What was Sajjan thinking?
What a difference the wrong article makes. In grammar-land, an article is like an adjective in that it modifies nouns. Nouns like, for example, architect.
Had Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan referred to himself as “an” architect of the Afghanistan military mission’s Operation Medusa, he wouldn’t be in the mess he is now.
Brig.-Gen. David Fraser, the top commander in the theatre at the time, referred to Sajjan as “one of the most remarkable people I have worked with.” Fraser said Sajjan “single-handedly changed the face of intelligence gathering and analysis in Afghanistan … His analysis was so compelling that it drove a number of large-scale theatre-resourced efforts, including Operation Medusa …” The general also said he directed his staff to ensure the armed forces “capture his skillset” and would “seek his advice …” on changing intelligence training.
That kind of praise from a top military official qualifies Sajjan for “architect” status. But he didn’t say he was “an architect.” He said he was “the architect.” Not on one occasion, but at least on two. Now opposition parties and other critics are calling for his head.
When this partisan storm broke in Parliament, Sajjan quickly apologized live and on social media, saying: “I made a mistake in describing my role. I wish to retract that description and apologize for it. I am truly sorry.” Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, as of today at least, is solidly behind the minister.
What was Sajjan thinking? Did he perhaps believe himself to be the architect given the praise heaped on him by Fraser and others? Did he consciously try to take credit for more than he did? If so, how could he have thought he’d get away with it in this era of hyper surveillance? And, of course, can he remain in the role of defence minister? If he misstated in this case, can his word be trusted in others?
As of now, it looks like Sajjan will survive the mess he made, which is probably for the best. The reason he hasn’t been even more battered is his reputation and track record. His work in Afghanistan was exemplary, according to those who know. He has strong support in the American military establishment and inside NATO. If he can climb out of this hole he still brings a lot to the table. As for all the claims that he must resign, that he’s guilty of “stolen valour” and other sins, they are largely partisan. Keep in mind what Fraser said. Sajjan was certainly a key player.
If he is going to remain on the job, Sajjan needs to tackle this full on. This week he ducked a veterans’ event at the last minute, an act his critics say shows he’s afraid to face the music. That’s not sustainable. Either do the job properly or step aside. And in the future, choose your words more accurately.