Wednesday, June 01, 2011

Harper Marginalizes Canada

Two separate articles in recent days that confirm Harper's failure on the Israel/Palestine question. What we have witnessed may win certain domestic friends, but the lack of sophistication, the tin ear when it comes to foreign policy nuance, has produced a truly unfortunate situation. A couple of days ago a Haaretz editorial supported the notion of Harper's irrelevance, with the general thesis being support from Harper was fine, but without Obama onside, Israel receives no practical benefit:

It's nice that Netanyahu found a leader of an important Western country ready to support his pronouncements, after other leaders turned him down. But Netanyahu's lobbying only brought Israel the illusion of success. Obama didn't change his position and neither did the leaders of the European Union. Even after supposedly yielding to Netanyahu's demand, they still believe that Israel should retreat from the West Bank, evacuate the settlements and allow the Palestinians to set up an independent state, with its capital in East Jerusalem.

The editorial speaks to the crux, while Israel may welcome Canada's support, Harper's G8 stance didn't change any minds, in the countries that ultimately matter in the peace process. In reality, Harper's stance is increasingly nothing but symbolism, with the added negative of isolating Canada as we move forward. Today's, Embassy piece speaks to Harper's isolation, rather than some wishful influence over Obama, really the Americans will just tune us out, all the while being unnecessarily irritated:
The biggest surprise for those who took issue with Mr. Harper's position, however, is that Canada is now out of step with the US—a fact that will likely not sit well with the Obama administration.

"At a time when Obama has been struggling so hard to get the peace talks going, why would we take a position which basically undercuts it?" Mr. Molloy asked.

Mr. Hibbard echoed those comments, saying that Mr. Harper's stand will not sit well with the US president—which has the potential to incur long-term impacts on relations between Canada and the US.

"When you have our prime minister undercutting the president of the United States, who faces a very difficult situation domestically on this issue, then he's losing credibility with the president," Mr. Hibbard said. "I cannot imagine that Harper will have a lot of influence in Washington. I thought that he would have been more sophisticated."

It's important for pro-Israel interests to consider the consequences beyond Harper's public support. What we have seen isn't courageous on Harper's part, it's plain STUPID, it denotes once again a lack of foreign policy understanding. A G8 communique has to be the most USELESS of proclamations, lacking in any real weight. In other words, if Harper was really interested in furthering Israel's interests, taking such a public stand was counter-productive, particularly with regard to the poster child of empty rhetoric, a G8 pronouncement. All Harper accomplished was to appear off side with other world leaders, with regard to a bunch of words that will have no bearing on anything moving forward. A shrewd strategy goes along with the rhetoric, while quietly working behind the scenes to further your position. If you isolate yourself, you can't "arm twist", you're almost a pariah, a voluntary outsider, that plays no role whatsoever.

Harper doesn't seem to understand that Canada isn't a superpower, it's stature is limited, and within that reality, our interests are best served by offering quiet counsel, not "courageous" positions, which is code for practical irrelevance. Moving forward, Harper has marginalized Canada on the Israel/Palestine question, which should concern those in the pro-Israel camp. Are people looking for a superficial cheerleader, or someone who is a true ally, in the sense they have weight and influence? If it's the latter, than all sides can agree, Harper's approach does nothing for Israel, it does nothing for the peace process, it just alienates allies. Factor in the damage Harper is doing to past relationships with the Palestinian side- who know see as simply parroting Israeli positions- and you have complete and utter failure, a foreign policy disaster. If the peace process does move forward, don't expect Canada to play any role whatsoever, that fact in and of itself speaks to the bottom line reality within Harper's blunder.


Jerry Prager said...

Israel only wants cheerleaders.
Criticize them with less than ten thousandth of the vehemence used against a stiff-necked, hard hearted people as the old prophets used to call Israel and you'll end up being killed outside the temple while the lion of Judah roars in the wilderness.
Harper is a servant of Mammon in a land run by the Whore of Babylon, and his lack of discernment is a curse on Canadians, one that will deepen now that he has unlimited power. And after all, what limits it now ?
He is above the law, above ethics, above journalism's ability to restrain him, above parliament.
He is going to destroy the Conservative Party, which is the best thing that can be said about him.

Steve V said...

Harper doesn't understand that a perceived lack of balance equates to lack of real influence.

Tof KW said...

Provided Obama wins re-election in 2012, not only will Harper lose (even more) influence in Washington over the next 4 years; but watch for the US to actually start acting against us on the international stage.

We've already seen this happen with our UN security council seat loss, a lot of that had to do with the lack of US support for our bid.

And remember the bad blood between Harper and Obama began back in 2008 with that NAFTAgate leak during the Ohio primary. That leak gave Clinton the win in Ohio and carried her to the final DNC vote. Without the leak Obama probably would have won, and the Democratic presidential nomination would have been his right then and there.

Add this latest bit of international stupidity on Harper's report card, and you can see Canada's diplomatic corps in Washington are in for a rough 4 years.

Steve V said...

There was nothing to be gained from publicly rebuking Obama in this way, the fact Harper didn't conclude this a testament to his tin ear. I suspect the Americans are upset about an action that amounts to nothing more than grandstanding really. Moving forward, we are a complete and utter no factor, no pull, no influence to help our Israeli ally, just some guy with empty rhetoric.

Skinny Dipper said...

The problem with international diplomacy is that one must be delicate when expressing a point of view. Had Harper wanted to show Canada's support for Israel while not backstabbing the US and Arab countries, he could have recommended a softer G8 statement that would have still included using the 1967 borders as a basis for discussion. Instead, Harper has alienated Obama, and leaders in the Arab countries. He has alienated Turkey (a NATO ally) as well. What will Harper gain from Israel for supporting Netanyahu? Nothing. Domestically, Harper will keep the support of specific Jewish and Christian voters in Canada.

The US and the European Union does a lot of trade and tourism with Israel. The US also is a big military aid donor to Israel. Obama and EU citizens will have a lot of muscle to flex on Israel if they so choose. A boycott, divestment, and sanctions campaign won't have much effect from Canada. However citizens in the US and EU may be able to support a BDS campaign with greater results on Israel. Obama (with the approval of Congress) may be able to reduce aid to Israel as a way to get the government of Israel to act fairly toward peace negotiations.

Steve V said...

Delicate is a good word, I use a lack of nuance. Harper is a disaster on the world stage, his only real achievement is overseeing a relatively healthy banking system and economy. On climate change, on the Middle East, on aid, on UN matter, almost every file, Harper hasn't distinguished himself at all, but he has sullied our well earned reputation.

Tof KW said...

Totally agree, but it goes beyond this. Again, not only have we lost (even more) influence on the international stage, (that's your point - and 100% correct) but the Obama administration will now began to work against the Harper government on international and bi-national issues. In fact this has already started, and will probably only get worse.

I guess maybe Harper figures the Republicans are winning big in 2012? But I wouldn't plan on hypotheticals like this if I were him.

When our PM wants to disagree with the US President on foreign policy, you do so diplomatically behind closed doors. Going out in the open like this just pisses the Prez off ...and that is NEVER good for Canada-US relations.

Steve V said...

I guess maybe Harper figures the Republicans are winning big in 2012?

Harper better review the GOP contenders then ;)

BigRed said...

What I find to be a foreign policy failure is that Harper did not realize the consequences when he acted. I will start with the more subtle one, that he was surprised with this weekend. Harper never thought his meeting with Netanyahu would be exposed. Now, I have a feeling that Harper would have made the same moves at the G8 regardless of his phone call with Bibi, but the perception is there that Israel was the tail wagging Canada's dog. That information was leaked by an israeli diplomat to Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper. So basically, after doing Israel a solid, we were humiliated in front of our allies by Israel for appearing to allow them to dictate the G8 communique.
This could have been done for two reasons:
1) the leaker could have not liked the Bibi intrusion into G8 politics and wanted to let the world know he was behind it (remember, Israel is a country with diverse opinions, and not every diplomat likes Bibi or his stances. Leaking this type of information makes him have to bear the brunt of this action, isolating him further)
2) the leaker gave this tip to Haaretz to let the world (and especially Obama)know it wagged the dog, further trying to flex it's muscles and show Obama who is boss.

Either way, Steve is right when he highlights the irrelevance of the communique and false sense of security it brings. If anything, Harper just further isolated the other G8 countries from supporting Israel come the september UN vote. And considering we do not sit on the Security Council while obviously preturned countries like France do, I see Harpers move for Israel as a net negative.

Koby said...

I have said before I will say it again. Conservatives support for Israeli hardliners is stupid.

Israel is an anachronism. It is a country based on the antiquated notion of "blood" and a democracy of 7 and half million who lords over a population of 4 million. For these reasons alone it is odd that Harper would place Israel at the center of Canadian foreign policy. However, the strangeness does not stop there. The US's strong support for Israel makes sense in the context of its larger regional policy viz., insuring the continued flow of oil out of Gulf. The US has helped build Israel into the dominate military power in the region so as to prevent an Arab country or Iran from threatening the flow of oil out of the Gulf. Remember it was the Yom Kippur War that led to the creation of OPEC. The US has forged alliances between Israel and its neighbours, most notably Jordan and Egypt least conflict between Israel and its neighbors hamper the flow of oil out of the region. Of course, the US also made sure that the oil producing countries are dependent on the US for protection from external threats and indeed from their own resistive populations least the flow of oil out of the Gulf be hampered. Saudi Arabia being the prime example.

The Harper government has no larger regional strategy. Indeed, Harper's spat with UAE speaks volumes about Canada's compete lack of back channels in the region.

Now what has happened in Egypt forms the backdrop to Obama's speech. The ability of the Israel to hem in Gaza was dependent on Egyptian cooperation and that is no longer forthcoming. Egypt will no longer close its borders with Gaza and with elections coming soon it will soon be politically impossible for the Egyptian government to remain on friendly terms with Israel so long as the Palestine issue goes unresolved. This threatens stability in the region and instability threatens the flow of oil out of the Gulf

sharonapple88 said...

The situation is a farce.

Here's what's going on today.

Baird, named foreign affairs minister by Prime Minister Stephen Harper on May 18, says Canada remains committed to a two-state solution in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — with negotiations based on Israel's borders before it occupied East Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza in the Six Day War of 1967.

"We support, obviously, that that solution has to be based on the '67 border, with mutually agreed upon swaps, as President (Barack) Obama said," Baird said Wednesday.

The issue has become highly contentious since Harper blocked inclusion of the 1967 border language in a G8 summit declaration last week — suggesting a major shift in Canada's long-standing policy for the region.

So Harper blocked something that is still Canada's position on Israel.


Score one for Bob Rae in knowing everything there is to know more about this situation than John Baird.

Steve V said...

"We support, obviously, that that solution has to be based on the '67 border, with mutually agreed upon swaps, as President (Barack) Obama said," Baird said Wednesday.

Could there possibly be anything more obvious? Isn't that exactly what the G8 statement said? Sounds like damage control to me.

sharonapple88 said...

Could there possibly be anything more obvious? Isn't that exactly what the G8 statement said? Sounds like damage control to me.

Must be hard for someone like Baird not to go on the attack.

T of KW pretty much called it. Harper can't treat the US as he does the opposition at home without consequences.

Shiner said...

Good God, 5 years in office and it's still amateur hour. Not that anyone will notice or care.

Steve V said...

Yes, let's just assume we are talking amongst ourselves :)