In a summer of abnormally high temperatures, a season hot with federal scandals (the Census form dispute, G20 policing issues, the ongoing Afghan prisoner torture cover-up) a big controversy surrounds the Harper government's plan to purchase 65 new F-35 jet fighters from Lockheed Martin. Buying these “flying cadillacs” would make the acquisition of the CF-18 fighter jets by the Trudeau government, and the EH-101 helicopter procurement by Brian Mulroney (subsequently reversed by Jean Chretien), look prudent by comparison – though all are a horrendous waste.
The price tag for the F-35s is $9 billion, plus $7 billion in maintenance over a 20 year period – without competing bids. That happens to be four times what the government is spending in its infrastructure stimulus fund. That fund was designed to cushion the blows of the economic crash and the ongoing global recession. Now federal spending is being curbed in compliance with the G20 Summit prescription. It's called 'recovery through austerity'. (Kind of reminiscent of “Arbeit macht frei”, minus the 'arbeit'.)
For Canada's rulers and their military apparatus the new jets are integral to playing a role in ongoing foreign wars of intervention. What about the present war in Afghanistan? Its economic price tag, according to the Parliamentary Budget Officer's report, will reach up to $18.1 billion by 2011 -- excluding the cost of diplomatic efforts, danger pay for soldiers, and military equipment bought under accelerated procurement. This places the financial cost to Canadian taxpayers for the 'mission' extension past February 2009 at up to $6.8 billion. The $10 billion Ottawa expends every year on the military could otherwise make post-secondary education free and it could eradicate student debt. It could house the homeless, eliminate child poverty, and provide free public transit in the largest urban areas. Given a choice, what do you think most people would prefer?
In the eight years the Canadian state has been part of the imperialist occupation of the mineral-rich country, home to a potential gas pipeline route, over 27,000 Canadians have been deployed, and 151 have died. This is the most of any Canadian intervention since the Korean War, the highest in Afghanistan for foreign troops, proportionately greater than U.S. and U.K. fatalities there. More than 400 have been injured by improvised explosive devices (IEDs), mines, rocket attacks and direct combat. At least 1000 have suffered severe psychological trauma.
More than one in five Canadian soldiers and police officers who spend time in Afghanistan leave the force with psychiatric problems, a number that has rapidly risen in the last 24 months.
And this is to say nothing about the devastation caused to Afghanistan and its people. Nearly eight thousand Afghan civilians have died from insurgent and foreign military action, 50 to 60 per cent killed directly by NATO forces. In addition, up to 20,000 Afghan civilians died as a consequence of displacement, starvation, disease, exposure, lack of medical treatment, crime and lawlessness resulting from the war.
Presently, Canadian Forces are so stretched that many of its soldiers have done four and five tours of duty in Kandahar. Canadian Generals are now begging for a one-year hiatus to follow the 2011 announced withdrawal date. But the hiatus will not be forthcoming because the ruling Conservatives, pushed by the opposition Liberal Party, are looking for excuses to extend the 'mission'. What is the alternative? It is for the anti-war movement to get back into the streets to force the government to stick to the 2011 evacuation plan, if not exit sooner, and immediately cancel the purchase of the F-35 jet fighters. -Barry Weisleder