Tag Archives: Our Glorious Non-Combat Operation

“Get The Fuck Out Of My Way” Perfectly Describes Trudeau’s Governing Philosophy

Image caption: A doctored photo of Justin Trudeau at a podium during the 2015 federal election. The Liberal Party's slogan, "Real Change Now" has been replaced with "Get the FUCK out of my way". (Image credit: CP/doctoring by yrs truly)

Image caption: A doctored photo of Justin Trudeau at a podium during the 2015 federal election. The Liberal Party’s slogan, “Real Change Now” has been replaced with “Get the FUCK out of my way”. (Image credit: CP/crappy photoshopping by yrs truly)

“Get the fuck out of my way,”* growled our Boy Wonder Prime Minister, as he shoved through a crowd of opposition MPs, grabbing one and elbowing another, in an ultimately self-destructive effort to get them to sit down so Parliament could get along with the important business of doing exactly what Justin Trudeau said it ought to be doing.

The incident has been parsed and mocked and debated and dissected interminably in the days since. The question of whether or not the opposition overreacted has gotten a lot of airtime, as have questions of how this incident will affect Trudeau’s supposedly sterling (inter)national reputation as a super-sexy uber-charismatic wonderkid feminist. The consensus seems to be that #Elbowgate, as the incident has been trashily labelled, is a shocking departure from the Prime Minister’s (all together now) “sunny ways” style.

But as a summary of the Trudeau Liberals’ governing philosophy, one would be hard-pressed to come up with anything more succinctly apt than “Get the fuck out of my way”. It’s Justin’s answer to Pierre’s “Just watch me” – which, when you get right down to it, amounted to about the same thing: the PM is gonna do what he wants. Continue Reading

Toronto Star & CTV’s front-line Iraq coverage amounts to little more than a military PR exercise

Image description: The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and Air Task Force-Iraq Commander, Colonel Shayne Elder (right), inspect the Honour Guard of Canadian Armed Forces members deployed on Operation IMPACT at Camp Patrice Vincent, Kuwait, on February 21, 2016. Vance recently travelled to the front lines in northern Iraq, where he was interviewed by the Toronto Star and CTV. (Image credit: Canadian Armed Forces)

Image description: The Chief of the Defence Staff, General Jonathan Vance, and Air Task Force-Iraq Commander, Colonel Shayne Elder (right), inspect the Honour Guard of Canadian Armed Forces members deployed on Operation IMPACT at Camp Patrice Vincent, Kuwait, on February 21, 2016. Vance recently travelled to the front lines in northern Iraq, where he was interviewed by the Toronto Star and CTV. (Image credit: Canadian Armed Forces)

The Toronto Star and CTV are currently in the midst of a three-day exclusive profile of Canadian Special Forces training Kurdish peshmerga soldiers on the front lines of the war against Daesh (the so-called “Islamic State”) in northern Iraq. But unfortunately, their reporting so far has amounted to little more than stenography, with an apolitical and pro-military point of view presented without an iota of criticism or balance. Given the recent history of the Canadian Forces’ relationship with the media, it’s reasonable to speculate that the friendliness of this coverage was a condition to which the media organizations agreed in exchange for access.

The frontline access granted to the Star and CTV is a notable departure from the intense secrecy which has shrouded this mission since its earliest days. Other than sporadic glimpses on fear-mongering political tours, reporters have generally been denied access to the area, particularly reporters who come asking difficult questions, as the Globe and Mail’s Mark MacKinnon did in the months after the death of Canada’s lone casualty in the conflict, Sgt. Andrew Dorion, at the hands of the very Kurdish peshmerga troops he had been training.

MacKinnon was repeatedly turned away despite obtaining permission from all relevant authorities to travel to the area, and Department of National Defence officials were pointedly vague and politely uncooperative in response to persistent inquiries from the Globe on the matter. The military’s top brass was likely not too pleased with the resulting long read, which dug deeply into the many questions still surrounding Dorion’s death and highlighted the highly contingent and transactional nature of the Kurds’ alliance with Western militaries.

This was likely exactly what Chief of the Defence Staff Gen. Jonathan Vance had in mind when he criticized media coverage he perceives as being hostile to the military. Last fall, Vance, whose visit to the front lines is a central highlight of the Star/CTV coverage, put forward plans to “weaponize” the information DND shared with the media. This incredible story, broken by the Ottawa Citizen’s David Pugliese, didn’t get nearly enough attention at the time, and is extremely relevant in light of this Star/CTV exclusive:

There will be more strategic leaks by the Canadian Forces/DND to journalists who are deemed “friendly” to the military. Such leaks will consist mainly of “good news” stories or positive initiatives and the journalists will be required to heavily promote those.

Equally important, is the flip-side of this “weaponization” strategy. That is the targeting of journalists who are writing or broadcasting the stories that the [Canadian Forces]/DND don’t want out in the public domain.

Journalists seen as “trouble-makers” are those producing stories about failed equipment purchases or uncovering details about severely injured soldiers not being treated properly or individuals being sexually harassed, etc., public affairs officers tell Defence Watch.  In other words, reporters who are producing what the CF/DND views as negative or embarrassing news stories.

The “weaponization” aspect will come into play with phone calls to media bosses, letters to the editor, etc. – anything to undercut the credibility of such journalists in the eyes of readers and their employers, NDHQ public affairs sources say. Other tactics aimed at these journalists could also be developed.

Vance later tried to downplay the report, saying that while he understood why some may find the term “weaponization” “aggressive”, he merely “want[ed] Defence to be a respected voice in the very important defence dialogue that goes on in the country”. Notwithstanding these comments, given the military’s history of intimidating reporters who cover them unfavourably, it would be understandable if this threat of “weaponization” put a chill on critical coverage of Canada’s operations in Iraq.

It also simultaneously created a perverse incentive – outlets which provided positive coverage which was “friendly” to the military would be rewarded. It seems that the Star and CTV have won this teacher’s pet contest, and are doing their best to maintain their current level of access with what ultimately amount to hero-worshipping puff pieces.

The Star’s piece on Friday, sensationally headlined “Daesh is doomed, Canada’s top general says during dramatic visit to Iraq”, is an exercise in security theatre. Peppered with details on the dangers of the visit (“Anything in the bushes, avoid it. The last thing I want is for you guys is to step on something that goes boom,” a Canadian special operations sergeant cautioned journalists as they awaited Vance’s arrival”), the article is profoundly deferential to Vance, who is given a platform from which to uncritically promote the mission and confidently declare that it will inevitably be successful:

Today, the Star gushes about the incredible progress Canada’s incredible Special Forces (“experts in the craft of warfare…among the best in the world…trained to handle worst-case scenarios at home and abroad”) have made in training and assisting peshmerga troops:

“Since we’ve been working here in northern Iraq, we’ve seen outstanding progress. They are very capable fighters. They will absolutely fight to the last man to protect their homes,” a major with special operations forces told the Star…

But the Canadians are more than just military teachers. They are a welcome reassurance, a morale booster in what has been a difficult fight against the extremists…

“As peshmerga we gained a lot from the Canadians, from training to help during major attacks. We thank them for all this,” one pesh soldier told Canadian journalists as he stood watch in an observation post.

Meanwhile, CTV’s Lisa LaFlamme, absurdly wearing a helmet and a bulletproof vest emblazoned with the word PRESS, opened her exclusive front-line interview with Vance with what is possibly the softest softball question of all time:

LAFLAMME: So tell me about, you know, this is such a rare opportunity for Canadians to finally see who Canada’s Special Forces are. Why was that important for you to share this message now?

VANCE: Well, I guess I’ll start with, Lisa, by saying that to me, every member of the Canadian Armed Forces is special, and every part of the Armed Forces has something special and important to offer to a military mission. In the specific case of CANSOF [Canadian Special Operations Forces], this is an organization that I want Canadians to be proud of. I think we should be proud of them. They’re wonderful people – you know, bright, motivated, and exceptionally well trained. And we’re one of a very, very small number of nations in the world that can do what we do.

Just in case you forgot – this is the exact same general who just months ago was threatening career-sabotaging reprisals against journalists who covered the military unfavourably. Is it any wonder large sections of the Star’s reporting reads like it could have been directly copied from a DND press release? Or that LaFlamme gave Vance every opportunity to make himself and his troops look good?

This “exclusive coverage” has not in any way offer the public a better understanding of Canada’s military mission in Iraq, and especially not of the fraught political context in which it operates. Instead, it’s been a fairly blatant exercise in public relations, uncritically promoting Canadian Special Forces, their peshmerga-training mission, and of course, Gen. Jonathan Vance.


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Canada’s overlooked baggage of foreign colonialism

Image description: Several heavily armed Canadian soldiers in camouflage uniforms stand on a dusty Afghan road, rifles in hand, as a tank approaches. Off to the side, two Afghan men with bicycles lean against a partially destroyed building, watching the scene. (Image credit: ISAF/Wikipedia

Image description: Several heavily armed Canadian soldiers in camouflage uniforms stand on a dusty Afghan road, rifles in hand, as a tank approaches. Off to the side, two Afghan men with bicycles lean against a partially destroyed building, watching the scene. (Image credit: ISAF/Wikipedia)

Speaking to an audience at New York University this past week, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau set off a tempest of argument in Parliament and online with a seemingly off-the-cuff statement that Canada doesn’t have “the baggage” of a “colonial past”.

The remark was a reply to a question about peacekeeping, and Trudeau’s handlers and defenders were quick to point out that the Prime Minister was referring to colonialism in a foreign context, and not denying the legacy of colonialism in (so-called) Canada.

In fact, as the CBC pointed out, Trudeau delved into that painful legacy during the same talk:

Trudeau also spoke critically of Canada’s relationship with Indigenous people — and specifically mentioned “colonial behaviours” — in comments that were not in the National Observer article.

“We have consistently marginalized, engaged in colonial behaviours, in destructive behaviours, in assimilationist behaviours, that have left a legacy of challenges to a large portion of the people who live in Canada who are Indigenous peoples,” Trudeau said, in answering a question from a student.

Nevertheless, Trudeau has come under fire for the comments. Some see the distinction between foreign and domestic colonialism as meaningless, as Canada is a product of colonialist ideology. It is a nation which was literally built on the colonial dispossession of land and resources from Indigenous peoples, a genocidal process which continues to this day.

Less discussed is this debate, however, is Trudeau’s erroneous assertion that Canada doesn’t have “baggage” when it comes to colonialism in other parts of the world. Continue Reading

Defying all reason, NATO is shambling towards another disastrous war in Libya

Image description: Two fighter jets release explosives in mid-air. (Image credit: Coto Report)

Image description: Two fighter jets release explosives in mid-air, apparently over Benghazi, Libya. (Image credit: Coto Report)

As Canada and its NATO allies gear up for yet another military intervention in Libya, I feel it’s worth asking what exactly they hope to accomplish there.

Note I don’t say “what we hope to accomplish”. I was against the first round of bombing and political interference and sneaky boots-on-the-ground special-forces whatever-it-was-they-did (cause-we’ll-never-know), although of course Stephen Harper & Co. never asked me for my opinion. And I’m solidly against a second ill-conceived round of open-ended meddling into one of the more complex civil wars in the world, mostly on the grounds that Western militaries caused the damn war by virtue of its first ill-conceived intervention, and haven’t exactly demonstrated any kind of penitence or even awareness that they played a role in creating the chaos that subsumes Libya today.

If you’ve forgotten about the First Libyan War Non-Combat Operation, or if you weren’t paying attention at the time, here’s how it went down: Continue Reading

ICYMI: Conservative Party’s disastrous approach to Ukraine embraced by Liberals

Image description: Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk and former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, both standing, shake hands in front of a row of Canadian and Ukrainian flags on July 14, 2015. In front of them is a table with two chairs, two sets of documents and pens, and a vase of flowers. To either side of the Prime Ministers are two unidentified observers. (Image credit: Uncredicted/pm.gc.ca via the Wayback Machine)

Ukraine’s ambassador to Canada says that the new Liberal government hasn’t departed in any major way from the policies of the old Conservative one – and that’s cause for major concern.

But unlike other continuities from the Harper era which have garnered much more attention, the new administration’s steady-as-she-goes approach to the Ukraine file is drawing precious little comment from the press or the public.

While debate rages over the Trudeau government’s retooled war non-combat operation in Iraq, for instance, a renewed deployment of Canadian Forces troops on a virtually identical “training” “non-combat” mission to Ukraine came and went with a minimum of national attention or fuss.

But that’s a problem, because the mission was never subject to much public scrutiny to begin with. That was despite the fact that there were major concerns that Canadian troops would be training Nazis.

Typically, the word “Nazi” is deployed as a hyperbolic epithet, but in this case we’re talking about actual factual honest-to-God Nazis: Continue Reading

Fallacy Friday: Security agencies utterly lacking in credibility on security issues

Image description: One of those obnoxious "Keep calm and carry on"-style posters, reading "Keep calm and trust me - I'm an expert".

Image description: One of those obnoxious “Keep calm and carry on”-style posters, reading “Keep calm and trust me – I’m an expert”. (Image credit: Author)

The Ministers of Defence and Public Safety tout the “prominent” and “robust” roles that the Canadian Security and Intelligence Service (CSIS) and the Communications Security Establishment (CSE) will play in Canada’s retooled military operations in Iraq, but aren’t at liberty to reveal exactly what the two agencies will be doing.

Two former high-ranking national security officials pen an editorial urging the Trudeau government to retain and expand upon new powers granted to intelligence agencies by the controversial C-51, arguing that (unspecified) threats to Canada have “seldom been so high”.

In the wake of a pair of high-profile scandals at CSE and CSIS, officials reassure a worried public that the difficulties were the cause of “inadvertent” errors or the behaviour of a “rogue” lone (now-ex-)employee, and that when it comes to privacy concerns, people don’t really have anything to worry about.

How are we to assess these stories and others like them? The occasional dispatches we mere mortals receive from the lofty milieu of those with above-top-secret clearances are always glaringly incomplete, with key details replaced by an index finger coyly placed upon a smilingly tight lip. It’s often implied that if we just knew all the details, then of course we’d see things their way, but since for obvious reasons certain facts just can’t be revealed, we’ll just have to trust them.

But there’s a strong case to be made for doing the exact opposite – to treat each and every claim made by a national security official, a government minister, or a private-sector apologist for the surveillance apparatus with extreme skepticism or disbelief. Because of informational asymmetry and perverse incentives, the public has effectively no ability to objectively assess the claims of intelligence and security agencies, and no compelling reason to accept on faith alone that we aren’t being deceived in some way.  Continue Reading

Canada ending ill-conceived air war, expanding ill-conceived ground war in Iraq

Image description: Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (right) looks on as U.S. Navy Admiral Bill Gortney speaks at the Halifax International Security Forum. (Image credit: U.S. Embassy Canada/Flickr)

Image description: Canadian Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan (right) looks on as U.S. Navy Admiral Bill Gortney speaks at the Halifax International Security Forum on November 20, 2015. (Image credit: U.S. Embassy Canada/Flickr)

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has fallen under heavy criticism from the Conservative Party this past week over the government’s recently announced revamp of Canada’s war non-combat operation with ISIS/Daesh. Interim leader Rona Ambrose slammed the ending of the Air Force’s bombing mission in Iraq and Syria as “shameful”, and called Trudeau “dangerously naive” for his belief that the best approach to the conflict was, in his words, a “reasonable” one.

“There’s no reasoning with terrorists of this kind, that’s why it’s important to send a very clear signal that we are willing to do what it takes to fight a threat of this nature,” Ambrose told the CBC’s Rosemary Barton.

But the Conservatives, as is par for the course, are barking up the wrong tree on this one. Distracted by the smell of red meat for their base – cowardice in the face of Islamic terrorism! – they’ve missed the true issues in PMJT’s mission relaunch.

The fact of the matter is that the end of Canada’s ill-conceived air war, though laudable in isolation, is accompanied by a significant escalation of what can only reasonably be termed a ground war in Iraq. And there’s nothing in the rhetoric coming from either the Prime Minister or the Department of Defence to indicate that the government has well-considered contingency plans for the various ways in which this conflict may develop, or even much acknowledgement of the massive complexity of the situation. Continue Reading

Liberals’ plan for Iraq & Syria will be unrealistic, unwinnable and unfinished

Image: An RCAF CF-188 Hornet refuels from a CC-150 Polaris over Iraq. In the background are white fluffy clouds and a blue sky. (Image credit: Department of National Defence)

Sources inside the Department of National Defence indicated to the press last Friday that the Liberal government’s long-awaited plan for Canada’s military operations against the so-called Islamic State (also known, derisively, as Daesh) will be revealed early this week.

While the specific details of the plan remain to be seen, a few things are already certain: it will be unrealistic, will feature no feasible path to victory, and will not address the main driving forces of the conflict in any meaningful way.

Bold claims? Perhaps. But how else to interpret the last four months of hyper-cautious prevarication on the part of Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan and his colleagues on this issue, their near-perfect silence on the escalation of Russian intervention in Syria or the mounting evidence of Turkish governmental collaboration with Daesh, their total unwillingness to justify their drawdown of fighter jets, their wilful ignorance of our “ally” Saudi Arabia’s involvement on both sides of the conflict? Continue Reading

Remember #StopC51? Anybody?

Image: a protester holds a sign with a thumbs-down symbol over the words C-51 at a large rally. (Image credit: openmedia.org)

It was the major rallying cry of activist groups across Canada this spring. Tens of thousands took to the streets in big cities and small towns in opposition to its passage. Editorial boards slammed its heavy-handed creeping totalitarianism, even at more conservative publications like the Globe and Mail:

On close inspection, Bill C-51 is not an anti-terrorism bill. Fighting terrorism is its pretext; its language reveals a broader goal of allowing government departments, as well as CSIS, to act whenever they believe limply defined security threats “may” – not “will” – occur.

It became one of the most fiercely debated and protested government bills in recent years, and its passage was fought tooth and nail.

It’s easy to forget now, but when C-51 was first proposed, it was wildly popular. Something like 80% of Canadians were in favour of its passage, with many saying that the bill didn’t go far enough in tackling terrorism.

It was only after a fantastically organized grassroots campaign of public education against the bill and high-profile criticisms of its contents, including condemnations from the Canadian Bar Association and four former Prime Ministers, that public opinion started to turn around. And, it’s worth noting, it was only when a majority of Canadians opposed the bill that Leader of the Opposition Thomas Mulcair finally clarified that he favoured its repeal. As late as mid-May, the NDP’s opposition mainly focussed on the lack of Parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies, and while Mulcair had indicated he would vote against the bill, some comments he had made on the issue seemed to imply that he favoured reforming it if his party won the election in October.

Meanwhile, Liberal leader Justin Trudeau’s inherently mockable wishy-washy position, that he was against portions of the bill but would be voting for it nonetheless, seemed to fail to capture the urgency of the issue. For many, it was nuance for the sake of nuance, when what was called for was a clear and unequivocal denunciation of the dangers of the law. Andrew Mitrovica at iPolitics was unreserving in his scorn: Continue Reading

Prime Minister Trudeau’s absolutely incoherent statement on Canada’s fight with ISIS

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau attended a town-hall-style interview organized by Maclean’s Magazine. It was the first extensive, wide-ranging interview Trudeau has given since the election campaign ended, and as such was an opportunity for the media and the public to press him on the specifics of his government’s many ongoing projects and proposals.

Details haven’t been Trudeau’s strong suit, either on the campaign trail or since he took power. This is obviously more true of some subjects than others, but on a wide range of issues, from the “fixing” of C-51 to the timing and specifics of marijuana legalization to the government’s thoughts on and plans for electoral reform, what the public has been told so far essentially adds up to “Just wait and see”.

And on no topic has this vagueness been more pervasive than the issue of Canada’s fight with ISIS.

Trudeau and his Foreign Affairs Minister, Stephane Dion, insist that the Liberals’ campaign promise to withdraw Canada’s fighter jets from the conflict still stands, but two months after election day, those same fighter jets are still dropping bombs on Iraq and Syria, and no date has been provided for their mission’s conclusion. Meanwhile, aside from vague statements from the Prime Minister that Canada would bolster its contingent of military trainers, we haven’t heard any concrete details about what the shape of Canada’s military mission will be, what its objective are, how long it will last, where it will operate, or how it hopes to accomplish its goals.

Nor have we heard from Trudeau, during the election or afterwards, a coherent statement as to why he feels that Canada ought to end its bombing mission while strengthening its training mission. No doubt there is a case to be made for this particular course of action, but it’s not a case that Justin Trudeau or his ministers have ever made publicly.

So it was only a matter of time before the subject came up during Trudeau’s town hall. Up to that point, I thought that Trudeau had done a fine job of answering questions in detail – which isn’t to say that I agreed with his positions, merely that he was getting into the nitty-gritty of policy in a way I hadn’t seen him do during the campaign or since he took power. But as soon as the subject pivoted away from domestic policy into foreign affairs, he suddenly seemed like a first-year poli-sci student who skipped the readings and is trying to bullshit his way through a question from the prof that he doesn’t have a damn clue how to answer properly.

I’ve quoted the entire exchange in full here, although Maclean’s edited the plethora of “uh”s and “um”s out of Trudeau’s statements; if you’d like to watch the exchange, it begins at roughly 19:00 here. Continue Reading

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