Thursday, January 09, 2014

Harper Is A Boy In Short Pants On Foreign Policy

When it comes to matters of Foreign Policy, Harper is neither subtle or particularly smart.  As with all things in Harper's world, it's all about partisan position and absolutes.

Yesterday's announcement of Vivian Bercovici's appointment as Canada's new ambassador to Israel fits that pattern exactly.

Ms. Bercovici is one of those who is completely uncritical of the regime in Israel, and about as nuanced as Harper himself in her musings on the subject.
In a Jan. 28, 2013, column in the Toronto Star, Bercovici praises Netanyahu and criticizes Palestinian leaders. 
"Many western governments, judging from their comments, hold onto a misguided fantasy of the Middle East: that the persistent obstacle to peace is Israel, not the intransigence of Palestinian leaders," she wrote. 
She called Netanyahu a "respected leader" who has "enhanced national security, immeasurably."Of the Palestinian leadership, she said it calls for "the destruction of Israel — disseminated openly in political forums, the tightly controlled media and taught freely in schools and universities."
Okay, fine.  Ms. Bercovici is entitled to her opinions on Israel, as we all are.  However, Foreign Policy isn't about opinions - whether hers or Harper's.

It's not as if the Harper Government is terribly nuanced on the Foreign Affairs portfolio.  Harper has all but declared that Israel can do no wrong, and the only objective for Foreign Affairs is to make economic gains, so appointing someone of Ms. Bercovici's stripe to play ambassador to Israel is no big surprise.

However, this is an incredibly short-sighted move on Harper's part.  It effectively guarantees that Canada has absolutely no voice outside of Israel in the Middle East.  While we might have some influence within Israel, Ms. Bercovici's appointment will be looked upon by all of the Arab nations and their allies as a signal that Canada is distinctly uninterested in their story.  That lack of interest will be reciprocated.

But, the implications of this decision are even more far reaching than Mr. Harper seems to have envisioned.  Whatever the reasons Harper's unquestioning support of Israel, he fails to understand how this move will impact his other objectives.  If commerce is his Foreign Affairs "raison d'être" overall, he has forgotten something very important.  By alienating the Arab world, he has cut Canada off from a very large market space.  Further, he has also alienated a number of other large economies which are traditionally much better connected with the Middle East than our own - Russia and China come to mind here as central to the discussion - and neither of those nations has exactly the warmest of relations with Israel.

What the Harper Government continues to overlook is that even more so than domestic politics, Foreign Affairs is a delicate process of walking a series of very fine lines.  Only in the most extreme of circumstances do you take such absolute lines as we see the Harper Government taking on Israel.

Ms. Bercovici is partially correct when she criticizes the Palestinian authority for their intransigence in peace talks, but only partially.  One can hardly ignore Israel's disregard of the pre-1967 borders, building an apartheid-inspired wall around the Palestinian lands and creation of settlements on lands which the Palestinians lay claim to.

The web of disputes in the Middle East are centuries old, and the redrawing of borders which took place in the wake of WW I did not help matters at all.  Rightly, the Arab nations are skeptical of Western powers and their intentions in the region.  A series of resource wars, and clumsily executed colonial era edicts have created a situation where the entire region is a political minefield which must be negotiated very carefully.

Harper's approach to the region has been like a small boy - he runs into the middle of the minefield, quite unaware of the dangers which he is exposing himself to.

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