Holding the Bully’s Coat: Canada and the U.S. Empire
by Linda McQuaig. 
Doubleday Canada, Toronto. 2007.

This is a wonderfully refreshing examination of Canada’s role, current and historic, as supporter of and participant in the American Empire.  Linda McQuaig makes accurate assessments of Canada’s current role in partnership with the United States and the ongoing development of this role historically.  Unlike the regular media, she recognizes that Canada is subservient to the Americans in Afghanistan under the guise of a UN approved NATO force occupying that country.   Quite clearly in her opening arguments she states that Canada’s current role has brought it “more into line with the U.S. empire, even as Washington become a belligerent and lawless force in the world.”

The first chapter covers a series of mini-themes that exposes the American empire at the same time implicating Canada in its complicity with American actions.  Familiar topics arise with Canada as they do with America abroad in the world: Canada’s recent implicit support of torture in Afghanistan by ‘rendering’ prisoners to Afghanis bases; military plans of attack, in this case against Canadian the 1930’s, such that it would cause “devastation” and include “chemical warfare”; a view of American “exceptionalism”, another word for ignoring international norms, laws and institutions (illegal wars, torture, nuclear weapons double standards, UN, ICC, Kyoto, ICJ, Biological weapons); in other words a generalized withdrawal from international law and conventions.

McQuaig recognizes the incongruity of the U.S. “defending” itself against many created foes, focussing her arguments on the Persian Gulf, reiterating the American tale of woe about “vulnerability”, of America being under attack.  While the majority of Canadians do not want to be a part of this militaristic exceptionalism, the “media, academic and corporate worlds – pander to Washington.”   The elite see Canada as a renewed power, as an energy superpower, but what sort of superpower would give all its energy resources to another country before its own needs are guaranteed, leading to the author’s conclusion that Canada would not be viewed “with anything but contempt, as the bully’s unctuous [great choice of word – “simulation of affected enthusiasm” based on the root meaning of anointed with oil] little sidekick.”

Oil and free market economics flow via the Canadian elites “fiercely resisting such [social] planning in the Canadian national interest.”  As Canada’s social services diminish and its resources are sold off liberally and cheaply, the reality is that “there is little connection between a country’s level of social spending and its ability to compete in the global economy.”  Examples are evident for this, with Norway being the most successful, and with the countries of Latin America slowly turning away from the disastrously imposed free market policies.

In the second chapter, “No More Girlie-Man for Peacekeeping” the Canadian popular view of peacekeeping is explored, again exposing the elites, in this case Canada’s own copycat military-industrial-political he-man alliance, as manipulating events towards the American pre-emptive war attitude that searches out strategic control of oil and gas resources, hidden behind the hunt for terrorism, as “America’s vigilance against terrorism…just happens to coincide with its need for oil.”  Once again the media come into the picture, a poorly defined picture of “distortion” that has “rendered the suffering of the Arab world invisible to us.”  What is viewed in the west is far different than the view seen by others, “the ultimate horror of occupation: the powerlessness of an occupied people against an all-powerful foreign army.” 

The argument then turns fully to Afghanistan where Canada is an invading army (and for those Canadian politicians ignorant of the role of oil in Afghanistan, it is a focal point for oil trans-shipment as well as having significant reserves of gas in its north-western provinces in the Caspian Basin), that has committed war crimes by “rendition” and the “collateral damage” of killed citizens.  She concludes the section posing the question of security, “Because we realize our security is not actually at stake, and we sense that there is no compelling purpose to this mission….We’re not aggressors [arguable, but perhaps only semantic].  We’re just helping out the aggressor in order to protect our trade balance.”

In summary, McQuaig concludes that “Powerful forces inside the Canadian elite want to move Canada not only away from peacekeeping – as they’ve already succeeding in doing- but also away from an allegiance to the United Nations and the rule of law.”  This is a strong statement that Canadians and the world need to be fully aware of.

In the next chapter the focus turns to three areas.  The first is Canada’s successful promotion and signing of the land mines treaty, helped out by many NGOs, Princess Diana, and a persistent and vocal Canadian contingent led by Lloyd Axworthy and Jody Williams, the latter receiving the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.  In contrast Canada caved on the issue of nuclear disarmament, effectively blocking “all meaningful progress on nuclear disarmament” even though Canada’s perceived status within the G8 and NATO “could have added a particular heft to the…countries trying to shine the flashlight on U.S. intransigence.”  Finally there is recognition that Canada has been involved with the Palestine/Israel problem since World War II, with the outcome of its initial investigations that “Canadian support for partition” was based on the fear of “greater violence by Jewish extremists, who had shown their willingness to resort to terrorism to get their way.”  This has evolved of course into recent full on support of Israel, as Canada accepted Israel’s attack on Lebanon as “proportionate”, were one of the first to deny the validity of the democratic election of Hamas, and continue to back U.S. views on Iran. 

“The Most Dangerous Man in the English-Speaking World” turns out to be Lester B. Pearson, the Nobel Peace Prize winner for his efforts in the Suez War of 1956.  In spite of this success Pearson “subscribed to many Cold War attitudes” and “bears considerable blame for Canada’s complicity in U.S. actions in Vietnam.”  As with the U.S., evidence is given that strongly supports the idea of Canada having its own military-industrial complex accompanied by the over-hyped fear of being attacked.  The latter as I have always argued could only be by the U.S., unless it was the scenario of nuclear war, in which case no amount of military preparation would do any good anyways. 

Following these developments came “The Threat of Peace”, the collapse of the Soviet Union.  Here the discussion turns more strongly to the UN and its role in comparison to the ideas formulated by Cheney, Wolfowitz, and Rumsfield, and the role of NATO in Yugoslavia.  Canada’s role of ‘protection’ has been stretched to the arena of economic well-being, leaving the door “wide open to interventions” in order to open up other countries economies “to foreign investment and free trade,” the Washington consensus adopted in full.

Unlike many critical works, McQuaig also supplies some strong arguments that war, in spite of accepted opinion – at least in the current media –is an inevitable part of human nature, there is strong evidence to the contrary.  She examines such arcane actions such as duelling and gladiatorial combat and more obvious examples of slavery and absolute hereditary monarchy, all ‘natural’ human institutions that have disappeared.  The “mirage of prosperity” driven by war, needs to give way to popular opinion that will “undermine war’s acceptability.” 

Finally, McQuaig returns to her beginning ideas, arguing again about Canada’s energy security (or lack thereof), the sabotage of Kyoto, the implicit acceptance of torture, contradictions in human rights arguments (Chinese prisoners versus U.S. prisoners), and the wonderful Professor Ignatieff who supports the “lesser evils” because of we are good and they are bad simplicities.  The narrative ends with the recent Maher Arar case, with Canadian Justice O’Conner stating unequivocally that torture “can never be legally justified….torture is an instrument of terror,” while referring to many treaties that Canada has signed against torture.

This is a great history and current affairs book, not the kind with boring linear dates, but one that exposes thematic ideas that are not expressed in current media.  By necessity it covers similar American history and current affairs, showing how Canada, against the wishes of the majority of its population, is directed by an elite “comprador class”, a plutocracy that is in full alignment supporting American exceptionalism, we are “holding the bully’s coat”.  All Canadians should be challenged by this work, a challenge to their perceived image of themselves and the reality that lies behind the media and governmental spin. 

Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews to Palestine Chronicles.  His interest in this topic stems originally from an environmental perspective, which encompasses the militarization and economic subjugation of the global community and its commodification by corporate governance and by the American government.