While peacekeeping is immensely popular with Canadians, key elements in our military have long resented it as an annoying distraction from what they see as their real job: making war.

Gen. Rick Hillier voiced this resentment last year, when he insisted that the role of the Canadian Forces is to “be able to kill people.”

Hillier and others in Canada’s hawkish defence lobby — generals, politicians, military analysts and defence contractors — are therefore delighted by the transformation of our military role in Afghanistan into one that includes war-making. Indeed, they pushed for this transformation.

And they’re determined to maintain this hawkish turn in our military policy by shutting down public debate about it.

In this, they have the full support of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who last week rejected calls for a Parliamentary debate, arguing, bizarrely, that it would endanger the troops. So it’s not axe-wielding insurgents that endanger the troops, but sharp questions in the House of Commons.

Harper insists the proper role for the public is to simply rally around the troops. This is a clear attempt to deny Canadians their legitimate role in shaping Canada’s defence policy. Indeed, Harper has things backwards. The role of the military is to serve our interests, not the other way around.

Our military shouldn’t be in Afghanistan to serve some grandiose purpose that may exist in the fantasies of our generals. It’s there to serve the interests of Canadians.

So Canadians are entitled to a full national debate about whether soldiers wearing our flag are serving our interests by being there.

There’s reason to believe that they might actually be endangering us (as well as themselves), by creating an antagonism toward Canada. As CBC reporter Patrick Brown reported from Kandahar last week: “There’s always a feeling here that foreigners are interfering.”

Certainly, if one were trying to make Canada a terrorist target, it’s hard to imagine a better strategy than aligning ourselves with George W. Bush’s “war on terror,” with its Hellfire missiles and torture chambers. Our troops will eventually be incorporated into a NATO mission, but for now they’re part of Washington’s “Operation Enduring Freedom.” No wonder Canadian defence lobbyists want to avoid a debate.

They’ve finally succeeded in lining up Canada with Bush’s hawkish militarism. Their past attempts to do this failed, when strong public resistance pushed Liberal governments to refuse to participate in the Iraq war and in missile defence. But the ramped-up Afghan deployment mostly slipped by under the radar screen.

The defence lobbyists don’t fear a vote in Parliament. They know they’d win that, with Conservative and Liberal support. They fear arousing the public.

The real risk of a national debate in Parliament isn’t that it threatens our troops.

It’s that it threatens the hawkish agenda, by awakening Canadians to the fact that the defence lobby has finally succeeded in pushing us deep into the arms of Bush’s war machine.

Linda McQuaig

Journalist and best-selling author Linda McQuaig has developed a reputation for challenging the establishment. As a reporter for The Globe and Mail, she won a National Newspaper Award in 1989...