Shaky Canada-US Relations In The Wake Of Iran’s Shootdown Of Flight 752

The downing of Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 by Iranian forces on January 8 was a devastating tragedy and robbed hundreds of families of their loved ones, killing all 176 onboard. Those killed included 57 Canadian citizens, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has vowed that Canada will do everything it can to find out exactly what happened and hold those responsible to justice and Iran has granted visas to 11 Canadian officials and crash investigators at this point. Trudeau has also suggested that US President Donald Trump bears some responsibility because of contributing to escalating tensions with Iran. Trudeau is not alone in the Great White North in holding that point-of-view.

Canadian Anger At US Over The Shoot Down

Canadian columnist Scott Gilmore – who wrote a controversial piece in Maclean’s magazine effectively blaming President Donald Trump for the death of the 57 Canadians on Ukrainian Airlines Flight 752 (Donald Trump gets impeached-57 Canadians die) – has since said he regrets the column. Nonetheless, Gilmore said he stands by his claims that Trump’s lethal strike on General Qassem Soleimani which led to the tense situation in which Iran shot down a civilian plane, including 57 Canadians onboard, was motivated by Trump’s desire to distract from the ongoing impeachment proceedings against him.

Conservative commentator Charles Adler also said that despite Iran being to blame, Trump is partly also to blame. Adler said Iran being the culprit does not erase the context in which it happened. “I will go to my grave believing the innocents shot down over Tehran would be alive today had Trump not decided to kill the general,” Adler tweeted.

‘A Narcissist In Washington Tears World Accomplishments Apart’

Gilmore’s sentiments were echoed by the CEO of one of Canada’s largest companies Maple Leaf Foods, Michael McCain, who tweeted a furious thread against Trump and US Middle East policy. McCain reported that a colleague of his at Maple Leaf had lost his wife and small son. McCain said he was “very angry” and that the deaths of Canadians were partly Trump’s fault, writing that “U.S. government leaders unconstrained by checks/balances, concocted an ill-conceived plan to divert focus from political woes. The world knows Iran is a dangerous state, but the world found a path to contain it; not perfect but by most accounts, it was the right direction,” McCain said, referring to the JCPOA (Iran Deal) which the US withdrew from under Trump.

Writing further, McCain characterized Trump as “a narcissist in Washington tears world accomplishments apart; destabilizes region. US now unwelcomed everywhere in the area including Iraq; tensions escalated to feverish pitch. Taking out despicable military leader terrorist? There are a hundred like him, standing next in line…The collateral damage of this irresponsible, dangerous, ill-conceived behavior? 63 Canadians needlessly lost their lives in the crossfire, including the family of one of my MLF colleagues (his wife and 11-year old son)! We are mourning and I am livid.”

Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Francois-Philippe Champagne subsequently clarified that the number of Canadians on board was 57, although the number had been initially reported by media as 63. Of the 176 people on board the plane, 138 were headed to Canada as their final destination and the deaths have devastated the Iranian-Canadian community, hitting Toronto and Edmonton communities particularly hard.

Counterpoints To Blaming US: ‘BS Then And BS Now’

American professor and author Tom Nichols countered the idea that the US has some responsibility for what occurred with Flight 752, comparing it to the 1983 shootdown of a Korean airliner which strayed into Soviet airspace during high Cold War tensions. “The Soviets didn’t really care what kind of plane it was. The Koreans had screwed up and flown over their installations in the Far East before. They were tired of it. They were going to teach everyone a lesson. So who’s to blame? Reagan, for “escalating?” Or the Soviets?” Nichols argued. “Normal people recognize that even in times of intense confrontation, you have a responsibility to keep your guys on a leash. Maybe even *more* so during such times,” Nichols added, saying “Lots of ppl. in 83 were doing the same dance as now: ‘If only Reagan hadn’t provoked them and scared them, they wouldn’t have blown up a 747 full of innocent people.’ Bullshit then and bullshit now.”

Canadian retired Major General David Fraser, who had experience leading Canadian troops in Afghanistan echoed Nichols’ reasoning saying that Iran’s failure and the tragic outcome is theirs to fully bear. Since Iran’s military was planning to strike into Iraq at the time of the downing of Flight 752 they “knew they were going to strike into Iraq, they were going to put their air defense systems on high alert, and they didn’t coordinate with the civilian authorities. So that’s just a failure of the Iranian command control structure to manage their airspace.”

Context Matters

In war, civilians are often the ones who suffer most. While Iran clearly bears primary responsibility and has now reportedly arrested several individuals for suspected involvement in the shootdown of Flight 752, Trump and his Deep State-run administration exacerbated the situation by gobbling up Foundation for the Defense of Democracy reasoning. If you want to know the current approach to Iran you simply need to listen to Trump’s Iran point man Brian Hook, who serves as the current Special Representative for Iran and Senior Policy Advisor to the Secretary of State under Mike Pompeo. Hook has made it clear that the US policy is to back Iran’s regime into a corner until it either folds or surrenders, particularly by sanctioning Iran’s oil sector – sanctions fully imposed since May of 2019 – which was not possible under the terms of the Iran deal. Hook says that undermining Iran’s oil and gas sector and cutting off Iran’s ability export crude oil is starving it of $30 billion per year and making it resort to ever-more-desperate measures to get around sanctions including ineffective ploys to increase the export of refined products.

As Hook put it in comments made in December at the Council on Foreign Relations: “Because of our pressure Iran’s leaders are facing a decision they have not confronted seriously since the 1980s: either negotiate and compromise or manage economic collapse.” Hook did not focus on the obvious possibility that part of economic collapse could be erratic or deadly actions on the part of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, or then again perhaps that is part of the geopolitical calculus of Hook and co. in the casus belli that overt Iranian aggression against America or its allies would provide.

Whether or not the escalations inside Iraq against Iranian-backed militias and then against Soleimani was motivated by Trump’s desire to distract from his impeachment drama is not the central concern, since US policy and the killing of Soleimani could very conceivably be done under another administration as well. The fact that US policy, in general, seems to be banking on magically transformative regime change inside Iran and injecting themselves strongly into the region no matter the civilian cost – from the Turkish assaults on the Kurds to the increasingly reactive Iranian regime’s brutal crackdown on protesters and downing of Flight 752 – is the central concern, especially as it is ongoing with no sign of relenting. John Bolton’s recent proclamation that “regime change is in the air” and that Iran is going to topple its current government seems shortsighted: it ignores that huge segments of the population still support the Ayatollah and the regime and that even during the 1979 Islamic Revolution a majority of the population was not in favor of Islamic government and were beaten out and starved of power regardless.

Trump expressed condolences to Canada for its losses, and it is incorrect to blame him for what happened. However, noting the fact that American pressure on Iran and the bold hit on Soleimani is backing Iran’s government into a corner is just a fact. This does not make Iran any less blameworthy in their incompetence, but it does provide context to the atrocity. As Trudeau said, “if there was no escalation recently in the region, those Canadians would be right now home with their families” and “innocents bear the brunt of it, and it is a reminder why all of us need to work so hard on de-escalation.”