July 22, 2002

23,000 FT, PART 4 (Am

23,000 FT, PART 4

(Am I harping yet, y'think?) The defence minister has wisely, I believe, declined to reopen the Canadian inquiry into the Kandahar bombing, which released its still mostly classified report some time ago. I have every reason to believe all the information being trumpeted as leaked documents by Maj. Psycho's lawyer, retired USAF colonel Charles Gittins, was considered and given due weight by both the Canadian and American boards of inquiry. Even if it hasn't, there's nothing new here that exonerates Gittins' client, as I've tried to show previously.

It is interesting how this is playing out politically, however. The Canadian public and official stance originally coalesced around a "hang the bastard" position, I believe rather rightly, blaming the one person for his reckless and criminally negligent acts. The American official stance seems more inclined to saying "the system is to blame" and avoiding any individual responsibility whatsoever. Thus Gittins' leak this week will no doubt please many in the Air Force hierarchy: certainly they seem loath, in the absence of any significant domestic public pressure, to charge Maj. Psycho Schmidt with anything. As I've said before, the chances of him ever seeing jail time always had to be seen as extremely remote. In fact, the only way the USAF likely will charge Schmidt now is if that somehow would forestall a larger and spiralling investigation, with the entire Air Force, practically, put on trial, as happened in Canada over the Somalia atrocities.

Isn't Gittins then, playing with fire, by trying to point the blame at Schmidt's superiors? Hardly. There is no advocates for dead Canadian soldiers in the American body politic to push for any kind of broader inquiry: no one's likely to take on the closed ranks of the USAF on behalf of a few foreigners, even if there was better evidence of higher complicity than the lawyer has shown. And by suggesting the American government, or even their own, is really to blame, Gittins has succeeded in sowing doubt among the Canadian populace on the issue of what the Americans should do, eliminating any meager pressure we could exert on American decision-making. It's really quite a masterful little PR move, for a lawyer.

The Canadian government, meanwhile, is just trying to figure out how to make the issue go away quickly. Even if Schmidt were court-martialled, that would be an entirely American decision... there is no pressure Canadians can put directly. So regardless of what happens, every day the story stays in the news is another day the government in Ottawa looks ineffectual at taking care of its citizens. And that, of course, is why the Canadian opposition parties are playing this up, for every last drib of headline they can get out of it. For them, Gittins' story is just "too good to check" at this point... they only lose by NOT saying anything about it.

The one thing that the Canadian government could do now to improve things would be a fuller disclosure of their inquiry's findings, which would at least allow them to start explaining, as I have tried to do, why the cockpit transcript is not exculpatory. But they can't... why? Because the U.S. doesn't want them to. The question now is, how long the American military establishment is willing to let their Canadian counterparts twist in the wind... and exactly what their reasons are for doing so.

Back in the 1960s, a lot of people were convinced JFK was amiably and not particularly forcefully trying to undermine the Canadian Diefenbaker government... not being uncooperative, really, just not doing them any favours, because the Americans wanted a "regime change." (Diefenbaker and JFK clashed on issues like Cuba and continental defence.) I'm wondering now if we're beginning to see a little of that out of the Bush government, or at least some among its military wing... certainly we haven't seen anyone in the States very interested in shoring up the Chretien government's popularity among its people, lately, anyway. Given Canadians' lack of interest in the continental defence issue (again, ironically), one can see why.

The trouble with the Diefenbaker strategy is there's an easy riposte, if your prime minister's got the guts... a neutralist, or vaguely non-aligned stance, frowning on the Americans and their actions. At some point, the Yankees realize the limits of playing the heavy with another democracy, and invite you back to the table, anyway. That's why when Nixon tried JFK's obvious antipathy strategy during the even more uncomfortable Trudeau era, it never really worked. Trudeau just played the Canadian nationalist card, and his polls went up. (That sort of thing plays especially well in Quebec. It didn't hurt, either that in the charisma department the leaders' situations in 1962 and 1972 were almost exactly reversed.)

We may even be seeing a bit of that backlash now, with the Chretien government's recent forceful support for the ICC. Not the issue I would have picked, perhaps, but a legitimate counterthrust from the point of view of a Canadian government (and people) that are ever increasingly seeing the Americans as not the kind of people they want to share a continent (or at least, an Afghan expeditionary force) with right now.

The Americans could still bolster the Chretien government, cut down on the criticism from a previously safe quarter, and help bring the defence establishments closer in line for greater effectiveness and greater domestic protection by taking prompt action on the Kandahar bombing file. The fact they likely won't now, however, shows how low Canada's meagre contributions are esteemed by their larger neighbour, shamefully, but also how little Americans care about even friendly, English-speaking foreigners, even when they die from American bombs while serving in an American army.

Posted by BruceR at 05:58 PM