This is from the Victoria Times Colonist. This is a balanced but critical article on Hillier a gem among the many platitudinous paeans to Hillier. As the article mentions, Hillier was an unelected official and should not be usurping the role of elected politicians. However, elected politicians are always subject to the continual pressure of lobbyists. Hillier was in effect a poster-boy for those who are pro-military and for military suppliers. He was also useful to right wing politicians such as Harper because he could act as a salesman for the Afghan mission. Of course Hillier tended to shoot from the hip and antagonise those who wished to use him. He had his own agenda and refused to be a puppet. It is not surprising that many soldiers should look up to him as a person who supported what he regarded as their interests.
Thursday » April 17 » 2008
Celebrity generals like Hillier nothing to celebrate
Thursday, April 17, 2008
The adulation being lavished on Gen. Rick Hillier makes me glad he's stepping down as chief of defence staff.
That's no criticism of Hillier. He's obviously smart and astute. If I was in the Canadian Forces, certainly if I was in a management role, I'd be sad to see him go.
Hillier had a vision for the military -- the equipment, budget, support and public profile it should have. He wanted Canada to be seen as, and act like, a significant international military force -- "one of the big boys."
Like a good corporate manager or politician, he set out to get what he wanted.
And he was good at it. Pushing the politicians a bit sometimes, seeking allies others, charming the media, highly quotable and keeping regular soldiers front and centre. He knew how to cast the military and himself in the best light and keep the public onside.
Hillier became a celebrity general, something almost unprecedented in Canada.
Politicians -- especially ones like Stephen Harper, who shared his desire for more military spending and foreign expeditions -- welcomed the chance to share the spotlight with Hillier.
But they learned quickly that he wasn't afraid to use his celebrity and popularity to advance his own agenda, whether the government shared it or not.
When Hillier was sworn in as chief of defence staff in February 2005, he used the ceremony -- attended by then prime minister Paul Martin -- to criticize the Liberal government for neglecting the Armed Forces.
It was an early warning. Governments that didn't accept Hillier's priorities better watch it. And they quickly learned that Hillier was adroit in capturing headlines and public support and setting the agenda. More adroit than the politicians.
Four months later, while government and the public were grappling with what the Afghan mission should be, Hillier defined it.
Canadian Forces were going to fight "detestable murderers and scumbags," he said. Their focus wasn't reconstruction or aid. "We are the Canadian Forces, and our job is to be able to kill people," he said.
Which on one level is true. We give our Forces weapons so they can kill people when necessary.
On another level, Hillier was on shakier ground. The job of the Canadian Forces is -- or should be -- to fill the role that elected representatives set.
Hillier tended to elbow those elected representatives off to the side.
Don Martin, the fine Canwest News columnist, notes that even Canada's participation in the war in Afghanistan was at least in part Hillier's doing
"With carefully timed speeches and politically incorrect outbursts defending the needs of the soldier, Hillier dwarfed queasy voter opinion about the Afghanistan mission by focusing on strong public support for the military," Martin suggests.
The result of all this was that Hillier became more powerful, in some ways, than the defence ministers he supposedly served. Whether it was a battle for bigger defence budgets or new arms spending or a power struggle with former defence minister Gordon O'Connor, Hillier emerged victorious.
But who should be setting objectives for the military and making policy decisions -- a career military manager with good political skills, or elected representatives?
O'Connor was a fumbling defence minister, but he was elected. No one ever voted for Hillier.
The general is being given credit for a multibillion-dollar increase in military spending. New weapons programs have won quick approval thanks in part to his effective political positioning.
His task was made easier because Canada was at war. What politician wants to be accused of depriving troops of needed equipment?
But that increases concerns about Hillier's role, particularly in steering Canada into an overseas conflict.
And it leave questions about what Canadians gave up -- tax cuts, or improved health care or child care -- to fund the military spending increases Hillier so skilfully won.
Martin summed up Hillier's tenure in a column on his departure.
"He didn't fear the politicians. They feared him."
Accurate, I suspect. But anytime politicians are afraid of the generals who supposedly work for them, something has gone seriously wrong..
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
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