Tuesday, August 08, 2006

What "Middle Ground" Means

The Globe and Mail has a piece that is somewhat critical of the Liberals preference for "neutrality" in the middle east. Apparently, the notion of middle ground doesn't exist:
Academics say the Middle East is a difficult arena in which to find a "squishy" middle ground.

"It's absolutely impossible," said Reg Whitaker, a professor of political science at the University of Victoria.

"There is no middle ground."

I guess Canadians didn't get the memo:
A Globe and Mail/CTV poll showed last week that the vast majority of Canadians want Ottawa to remain neutral, and a significant number believe it has stumbled in its tilt toward Israel.

Of course there is a "middle ground", and that belief doesn't translate into Hezbollah sympathizer. The entire world community, including Arab nations, condemned Hezbollah's actions. No one questions Israel's right to defend itself in the face of a threat. Canada has always been a staunch defender of Israel's right to exist and we enjoy a relatively close relationship. However, these facts don't disallow any criticism of subsequent Israeli actions, nor does it necessitate ignoring historical precedent.

Despite Harper's view, the issues in the middle east demand some pragmatism, it is not a simple black and white proposition. Harper's defense of Israel is completely justified, however the error lies in his inability to speak beyond that fact- end of story, period. What "middle ground" means in this instance is a policy that defends Israel, without giving it carte blanche to act in a reckless manner. Harper's "blank cheque" endorses the complete destruction of Lebanon's infastructure, which the "neutral" crowd sees as unproductive and dangerous in the longterm. Israel had many options in the aftermath of the soldiers abduction, criticizing their decisions doesn't absolve Hezbollah, but it does demand a "measured" response.

The simple fact remains, and Israel itself has now admitted this, Hezbollah will remain a force beyond the military confrontation. Instead of recognizing this fact straight away, Harper failed to see the nuance and basically advocated Hezbollah's destruction, despite the impracticality of that view. If you accept the premise that Hezbollah is a permanent fixture in Lebanese society, then it is incumbent of you to look at diplomatic avenues to move forward. Is it wrong to suggest Israel withdraw from all remaining Lebanese soil? Acknowledging this sore spot doesn't mean you abandon Israel, but it simply deals with reality.

Middle ground demands that Canada also speak for innocent Lebanese civilians caught in the crossfire. Neutrality means demanding an immediate ceasefire, while bureaucrats work on the solution. Israel military officials have admitted that this conflict will not be resolved militarily, but politically, so the "softening" up Hezbollah arguments lose some validity. Everyone agrees Hezbollah survives, so do we ignore civilian casualties and Lebanon's devastation over a question of degree? Do we blind ourselves to the reality that Hezbollah actually gains prestige and influence with every day of conflict?

It is amazing what happens when you embrace the "neutrality" position. Jimmy Carter, Lester Pearson and Bill Clinton, have demonstrated what the "honest broker" tag can achieve. In my mind all middle ground means is a simple acknowledgment that all things middle east are complicated and demand careful positions.


Robert said...

Hey Steve,

Good post.

It was nice meeting you at the PB get together!

Steve V said...

Hey Robert. It was nice to meet you as well :)

Anonymous said...

Two things come out of the conflict. Hezbollah emerges as a hero to Arab nations and Canada firms up the perception that its a USA patsy.

Scotian said...

I always thought we took what could be better described as an evenhanded approach rather than a neutral approach. As in we condemned the deaths of innocent civilians, period. As in we condemned all border violations and not just one side doing so while ignoring the other side's actions violating borders (as in constant air space violations by Israeli Jets over the last six years). That we stood up for international law and humanitarian law regardless of who is involved. That was what I had understood Canada's traditional foreign policy to be.

Trying to paint it as neutral in a black/white situation does a grave disservice to the post WWII foreign policy choices of both Liberal and PCPC governments/PMs in this country. I think the reason Harper and company love using that word is because it is very easy to twist it to mean something far darker than has been our own actual traditional position in this particular conflict. I do think that many Canadian citizens are confusing the terms evenhandedness and neutrality in this matter, but I do think that the underlying thinking behind the use of either word is essentially the same.

Nice post Steve.

Steve V said...


"I always thought we took what could be better described as an evenhanded approach rather than a neutral approach. As in we condemned the deaths of innocent civilians, period."

Seems a simple premise doesn't it?

Canadian Tar Heel said...


Steve, I hope that you’re wrong about Hezbollah’s permanence in Lebanese society, because the future looks grim. The militia’s hegemony in the region may spark another civil war if it doesn’t use common sense and refrain from total control. The scary part is thinking that it too may gain political legitimacy in an election, like Hamas.

Scotian, good point. Evenhandedness (is that a word?) seems far more active than neutrality, which carries a connotation of sitting on the sidelines for me. Although I do not think that this takes away from the general idea of Steve's post.

Steve V said...


I think the crucial point on Hezbollah will revolve around how the international community responds economically. In the past, it has been Hezbollah that has rebuilt bombed out homes, provided schools and medicine. If the international community adopts a "Marshall Plan", with a massive infusion of money, it may do far more than Israeli bombs can ever do. The Lebanese government desperately needs teeth and the best way to help is unprecedented aid.

Godammitkitty said...

Great post! Chef recommends :)