Canada's military-industrial complex

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In a defining moment for Canada, Jean Chrétien resisted U.S. pressure and kept Canada out of Iraq.

Now Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion, in another historic moment, has shown that Chrétien's display of backbone was a one-time Liberal offering.

Dion's capitulation to the Conservatives and to the pro-war wing of his own party means that Canada will continue to fight America's war in Afghanistan until 2011 — despite clear public sentiment against the war.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper showed last week how he plans to use this Liberal acquiescence to advance a hawkish agenda that goes well beyond extending the mission in Afghanistan.

A triumphant Harper trumpeted the emerging "bipartisan consensus" on Afghanistan to a gathering of the Conference of Defence Associations, a high-powered military group that would warm the frozen heart of Dick Cheney.

The military men and defence contractors attending the event were delighted as Harper outlined plans to divert ever-larger sums of Canadian taxpayer dollars toward military spending, and to further Canada's transformation from peacekeeper into big-stick-carrying war maker.

The Liberal capitulation also seemed to embolden the military brass in their efforts to convince Canadians to be done with this annoying business of debating the war, once and for all. Both the top Canadian general, Rick Hillier, and U.S. Admiral William Fallon suggested that Canadian wavering risked inciting more Taliban violence.

Strangely, we're supposed to believe that the Taliban are incited to violence by our wavering, rather than by our military presence in their country. Indeed, we're supposed to believe that Afghans — renowned for centuries for their fierce resistance to foreign occupiers — would somehow lose their resolve, if only we'd forgo the Canadian parliamentary debate.

Hillier's attempt to stifle debate seemed like a textbook example of what former U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower had in mind when, in his famous parting address, he warned that the "unwarranted influence" of a military-industrial complex risked endangering the democratic process.

Back at the Conference of Defence Associations, Harper thrilled Canada's own mini military-industrial complex with talk about how countries without big militaries "will be ignored by everyone," and how military clout is the key to influence in the world.

Really? If swaggering around with a big stick was the way to impress others, George W. Bush would be a respected world leader. Odd that Harper thinks we're keen to jump into those cold footsteps — even as Obama warms up offstage.

The military crowd was also delighted by Harper's promise to top up his huge military spending increases by raising the annual automatic increases from 1.5 per cent to 2 per cent, starting in 2011.

So, even as we're finally pulling out of Afghanistan, we'll be ratcheting military spending higher still.

That's because Harper is already envisioning more wars after Afghanistan. As he told the gathering, peacekeeping won't be enough, since "it covers only a limited portion of the security challenges we face in today's international environment."

All this signals the deepening of the tentacles of a military-industrial complex into the soft haunches of Canadian democracy, as increased spending on the military and on the production of military hardware tie our economy more deeply to war, just as Eisenhower warned.

Perhaps Dion will find an issue he can win an election on. In the meantime, he's helping Harper transform Canada from a respected player on the world stage into a stick-wielding loudmouth, braying at the world from a protected perch inside the American empire.

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