Monday, November 30, 2009

Nixon's Ghost

A few weeks ago, historian Michael Bliss wrote that Stephen Harper was beginning to look like another Mackenzie King. I wrote at the time that the analogy was pretty specious. While Harper's principles are as elastic as King's, this prime Minister is more mean spirited and paranoid than King.

When Richard Colvin testified three weeks ago that he had sent repeated warnings to Ottawa expressing his -- and The Red Cross's -- concerns about what was happening to the prisoners our soldiers had transferred to Afghan authorities, Mr. Harper and his acolytes first tried to shoot the messenger. Last week, former head of Canadian Forces, Rick Hillier, along with retired lieutenant general Michel Gauthier and major general David Fraser sought to discredit Colvin. Hillier called Colvin's claims "ludicrous;" and he told the committee investigating the matter that there was "nothing" in Colvin's memos which merited his attention.

Hillier affirmed that he had read the memos before he testified in front of the committee. David Mulroney -- no relation to Brian, and currently Canada's ambassador to China -- was the man to whom Colvin reported. He, too, reviewed the memos before testifying. He told the committee that, while the government was aware of allegations of torture, "there was no mention specifically of Canadian-transferred prisoners." There were echoes here of Bill Clinton's response to the Monica Lewinsky allegations: "It depends on what the meaning of the word 'is' is."

But the crux of the problem is that, while the generals and Mr. Mulroney were given access to Colvin's memos, the government will not allow members of the committee the same privilege. They argue that "national security" trumps the committee's right to know what the government knows. That claim sounds a lot like Richard Nixon's claim of "executive privilege" -- his justification for keeping the White House tapes away from members of Congress. For awhile -- particularly in 1972 -- Nixon looked invincible. He used government agencies, like the FBI and the IRS, to discredit and destroy those on his "enemies" list.

Nixon was an introvert in national politics. He trusted few people, even those closest to him. In the end, his campaign of dirty tricks -- and his own paranoia -- did him in. Mr. Harper is an intelligent introvert who has risen to the highest office in the land. His circle of trust does not extend far. And the attack machine he has assembled has its own team of dirty tricksters.
His attempt to deny Parliament access to the Colvin memos is tantamount to Nixon's refusal to release the tapes.

We do not know whether -- like Mackenzie King -- Mr. Harper keeps a crystal ball stashed somewhere in the basement at 24 Sussex Drive. If he has such a device, I doubt that he is trying to converse with King's dead mother. However, I am beginning to wonder if he as been communing with the ghost of Richard Nixon.

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