Why Are So Many Democrats Ready to Nuke Canada?

New York governor Kathy Hochul recently invoked US annihilation of Canada as an analogy for Israel’s brutal war on Gaza. Her comments may have been outlandish, but they exemplify Democratic Party leaders’ use of absurd justifications for slaughter.

New York governor Kathy Hochul speaks at the state governor’s office, January 2, 2024. (Lev Radin / Pacific Press / LightRocket via Getty Images)

New York’s Democratic governor Kathy Hochul recently invoked the War of 1812 to rationalize her party’s steadfast support of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slaughter of Palestinians.

As first reported on social media by Jacob N. Kornbluh of the Forward, Governor Hochul stated to an audience of the United Jewish Appeal-Federation of New York that “If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I’m sorry my friends, there would be no Canada the next day.” The statement was made on Thursday, February 15, and went viral the following day.

Hochul, who hails from Buffalo, New York, added that she “loved Canada, but we did have the War of 1812 and they did burn Buffalo.” She further elaborated, “But think about that. That’s a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure it never happens again.”

Shortly after Kornbluh’s post, Hochul apologized, expressing regret that she used “an inappropriate analogy that I now realize could be hurtful to members of our community,” though she did not specify which community she was referring to. She also said she regretted her “poor choice of words,” but did not directly apologize to the Palestinian community of New York State, nor to anyone in Canada, for suggesting that the complete annihilation of a people is a “natural reaction” to a terrorist attack.

Echoes of Biden’s Past in Hochul’s Words

Hochul’s poorly chosen words are remarkably similar to those made over forty years ago by then senator Joe Biden, as reported by Ben Burgis in Jacobin. During a 1982 meeting with then Israeli prime minister Menachem Begin in Washington, DC, Biden reportedly said, “If attacks were launched from Canada into the United States, everyone here would have said, ‘Attack all the cities of Canada, and we don’t care if all the civilians get killed.’”

This episode indicates a concerning pattern among Democratic Party leaders advocating for disproportionate retaliation and a lack of concern for civilian casualties, as well as a surprisingly cavalier attitude toward potential collateral damage in dear old Canada, staunch ally of the United States. It also speaks to an unfortunate consistency among Israeli leaders to disregard their own intelligence in pursuit of genocidal campaigns against Palestinians.

At the time of Begin’s meeting with Biden in 1982, Israel had invaded and occupied southern Lebanon, ostensibly in retribution for an assassination attempt against an Israeli ambassador. Israeli intelligence knew the attempted assassination was planned by the Abu Nidal Organization, and not Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO). Although Arafat and Nidal himself had once been close associates, by 1982 the two men had been bitter enemies for nearly a decade.

Vicious Cycles

As recounted by Israeli journalists Ze’ev Schiff and Ehud Ya’ari in Israel’s Lebanon War, Begin dismissed a counterterrorism adviser’s attempts to relay military intelligence that the PLO was not responsible for the assassination attempt. With a substantial PLO presence in southern Lebanon, Begin used the assassination attempt to justify Israel’s invasion of Lebanon, resulting in the expulsion of the PLO leadership to Libya.

Begin hoped Israel’s support and installation of a far-right, anti-communist, Maronite Christian government would secure “forty years of peace” in Lebanon. However, the 1982 war had the effect of prolonging the Lebanese Civil War, and created a power vacuum after the dispersal of the PLO that permitted the growth of radicalized and far more militant groups, such as Hezbollah.

In addition, Lebanese Christian death squads, with the full support of the Israeli military, perpetrated the Sabra and Shatila Massacre, killing Palestinian refugees (many of whom were victims of the Nakba) and Shia Muslim Lebanese civilians. The consequences of the calamitous and unnecessary 1982 Israeli invasion of Lebanon are still being felt to this day.

There’s an additional layer of unintended irony to Hochul’s statement as well, one that further underlines the governor’s tenuous grasp on the historical record. In her undiplomatic comparison, Canada is unmistakably Hamas, and the United States is a supposedly innocent Israel.

While it is concerning that the governor of New York evidently equates the people of Gaza with a terrorist organization — and is happy to entertain fanciful war-game musings on Canadian terrorism — it’s worth considering that it was in fact the United States that instigated the War of 1812 by declaring war on Great Britain.

When Aggression Masquerades as Strategy

Far from being merely poorly worded, Hochul’s analogy was historically illiterate. If she had a better grasp on her hometown’s history, she would know just how misguided and ill-considered her advocacy of retribution truly is. The Battle of Buffalo to which she referred was actually a response to an earlier American attack on the Canadian community of Newark (today’s Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario). This attack by American aggressors allowed innocent residents precious little time to escape with their lives. Had it occurred today, it wouldn’t look that different from Israel’s scorched-earth campaign in Gaza: looting abounded, then as now.

The key takeaway from the War of 1812, particularly in the context of current conflicts in the Middle East, should be that the United States largely abandoned its ambitions to invade and occupy Canada by the mid-twentieth century, and that the two nations have since resolved their differences diplomatically.

Sworn enemies can become the best of friends if the use of force is taken off the table. The reluctance of prominent Democratic Party figures to embrace this lesson suggests a troubling aspect of American foreign policy. However much Hochul wishes to walk back her poorly worded statements, there is an undeniable pattern — both in rhetoric as much as action — of total annihilation as an acceptable policy either for the United States or for some of its allies. That this is the case is clear enough from American conduct post-9/11, in which the United States too disregarded the expert opinion of its own intelligence community in blind pursuit of revenge.

That this bellicosity is so deeply engrained in the upper echelons of the Democratic Party — and has been for decades — is not what’s surprising here. Rather, it is that there are still arguments made for supporting the Democrats based on their foreign-policy positions.