Image: John Baird, Conservative Foreign Minister of Canada
A recent interview on al-Jazeera (posted March 31, 2012) with John Baird, Canada’s minister of Foreign Affairs did nothing to change the image of Canada that is tending to be current in the international arena.
The interviewer, who remained unnamed, asked good direct questions of Mr. Baird, who demonstrated his great oratorical skills of lack of definition, dissimulation (concealing full answers), evasion, denial, and repetition. The latter, as with the other elements, is a key element of Canadian political rhetoric domestically, wherein a line is repeated over and over and over again until either the questioner gives up, or the answer, in all its vagueness and prevarication is accepted through sheer exhaustion. This did not happen with the interviewer here, who kept redirecting questions calmly and forthrightly and kept getting the same political mantras, mostly undefined, returned again and again.
The conversation started with Syria, and served to highlight the double standards that Canada uses as it talks about “moral clarity” and “Canadian principles.” When asked about Syria, Baird responded, that Canadians who “see the bloodshed on television obviously they want it to stop.” My original thought was well, yes, Canadians are sympathetic people, generally, but then the obvious hit, that the bloodshed in Palestine is never shown on television, only when Israel mounts an attack and provides a good light show and sound bites for the Canadian media conglomerates who are within the corporate-military interests of the U.S. Why the U.S.? More on that below.
After being questioned on armed intervention vis a vis Libya, Baird goes on to say, “we want the violence to stop … and there is a huge humanitarian crisis …. [W]e’re all appalled with the violence we’ve seen.” First off, Libya. Canada fully supported, and then directed the attacks on Libya, and while this was contrived through the U.N. as a “right to protect” no-fly zone situation, the attacks were very clearly attacks against military positions, with damage to civilian structures and a considerable loss of civilian life.
Canada is a willing participant in military violence when it suits “Canadian interests,” which in this case, where “actions speak louder than words” (a Baird reference later to Iran) those interests align perfectly with the U.S. imperial designs on Africa: getting rid of a non-compliant dictator, getting rid of the Chinese influence in the oilfields and returning that influence to the west, and getting rid of the possible conversion of oil sales to a gold standard or some other currency. Liberal democracy (more below on this) and freedom were never really on the table .
The result of this demonstration of “Canadian values” is that Libya today has serious internal problems with many armed tribal groups and religious factions jockeying for power and influence.
Palestine, sort of, but mostly Canada
The interviewer then shifted gears to Palestine, and this clearly was the main interest of the interview in consideration of Canada’s full support of Israel. It is in this section where the repetition, avoidance, and dissimulation came full force from the questions presented to Baird.
When asked about the realignment of Canada’s foreign policy, the same tried and tired repetition about Canada’s values and Canadian interests and “liberal democracy” began their series of reiterations. At no time were these values and interests clearly delineated, nor was liberal democracy defined. The Canadian government is far from “liberal”, a great example of the big lie technique with repetition working towards hoping that someone might believe it.
First of all, the government ruling party is called “Conservative” for a reason–because they are not liberal! Their domestic values are based on small “c” conservative principles: small government that does not need to help the people; support for big business because that is where the money is, at least for the corporations; denial of science and environmental concerns (witness Government inaction vis a vis the tar sands–not oil sands, its bitumen, not oil that is processed); the cutting of social spending in health and education, or its downloading to the overburdened provincial budgets; “tough on crime” even though crime rates are dropping. Nothing liberal about all that.
As for the democratic part, Canada certainly has the institutions of democracy, but often not the requisites. The current government has prorogued parliament twice, to avoid the formation of an opposition coalition, and to stall opposition actions on legislation. They uses limits on speech in the parliament, and anyone wishing to speak to a public servant must be vetted through a communications director, or anyone in government has to be vetted and given talking points when speaking in public or to the media. Not highly democratic, certainly better than some, but just as certainly not what it claims to be. Later Baird references Canadian demographics in defense of his “liberal democracy”, but seems to forget that those same demographics show clearly that only eighteen per cent of the population of Canada actually voted for the party.
On Israel, Baird said, Canada is “a good friend and a strong ally and we don’t apologize for that. At the same time we’re a strong supporter of the Palestinian Authority [P.A.].” Well and good, but the P.A. is largely considered at this point to be the hand maiden of the Israelis in controlling the Palestinian population while Israel continues to build settlements and the army continues to occupy the West Bank and the citizens of Gaza live in an open air prison.
Baird’s pat answer to the problems, reiterated on all different questionings by the interviewer, is that what is needed is “a peace negotiated between the two parties.” At this point the listener/reader must wonder where Baird has been over the past three decades of ‘peace negotiations’ between the two. Negotiations have not worked.
Another element of this repeated and ignorant statement concerns the nature of terrorist violence directed at Israel, and the “unhelpfulness” of unilateral action on either side when asked about the legality of the settlements. Unhelpful indeed!
His statement on terrorism fully reflects the ignorance, willful or simple, concerning Hezbollah and Hamas, as “the violence the state of Israel has faced from Hamas, from Hezbollah, it’s deeply concerning….We’re not going to take an honest and balanced approach when it comes to two international terrorist organizations and a fellow liberal democracy.” Where to start? Okay, first of all, they are not international terrorists, they are armed insurrection groups who have used some terror actions against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, armed resistance to foreign occupation being a right recognized under the U.N. Charter (not necessarily productive as recognized by Hamas and Hezbollah themselves), if Baird cared to keep up on current events in Gaza and Lebanon. The real terrorists in the region are the U.S. and its ally, Israel, both who have used unilateral military action to occupy and destroy civilian areas and structures in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
And what’s wrong with honesty, a Freudian slip?
As for Israel being a liberal democracy (one of Baird’s favorite repetitious undefined sound bites), it, like Canada, has the trappings of democracy, but again, hardly the requisites. It has many discriminatory laws against the Arab population in reference to travel, marriage, land ownership (the latter being the really big concern for Israeli demographics and occupation).
It occupies territory gained in war, and its actions go against international law for occupying forces, as well as international law for human rights. Israel continues to build the apartheid wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. It has unilaterally attacked Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and with the U.S. is breaking international law by threatening to attack Iran. Its industry is geared towards armaments and security and it is involved with trading military and security technology with a wide variety of countries of the world. It has a nuclear arsenal, created and sustained outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a sector of international law being directed at Iran’s enrichment activities (more below). Liberal? Democratic?
The interviewer then reintroduced Baird’s comments about supporting Palestinians (as defined by their contributions to the P.A.), and Baird returned the argument about Canada doing “a lot to help them [the P.A.] build capacity and security,” followed by his reiteration “We’re not going to stand by neutral. This [terror] is a huge threat to the state of Israel, to a liberal democracy again by an international terrorist organization.” See above, I won’t reiterate my discussion.
Settlements, Israeli of course
The next question focused on the illegality of the settlements, asking if Canada recognized that. Baird’s evasions, while not masterful, were consistent. His favorite response was “unilateral action on either side is distinctly unhelpful.” Unhelpful of course is a long way from being illegal. Not doing the dishes after dinner is unhelpful, but certainly not illegal.
Want to hear it again? “I’m not going to get into the particulars of that, its unhelpful as is the unilateral bid for independence.” Oh, wow, a new twist, comparing the P.A. seeking independence to that of occupying, annexing, controlling all aspects of civilian life in the West Bank, while the settlers build more and more units and the apartheid wall encircles and limits Palestinian movement and lands. I wonder how Quebec would fit into that philosophy–Canada’s disaffected French province that has a strong independence movement. Democracy has been well served by people’s bids for independence, certainly not by occupation.
Baird returns to the negotiation argument, “We think the two parties got [sic] to stop the debate of what the negotiations will be like, come to the table and get a negotiated settlement. That’s the best way to get peace in the conflict.” Alright, we’ve already been there and discussed that, but as I indicated earlier, it is a Conservative trait to find a talking point and stick to it ad nauseum without actually answering anything, but in reality saying, no, we do not think the settlements are illegal and are simply Israel reclaiming their mythological narrative–along with the Christian evangelical narrative (more later on that).
I must add at this point that there is no balance here already, that Israel has all the power, the Palestinians none, other than their own steadfastness–sumud. The negotiations were a dismal failure with the Palestinian negotiators from the P.A. pretty much giving the territory away, with the Israelis still remaining obstinately unsatisfied, as revealed by the Palestinian papers obtained by al-Jazeera. Negotiations have been a façade behind which the Israelis continued to take over more and more Palestinian territory.
Another question, this time from the aspect of the 1967 borders. More reiteration of the good friends of Palestine, and the unhelpfulness of unilateral action, and the need to sit down at the table. When the interviewer noted that he refused to answer the question about settlements, the same points were reiterated again.
Iran, but also Israel
The questions on Iran highlighted two aspects of Baird’s views. Most prominent, in spite of additional arguments is that Iran is against Israel and thus Canada is against Iran. Secondly, his arguments again highlight the double standards when compared to other countries. These other arguments were called a threat “far greater than acquiring nuclear weapons.” How? No explanation for this. Good sound bite. The real focus was on the nuclear arms and–get this–President Obama; the president of Canada?
Seriously, the Harper government is fully in line with all neoconservative elements of the U.S. political situation, from foreign policy to domestic policy. Baird unwittingly recognizes that when asked about Canada’s willingness to go to war with Israel, or as re-questioned later, about supporting other countries going to war against Iran, said of threats against Iran, “Obama has said all options are on the table. When the President of the [U.S.] says that you should take him at face value.” Certainly do not take our Canadian conservative word for it, as we align directly with the U.S.
The question was repeated slightly modified, the answer was the same, unmodified, and once again Obama as supreme Canadian leader had the final word.
Baird did expand a bit on the Iranian nuclear program–remember, not the greatest threat–indicating it was “about the peace and security of the entire world, about the reality that proliferation will follow if Iran acquires nuclear weapons and that’s not in the interests of peace and security anywhere in the world today.” Certainly not, but what a heap of double standards.
Proliferation has already occurred, and quite significantly with the assistance of the United States. India’s nuclear program, outside the NPT, is aided by the U.S. Pakistan developed nuclear weapons outside the NPT, as did North Korea, and we do not hear that “all options are on the table” against them (although in reality they probably are). Brazil, Japan, South Africa, Germany, and other countries–indeed, any country with a nuclear reactor can proceed towards weapons if they wished; tthat is, after all, what the nuclear industry in the U.S. is primarily about, in spite of the ‘energy’ or ‘green energy’ rhetoric.
Above all, Israel is the largest nuclear weapons nation outside the NPT. It cooperated with South Africa in creating nuclear weapons, which, fortunately, South Africa gave up unilaterally. Israel has by best estimates, based on number of years of operation and the kind of reactor, plus or minus two hundred nuclear warheads, with delivery systems from missiles, planes, submarines, and drones. It is a belligerent nation, proudly so by its own claims, and has attacked other countries several times. No one should doubt that they will use their weapons as needed. Iran has not attacked another country for hundreds of years, and its current political situation is the result of U.S. and U.K. subversive actions in 1953 and on.
Baird uses the figure of “twenty per cent enrichment” for Iranian enrichment goals. This is a far cry from the ninety percent generally considered to be needed for a nuclear weapon, although fission will occur at even moderate amounts of enrichment.
Iran has no nuclear weapons, nor the capacity to deliver them. It is enriching uranium as allowed by the NPT. The real proliferators in the world are those that threaten other countries, in this case we find the dynamic duo of Israel and the U.S. in the forefront of threats against other countries. The history of the U.S. has been to destroy or subvert any government or political party that goes against its interests and Israel is using the same techniques and then some in the Middle East. Both countries trade military technology and materials between themselves and with other countries. Canada of course supports both of these countries without qualification.
In an attempt to redirect the discussion Baird says “military intervention should always be the last course of action,” a comment outside the context of Libya and Afghanistan, where Canada played a major role in military action. He goes on to say, “We’re working very well with Americans, the European Union, with folks in the Middle East….” Okay the U.S. and the EU, both nominal democracies, but “folks in the Middle East”, meaning perhaps the “liberal democracies” of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, the UAE, Yemen, et al?
Once again, Obama’s “options are on the table,” but ultimately “actions speak louder than words”–as they certainly do with U.S. militarism, and Israeli settler colonialism in the West Bank, its imprisonment and attacks on the people of Gaza, and its unilateral attacks against surrounding countries. And as they do with Canada’s increased militarism in its occupation of Afghanistan alongside the U.S. and its leadership in bombing Libya back into obedience.
Canadian values, or not…
When asked about the Christian evangelical influence on Canadian politics, Baird argues that foreign policy is “not influenced by domestic politics, not in our political interests if you look at the demographics of Canada.” Baird is attempting to tie in the idea that Canada has more Arabs and Muslims in its population than Jews, which is true, but Canadian Jews are divided in their support of Israeli occupation of Palestine, and tend to vote Liberal anyway. The Arabs and Muslims frequently–as with other Canadians–buy into the media hyped political views mentioned earlier in this discussion about being tough on crime, the vagueness of “family values”–which obviously all families have–and the neocon corporate business economic agenda. The real demographic threat in Canada is that most Canadians do not hold Harper’s and the Conservative values.
The interviewer continued the questions on the Christian evangelical influence. Baird denied it very thinly, saying (more than once) “Those motivations have never been discussed at the cabinet table. I can’t be clearer than that.” I believe him, as it is unnecessary to discuss them there, it is understood that they are there and exist as one of the foundations of the Harper government.
To turn away from this interview for a moment, much of the alternate media discusses Harper’s evangelical views loudly and distinctly. A recent article in the local Tyee (Andrew Nikiforuk, “Understanding Harper’s Evangelical Mission,” The Tyee, March 26, 2012.) starts off, “Almost daily, more evidence surfaces that Canada’s government is guided by tribalists averse to scientific reason in favour of Biblical fundamentalism–or what some call ‘evangelical religious skepticism.'”
It ends with a quote from G.K. Chesterton, a radical Catholic, who regularly questioned the wealth and power of big government and business decades ago, “The old hypocrite was a man whose aims were really worldly and practical, while he pretended that they were religious,” the radical Catholic once observed. “The new hypocrite is one whose aims are really religious, while he pretends that they are worldly and practical.”
Canada needs to have an open conversation about the virtues of democracy over theocracy.
There are some arguments being made about Harper being no more religious that other Canadian prime ministers, but the evangelical trend in his policy decisions on climate, on science, on the libertarian trend of every man for himself (in this case before god rather than Ayn Rand’s almighty dollar, though the two overlap), his contributions through the government to religious institutions all speak of much more evangelical influence in his decisions, which would include the support of Israel for the apocryphal beliefs of his church.
One final question on Afghanistan was directed at Baird before my computer froze, as it does frequently from al-Jazeera, but I, too, was tired of listening to Baird’s repetitive reiterations. Baird’s response to the question on whether our mission in Afghanistan was a success or not revealed again his own personal interpretation of history, when he said “The Taliban are not able to plan attacks outside Afghanistan….” They never did plan attacks outside Afghanistan, and their insurgency is very much limited to getting rid of the NATO occupying forces of which Canada is a part.
Summary (and more reading)
Baird performed well from the Conservative perspective, avoiding issues, hiding issues, denying issues, and, most important politically, repeating himself over and over again. Canada has taken a hard right turn, under the control of a Conservative majority government that more resembles the Republican conservatism of George Bush (and perhaps Rick Santorum) than it does the social consciousness of other Canadian Christians and non-Christians who do support public health care, education, the environment, fair wages, and other benefits within a positive social contract.
Stephen Harper is essentially a control freak, and has successfully managed his party in order to control the message (see Lawrence Martin’s Harperland: The Politics of Control), through lack of access, through constant reiteration of the same lines over and over again, and through populist political actions–that go against statistical evidence such as the fear factor of the ‘tough on crime’ policies.
In addition, much to most Canadians misunderstanding, Canada has always stood beside Israel, perhaps even more so than the U.S. (see Yves Engler, Building Apartheid). It is also apparent that Canada has supported the U.S. for many decades in its military and corporate adventurism overseas, from Vietnam and Latin America, on into the Middle East, and the control of Europe through NATO (see Yves Engler, The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy; and Linda McQuaig’s Holding the Bullies Coat, the latter not quite as critical, but still showing Canada’s role with the U.S.).
Baird’s interview highlights much of what Canada is really about, if the reader/viewer is able to put it into context. Following Facebook feeds on the internet shows a clear and distinct divide within Canada, between those that adore Harper and those that can see the bigger picture of a country under the rule of a control freak, with an evangelical background influencing many government decisions, even if they are not discussed at the cabinet table.
Jim Miles is a Canadian educator and a regular contributor/columnist of opinion pieces and book reviews for The Palestinian Chronicle. Miles’ work is also presented globally through other alternative websites and news publications.