Column: PM spins propaganda gold from fighting

Here’s an exclusive for you: Canada Stands Strong and Free.

It’s right there on Stephen Harper’s propaganda video network, complete with that “exclusive” tag before its flag-waving title, more than three minutes worth of fighter jets and military ships, the National War Memorial and the
Centennial Flame, poppies and police tape, Kevin Vickers and uniformed soldiers, resolve and vows of reprisal.

They’re all set to a jingoistic soundtrack and the words of the prime minister, sounding like a guy who was barely resisting the urge to lapse into his best Dirty Harry and tell those Islamic State punks: “Go ahead, make my

We’re killing the bad guys in Iraq, and that suits a prime minister in an election year just fine.

Domestically, this is being sold as if Canadian special forces alone are prepared to take out the Islamic State group ISIL, part of a carefully buffered image by the tough guy prime minister who is going to lock up our prisoners and toss away the key or bring in anti-terror laws that will take the fight to the jihadists and leave the “hug-a-thug” crowd whining in their lattes.

Preying on emotions like patriotism, vengeance, fear and mourning is the easiest – and cheapest – means of building electoral support.

It draws a line down the middle of the country, the white hats who will protect us from evil, and the black hats who love the terrorists.

This is playing out early in 2015, where Canadians are watching a government spin electoral gold out of the fact it misled the country about its role in the anti-Islam battle.

The revelation that Canadian special forces have engaged ISIL fighters on the front line in northern Iraq and coolly “neutralized” them, has delivered the soundtrack to the wartime prime minister role Harper relishes.

It is also creating problems for the two opposition parties that opposed that mission.

If New Democrats want to ask legitimate questions about mission creep, it’s because they get all dewy-eyed when they hear about dead jihadists, says Harper, a spin on the old George W. Bush terrorism message that you were either with us or against us.

It’s the 2015-version of Taliban Jack, the sobriquet once laid on Jack Layton for daring to suggest talks with the Taliban might bring peace to Afghanistan.

The Liberals are accused of trying to have it both ways, supporting the work of the special forces in a mission that they voted against.

Opposition MPs sought answers from Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Tom Lawson, Defence Minister Rob Nicholson and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird at a parliamentary committee Thursday. They wanted to know who changed the mission as laid out before Parliament from one of airstrikes and training limited to
advising and assisting Iraqi troops to spending 20 per cent of our time on the front line and returning ISIL fire.

There are more than 60 countries in this anti-ISIL coalition. But either Canada is the only one whose special forces have engaged the enemy on the ground or we are the only ones who have publicized the fact.

“Why are we the outliers?” asked NDP defence critic Jack Harris.

That is the question that largely remains unanswered. Lawson said he gave the mission the go-ahead to begin identifying targets and move closer to the front, because the mission had evolved and the troops we were training were making such progress, although he said Canadians were not actively seeking areas where they can trade fire.

It is impossible to tell whether this type of mission was the plan by Harper all along or he merely approved as it “evolved.”

It is also yet to be learned whether this engagement on the front line puts a further spotlight on this country and its soldiers and whether it is merely a precursor to a larger ground involvement.

As Nicholson repeatedly told us Thursday, an overwhelming percentage of Canadians is behind the government on this mission.

But just to make sure, Harper has co-opted these soldiers as an election asset.

Perhaps the government view was best summed up by Ontario backbencher Rick Norlock who lamented that, just as we were making such progress in Iraq, the opposition came along to put “a damper” on things by asking all these pesky questions.

Indeed, the Conservatives would have us all hoard scrap iron and give up our nylons for the war effort and have the prime minister pose in front of soldiers on his way to the polls.

Tim Harper is a national affairs writer. His column appears Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Twitter:@ nutgraf1

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