The difficulty with offering a critique of Andrew Coyne's Wednesday National Post column, "Harper's Mission Statement", is finding enough empirical content in it to actually make the effort worthwhile.
And of course it would be pointless to mention Coyne if his treatment of Prime Minister Harper's Afghanistan speech did not share certain properties in common with other "analyses" emanating from the Right of the Canadian political spectrum.
But indeed there does seem to be a common strategy at work in all of these rather gushy tributes, and indeed behind Harper's speech itself, as well as his decision to disallow any parliamentary debate/vote on extending Canada's Afghanistan mission beyond its current term. That strategy appears to be three-fold: quell rational discussion on the matter, turn the bullshit valves to 10, and leave them there.
But, for the sake of the average Canadian, who is afterall being asked to finance the Afghan Mission with money and the blood of their children, it is important to dig whatever facts, arguments, and assertions can be found underneath the verbiage.
So lets turn to Coyne's analysis. About the only overarching thesis that one can draw from it is that Canada "owes" something to somebody. Coyne writes:
The Afghanistan mission, [Harper] told the troops, is Âabout more than just defending CanadaÂs interest.Â It is also Âabout demonstrating an international leadership role for our country. Not carping from the sidelines, but taking a stand on the big issues that matter.Â
Taking a stand? Providing leadership? And doing so, not in easy ways that require no more of us than our own splendid example, but in hard ways that risk Canadian lives? We have not heard such talk from our leaders in a long while. It wasnÂt quite Âask not what your country can do for you.Â Nor, indeed, was he suggesting Canadians should ask what they can do for their country, but rather what Canada can do for the world, and in that moment he soared.
This was not that fatuous invitation to self-love, Âthe world needs more Canada.Â It was: Canada owes more to the world -- more than we have been giving it. And yet it was equally clear that this was as much for CanadaÂs sake as the worldÂs.
The notion that Canada is somehow "indebted" to the world, and "owes" the world something--specifically owes them a military presence in Afghanistan--is an interesting one. But what did we do to acquire this debt, and who exactly is this "world" that we owe it to?
To say that Coyne's piece is short on specifics is insulting to short specifics, but if one were to look back on Canada's recent history, and Stephen Harper's own recorded musings on that history, it would seem that when the latter refers to "carping from the sidelines", he is talking about Canada's refusal to join in the American led invasion of Iraq. For example, in a speech to the Friends of America Rally, on April 4th, Harper explicitly thanked the U.S. for not "standing on the sidelines", and instead sending the tanks into Baghdad.
So this is the message then: the "world" is the U.S., and Canada "owes" the U.S. for not participating in the Iraq invasion. Furthermore, "assuming a leadership role", "stepping up", and so forth, can be interpreted to mean sending Canadian troops into the Taliban-rich areas around Kandahar, for a term that will not be decided by the Canadian People, in repayment of that debt.
It's easy why you would want to slather over this thesis with patriotic rhetoric.