I’m in a state of renewed alarm due to the “rising drumbeat” for a U.S. attack on Iran. Ex-U.S. military chief William Fallon used that image, calling it “not helpful.” I’ll say: ratcheting up the agitation and rage among Muslim populations — again. Why can’t the U.S. come up with something that effective for recruiting to its own side? Admiral Fallon, by the way, was retired right after speaking out, thus becoming another beat of the drum.

These include: U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney’s recent trip around the Mideast for no explained reason; his rejection of America’s own intelligence findings that Iran has no nuclear weapons program; and his response, “So?” to being reminded that most Americans oppose U.S. policy there. Senator Joe Lieberman made ominous comments at congressional hearings this week, saying Iranians are behind the murder of hundreds of U.S. soldiers. General David Petraeus agreed that Iran is arming “special groups” in Iraq.

In the old days, one could have expected Canadian foreign policy to try acting as a mild brake on the warmongering — to use one of the week’s catchwords — impulses of the big powers. For example: In the 1950s, external affairs minister Lester Pearson brokered creation of a UN force to end a British-French-Israeli invasion of Egypt.

In the 1960s, as prime minister, he criticized the Vietnam War; he was harangued and insulted by Lyndon Johnson for doing so. In the 1980s, Brian Mulroney and Joe Clark opposed U.S.-British support for apartheid South Africa, including its war-making in Angola. And, in 2003, Jean Chrétien declined to join the war on Iraq.

A mild brake, I stress. I know people who are hyperventilating by now at the suggestion that Canada is anything but a U.S. lackey in these situations. And they’ve got evidence on their side. The Pearson initiative came to save the unity of the Western alliance.

In Vietnam, Canada played a hidden, pro-U.S. role on the truce commission. The Mulroney-Clark position on apartheid served long-term Western business interests. As for Iraq, there are Canadian soldiers fighting alongside Americans there, despite our big public refusal. And don’t even get them started on the vile Canadian role in Haiti.

But I guess I’d argue back that a mild brake is better than hitting the accelerator. And an undependable lackey, or a mildly unreliable one, can be of some use in an inflammable world. It’s not about getting points for consistency, it’s about doing something to avoid total conflagration.

What have we now, in the Harper era? Instead of trying to restrain violence or rage, we careen ahead of it. We back Israel’s attack on Lebanon more vociferously than the U.S. We withdraw from the UN conference on racism before even Israel does. We say we’re in Afghanistan to kill the scumbags, unlike European nations that stress negotiating with the Taliban.

We used to be an ambiguous middle power with an odd appeal to all sides. Now we’re more like one of those pathetic tiny members of the coalition of the billing, whoops, willing, who contribute almost nothing in Iraq except fake legitimacy. We’re like Latvia, Estonia or Lithuania (total input: nine police trainers). We’ve become the fourth Baltic amigo. But they at least have the historic excuse of their vulnerability to Russian pressure. What’s ours?

And instead of Lester Pearson or Joe Clark, we have the challenged mind of Peter MacKay. This week, he told the CBC’s Peter Mansbridge that the Soviets invaded Afghanistan, but we were invited in. This is practically elegant in its ass-backwardness. The Soviets were originally invited in, with the usual verbal convolutions. But “we” simply invaded, overthrew a government and installed our own, which then “invited” us in. The least he can do is get his story straight, in the sense of intelligently dishonest.


Rick Salutin

Rick Salutin is a Canadian novelist, playwright and critic. He is a strong advocate of left wing causes and writes a regular column in the Toronto Star.