Sunday, December 06, 2009

HARPER'S FOREIGN POLICY: POLISHING THE FINE ART OF BEING INCOMPETENT



Stephen Harper (above) is fifty years old. He’s been in politics since he was in his high school’s Young Liberal Club back when Trudeau was in his hey day. His grown up political career began back in 1985 when he was an aide to a prominent Calgary PC MP (who he later unceremoniously stabbed in the back).

His career has progressed from being a midwife to the birth of the Reform Party in 1987, a Reform MP from 1993 to 1997, a stint as head of the right wing lobby group the National Citizens Coalition, leader of the Canadian Alliance who presided over the merger of the Canadian Alliance and the Progressive Conservatives which morphed into the Conservative Party, becoming leader of that Conservative Party in 2004 and Prime Minister in 2006 – almost 4 years ago. It is a career that has now spanned a quarter century.

But it took him that long to find out that his childish – indeed bizarre – treatment of modern China was not in the national interests of Canada and that indeed China was many times more important to Canada than the Dalai Lama and Tibet. He snubbed China (by not going to the Olympics in Beijing and waiting 4 years before he made his first visit), and repeatedly and gratuitously blasted them over human rights (as though Canada under his leadership had an impeccable record in that department).

I wonder what else he will change his mind about in foreign policy. What will he do when he realizes that Canadian companies have billions of dollars of investment – particularly in the oil and gas sector - in Arab countries? Will he wake up and realize that sending his foreign minister on missions to harangue Arab heads of state as they sit on the tarmac at Gander, Newfoundland waiting to refuel is not such a hot idea?

Is it too much to expect that he will ultimately see the folly of his policy of wholehearted and continual support for Israel to the complete exclusion of Arab interests or legitimate concerns just for the sake of domestic politics in Canada? Will he finally get it that his heavy-handed and one-sided support in that conflict has led to a deterioration of Canada’s over-all credibility in international affairs?

And what of Afghanistan? Will he ever understand the intractable and indomitable nature of the people of that country and how for almost 2000 years they have repeatedly detested and defeated invaders regardless of the power they were up against? Given his blind pursuit of shedding Canadian blood and spending billions of taxpayers' money in that godforsaken country, together with the lies and deceits he and his government have precipitated upon the Canadian people as to progress and success in the battlefield, will he finally come clean and do an about face and get the hell out? After how many years of conflict, lives lost, and billions spent?

The point of all of this is that the office of Prime Minister is no place for on the job training. There are columnists and other Harper apologists and drumbeaters in this country who give him credit for finally moving towards a normal relationship with China. But what credit should he receive for that? Why did he not know long before now what he seems just to have learned about China recently? Or why did he let ideology get in the way of a sensible policy? And if he was ignorant about China and the Arab-Israeli conflict, and dumb and deceitful about Afghanistan, what other costly screw-ups are taking place?

For Stephen Harper to be learning about these issues at the age of 50 after a quarter century in politics is absurd. To be cheered and complimented by some Canadians for having finally reversed a stupid four year track with our second largest trading partner is an acceptance of mediocrity that would be laughed at in any other western industrialized democracy – except perhaps for the dumb and dumber crowd that comprise much of the Congress of the United States.

Harper’s knowledge of foreign affairs is as abysmal as it is embarrassing for this country. That he should receive raves and kudos from many in the Canadian press for fumbling and bumbling his way through to some positive foreign policy change is surely the triumph of incompetence over competence. In fact, it says as much about the dismal state of Canada’s press as it does about Harper.

17 comments:

Tomm said...

You would prefer that the Leader of the Opposition volunteer comments about "amateur hour" when our PM is visiting a nation like China who doees indeed have an abysmal human rights record both at home and abroad?

You would prefer that we grovel on our bellies in front of the Chinese Premier for a few flakes of their trade like Ignatieff obviously would have?

You would prefer that we have a more "nuanced" positon in the middle east, meaning that the we suck up to the daily outrage being delivered by Hamas, and Hezbollah?

I see.

Darryl Raymaker said...

Tomm

1. If Harper's policy was correct on China over 4 years, why did he change it? The fact that he had to change something he was apparently so committed to in a groveling way (the fact that he was so complimentary and unctious in China shows that he did indeed grovel) indicates that it was 'amateur hour,' which is the message of my blog.

2. Yes I would prefer a more nuanced and intelligent position in the Middle East, consistent with our past policies. We should be talking to both sides and attempting to engage both sides so that a solution be attained. There is plenty of fault to be shared in that unhappy part of the world, and you know it.

3. I did not say we 'suck up' to outrage delivered by Hamas and Hezbollah and its interesting that you should accuse me of that simply because I point out that our policy should be more even handed. Your accusation is - putting that kind of statement in its best possible light - a leap of logic. Not unlike the kind of accusations and leaps of logic that used to come from the lips of Joe McCarthy. I hope you know who I'm talking about.

mycdnprince said...

Another great post, Darryl. I agree, our msm have become as much a disgrace to our country as Harper has become. He has made a mess of our domestic situation as well. Harper does not bode well for Canada on all fronts.

Unfortunately, things will continue as they have as long as we have blind followers like Tomm above.

"In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is stoned to death."

Tomm said...

Darryl,

The Tories have not changed their position with respect to China. They still have the utmost respect for the Dalai Lama. Harper has not apologized for the time or what was essentially an official visit. Harper has not apologized for not going to the Olympics because of the crackdown in
Tibet, and doesn't appear to have any plans to do so. Harper has even righted a multi-generational wrong by formally apologizing for the Head Tax.

What they have done is planned and worked behind the scenes to ensure that these disagreements do not overshadow the obvious state-to-state advantages of business. Given the noises coming out of the LPC offices, we would have allowed the Chinese Premier to rub our belly during the meeting. We are not a vassal state of China.

With respect to the Middle East we just have to agree to disagree. Hamas and Hezbollah have a long way to go before they can be considered groups we can support. They espouse terrorist methods in reaching their longterm goals. And their long term goals include a never ending war against Zionism. I think it is a decent position for Canada to oppose this is un-nuanced ways.

Tomm said...

With respect to Joe McCarthy,

I don't think there was anything in my statement that harkens to his past witchhunts. But please remember what happens when you start down the road of appeasement in the situation we have in the Middle East right now. Cutting deals with Hezbollah or Hamas is just that.

Mycdnprince,

"...blind followers like Tomm..."

I may not have the best vision, but I am certainly not a blind follower and disagree with many things being done by the present government. However, on the whole, the pluses far outway the minuses, and quite frankly the other choices aren't inspiring.

Darryl Raymaker said...

Tomm - Thanks for reading my blog and for maintaining a high standard of discourse.

As to your points:

1. Any objective analysis of Harper's statements and conduct respecting the Chinese government an lead only to one conclusion: that he and his government's approach has changed dramatically from that of being a surly and unfriendly opponent of the regime to that of a hustler looking for new business clients and customers. To say otherwise is being disingenuous. The fact that he has not apologized is of little consequence. His behaviour shows that his China policy was wrong headed. I predict that he will be far less than cozy with the Dalai Lama in the future, because after twenty five years in public life he has learned an obvious political lesson.

2. The head tax apology is one of those symbolic gestures, made famous by Mulroney, designed to win domestic voter support at home - this time from the Chinese-Canadian community. My guess is that the Chinese government could care less about the apology and that it has little or no significance respecting the China-Canada relationship.

3. The noises coming out of the LPC offices are the same as my blog message on the subject. Harper's contemptuous behaviour towards China up until now was not in Canada's national interest and it took him literally twenty five years to realize that it was not. Harper's policies and attitudes towards China up until now reeked of incompetence and misguided ideology.

4. As to the Middle East, Hamas and Hezbollah are not the only issues that have to be resolved. There are many more and all of them must be on the table and dealt with. They include: 1. Israel's right to exist (which all Liberals support); 2. Israel's right to defend itself (which all Liberal's support); 3. Israeli settlements in the West Bank and other conquered territories;
4. The issue of a two-state solution; 5. The sharing of resources - particularly water - in the region; 6. The issue of the Golan Heights; 7. The problem of either side using the conflict for their own internal domestic political purposes; 8. In terms of defending oneself, the issue of proportionality of response;
9.The problem of travel between Israeli and Palestinian occupied lands, infrastructure, refugees, and the like. And this is by no means a comprehensive list. All of these issues must be dealt with and in order to do so all leading democratic countries have to be engaged constructively in their solutions. To do that, they must be able to have the credibility to effectively communicate with both sides. At the moment, the Harper government does not have that credibility.

4. The word 'appeasement' is a dangerous and pejorative word too often used by people who are not interested in settlement but instead are spoiling for a fight. What better way to do that than conjure up images of Chamberlain and Hitler in Munich.

'Settlement' is a far better word to define the resolution of intractable issues. It is a word that reminds us of the historic Camp David Accords, or even the Marshall Plan - historic images that are a far better model to keep in mind when we tackle the problems of peace in the Middle East.

mycdnprince said...

Now, for some 'low standing' of discourse... :-)

I am not going to belabour the fact that Harper is a 'retrograde' whose failed reform/alliance/conservative ideology has consistently caused him to falter, stumble and otherwise fall behind everyone else by at least two steps on every given issue, whether that be domestic or foreign.

Unlike our Israeli brothers who are always two steps ahead, having most western countries and mainstream media in their back pocket doing their bidding. It takes two to tango but unfortunately, 'Israel has never learned to dance'.

Tomm,
I hear ya! Personally, I wish we had a better selection to choose from, but sadly we don't, which makes swallowing what we have to these days that much more difficult, and disagreeable.

Tomm said...

Darryl,

I wonder if Harper would have gone to China if the US economy hadn't collapsed? I clearly hear you and know your position on that. I am not as sure. He has been opening up trade with as many countries as possible and given we are a pacific nation it seemed at some point he would need to address China. I still like the idea of Harper being firm with them though. Clearly China doesn't have to trade with us, but as we strengthen economically, it makes it harder and harder for China to walk around us.

With respect to the Middle East, if we just copy the standard EU position we become a non-player. We also leave Israel in a weakened position since they can count their un-nuanced friends on one hand. I think it is important for Israel that we stay firm. We also send a message that adventurism by Islamic nationalists is not something we are OK with. Remember how a few years ago Ontario was dabbling with the idea of allowing Sharia Laws for practicing Muslims? We need to create as much separation from this sort of creeping change in Canada as possible. However, I do accept your premise that it is not black and white and extremely complex.

Tomm said...

mycdnprince,

What exactly are you looking for in Canadian leadership?

Paint me a picture.

mycdnprince said...

Tomm,
I can answer your question in one word... TRUDEAU.

In every way one can imagine he was a trend setter and leader, who made us proud of who we were and needed no well beaten path before him to tell him which way he should go, he created his own path, and most of us discovered he was right in doing so.

Ah, for that kind of leadership again???

I still remember what I was doing that night when I heard he was retiring for good and the sense of foreboding I experienced at the time. I remember being scared, real scared, for my country. That feeling has only intensified since.

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Darryl Raymaker said...

Prestonesterly -

Thanks for contributing to my blog and agreeing with my analysis of Harper's bumbling foreign policy so completely.

Tomm - I don't know if the collapse of the U.S. economy had anything to do with it. If it did, it should not have. We should have wanted to be an important trading partner of
China regardless of what was going on in the U.S. because of China's ever growing importance. And get real about China. They can find other trading partners which gives them access to commodities just as easily as Canada. If Canada closed its doors to them, they would continue to thrive and do business elsewhere.

Furthermore, he is not opening up trade relations with as many countries as possible. In fact, he is screwing up trade relations with the Arab world - most of which Canada has had excellent trade relations with for many years. Did you know for example, that Nexen - a Calgary based oil company - was recently responsible for 25% of the GNP of Yemen? And the gazillions invested by Canadian companies (oil and gas and construction) in Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Syria, the Krdish region of Iraq, the UAE, and so on? Those relations are now jeopardized. An example is Libya's recent decision to refuse visas to Canadians who wish to enter Libya. He has jeopardized our investments in Cuba and Venezuela (which are substantial) as well with his cuddling of the Bush administration.

In respect to the Middle East - Israeli conflict, it is a principle of any mediated settlement that there must be trustworthy parties in the middle to whom both protangonists can talk. We were in that position along with many of the EU nations as well as the United States pre-Bush. We are no longer trusted by one side and so we have frittered away our chance - under Harper - to play a role in any future accord or even negotiations. By the way, I think there has been ample evidence over the past 60 years which should satisfy even the most idea-resilient skulls that the West is not okay with the adventurism of Islamic nationalists. Shurely, no further proof is needed. And please, don't worry about sharia law coming to Canada. It won't happen.

mycdnprince - I'm with you on the great Pierre Trudeau. He was an extraordinary leader who saw the big picture. We were lucky to have him and he left some huge shoes to fill. But, one never knows just how good a leader is until he wields power. I like Iggy and I think he will do just fine as PM.

mycdnprince said...

Darryl,
Donolo's recent instructions to caucus... "Vigorous opposition to a destructive government is just one half of our job.”, followed by Iggy's performance of late are definitely positive signs Iggy very well might be our next PM in the not to distant future. Harper and the conservatives are in free fall, with some of them facing career breaker futures, as well as criminal charges both domestically and internationally, as well, due to their apparent transgressions and flipancy with respect to torture.

With the above in mind, the following news story only thickens the plot...

http://www.thestar.com/news/canada/afghanmission/article/736990--rcmp-probes-federal-role-in-arar-torture

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