of a Hutu “conspiracy” to “exterminate” Tutsi, a charge even the victors justice at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda failed to convict anyone of. According to Herman and Peterson, “when finding all four defendants not guilty of the ‘conspiracy to commit genocide’ charge, the [ICTR] trial chamber [known as Military I] also dismissed the evidence provided by ‘informant Jean-Pierre’ due to ‘lingering questions concerning [his] reliability.’”

At the end of their chapter tracing the history of the “genocide fax” Herman and Peterson write, “if all of this is true, we would suggest that Dallaire should be regarded as a war criminal for positively facilitating the actual mass killings of April-July, rather than taken as a hero for giving allegedly disregarded warnings that might have stopped them.”

During a 2003 Parliamentary debate Liberal Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Aileen Carroll, and former NDP leader Alexa McDonough both complained that Conservative MP Chuck Strahl had disrespected Dallaire (he hadn’t). In response Strahl said, he “is a man admired by all Canadians and I am among them.”

 

Not all of us. Count this Canadian as someone who does not admire Dallaire.

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Rwanda’s tragedy used to fool people, slander others

Rwanda’s tragedy has been exploited for many purposes. Add slandering a pro-Palestinian activist to the list.

Since I wrote this article about the Jewish Defense League last month, Toronto’s Alex Hundert has repeatedly labeled me anti-Semitic. The self-declared “anti-fascist” tweeted at Pacific Free Press, Rabble, the NDP and others to “cut ties” with me.

In response to this article the former Upper Canada College student harangued at least one prominent woman for posting it on her Facebook page. Hundert told her — wait for it — I’m anti-Semitic. Lacking in evidence or maybe sensing diminishing returns with that smear he added that I’m a Rwandan genocide denier.

If he means a researcher and writer on foreign affairs who always questions official government narratives/propaganda then I guess a “no contest” plea would be appropriate. The common portrayal of the Rwandan Genocide in Canada omits important context and is factually incorrect in substantial ways. It is also logically hollow, only believable because of widespread racism and anti-Africanism. (According to the most outlandish aspect of the official story, Hutu extremists murdered the Hutu presidents of Rwanda and Burundi and much of the Hutu-led Rwandan military command, which brought the Hutu to their weakest point in three decades, and then decided to begin a long planned systematic extermination of Tutsi.)

Do I believe hundreds of thousands of Rwandan Tutsi were slaughtered in mid-1994? Yes, definitely.

Was there a long planned high-level effort to wipe out all Tutsi? Probably not.

Were tens, possibly hundreds, of thousands of Hutu also slaughtered in mid-1994? It’s likely.

Was Paul Kagame, the person widely hailed for ending the killing, instead the individual most responsible for the mass slaughter? Probably, since his forces invaded Rwanda from Uganda, engaged in a great deal of killing and blew upthe presidential plane that unleashed the genocidal violence.

It’s telling Hundert would seek to smear me as a Rwanda genocide denier, rather than criticize my other controversial views such as that the private automobile should be eliminated, or that former Prime Minister Lester Pearson was a war criminal or that Canadian peacekeeping is often a form of imperialism. Maybe it’s because the label “genocide denier” hints at some type of hatred rather than a political disagreement. Or maybe Hundert hopes to associate me with Nazi Holocaust denial, which we’ll see more about below.

Fundamentally Hundert chose the issue because most Canadians know little about Rwanda and, to the extent they know anything about the country, they’ve heard an extremely one-sided media account of the complex tragedy that engulfed Rwanda and Burundi in the mid-1990s. News consumers are generally familiar with a Rwanda fairy tale focused on a white Canadian saviour. According to serial Kagame-Rwanda propaganda spreader Gerald Caplan, “the personal relationship so many Canadians feel with Rwanda can be explained in two words: Roméo Dallaire.” In a forthcoming book about left Canadian foreign policy I detail how, in their haste to laud a Canadian military “hero”, progressives have echoed a highly simplistic version of Rwanda’s tragedy, which has legitimated Africa’s most blood-stained dictator, Paul Kagame.

Beyond aligning with liberal Canadian foreign policy mythology, Hundert is tapping into the US Empire’s narrative. Washington and London’s support for the Uganda backed Rwandan Patriotic Front (RPF), as well as Kagame’s more than two-decade long rule in Kigali, explains the dominance of the Rwandan Genocide story. According to Edward Herman and David Peterson in Enduring Lies: The Rwandan Genocide in the Propaganda System, 20 Year Later, “[US and British] support, combined with the public’s and the media’s distance from and unfamiliarity with central African affairs, made the construction and dissemination of false propaganda on Rwanda very easy.”

After the Cold War, Washington viewed Kagame’s RPF as an imperial proxy force in a French-dominated region. A trio of authors explain in The Congo: Plunder and Resistance: “The plan expressed clearly by the White House at the time was to use the Rwandan army as an instrument of American interests. One American analyst explained how Rwanda could be as important to the USA in Africa as Israel has been in the Middle East.” Over the past two decades Kagame has repeatedly invaded the Congo, which has as much as $24 trillion in mineral riches.

Alongside his role as a US client, Kagame has drawn close to Israel. Trained at the US Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, Kagame visited Israel for the first time in 1996 and Africa’s most bloodstained dictator has been back repeatedly. In March Kagame was the only international head of state and first-ever African leader to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s (AIPAC) annual conference. On May 21 Kagame received the Dr. Miriam and Sheldon G. Adelson Prize for Outstanding Friendship with the Jewish People at a New York event with Israeli ambassador Ron Dermer and Alan Dershowitz. In 2013 the “butcher ofAfrica’s Great Lakes” shared a New York stage with staunch Zionists Elie Wiesel, Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson.

“He is the only living man to stop a genocide,” said Boteach to the Jewish Forward in 2014. “You need to look at the criticism on Rwanda through the same lens you look at criticism against Israel.” (After National Security Adviser Susan Rice criticized Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for speaking to Congress about the Iran nuclear agreement without President Obama’s approval, Boteach placed an ad in the New York Times which read “Susan Rice has a blind spot: Genocide … both the Jewish people’s and Rwanda’s”.)

Pro-Israel Jewish groups have bequeathed Kagame the genocide moniker. Author of Rwanda and the New Scramble for Africa: From Tragedy to Useful Imperial Fiction, Robin Philpot explains that long-time director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel, Efraim Zuro, and former US Holocaust Memorial Museum project director, Michael Berenbaum, were invited to a conference in Kigali a year after the mass slaughter in Rwanda. Philpot notes, “Efraim Zuro then became an advisor to the Rwandan government in its hunt for génocidaires, and from then on Zionists throughout the world were willing to share the use of the term ‘genocide’ with Rwandan Tutsis. Israel has very jealously guarded the use of that term; they have, for example, never agreed to share it with Armenians, largely because of Israel’s strategic alliance with Turkey.”

But, those who draw an analogy between the 6 million killed in the Shoah and the hundreds of thousands slaughtered in Rwanda are partaking in something akin to Nazi Holocaust denial (or extreme minimization). European Jews were targeted because of their religion/ethnicity, the violence was state organized and it mostly flowed from an ideology promoted from above.

The context in Rwanda was different. Speaking the same language, sharing the same culture and practising the same religion, the Tutsi/Hutu divide is historically a caste-type distinction the Belgians racialized. “Prior tocolonization,” explains Ann Garrison, “the Tutsi were a cattle owning, feudal ruling class, the Hutu a subservient peasant class. Belgian colonists reified this divide by issuing ID cards that labeled Rwandans and Burundians as Hutu, Tutsi, or Twa [1% of the population].”

The genocidal killings were not a long planned attempt to exterminate all Tutsi, which even the victors’ justice dispensed by the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR) effectively concluded. Instead, it was the outgrowth of a serious breakdown in social order that saw hundreds of thousands slaughtered by relatively disorganized local commands fearful of a foreign invasion that eventually conquered Rwanda and drove a quarter of the population out of the country. Probably an equal — and possibly a greater — number of Hutu were killed.

Jews didn’t end up in power in European countries after World War II, nor did the Herero in Namibia, Armenians in Turkey, indigenous people in North America, Maya in Guatemala, etc. Rwanda is a peculiar case where the minority — 10% of population — targeted for extermination ended up rulingafter the bulk of the violence subsided.

Of course, Hundert doesn’t care about what happened in Rwanda. He’s labeling me a genocide denier because I’ve challenged Canada’s contribution to Palestinian dispossession. Hundert seems particularly bothered by my linking pro-Israel Jewish organizations to fascistic, anti-Muslim groups, which pits his “anti-fascism” against his liberal-Zionism.

The Rwandan tragedy is often invoked in Canada for ulterior purposes. The Romeo Dallaire fairy tale is part of developing a “do-gooder” foreign policy mythology designed to lull Canadians into backing interventionist policies. More generally, a highly simplistic account of the Rwanda Genocide has repeatedly been invoked to justify liberal imperialism, particularly the Responsibility to Protect doctrine.

Maybe I should be honoured that Rwanda is now cited as a reason to suppress my writing.

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Snowbirds so much more than just pilots and planes

Canada’s massive military cultural outreach effort suffered a blow last week. The Snowbirds aerobatic team was forced to cancel a half-dozen scheduled appearances because they require “additional practice and training.”

Each year the famed Snowbirds participate in some 60 air shows across North America. Over the years they’ve flown more than 2500 shows and cultural events such as Canada Day celebrations. As many as six million people watchSnowbird planes fly annually. Additionally, the military’s demonstration team has been celebrated in books and on Canada Post stamps.

Eighty Canadian Force’s (CF) personnel work full-time with the squadron and the military spends $4.3 million annually on flying costs for the Snowbirds. The CF plans to spend $755-million on a new fleet of aircraft for the aerobatics team.

But, the Snowbirds do not contribute to the CF’s combat capabilities. They are simply, according to the Department of National Defence, an “important public relations and recruiting tool.” Recruitment and community outreach are closely intertwined. DND spends $10-$20 million annually on recruitment. The CF advertises on Xbox video games and Twitter, as well as bus shelters and Stanley Cup playoff broadcasts. Describing it as “one of the primary windows through which Canadians view their military”, Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Goodspeed calls “recruiting advertising … the most powerful form of PR available to the CF.” Its “Fight Distress, Fight Fear, Fight Chaos—Fight with the Canadian Forces” recruiting campaign won a series of marketing awards in the late 2000s.

At the height of the war in Afghanistan the CF launched Operation Connection to mobilize the whole armed forces to “make contact and attract recruits.” A message sent to soldiers in 2006 explained:

As a member of the Canadian Forces, we count on your presence at the hundreds of activities we will participate in over the next year … festivals, ship visits, visits to schools, car shows, job fairs, air shows, sports events … Telephone your children’s schools or your grandmother’s seniors’ residence and ask if you and/or your unit could be of help planning a Canadian Forces Day event or setting up a Remembrance Day program.

Operation Connection showcased the CF at Canada Day festivities, Santa Claus parades, NHL games etc. CBC Our World host Brian Stewart describedthe “information machine” responsible for Op Connection as “a public affairs unit that dwarfs all other government promotion offices.”

In 2010-11 the CF admitted to spending $354 million on public relations and related military commemorations. Six hundred and sixty-one staff members worked on this effort. According to another 2011 report, the Department of National Defence’s Public Affairs department had 286 staff. Public Affairs Officers’ write press releases, organize press conferences, monitor the news, brief journalists, befriend reporters and editors, or perform various other media-related activities. A large proportion of the news stories about the military are based on CF statements and events.

Ottawa also celebrates specific wars and battles. Recently, the government spent millions of dollars to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Vimy Ridge. In 2012 the federal government launched a $28 million initiative to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812.

Commemorating “glorious” wars can boost the CF’s standing. Bruised by the long and unpopular war in Afghanistan, the CF sought “several positive, proactive communication opportunities” to shore up its image. According to an internal file Canadian Press uncovered, the military had “plans for commemorative activities, including a series of World War I events”, which were to receive millions of dollars of CF money through 2020.

Alongside specific war commemorations, the federal government spends tens of millions of dollars on war monuments. Ottawa is home to a National War Memorial, Korean War Monument, National Victoria Cross Memorial, Veterans Memorial Highway, National Aboriginal Veterans Monument, Boer War Memorial etc. There are more than 7,500 memorials registered with Veterans Affairs’ National Inventory of Military Memorials.

Veterans Affairs allocates tens of millions of dollars annually to war memorials and related “awareness” activities. Between 2006 and 2014 the department’s Community Engagement Partnership Fund dished out $13 million for hundreds of small projects recognizing veterans such as $5,000 for a Remembrance Day service at the University of British Columbia. During 2010-11 fiscal year $41 million was spent on Canada Remembers, which included“awareness and participation of Canadians in remembrance activities” and “maintenance and improvements of memorials, cemeteries and grave markers.”

The Snowbirds’ recent troubles are a small setback to the government’s massive cultural outreach. It’s time, however, for a concerted challenge to this unbridled militarism.

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