The enemy of our enemy is our friend – especially if he buys $15 billion worth of armoured vehicles and generates thousands of Canadian jobs.
We can make nice with bullies while claiming solidarity with their victims.
And we can jump at the chance to lift sanctions against a country determined to wipe Israel off the map, because we are eager to believe its promises of change.
Welcome to Canadian politics in 2016, where engagement is the name of the game and political expediency muddles moral clarity.
Much of the federal government’s foreign policy is still evolving, including how our new “train, advise and assist” policy will be as effective as fighter jets against Islamic State (ISIS). But it’s clear that Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Minister of Foreign Affairs Stéphane Dion are determined to return Canada to its glory days as an “honest broker” in world affairs.
So far, this means professing support for Israel while downplaying Palestinian terrorism and thinking settlements are the biggest obstacle to peace.
To be fair, the new Liberal government continued Canada’s policy of voting against anti-Israel resolutions at the United Nations (UN) instead of abstaining.
Although former prime minister Stephen Harper is usually credited with this voting pattern – and he certainly championed it – it was actually the Liberal government of Paul Martin that made the pro-Israel voting switch in 2005.
Let’s hope that Trudeau’s plan to thaw relations with the UN does not change this pattern of support for Israel.
But February has already seen disturbing trends in Canada’s new foreign policy.
The government plans to go ahead with a $15-billion arms deal with Saudi Arabia – originally negotiated by the former Conservative government – while continuing to ignore that country’s appalling human rights record.
According to Reuters, Saudi Arabia has beheaded at least 85 people in 2016, and is advertising for new executioners to carry out an increasing number of death sentences.
And, despite a new Nanos poll that indicates the majority of Canadians oppose the deal, the prime minister has been tone-deaf on this issue.
During the election campaign, he dismissed the project as a sale of “jeeps” to the Saudis. These are actually light armoured vehicles, which have been used against civilians by Saudi forces in the past.
However, the deal will mean 3,000 advanced manufacturing jobs in and around the General Dynamics Land Systems Factory in London, Ontario, as well as thousands of other jobs for suppliers.
This is a difficult balancing act for any politician, especially a neophyte prime minister.
But Trudeau has a chance to take a principled stand here – at the very least to take a close look at the deal and understand its full ramifications before bounding ahead.
The Liberal government is also planning to re-engage with Russia “in a cautious way,” according to Dion, despite its annexation of Crimea in blatant violation of international law. We can apparently do this while still proclaiming unwavering support for Ukraine – a position endorsed by Andriy Shevchenko, Ukraine’s new ambassador to Canada.
And, like the U.S., the government is lifting many of Canada’s sanctions against Iran – to benefit Canadian businesses, says Dion. It is also preparing to resume diplomatic relations with Iran because of the P5 + 1 agreement on Iran’s nuclear program.
Shimon Koffler Fogel, CEO of the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA), said in an open letter about the deal (http://tinyurl.com/jcmpcl6) that it is encouraging that Canada still lists Iran as a state sponsor of terrorism, and that other sanctions against perpetrators and sponsors of terror in Iran remain.
However, he expressed concern over “the very real danger that the international community, out of naive enthusiasm over the nuclear agreement and growing fear regarding the spread of ISIS, will welcome Iran as a legitimate member of the international community even as the regime continues to sponsor terrorism, abuse human rights, foment chaos in the region, and issue genocidal calls for the annihilation of Israel.”
CIJA plans to mobilize the Canadian Jewish community to encourage Dion to maintain economic and political pressure on Iran, since “history shows diplomacy without economic pressure has never been effective in changing Iran’s behaviour.”
A new government means new challenges for our leaders and new questions for Canadians.
Do we follow our allies, and “go along to get along?” Do we ignore our trading partners’ human rights violations to create Canadian jobs? Do we believe that the signing of a flawed nuclear accord justifies détente with one of Israel’s worst enemies?
The answers are easy during an election campaign. Now it’s time for tough moral choices.