Thursday, February 28, 2008

Many public policies depend, especially nowadays, on public perception rather than reality. The continuing Canadian participation in the American occupation of Afghanistan is one such instance. the following article from the Harper Index (keeping track of Stevie's manipulations) describes how our present government has manipulated public perception of this war. Make sure to subscribe toi this site for the latest on sneaky Stevie.
Mission vs. war – How Afghanistan conflict is framed
Canada's military involvement has been marketed as a noble cause, with help from Hillier, Horton's and hockey.

OTTAWA, February 28, 2008:
With the exception of the United States, Canada is isolated in its active involvement in the war against Taliban insurgents in southern Afghanistan. Despite this isolation, and 78 Canadian deaths to date, the war enjoys enough public support that Canada's two biggest political parties are on the verge of a compromise motion supporting it. Canada will be committed to stay in Afghanistan longer than the Soviets did, with little evidence that six years of NATO involvement has advanced its cause more than the Soviets managed for themselves earlier.

Why do Canadians support this war enough for such a compromise while Dutch, French, Italians, and others opt to stay out? The answer lies in the way this war was sold to Canadians by the Harper government and its allies and by what it is called.

In part it may be the government has succeeded in framing the war against insurgents in Afghanistan as a "mission", which is how it is almost always now described. "George W. Bush proclaimed a War on Terror to confuse the legal authorities," and military historian and author Desmond Morton told in an email interview from his McGill University office. "There was no identifiable enemy. There were no treaty-binding rules for such a conflict... The word mission is even more frightening to me since it speaks to a kind of colonial arrogance deeply imbedded in our Afghan presence. Are we on a mission to convert the Afghans to our values? What if the Afghan National Army took up residence in Canada to teach us the proper way to handle gay marriage or the rights of women. We would want them out - quite desperately but not necessarily unanimously. Canadians have been sold on the notion that it is our mission to reform Afghanistan - chase the National Police out of corruption, eliminate the drug trade, require higher ethical standards from Afghan officials."

Political scientist Nelson Wiseman, interviewed by phone from his University of Toronto office, agreed that calling the war a mission "...paints the picture that it's much more than a war. But I think that's a legitimate claim," he said, in view of Canada's development efforts there.

Wiseman says, however, "It is dangerous for Harper to ally himself too closely to Bush in Afghanistan. That's why he's not using the same kind of phrases as Bush. He's not using 'cut-and-run', for instance. He's trying to immunize himself on it by co-opting the Liberals." The main danger for Harper, Wiseman says, "is if an election occurs during 'a bad downward spiral' in the conflict 'with large numbers of Canadian troops injured in high-profile incidents'."

Morton believes Canada's top solider, Rick Hillier, is largely responsible for Canadians becoming "sold" on the Afghanistan conflict and says Hillier "is a product of my own advice to the Canadian military at my annual Staff College briefing. If you want to win resource battles in Ottawa, treat it as Battle Space Ottawa and learn the same rules as other winners. Publicity is power. Learn the rules of engagement and find the guts to fight."

"Hillier's predecessors were driven by ambition and acute nervousness," Morton says. "Canadians prefer his frankness and his no-nonsense wisdom to that of politicians. He appeals to the kind of political reporters who appeal to sports page readers. That includes a lot of NDP voters. The Left has to handle the guilt which rises in anyone accused of not 'Backing Our Boys'..."

War or mission, public opinion polls indicate Canadians are split in their support for what Canada is doing in Afghanistan, but Morton feels it would be a difficult issue to campaign against. He says the Liberals' compromised this week because they feel the same. "I suspect that Harper has a fairly popular issue in Afghanistan, particularly with people who reflect his conservative values and so long as Canadians feel indifferent to the costs - 78 lives and who knows how much specific aid money."

Wiseman says, "people become inured to the casualties" over time, explaining why soldiers' deaths get less media coverage as time passes.

As the debate shifts, in the wake of the Manley report, to troop contributions from other countries rather than the appropriateness of the war, support for the war hardens. "Canadians I talk to are aggressively hostile to NATO members who have opted for safer service in Afghanistan," says Morton. "Frankly, I think that Harper succeeds because he has a more coherent message on Afghanistan."

That message is driven home repeatedly through the "Support our Troops" campaign, the efforts of companies like Tim Horton's, which prominently promote it, and promotion related to hockey. From Don Cherry endorsements, to politicians at hockey games, to Canadian Forces recruiting ads running at saturation level on hockey broadcasts, the war is heavily promoted to a broad target group of middle Canadians - hockey fans.

Those who oppose the war might begin by framing it as a war, rather than a mission. Most Canadians probably support development assistance for Afghanistan, which the government increased in the budget this week. Opponents are safer to talk about the idea of building democracy and peace through diplomacy rather than the American-style notion of doing it through a war, which despite six years of effort, has shown decidedly mixed results. Canadians will feel less supportive of a "mission" to which local resistance may well be growing due to the warlord governments, corruption and ongoing severe human rights violations it appears to support. Referring to a "hockey goon" approach, however, will only invoke Harper's frame of hockey as a metaphor.

Harper Index ( is a project of the Golden Lake Institute and the online publication

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