That smart new couple across the way, Barry and Michelle, dropped by for a quick visit last week. It was their first time out of the house since Barry started his new job and we were positively giddy when they showed up at the door.
That’s how it felt last week when President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle flew up to Ottawa for a visit of just over six hours, like new neighbors just popping by with a cake to say hello.
The visit elicited little interest in Washington and thus little press coverage stateside. But up here in Canada, it ran near the top of the news for a week before and for days after.
Obama was coming! Obama was coming! Break out the rose petals to strew in his path and the laurel wreath to hold above his head.
Not surprising, the most breathless of Canadians were this country’s liberal-left politicians and special-interest lobbyists, and not just because their new American idol was on his way. They honestly believed the president could be convinced to come north and scold our Conservative prime minister, Stephen Harper, into changing national policy on energy, the environment, the economic crisis, the war in Afghanistan and Aboriginal (Native Canadian) land claims.
The Obama-Harper summit was never slated to be much more than a meet-and-greet chance for the two men to make first impressions on one another. To the extent substantive policy was on the agenda, the only item was ever going to be the economy, with perhaps a nod to continental energy strategy. So Canada’s anti-Harper left was never going to succeed in convincing Mr. Obama to act as their intermediary with our Conservative leader.
Still, that didn’t stop them from trying.
For instance, the day before the Obamas came calling, a coalition of environmental and Aboriginal groups ran a full-page ad in USA Today asking the president to demand Prime Minister Harper halt development of the province of Alberta’s oilsands.
These bitumen deposits contain as much oil as all of Saudi Arabia, but it is locked in sand under boreal forests and peat bogs. About 80% of it can be extracted far under the surface, basically by injecting steam deep into the earth to separate the oil from the sand. But about one-fifth of it – the fifth that is currently the most economic – can only be removed through strip-mining.
It’s an ugly process that readily furnishes sinister, murky photos of tailings ponds where bird-filled marshes once were, and so – like the polar bear and the baby seal – makes a perfect poster image for greens.
Since the U.S. desperately needs oil from a stable, reliable, friendly source, Canada’s oilsands – even if they were “dirty oil,” as environmentalists claim – are under little threat. Nonetheless, that didn’t forestall a full-court press against the sands in the run-up to the president’s visit. In addition to the USA Today ad, there were websites, petitions, news releases and numerous media interviews with proponents of a moratorium.
But almost certainly the most unfathomable of the Hail Marys hurled Mr. Obama’s way came from Canada’s three opposition parties on behalf of Omar Khadr, a 22-year-old Canadian who is the last remaining North American detained at Guantanamo.
Khadr, was captured in Afghanistan in the summer of 2002 after a firefight inside an al Qaeda compound. He allegedly threw a grenade that mortally wounded U.S. Special Forces medic Sgt. Christopher Speer. Khadr was 15 at the time.
If that were all there was to the Khadr story, it might be easier to accept his lawyer’s argument that Omar is nothing but a child soldier, an unwitting pawn caught up in Osama bin Laden’s war against the West. Although he is now a young man, his Canadian lawyer, Dennis Edney, insists on referring to him as a “wounded young boy who needs to come home and be cared for.”
First of all, it’s possible to argue Canada isn’t Khadr’s home, even though he is a citizen, since he spent little of his pre-detention life here.
But if he is a Canadian in more than name, how did he end up nearly 7,000 miles away fighting for the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks? Most child soldiers are caught up in fighting in their own villages. Khadr and his defenders would have us believe he is an unwitting pawn in Osama bin Laden’s war against the West. How then do they explain how he got sucked into fighting half a world away?
For years, Ahmed Khadr, Omar’s father, raised money for al Qaeda in Canada and the Middle East. He and bin Laden together smuggled the proceeds into Afghanistan.
In a 2004 interview with the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC), Omar’s older brother Abdurahman stated frankly “We are an al-Qaeda family. We had connections to al-Qaeda.” His mother, Maha Elsamnah, admitted she would be proud to see her sons become suicide bombers, and that she preferred they attend al-Qaeda camps than Canadian public schools, which are infested with “homosexual” influences.
By some accounts, members of the Khadr family “lost” their passports as many as six times pre-9/11, when Canada, like many Western nations, digitized its passports making them harder to counterfeit. Before that, reporting a passport lost was a favorite trick of terrorist sympathizers eager to get “clean” documents into the hands of jihadis.
The Khadrs were even guests at bin Laden family weddings. And in there teens, the Khadr boys spent much of their time with their father in al Qaeda camps in Afghanistan and safe houses in the lawless border provinces of Pakistan.
Whether Omar Khadr is guilty or not of Sgt. Speer’s death – and there has been conflicting evidence presented by U.S. armed forces witnesses – his is certainly not an innocent victim caught up in an adult war he could not comprehend.
Besides, until 2002, the year in which Khadr was captured, international law defined a child soldier as any combatant under 15. Fifteen-year-olds, such as Omar, were not covered by conventions against underage soldiering. Even from 2002 on, claiming 15- to 18-year-olds as child soldiers has been optional under international law.
So why, days before President Obama’s visit, did Canada’s liberal, socialist and Quebec-separatist opposition parties get together at a highly publicized news conference to demand the president tell Prime Minister Harper to bring Khadr back to Canada?
There are several explanations.
First, partisanship trumps nearly everything else in Canadian politics at the moment. Frequently the Liberals and the New Democratic Party (the socialists) get together with the Bloc Quebecois (the separatists) to gang up on Mr. Harper and his Conservatives. The Liberals and the NDP claim to hate the Bloc’s goal of breaking apart the country, but from their frequent allegiances with the BQ on policy and power, it is clear they hate the idea of a Conservative government even more.
Just before Christmas the Liberals and New Democrats tried to pull down the Conservative government, which is about a dozen seats shy of a majority in Parliament. Since the two together lack the votes to defeat the Conservatives themselves, they would have needed the Bloc to pull off their scheme. Even though the Bloc wants the destruction of Canada above all else, the Liberals and NDP were prepared to grant them a veto over their coalition’s legislation in return for the Bloc leveraging them into power.
So it was not hard to figure why the Liberals and NDP asked the Bloc to stand with them in their demand for Khadr’s repatriation. Any chance to give Mr. Harper a black eye is worth taking, no matter how much credibility it gives the separatists.
But beyond political expedience, why would our three opposition parties want Khadr back in Canada?
Of course, there is the anti-Bush angle. Yes, I know (and so do our opposition MPs), Mr. Bush is out of office. Still, as it is for much of the American left, Gitmo remains a bitterly resented symbol of Mr. Bush’s war on terror. To stand up for a detainee there is to prove one’s moral superiority to the previous U.S. administration and to demonstrate one’s opposition to, among other things, the invasion of Iraq, warrantless wire taps, water boarding, rendition and the Patriot Act.
Mostly, though, the Bring-Omar-Home crowd are driven by their unflinching belief in multiculturalism, in this case, buy their conviction that Islam truly is a religion of peace and that all that is needed to reform hate-filled jihadis is a warm hug and a reassuring word.
In a letter to Prime Minister Stephen Harper, a coalition of Muslim and social-action groups – backed by Khadr’s Canadian defence lawyers and the opposition parties – insisted that were Khadr returned to Canada, he could be placed with a Muslim family and monitored by security officials while he was counselled to be a “fully functioning member of the Canadian mosaic.”
You know someone is punch drunk on the bathwater of tolerance and diversity when they start using phrases such as “Canadian mosaic.” Especially when you know they are sincere, you can be sure their belief in the mythical images of Canada are clouding their judgment about such things as national security.
Janet Ritchie, a Montreal-based psychiatrist, said it would be imperative to assess the degree of trauma Khadr has suffered. “He has been subject to really extreme conditions,” Ms. Ritchie told reporters last week. “He needs to have therapy to repair the damage that has been done,” by which the good doctor surely means the damage done to him by his American captors rather than his al Qaeda mentors in Afghanistan.
As a good, tolerant Canadian, Ms. Ritchie would never dare insinuate that a Third World terror gang employed malicious methods. The terrorists themselves are surely nothing more than misunderstood victims of Western cultural imperialism.
Of course, for half of Khadr’s time at Gitmo, the Liberals were the government in Ottawa. While they are now loudly demanding his repatriation on compassionate grounds, they were only too happy to have him kept in Cuba while they were in office.
During the time Khadr would have been their problem had he come back “home,” the Liberals made little if any efforts to have this “wounded young boy” released. During those same years, the French, British and Australians all made successful appeals to have their citizens returned from Guantanamo, but not our Liberals. Still, they see nothing hypocritical about their indignation with the Conservatives now.
Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae is now employing almost laughable logic to call for Khadr’s return. At the opposition’s joint news conference in advance of the presidential visit last week, Mr. Rae actually insisted it was “in the interest of the Canadian state and security” to have Khadr brought back and placed with a Muslim-Canadian family. “Because if the American courts decide that they won’t continue the process, then he’ll be free and we can’t follow him up and there will be no guarantee of Canada’s security.”
The Conservatives will not be able to avoid the Khadr issue forever. While I suspect President Obama will find it too difficult to honor his own deadline of closing Gitmo within a year, at some point Omar Khadr will be released. He is then likely to come to Canada, at least temporarily and to use this country as a refuge between his trips to Pakistan and Afghanistan to meet and plot with his old friends.
Prime Minister Harper and his government have to make ready for that eventuality. They have to be ready to let the Canadian Security and Intelligence Agency – our CIA – and the RCMP monitor Khadr’s every move here and abroad.
It would be a mistake to let him come home a day earlier than necessary, but should the Conservatives decide they want Khadr to have some sort of monitored, halfway-house reintroduction to the “Canadian mosaic,” why not place him with an orthodox Jewish family? His ability to abide by their home rules and live peacefully among people he almost certainly has been trained from birth to hate would be a far better indication of his rehabilitation.