September 2008: Canada's Real Role in Iraq

Our new Defence Chief commanded U.S. troops in Iraq
September 1, 2008

During his three decades of military service, Canada’s new Chief of Defence--L.Gen Walter Natynczyk--has led soldiers in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and East Timor. But his fighting career reached a crescendo during his 2004 stint in Baghdad.

In that year, while embedded in the highest levels of command of Multi-National Corps Iraq (MNC-I), Natynczyk led 35,000 troops fighting throughout Iraq. Working first as its Deputy Director of Strategy, Policy and Plans, and then as its Deputy Commanding General, he helped MNC I fulfill its mission to conduct "offensive operations to defeat remaining non-compliant forces and neutralize destabilizing influences in Iraq." (This information may be obtained from his senior officer biography.)

Natynczyk's leadership in the Iraq war contradicts one of our country's most popular misconceptions: that the Liberal governments of Jean Chrétien and Paul Martin defiantly stood up to George Bush by refusing to participate in the U.S.-led invasion and occupation of Iraq.

This misconception is a corollary of the overarching national myth that Canada is a major global force for peace. One way to debunk this cultural fable is to expose the discomfiting reality that Canada has actively aided and abetted the Iraq war since its very inception. (See the accompanying article below.)

Natynczyk--the new poster boy for Canada's Armed Forces--exemplifies the incongruity between our peaceful self-image and the reality of Canada as warmonger in Iraq.

After attending the prestigious U.S. Army War College, Natynczyk was--like his predecessor, Chief of Defence Rick Hillier--honoured when appointed to become Deputy Commanding General of the U.S. Army's 3rd Corps.

Based in Fort Hood, Texas, 3rd Corps envisions itself as the "premier Corps in the [U.S.] Army." Its vision and mission statement states that its war-fighters are "prepared for full-spectrum operations in support of Joint, Combined, and Inter-agency missions" that are “offensive in nature."

Reluctant to believe that Canada is helping lead the Iraq war, Canadians might strain to preserve the nation’s delusory peacekeeping mirage by imagining that Natynczyk’s central role in Iraq had somehow escaped their government’s attention, just as it had escaped their own. Let’s dispel any such delusion. On January 24, 2006, Canada's Governor-General awarded Natynczyk a Meritorious Service Cross. This decoration--which recognizes “individuals for their outstanding professionalism”--is awarded to those “whose specific achievements have brought honour to the Canadian Forces and to Canada.”

What “specific achievements” in Natynczyk’s illustrious career warranted this prestigious “cross”? The government’s statement was clear. Natynczyk was being recognized "for his outstanding leadership and professionalism while deployed as Deputy Commanding General of the Multi-National Corps during Operation Iraqi Freedom... From January 2004 to January 2005, Major General Natynczyk led the Corps' 10 separate brigades, consisting of more than 35,000 soldiers stationed throughout the Iraq Theater of Operations. He also oversaw planning and execution of all Corps level combat support and combat service support operations.

"His pivotal role in the development of numerous plans and operations resulted in a tremendous contribution by the Multi-National Corps to Operation Iraqi Freedom, and has brought great credit to the Canadian Forces and to Canada."

* * *

How can Canadians reconcile Natynczyk’s active role in Iraq with the mythic fantasy that Canada never even joined the Iraq war?

Natynczyk explained this contradiction between public perception and reality during an interview in Iraq with Esprit de Corps magazine's Scott Taylor. When asked "how Canada could oppose the war, yet deploy a senior officer," Natynczyk responded:

"The Canadian government approved my deployment, so from my perspective there was no controversy. The instructions to me were clear: 'Move out'—and as a soldier I complied...I take orders from the Canadian government. The Canadian government sent me to Fort Hood, bottom line, to show in a tangible way the close affiliation between the U.S. and Canada. I answer to the [Canadian] deputy chief of defence staff and through him to the chief of defence staff... In this environment [i.e., in Iraq], I'm under the operational control of the 3rd Corps commander."

So, while claiming that “I take orders from the Canadian government,” Natynczyk openly admitted that “I'm under the operational control of the [U.S. Army’s] 3rd Corps commander.” Natynczyk's case thus shows that any perceived conflict between the Canadian and U.S. militaries over Iraq is mere political illusion.

Canada's government ordered Natynczyk to take his marching orders from the U.S. Then, while under U.S. "operational" control, Natynczyk commanded tens of thousands of American troops in Iraq.

This underlines the fact that there is no ideological contradiction between the two countries' basic military policies in Iraq. As Natynczyk said, the Canadian government used him in Iraq “to show in a tangible way the close affiliation between the U.S. and Canada.” This, he explained, was the “bottom line.”

* * *

In his novel 1984, George Orwell developed the concept of “doublethink,” which he described as “the power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient.”

This psychological process has been described in an encyclopedia as “a form of trained, willful intellectual blindness to contradictions in a belief system. Doublethink differs from ordinary hypocrisy in that the ‘doublethinking’ person deliberately has to forget the contradiction between his two opposing beliefs—and then deliberately forget that he had forgotten the contradiction. Orwell describes it as ‘controlled insanity’.”

Psychologists have developed a useful concept called “cognitive dissonance” which offers a means of escape from “doublethink.” Cognitive dissonance is the “uncomfortable feeling or stress caused by holding two contradictory ideas simultaneously.” The theory holds that “people have a fundamental cognitive drive to reduce this dissonance by modifying an existing belief, or rejecting one of the contradictory ideas.”

Upon hearing examples of their government’s engagement in war and oppression, many Canadians experience this disquieting inner discord. They struggle to reduce their mental discord by dismissing news of Canada’s war involvement as aberrations or untruths. Unsettling information is soon forgotten and Canada’s mythological “peacekeeping” juggernaut lumbers forward unchallenged.

Canadian anti-war activists should therefore aim to increase the cognitive dissonance of their fellow citizens by exposing the ugly truth of Canada’s participation in the bellicose system of corporate imperialism that pervades our planet.

Canadians may then eventually reject the prevailing official narrative and free themselves from the confining straightjacket of this country’s most powerful doublethink: the naive mythology of Canada’s role as a global force for peace.

The rise of a Canadian "hero" in the Iraq War to Canada's top military post offers a valuable opportunity to shatter this myth. Revelations of Natynczyk's deep complicity in the Iraq war should make it harder for Canadians to maintain their peculiar brand of doublethink which is the bane of anti-war activists in this country and around the world.

(Richard Sanders is the coordinator of the Coalition to Oppose the Arms Trade and editor of its journal Press for Conversion!)