What was Sa­j­jan think­ing?

The Hamilton Spectator - - OPINION - Howard El­liott

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.

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