Writing in an op/ed article in today's Globe and Mail Lawrence Martin has some poignant words about the Harper government's foreign policy.
He doesn't like it.
In Martin's opinion the Harper government's foreign policy has been much too confrontational, not committed enough to environmental issues, and too grounded in the present:
"Stephen Harper has been taking a lot of flack from his right-wing base. The red-meat eaters say he's a lousy excuse for a conservative. But, on this one, the base is off-base. On fiscal matters, the Prime Minister may have demonstrated a liberal side. In these tottering times, most every leader is doing that.Interestingly enough, as one continues to trudge their way through Martin's column one quickly notices how much Martin's new thinking is like the old thinking of Martin's beloved Chretien-era Liberal party.
But look at the other indicators. Check the law-and-order fixation, the leisurely approach to the green file. And look at the record on foreign policy – Mr Harper has surely earned his hard-line stripes. Previous Conservative governments showed some progressive strains abroad. Not these Regressive Conservatives. With Russia, with China, in the Middle East, they harbour old confrontational attitudes. There's no new outreach as there is in Washington, no new thinking for new times."
"A month ago, there was that soft-sounding summit with President Barack Obama. It was barely over before the Conservatives tried to get Cold War juices flowing, accusing Moscow of encroaching on Canadian airspace with their bombers. Since the flights were in international airspace, the anti-Red rhetoric fizzled.This, naturally, would depend on how one defines "reasoned".
Mr Obama is trying a more reasoned approach with Moscow, as he is with Tehran. In Iran's case, he has opened the doors to dialogue and diplomacy. Not so Team Harper."
One may ask Martin how "reasoned" it is to allow Russian bombers to skirt Canadian airspace, or how "reasoned" it is to allow Iranian prison guards to rape and beat Canadian citizens to death without so much as a hiccup in diplomatic relations between the two countries (the latter of the two propositions appears to be a core belief of the Michael Byers school of international relations).
For any country that values its national sovereignty, or expects foreign countries to respect its passports, neither of these propositions comes even remotely close to qualifying as a "reasoned" foreign policy.
"With regard to the hellhole at Guantanamo, Washington is moving to shut its doors. Conservatives in Canada – witness the case of Omar Khadr – have hardly had a bad word to say about the place."Martin could perhaps also be troubled to note how few Conservatives have anything positive to say about Guantanamo Bay.
Beyond that, Martin should also keep in mind that the United States has some serious national security issues at stake in the trial of various detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere.
The Harper government has been waiting for the Obama administration to decide how it wants to proceed on the matter of these detainees, and waiting for the Obama administration to ask it to take Khadr off of their hands.
If anything, Obama has been dragging its feet on the Khadr case -- which will ultimately decide whether or not individuals like Khadr should be treated as child soldiers are terrorists -- Martin's complaint rings hollow in the echo of his high words for Obama.
"Traditionally, Canadian governments pursue disarmament. A good question is whether there's ever been such silence on nuclear proliferation and arms stockpiling as we've had from Team Harper. It's like it's not a problem."To pretend that Harper's government has done nothing on the topic of nuclear proliferation and disarmament. Harper's government supported UN sanctions against, of all countries, Iran -- one of the countries that Martin seems to disfavour confrontation with.
Meanwhile, Martin may want to take note of the fact that the Cold War -- and the looming threat of nuclear holocaust -- is over. And it was Martin's favoured Liberal party that was in charge while Pakistan and India were developing and testing nuclear weapons.
"Much has been written about our exceedingly slow boat to China. The PM can't seem to shake off old attitudes. He has yet to even visit the Middle Kingdom, despite its gigantic stature in the world economy."While Harper's to-date failure to visit China is absolutely free game for criticism, one also has to remember that Harper's approach to China has proven superior than that of his predecessors, Jean Chretien or Paul Martin.
Harper hasn't allowed economic concerns to dissuade him from addressing China's atrocious human rights record. Chretien was notorious for being unable to even utter the words "human rights" in regards to China.
"In the Middle East, Ottawa has often taken a commendable pro-Israeli tilt. But our government has never been entirely one-sided. The Harper Conservatives have ended that tradition, becoming practically more pro-Israeli than Israel. They make no effort to bridge the Middle East divide. In the House of Commons this week, Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon sneered at Liberal critic Bob Rae for making a stopover in Syria on a recent trip. Mr Rae, a supporter of Israel, was trying to gain an understanding of other points of view. Mr Cannon should try it some time. Couldn't hurt."At the same time, however, if one is looking for fresh perspective on Israel and its treatment of the Palestinians, one may want to look somewhere other than Syria, with its own incredibly questionable record regarding the treatment of Palestinians.
"In their most recent Jurassic Park vignette, the government barred George Galloway, the gadfly British MP, from entering Canada. This move found even some of the PM's most ardent supporters opposed. It followed an entry ban in January issued against William Ayers, an American advocate of violence in the 1960s who has since become a distinguished professor of education sought after by dissertation committees at Canadian universities. The Harper government continues to deport American conscientious objectors to the Iraq war."George Galloway is a strange hill for any left-wing thinker to choose to die on.
Does he really want someone who accepts money from Saddam Hussein admitted to Canada? How about someone who donates money to Hamas? In the casea of Bill Ayers, how about someone who plots terrorist activities against his own government -- a government that is, by the way, Canada's most important ally.
Martin may also want to keep in mind that the conscientious objectors being deported back to the United States are not draftees, as was the case during the Vietnam war, and that many of them enlisted after the Iraq war began. Last but not least, current Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff has already ruled out supporting American war resisters in their bid to remain in Canada.
"On Afghanistan, the PM is showing some well-advised flexibility, and Defence Minister Peter MacKay has earned some plaudits. But, by and large, Ottawa is ignoring causes for which it would usually be engaged. Africa is largely forgotten. In Darfur, the International Criminal Court is pursuing a sitting head of state in connection with genocide. But as former justice minister Irwin Cotler points out, Canada – a force in creating the ICC – has shown little interest. The same, he says, is the case in Rwanda, where our foreign assistance for the indemnification of the horrors of 15 years ago has been cut."The Sudan is an important situation for Canada to address.
But at the same time, Canada cannot be everywhere at once. Canada's foreign policy must focus on places where it has concrete interests -- be it security, economic or otherwise -- at stake. With few of those interests at play in Darfur and Canada fully engaged in Afghanistan, Canada has very few resources to devote.
"The Conservatives are in the midst of slashing the foreign affairs budget by $639-million from 2007 levels, while increasing spending on the military by $2.4-billion. If their creed is that guns trump diplomacy, it is being well-heeded."Diplomacy remains as important as it ever was.
But Martin needs to remember that there are many things that diplomacy simply cannot accomplish. Whether he likes it or not, guns are sometimes very necessary.
"Criticism comes not only from opposition parties but from the likes of a former Conservative foreign minister, David Emerson, who cites our failures to appreciate and exploit Canada's place in the world. While other Conservative governments, particularly that of Brian Mulroney, showed a more open-minded side, today's government keeps its eyes wide shut.Lawrence Martin has evidently chosen to take a very limited view to Canada's foreign policy, it's international interests, and how best to achieve them.
On fiscal matters, it may be that our PM has become more moderate. But as for world affairs, there's clearly no need for his party's hard-liners to be rolling over in their caves."
Other bloggers writing on this topic:
Montreal Simon - "Harper's Apocalyptic Foreign Policy"