Relations between Canada and the US suffered a serious blow back in 1971 when the Watergate tapes revealed Richard Nixon referring to the prime minister of Canada as “that asshole Trudeau.”
Today, with bated breath, we await the upcoming release of diplomatic documents on the website Wikileaks, that according to American government sources, could harm US relations with its allies, including Canada.
According to the Toronto Star, “the documents may contain accounts of compromising conversations with political dissidents and friendly politicians as well as activities that could result in the expulsion of US diplomats from foreign postings.” Goodness me, what can have slipped from those loose lips this time? We can only speculate.
According to a spokeswoman for External Affairs, the matter is of such top-level seriousness that US Ambassador David Jacobson called Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon to warn him in person what to expect. Are we about to learn that G.W. Bush spoke disparagingly of Jean Chretien? Not likely.
Nothing stirs up the hive of international diplomacy like a protracted war, and Canada has been America’s closest ally in the War on Terror. It’s a fairly safe bet that whatever scandal lies at the heart of the new leaked documents, Afghanistan will be, so to speak, a factor. But what might be lurking in intergovernment communications surrounding the war that will, to quote state department spokesman P.J. Crowley, “create tension in relationships between our diplomats and our friends around the world”?
There is speculation that we might learn embarrassing facts about the pressure brought to bear on the Harper government to accept the repatriation of child soldier/international terrorist Omar Khadr. President Obama came to office promising to close the notorious gulag at Guantanamo Bay, and only one of its allies has failed to request the repatriation of a citizen – that would be, of course, Canada, and Khadr.
I would bet that the leaks won’t disclose the icy-cool Obama calling Stephen Harper a body part: more likely we will discover more about strong resistance on Canada’s part to any kind of justice for a member of the unpopular Khadr family. But so what? Who didn’t already know that Harper’s story about letting American justice take its course in the Khadr case was just so much guff? Who ever doubted that the largest obstacle between Omar Khadr and his human rights was the government of Canada?
No, Khadr can’t be the only skeleton in that closet. What else might be contained in those leaked diplomatic files that threatens to bite the diplomatic bum? For certain, there will be communications on the issue of detainee transfer, always a potential source of embarrassment.
Here in Canada the two political parties who faced tough questions on the transfer of detainees into the likelihood of torture got together to suppress the documents that may, or may not have damned them both (though why they would have gone to so much trouble to hide evidence of their innocence defies speculation). Harper did a brilliant job of keeping the facts from Parliament, but his chances of stymieing the internet in the same way are, at best, weak.
But there is a larger, more immediate question surrounding Canada and Afghanistan that diplomatic communications might reveal. What is behind the sudden reversal of Canadian plans to pull out of Afghanistan in 2011? The reason given, that we will be filling a grave need for trainers for the Afghan National Army, holds not one ounce of water.
Let’s leave aside the question of how Canadians come to be training the toughest warriors on Earth. Afghan fighters have defeated every foe from Alexander the Great to the British Empire to the Soviet Union, and they’ve kept NATO and the US wallowing around ineffectively for nine years, but if Harper says Afghans need Western-stlye training, so be it.
The fact is, they’ve already got it. According to a NATO press release dated August 2010, the ANA met its training target of 134,000 troops ahead of schedule. Twenty-one battalions are “capable of planning and executing operations at battalion level with no external support.” NATO has since declared a “stretch target” of 171,600 soldiers to be reached by October 2011, an easy mark for the existing trainers who have already brought the project in well ahead of the original target date.
Clearly, there is no truth to the Conservative explanation for our continued stay in Afghanistan. The real motive lies hidden in protected files, cabinet documents, and diplomatic communiques. Soon we will discover whether leaked documents shed new light on the real reason for keeping Canadian troops in this dragged-out war.
It would make for a juicier story if we discovered that yet another American president had been casting slurs against a Canadian prime minister, but it’s probably not going to happen. That task will be left to the Canadian public.
Al Pope won the Ma Murray Award for Best Columnist in BC/Yukon in 2010 and 2002. His novel, Bad Latitudes, is available in bookstores.