Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lookin' For Love For All the Wrong Reasons

There are better reasons than Barack Obama to support an anti-genocide doctrine

When George W Bush was still President of the United States, one of the favoured criticisms the Canadian left-wing lobbed at Prime Minister Stephen Harper was what eventually will become known as the "Steve" argument -- that he was "mini-Bush", too close to the President, and simply doing his bidding.

How that Barack Obama is in power, many on Canada's left are taking an altogether different stance toward the US President:

Impress him. Do his bidding.

"Under the Harper government, we really seem to have retreated from any form of an active role or presence on the world stage," says Ramesh Thakur, a co-author of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. "The problem was that this coincided with the Bush administration in Washington. Now that we have Obama who wishes to engage with multilateralism, I think it gives an opportunity for Canada."

"[The Harper government] wanted to be on friendly terms with our most important trading partner and our most important ally, which is understandable, but if that changes then the situation should change as well," Thakur explained.

Thakur's conclusion is that Canada should formally adopt the Responsibility to Protect doctrine as part of its foreign policy.

One hardly knows where to start with Thakur. For one thing, Canada has hardly retreated from any "active role or presence on the world stage". Before the Harper government came to power Canada was, and remains now, active in the international effort to stabilize and rebuild Afghanistan.

But for another thing, there are many, many good reasons to support the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. Impressing Barack Obama isn't one of them.

Averting human rights abuses is one of the most important responsibilities of any developed nation. While those who believe that the sovereignty of any country is inherently sacrosanct may object to the idea of a military intervention, the far-too-numerous examples of genocide and other systematic and deliberate abuses has created a strong case for the recognition of that sovereignty in the international community: namely, that respect for it is conditional based on any particular government's conduct as a global citizen.

That is the best reason to support R2P. Not so we can have an international love-in with Barack Obama.

Thakur also argues that the Conservatives could subvert R2P and make it part of their foreign policy legacy.

"If they identify these with the Liberal party, it does not preclude them from identifying other areas that (could) become the legacy of the Tories," he suggests.

Once again, of all the good reasons to support R2P, this isn't one of them.

Thakur's suggestions are seemingly based in good intentions, but they draw faulty conclusions based on faulty premises. One of them clearly rests on the manner in which he seems to define an active global role.

Thakur seems to overlook that, even as an entrenched part of Canada's foreign policy, R2P would enable and justify intervention in places where he may not otherwise approve. Afghanistan, where Canada is playing an active role, is one of them. Another one of them, as Thakur himself alludes to, is actually Iraq.

"[Michael Ignatieff's] credibility on R2P was badly damaged by the way he supported the Iraq war," Thakur suggests.

Yet the litany of human rights abuses under Saddam Hussein has been widely known for decades. According to R2P -- which Ignatieff, along with Thakur, helped author -- Iraq very much could be argued to be a valid case for international intervention.

Thakur's clear -- and common -- dislike for the Iraq conflict hardly amounts to an undermining of Michael Ignatieff's credibility vis a vis R2P.

Thakur isn't wrong that the Responsibility to Protect doctrine should be part of Canada's foreign policy. It absolutely should be.

But in his efforts to come up with as many reasons as possible, he's come up with a few bad reasons amidst all the good reasons, that may in time serve to undermine R2P's value as a standard of international governance.

Other bloggers writing about this topic:

Rudy Rummel - "What to do About Nukes?"

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