In the past, I’ve generally been complementary of the Conservative government’s communications strategies, and particularly their ability to drive the agenda and distract attention away from their weak points. Complementary in a professional sense; it’s still all totally evil and what not.
Trying to reignite the Cold War though to divert attention from the economy? That's just lame, and reeks of lack of imagination. The macho chest-thumping this week from Peter MacKay and Stephen Harper last week was just embarrassing:
Peter MacKay wouldn't say whether he thought the Feb. 18 flight of the two TU-95 Bears, long-range Russian bombers, was designed to create mischief for a Canadian security system already stressed by the presidential visit. But he said the response of Canadian pilots operating under the command of NORAD sent a clear message to Moscow.First of all, the fact that we apparently can’t tell the difference between the turbo-prop TU-95 Bear and the TU-160 Blackjack, a jet bomber, is rather concerning. Yes, they’re both big airplanes, but that’s where the similarities end. They look nothing alike.
"I'm not going to stand here and accuse the Russians of deliberately doing this during the presidential visit, but it was a strong coincidence which we met with the presence ... of F-18 fighter planes and world-class pilots that know their business and send a strong signal that they should back off and stay out of our airspace," he told reporters.
In Moscow, an unnamed government official called MacKay's statement a "farce" and said the Russian government was reacting to Canada's objections with "astonishment," news agency RIA-Novosti reported.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper said in Saskatoon that the incident was a real cause for concern that will not intimidate Canada.
"This government has responded every time the Russians have done that. We will continue to respond. We will defend our airspace."
Secondly, for those who pay attention to such things, these sorts of flights are routine. They were commonplace up until the fall of the Soviet Union, when they did stop for a time. Under the presidency of Vladimir Putin, however, such flights began again some years ago. The Russians routinely test our air defences, and those of many other neighboring countries. So do the Americans. If we had long-range strategic bombers, I’m sure we would to. It’s what militaries do.
Norad spokesperson Michael Kucharek said it is not atypical to see Russian aircraft engaging in training exercises so close to Canadian airspace.
"This has happened quite often, this is a pattern that we generally see through Russian exercises of this type," he told CTV Newsnet on Friday afternoon.
He estimated that Norad had seen Russian fighters undertaking similar training exercises at least 20 times "over the course of the last couple of years."
Such incidents are commonplace, and are regularly reported on by the media -- usually as little brief items deep in the paper, receiving little notice. Which is why it’s disappointing the media played along with Harper and MacKay to blow this thing up to Defcon-2 to distract attention from other things.
Because I think there’s a few more important stories we should be paying attention to right now. Like the $3 billion slush fund the Conservatives have created for themselves, which they’re insisting have no oversight, accountability, or checks and balances. Or the fact they underestimated the cost of the Afghan War by at least $3.3 billion, and released an estimate that is as much as $7 billion shy of that of their own independent parliamentary budget officer.
Let’s not let Harper and MacKay distract us from the real issues, and their very real failings managing this country and this economy, with fearful tales of the red menance and Cold War rhetoric.
And if the media do want to do some international reporting, I suggest they get serious and look at WHY Russia re-started these sorts of flights under Putin, and the larger trend of how Russia, fueled by oil and energy revenues, is seeking to re-assert its dominance in its former satellite states and on the larger global stage. Mark MacKinnon’s The New Cold War would be a good primer.
However, I’ve seen little interest in such an analytical analysis of what such overflights mean in the larger global picture. Instead, this all just brings another sort of picture to mind…
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