Harper, Patriotism and Supporting the Troops

I watched Prime Minister Steven Harper “supporting” the troops on Red Friday at Petawawa.

“You deserve the applause not just for inventing Red Fridays but because of the incredible strength and support this community has displayed over the past 12 months (while your troops) have been deployed in Afghanistan. I know it hasn’t been easy. This community has had more losses than any other base in this country but you have stood firm in support of our troops because you are so proud of them and you should be,” he said.

However then Harper went on to say:

“We can’t let anyone get away with tarnishing the reputation of the Canadian Forces as the most professional, dedicated, disciplined and effective soldiers on this planet,” Harper told the gathered in a Legion parking lot outside CFB Petawawa, the base that has suffered the most deaths in Canada’s five-year military engagement in Afghanistan.

Harper told the gathering of green-fatigued troops and red-clad civilian family members that nine soldiers were honored for their work in Afghanistan last month.

“Unfortunately these soldiers did not get the attention they deserved because their stories were eclipsed by arguments in the House of Commons over the allegations of Taliban prisoners. I sincerely hope their stories get told when the Governor General formally awards their decorations,” the prime minister told the crowd to boisterous applause.

Harper was doing more to degrade what should have been overt support for the troops into a deflection of this incompetent and incoherent understanding and handling of Canadian detainees in Afghanistan. He took the opportunity to attack the opposition for daring to criticize the bungling of defense Minister Gordon O’Connor.

Initially, the story was that there were only allegations of abuse, but Canadian officials on the ground did not see anything (and did not look either), then Minister O’Connor said that Canada did not know what happened to the prisoners that it handed over to Afghan police. No that was not true Canada always had access to the prisoners, nope the Red Cross was following up on it, nope that wasn’t true either. Nobody really knew what was going on.

It was PM Steven Harper who extended the “tarnish” by linking criticism of his government’s Afghani detainee policy to criticism of the troops. This seems to be a page out of George W. Bush’s playbook. If you can’t handle the scrutiny call it unpatriotic and an unfair “attack” on the troops. However real support of the troops means giving them the funding and the means to carry out their job and ensuring that you give the clear moral leadership. If a government wants to toss out the Geeneva and Hauge conventions, then any pretense of being moral is lost.

Clearly there is more going on in Afghanistan that the people at home have been told. The increased Canadian deaths in southern Afghanistan is happening for a reason. There is also some good work happening in Norther Afghanistan, where Canadian troops are working in conjunction with the local population. But, since when has criticism of government policy been criticism of the troops. If the troops have been given a detainee policy that has been abused, the thing to do is fix it and not as this government is fond of doing — attributing blame.

At the end of the news clips, one of the military wives said it the best. She was glad to be living in a country where this debate was possible. Because if the debate was silenced, what were the troops fighting for ?

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