Date: Tuesday, October 29 2002
Topic: International News
Our enemies must be laughing at PM's lack of military resolve
By PAUL JACKSON -- Calgary Sun
"God grants liberty only to those who love it and are always ready to guard and defend it."
-- Daniel Webster
RENO, Nevada -- I'm chatting with acquaintances at an American Legion post and pondering the inscription carved on a downtown monument to the community's brave men and women who served their nation and its allies in the Second World War "1941 to 1945."
Well yes, despite my admiration of the U.S, even I have to admit the Americans dawdled a bit before joining the fight against tyranny. Come 1941, Britain, Canada and the rest of the Commonwealth had been in the fray for two years.
Whatever one might think about William Lyon Mackenzie King, he can't be accused of being a Jean Chretien. While today, Chretien washes his hands of the threat of world terrorism, back in 1939, King knew unless we joined with Britain right then and there to halt Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini and Hideki Tojo, the fight might well be lost.
President George W. Bush -- a man greatly underestimated, and a devotee of Sir Winston Churchill -- isn't about to let his country lose the current threat to western democracy. He's just unveiled a huge new defence package totalling $355.5 billion US and it's been overwhelmingly approved by Congress.
Bush vowed to give the men and women of the U.S. military "every resource, every weapon and every tool" they needed to protect America and its allies and that's what he has done.
The package includes U.S. $72 billion US for new weapons, $7.4 billion to keep developing a ballistic missile defence shield, and a 4.1% salary increase for military personnel.
The budget ups spending with the biggest hike in 20 years -- $34 billion US or 11% over one year.
Chretien says Canada's defence spending of $11.2 billion is quite sufficient and doesn't worry that in the NATO alliance, only the tiny Duchy of Luxembourg spends less on defence than this country.
After Chretien came to power in 1993, he cut our military forces down from 80,000 personnel -- already considered a meagre contingent by our allies -- to 60,000. There'll never be a 4.1% pay hike for our men and women in uniform, even though many married servicemen are so poorly paid they go to food banks to feed their families.
I always make a point of visiting American Legion posts when in the U.S. or elsewhere in the world where they have posts and one difference you notice -- and I mean this as no insult, for I am a member of the Royal Canadian Legion just as I'm an associate member of the American Legion -- is the American servicemen's club has a much younger and more vigorous membership than its Canadian counterpart.
The obvious reason is the U.S. is committed to maintaining its military might and, as Bush's new budget shows, is prepared not only to give its military the best equipment it can, but also to attract young recruits with generous pay and benefits.
Acquaintances at the various American Legions I visit are fully aware Canada is not pulling its weight in NATO or in military endeavours generally and are appalled.
They can't understand why we keep voting in a government that doesn't give a whit about our own nation's security or our commitments to our allies.
I tell them this is not entirely the case. The Canadian Alliance under Preston Manning, Stockwell Day and Stephen Harper has had a firm policy of building up our military. Even some prominent Liberals, such as Senator Colin Kenny and former Pierre Trudeau aide Tom Axworthy are calling for major hikes in defence spending.
But retired General Lewis MacKenzie is right -- Canada has not only lost credibility with its allies because of its lack of concern over terrorism, but the U.S. is "angry" with Ottawa over its lack of foresight and our relations with Washington are becoming increasingly strained.
MacKenzie is bang on, too, when he says Chretien's vow to stand "shoulder-to-shoulder" with the U.S. and its allies against global terror rang "hollow" from the outset.
Chretien didn't care then, and he doesn't care now.
Sadly, the likes of MacKenzie, Harper, Kenny and Axworthy appear to be voices in the wilderness.
For, in John McCallum, we have a defence minister who had not only never heard of Dieppe, but figures the military can save money by scrapping its tanks. An army without tanks?
Our enemies must be laughing like the hyenas they are.