Category Archives: Left Right

First principle of international relations should be ‘do no harm’

Many progressives call for Canada to “do more” around the world. The assumption is that this country is a force for good, a healer of humankind. But if we claim to be the “doctors without borders” of international relations, shouldn’t Canada swear to “first do no harm” like MDs before beginning practice? At a minimum shouldn’t the Left judge foreign policy decisions through the lens of the Hippocratic oath?

Libya illustrates the point. That North African nation looks set to miss a United Nations deadline to unify the country. An upsurge of militia violence in Tripoli and political wrangling makes it highly unlikely elections  planned for December will take place.

Seven years after the foreign backed war Libya remains divided between two main political factionsand hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. Thousands have died in fighting since 2011.

The instability is not a surprise to Canadian military and political leaders who orchestrated Canada’s war on that country. Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011 military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers the country would likely descend into a lengthy civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted, “there is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.”

A year and a half before the war a Canadian intelligence report described eastern Libya as an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the anti-Gadhafi stronghold. In fact, during the bombing, notes Ottawa Citizenmilitary reporter David Pugliese,Canadian air force members privately joked they were part of “al-Qaida’s  air force”. Lo and behold hardline Jihadists were the major beneficiaries of the war, taking control of significant portions of the country.

A Canadian general oversaw NATO’s 2011 war, seven CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast. Ottawa defied the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians by dispatching ground forces, delivering weaponry to the opposition and bombing in service of regime change. Additionally, Montréal-based private security firmGardaWorld aided the rebels in contravention of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations. Western media and politicians repeated the rebels’ outlandish (and racist) claims that sub-Saharan African mercenaries fuelled by Viagra given by Gaddafi, engaged in mass rape. Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising and Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, were unable to find any basis for these claims.

But, seduced by the need to “do something”, the NDP, Stephen Lewis, Walter Dorn and others associated with the Left supported the war on Libya. In my new book Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I question the “do more” mantra and borrow from healthcare to offer a simple foreign policy principle: First Do No Harm. As in the medical industry, responsible practitioners of foreign policy should be mindful that the “treatments” offered often include “side effects” that can cause serious harm or even kill.

Leftists should err on the side of caution when aligning with official/dominant media policy, particularly when NATO’s war drums are beating. Just because the politicians and dominant media say we have to “do something” doesn’t make it so. Libya and the Sahel region of Africa would almost certainly be better off had a “first do no harm” policy won over the interventionists in 2011.

While a “do more” ethos spans the political divide, a “first do no harm” foreign policy is rooted in international law. The concept of self-determination is a core principle of the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.Peoples’ inalienable right to shape their own destiny is based on the truism that they are best situated to run their own affairs.

Alongside the right to self-determination, the UN and Organization of American States prohibit interfering in the internal affairs of another state without consent. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter states that “nothing should authorize intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

A military intervention without UN approval is the “supreme international crime”. Created by the UN’s International Law Commission after World War II, the Nuremberg Principles describe aggression as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.”In other words, by committing an act of aggression against Libya in 2011 — notably bombing in service of regime change — Ottawa is responsible not only for rights violations it caused directly, but also those that flowed from its role in destabilizing that country and large swaths of Africa’s Sahel region.

If Canada is to truly be the “good doctor” of international relations it will be up to Left foreign policy practitioners to ensure that this country lives up to thatpart of the Hippocratic oath stating, “First do no harm”.

Comments Off on First principle of international relations should be ‘do no harm’

Filed under Left Right

The world needs more union involvement in foreign affairs

Unions are a force for good in the world. Too bad not all of them are a force for good everywhere in the world.

Canadian unions are largely indifferent to international affairs. And when they engage it’s rarely to challenge Ottawa’s foreign policy.

Over the Labour Day weekend the Ontario Federation of Labour and some affiliates published a 14-page supplement in the Toronto Star highlighting the union movement’s progressive face. It discussed Indigenous and LGTBQ rights as well as racism and domestic violence and the fight for a $15 minimum wage, improved work standards and pharmacare. The stories and ads in the supplement also touched on improved patient care and public education as well as climate change.

But, there was barely a mention of the rest of the world. The only exception was a few words about legislation in New Zealand giving victims of domestic violence time off. There was nothing about international workers rights, let alone Canada’s role in enforcing an unjust global economic order.

Between April 2012 and July 2014 I worked for the Communications, Energy and Paperworkers Union (CEP), which merged with the Canadian Auto Workers during this period to create Unifor. In my position as CEP researcher I was assigned to meetings about Employment Insurance and the Canadian Pension Plan as well asFriends of Medicare and the Canadian Social Forum. The leadership also gave me considerable latitude to write articles (under the president’s name) criticizing exorbitant CEO pay, master servant relations at work andthe social/health impacts of inequality as well as calling for a public telecommunications provider. Yet, even though I’d written a handful of books about Canadian foreign policy, the CEP had little use for my experience in this domain. I only did one minor project related to foreign policy.

While they challenge corporate power on many domestic issues, unions generally remain silent on international affairs. In fact, it’s often worse than that. The ‘House of Labour’ and individual unions have often echoed official policy.

My new book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canadadetails unions support for the creation of NATO, Korean War, assassination of Patrice Lumumba, Bay of Pigs invasion, etc.. For decades unions openly backed Canadian participation in British and US imperialism. Antiwar and international solidarity activism in the late 1960s and 1970s significantly shifted unions’ alignment. But, the 2004 coup in Haiti offers an example of labour openly supporting imperialism. Québec unions assisted the Canadian/Québecois ruling class’ role in overthrowing President Jean-Bertrand Aristide and thousands of other elected Haitian officials, which spurred widespread human rights violations.

The Canadian Labour Congress has extensive historic ties to External Affairs (Global Affairs Canada) and has received much of its international relations budget from the official aid agency. CLC ties to government-backed institutes and NGOs have also shaped unions’ international policies and statements. For instance, the CLC has long been represented on the board of the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC),an umbrella group representing dozens of major government funded development NGOs (a representative of the United Steelworkers is currently on its board). To get a sense of their politics, the CCIC often invites Canada’s aid minister to speak at its annual conference and the promotion for its upcoming congress is an embarrassing sop to its government financiers. It notes: “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” Formulating the discussions this way ignores Trudeau’sarms sales to Saudi Arabia,backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments,antagonism towards Palestinian rights,efforts to topple the Venezuelan government,refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, etc.

In A Propaganda System: How Canada’s Government, Corporations, Media and Academia Sell War and ExploitationI outlined the main obstacles Canadians face in understanding their country’s role in world affairs. Every year the Department of National Defence, Veterans Affairs and Global Affairs Canada spend hundreds of millions of dollars articulating a one-sided version of Canadian foreign policy. In addition to massive PR departments, DND andGAC also operate history departments, university initiatives and their own media.Alongside government communications initiatives, international and military focused corporations finance university programs, think tanks and PR efforts. Additionally, the corporate media (and CBC/Radio Canada) only permit a narrow spectrum of opinion regarding Canadian foreign policy.

The structure of influencing what we perceive about the world outlined in A Propaganda Systemis 90 percent of the answer to why Canadians think their country is a force for good in the world. But, the broad left has also played a part in justifying Canada’s role within an unfair and unsustainable world economic system.

Organized labour’s failure to forthrightly challenge foreign policy decisions is one element in the multifaceted, self-reinforcing, dynamic that yields popular ignorance of Canada’s role in the world.

Unions can and should do much better. An injury to one is an injury to all, no matter which part of the planet we are from.

Comments Off on The world needs more union involvement in foreign affairs

Filed under Left Right

If Canada is a colony why are our banks so rich and powerful?

Strange how some people think Canada is a colony, a victim of U.S. power, when so much evidence points to the Great White North being an imperial power.

For example, Canada is an international banking powerhouse.

The Globe and Mailreport on TD’s third-quarter results noted that its “international operations – mostly in the United States and Latin America– produced outsized returns” while another recent story in that paper’s business pages pointed out that the Bank of Nova Scotia and Bank of Montreal “are doing brisk business lending in international markets, helping drive third-quarter profits higher.” For Canada’s biggest bank, reported the Financial Post, “U.S. wealth management unit helps propel RBC to $3.1 billion profit.”

Canada’s international banking prowess is not new. Dating to the 1830s, Canadian banks had become major players in the English Caribbean colonies and US-dominated Cuba by the early 1900s.

The Royal Bank of Canada began operating in Britain’s Caribbean colonies in the late 1800s and had branches there before Western Canada. During the 1898-1902 occupation of Cuba RBC was the preferred banker of US officials. (National US banks were forbidden from establishing foreign branches until 1914.) By the mid-1920s the “Banco de Canada”, as it was popularly known, had 65 branches in Cuba. In 1919 RBC established an association with the Westminster Bank, which had operations in British Africa. In 1925 RBC published an ad in Canadian magazines with a map of the Western Hemisphere with dots denoting the Royal’s presence throughout the Caribbean and South America. The headline read, “A bank with 900 branches: at home and abroad.”

The Bank of Montreal has operated in the Caribbean since the late 1800s. It was tied to British rule there and in Africa. According to James L. Darroch in Canadian Banks and Global Competitiveness, “in 1920, a substantial interest in the Colonial Bankwas purchased [by the Bank of Montreal] to fill out the branch network and to provide representation in the West Indies and West Africa.”

The Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce (CIBC) entered the Caribbean just after World War One and Mexico a bit earlier. According to Darroch, “the CIBC acted for the U.S. government after the U.S. came into possession of the Philippines following the Spanish-American war” of 1898.

Scotiabank has “full-service banking operations in 37 countries”.It set up shop in British controlled Jamaica in 1889, US-dominated Philippines a few years later and the Dominican Republic during the US occupation of 1916-1924.

With operations spanning the globe, Canadian banks are major international players. The five major Canadian banks are among the world’s 59biggest banks. At 0.5% of the world’s population, Canada should have 1 of the world’s top 200 banks. To put it differently, this country’s proportion of the world’s 59 biggest banks is more than 15 times the share of Canada’s global population.

Canada’s outsized banking power is not new. In1960 three of the world’s twelve biggest banks were Canadian and Canadian banks oversaw 15% of the international foreign currency market.

Similarly, Canada’s big five banks have long generated a significant share of their sizable profits from their international operations.In 1981 a Bank of Nova Scotia executive said, according to Walter Stewart in Towers of Gold, Feet of Clay: The Canadian Banks, “I don’t know why Canadians are upset about bank profits. We’ve stopped screwing Canadians. Now we’re screwing foreigners.”

Foreigners have protested Canadian banks for at least a century. CIBC and the Bank of Montreal we’re targeted during the 1910–17 Mexican Revolution andthere’s been publicly recorded criticism of Canadian banking practices in the Caribbeansince at least 1925. In the early 1970s Canadian banks were fire bombed in nationalist protestsin Trinidad and Tobago andScotiabank was targeted by demonstrators and the courts in Argentina at the start of the 2000s.

Amazingly, the Canadian left has generally ignored Canada’s international banking prowess (even as their foreign operations receive direct government assistance). The dominant left nationalist political economy perspective frames Canada as a victim of international capitalism. Looking at the world through a left nationalist lens generally leads individuals to ignore, or downplay, the destruction wrought by Canadian corporations abroad and “Canada’s hugely privileged place in the world economy”, as Paul Kellogg puts it in Escape from the Staple Trap: Canadian Political Economy after Left Nationalism.

Canadian banks have amassed significant wealth through their domestic operations and relationship to the profits generated from Tim Hortons workers, Inuit resources, oil extraction, etc. But, they’ve also made huge sums internationally and by skimming some of the wealth produced in US oil fields, Peruvian mines and Port-au-Prince sweatshops.

People on the left should tell it like it is: Canada is an imperial power, our ruling class profits greatly from the exploitation of poorer countries.

Comments Off on If Canada is a colony why are our banks so rich and powerful?

Filed under A Propaganda System, Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy, Left Right

Why on this despoiled earth would NDP leaders praise John McCain?

The NDP hierarchy’s response to noted war hawk John McCain’s death is shameful. Even worse, it reflects a general hostility towards the victims of Western imperialism.

After the U.S. Senator died over the weekend federal NDP leader Jagmeet Singh tweeted:

John McCain had the courage not to stoop to divisive politics. He showed us that we can disagree in a way that creates dialogue and discussion, not fear and division. Rest In peace.

Rachel Notley also praised a US politician who never met a war he didn’t like. “As @BarackObama wrote today”, the leader of Alberta’s NDP Government noted, “all of us can aspire to the courage to put the greater good above our own. At John’s best, he showed us what that means.” In a follow-up tweet Notley called McCain “a true public servant.”

Even purportedly progressive Saskatchewan NDP leader Ryan Meili praised McCain on Twitter, saying “sad to hear of the passing of Sen. John McCain – a principled man who served his country with honour in difficult times.” (Meili at least had the sense to delete his tweet.)

Anyone who has any doubt about celebrating McCain should watch Rania Khalek’s video and, as Ben Saucier noted in a succinct rejoinder to Singh:

McCain heavily promoted the lies that led to the Iraq war. He championed the NATO bombing of Libya. He supported and armed the jihadists destroying Syria. He played a role in bringing neo-Nazis to power in Ukraine and backed Saudi Arabia’s genocide in Yemen. He was no hero.

But, praising a man who rose to public attention by dropping bombs on civilian targets (a war crime) in North Vietnam is only part of the leadership’s whitewash of Western militarism. At the end of last month Singh published a statement on Korean War Veterans Day “honouring the brave veterans of the Canadian army who fought valiantly during the Korean War, so that today, South Koreans can live in peace and prosperity.”

It’s absurd to imply the 1950–53 Korean War was designed to secure “peace and prosperity” for South Koreans. About 27,000 Canadian troops and numerous warships expanded and internationalized a civil war that left as many as four million dead. They fought in support of Syngman Rhee’s brutal regime, which had killed tens of thousands in what Canadian diplomats in Washington described, in an internal cable to External Affairs at the time, as “a fair amount of repression by the Military Government of left-wing groups.” The understated diplomats added, “liberal social legislation had been definitely resisted.”

At the end of World War II the Soviets occupied the northern part of Korea, which borders Russia. US troops controlled the southern part of the country. According to Noam Chomsky:

When US forces entered Korea in 1945, they dispersed the local popular government, consisting primarily of antifascists who resisted the Japanese, and inaugurated a brutal repression, using Japanese fascist police and Koreans who had collaborated with them during the Japanese occupation. About 100,000 people were murdered in South Korea prior to what we call the Korean War, including 30-40,000 killed during the suppression of a peasant revolt in one small region, Cheju Island.

Singh’s Korean War Veterans Day statement concluded with a flourish of martial patriotism.

On this Korean War Veterans Day, let us also remember our current military personnel, and their families, who continue to fight every day to ensure that the values of peace, freedom, and democracy are defended around the world.

Were 385 Canadians sent to Sudan in 1884 to defend “peace, freedom, and democracy” or to beat back indigenous forces seeking to wrest control of Khartoum from famed English General Charles Gordon? Or how about the 7,000 Canadians who fought in southern Africa between 1899 and 1902? Was that war about advancing Cecil Rhodes’ mining interests and strengthening Britain’s position in the region or “peace, freedom and democracy”?

World War I had no clear and compelling purpose other than rivalry between up-and-coming Germany and the lead imperial powers of the day, Britain and France. And 20,000 Iraqi troops and tens of thousands of civilians were killed during the 1990–91 Gulf War to deepen the US foothold in the region.

The 18 Canadian fighter jets that participated in NATO’s illegal bombing of Serbia in 1999 didn’t bring “peace, freedom, and democracy” there. Nor did the 40,000 Canadians who fought in Afghanistan, which remains wracked by violence. Seven years after Canada participated in NATO’s war in Libya that country remains divided into various warring factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. (Canadian “peacekeepers” also helped overthrow Jean Bertrand Aristide’s elected government in Haiti and Congolese independence leader Patricia Lumumba.)

Canadian soldiers have only fought in one morally justifiable war: World War II. But, the historical record shows that Nazi expansionism’s threat to British interests, not opposition to fascism or anti-Semitism, led Ottawa to join WWII. (Only two years before the war Prime Minister Mackenzie King visited Hitler and in his diary King repeatedly expressed sympathy towards the Nazis.) As Jack Granatstein and Desmond Morton explain, “Canada went to war in September 1939 for the same reason as in 1914: because Britain went to war.”

Somebody should buy Jagmeet Singh a T-shirt that says: “I pissed on the world’s downtrodden to ingratiate myself with the mainstream establishment but all I got was this lousy shirt.”

Comments Off on Why on this despoiled earth would NDP leaders praise John McCain?

Filed under A Propaganda System, Left Right

The left’s naivety about Canada’s role in foreign affairs

Repeat after me: Canada is seldom a force for good in the world, Canada is seldom a force for good in the world.

Thomas Walkom’s “Canada should board Korean peace train” is yet another example of how the progressive end of the dominant media has been seduced by Canadian foreign policy mythology.

The leftist Toronto Star columnist offers an astute analysis of what’s driving rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. He points out that the two Koreas are moving the process forward and that Pyongyang believes “complete denuclearization” of the Peninsula includes the US forces in the region aiming nuclear weapons at it.

But, Walkom’s column is cloaked in naivety about Canada’s role in the geopolitical hotspot. He ignores the international summit Ottawa and Washington organized in January to promote sanctions on North Korea. In a highly belligerent move, the countries invited to the conference in Vancouver were those that fought against North Korea in the early 1950s conflict. “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” General Curtis LeMay, head of US air command during the fighting, explained three decades later. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off … twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure.”

(During another dreadful chapter in Korean history Canada supplied warmaterials to the Japanese army that occupied Korea before World War II.)

Continuing its aggressive diplomatic posture, Chrystia Freeland brought upNorth Korea at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February and the next month Canada’s foreign minister agreed with her Japanese counterpart to send a “strong message” to Pyongyang at the upcoming Group of Seven meetings. In a subsequent get together, Freeland and Japanese officials pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea. After “welcoming South Korea’s critical role in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea” in March, Freeland responded gingerly to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement last month to seek a formal end to the Korean War and rid the Peninsula of nuclear weapons. “We all need to be careful and not assume anything,” said Freeland.

Walkom also ignores the Canadian Forces currently seeking to blockade North Korea. Three weeks ago Ottawa announced it was a sending a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan to join British, Australian and US forces monitoring efforts to evade UN sanctions. Earlier in the year a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the pond partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea.

Canadians are also part of the UN military mission in Korea. The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created in 1950, Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre was recently appointed deputy commander of the UN force stationed there.

(To be fair, Walkom hints at Ottawa’s belligerence, noting that Canada is “still technically at war with North Korea” and is among countries that “traditionally take their cue from the U.S.”)

In my forthcoming book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I discuss how leftist intellectuals concede a great deal to the foreign policy establishment’s outlook. Laziness is a simple, though not unimportant, reason why these writers mythologize Canadian foreign policy. Buried amidst a mass of state and corporate generated apologetics, critical information about Canada’s role in the world takes more effort to uncover. And the extra work is often bad for one’s career.

A thorough investigation uncovers information tough to square with the narrow spectrum of opinion permitted in the dominant media. It’s nearly impossible to survive if you say Canadian foreign policy has always been self-serving/elite-driven or that no government has come close to reflecting their self-professed ideals on the international stage. Almost everyone with a substantial platform to comment sees little problem with Canadian power, finding it expedient to assume/imply Canada’s international aims are noble.

Rather than a story titled “Canada should board Korean peace train”, Walkom should have written about how “Canada must step off the belligerence bus”. His conscious or unconscious naivety regarding Canada’s role in Korea is part of a mainstream left trend that partly explains why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor despite a long history of supporting empire and advancing Canadian corporate interests abroad.

Comments Off on The left’s naivety about Canada’s role in foreign affairs

Filed under Left Right