Dead cats, Nazis, and murder
Has politics ever been this interesting? In trying to understand wild stories about a Nazi in Canada’s Parliament and allegations that India assassinated a man on the steps of a temple in Surrey, British Columbia, I started to think about dead cats, wagging the dog, and flooding the zone with sh-t.
Dead Cats? Let me explain.
There are various ways to describe strategies that governments use when they want to distract public attention from one crisis. Often, they simply introduce another.
The Dead Cat Strategy was made famous by an Aussie political operator named Lynton Crosby, who used it to help Boris Johnson shift attention away from his shambolic UK leadership stumbles. Johnson actually wrote about it once, saying that when losing an argument the best thing to do is to deploy Crosby’s strategy and throw “a dead cat on the table.”
“Everyone will shout ‘Jeez, mate, there’s a dead cat on the table’,” he said, “and they will not be talking about the issue that has been causing you so much grief.” Johnson’s entire political career was, essentially, a buffet of dead cats.
Where there is a political cat, there must be a dog. “Wag the Dog” was the name of a 1997 Hollywood film about a fictional government that used military action to distract from a president’s troubles. Life imitates art. The next year, after the revelations about the Monica Lewinsky scandal blew up, President Bill Clinton ordered the bombing of a Sudanese pharmacy factory. His secretary of defense was immediately asked if the attacks were just “wag the dog” distractions from the sex scandal. Either way, it didn’t work. Do you remember the bombs or the blue dress?
And, of course, during his time as Trump whisperer, Steve Bannon infamously told writer Michael Lewis that the way to undermine the media was simply to “flood the zone with shit.” And flood the zone he did. That phrase, in my view, marked the unofficial declaration of the Disinformation War that is still raging today.
What does this have to do with the political difficulties Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is facing with India in the wake of the June 18 murder of Canadian citizen Hardeep Singh Nijjar, or why the Speaker of the House invited a man who was an actual Nazi to be celebrated in Parliament during the visit of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky? (You would have to work very hard and forget some key moments in history to do something as insulting, damaging, and embarrassing as inviting a guy who was in an SS unit to Parliament to celebrate fighting … the Russians, but that is what the Speaker actually did. He apparently missed the part in World War II where the Russians were allies in the fight against the Nazis. And they say kids don’t know their history … sigh). It was not a planned channel change a la “Wag the Dog,” but the Nazi story has become a major distraction from the ongoing fallout of the Indian assassination scandal and the war in Ukraine, and that’s a huge problem.
As I outlined in my column last week, Trudeau says there are “credible allegations” that the Niijar murder was orchestrated by “agents of the” Indian government. While India denies involvement in the death of a man they regarded as a terrorist, the evidence is now overwhelming. There are recordings of Indian diplomats talking about it beforehand, and there is video of the assassination squad conducting the bloody killing — using between 40 and 50 bullets. This was a political statement, not just murder.
In the immediate aftermath, it looked like Canada would stand alone, as most countries need a close relationship with India as a hedge against China. But definitive evidence of an extrajudicial killing has a way of chilling a courtship, so now its India feeling the pressure to provide a way out.
I spoke with senior intelligence sources this week about India and Canada, and they tell me that allies like the US, France, Germany, and Australia have all urged India behind the scenes to cooperate with an investigation, even as PM Narendra Modi has escalated the diplomatic war with Canada.
Sources also tell me the US is heavily pressuring India to cooperate with Canada and find someone accountable for the murder. “There is room for accountability that does not involve Modi himself,” a senior intel source said. In other words, get some people to take the fall, show respect for the rule of law, and don’t sour more G7 relations. That way, we can all get productive on other issues. Over to you, Mr. Modi.
Canada too is feeling the pressure to do more to crack down on Khalistani-related security issues, but sources say that what India wants Canada to do in terms of monitoring and arrests could violate the Canadian rule of law. As a source told me, “India is right to say that there are extremists in Canada, but India can be dismissive about our belief in freedom of speech and the right to freedom of assembly, and we won’t violate that.”
The other thing to watch for? Arrests.
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police is conducting an independent investigation, and when they make arrests — it could take a while — India will be forced to be made accountable. Intel sources say they are concerned those arrests might lead to more domestic violence, so this is far from over.
In the meantime, as this killing is forcing India to decide what kind of player on the global stage it will be, Canada is consumed by the invitation of a Nazi to Parliament. There is no sugar coating this. It was a humiliating, damaging, and painful moment, and it handed Russia – which has long tried to justify its illegal, murderous invasion of Ukraine as a battle against Nazis – a huge propaganda victory.
It has also allowed the fight for continuing support for Ukraine to get bogged down in old wounds and historic battles that remain agonizing generations later. Besides exposing Canada’s hideous past in terms of allowing Nazis to come to Canada — ”There was a point in our history where it was easier to get (into Canada) as a Nazi than it was as a Jewish person,” said Canada’s Immigration Minister Marc Miller — our eyes are now off the main thing: Russia’s invasion and how to get them out.
No one wagged the dog, tossed a dead cat, or flooded the zone here as a strategy of distraction. This time it was just pure incompetence, but the result is the same: Distortion. Disinformation. Flooding the zone with … crap.
At a time when we need to get serious about urgent issues, the timing couldn’t be worse.