Saturday, July 29, 2006

Violent Conflict -- What can Canada do about it?

Two historical pieces of paper can be profitably reviewed in the light of the Liberals current deliberations on Canada’s future foreign policy. The first was a diplomatic entente and the second a personal letter. The image of Neville Chamberlain arriving back from Germany foolishly waving a non-aggression pact signed with Hitler is not easy to forget. It is exhibit A in the case against appeasement. Chamberlain was tricked by an aggressive enemy intent on world domination. The other piece of paper was a letter sent to president John F. Kennedy by Nikita Khrushchev during the Cuban nuclear missile crisis. The public position of the Politburo, the governing body of communist Russia, was ominous and unyielding, but Khrushchev’s letter suggested a more moderate and conciliatory approach to the crisis. There was a battle between the hardliners and the moderates in the Soviet regime which resulted in widely conflicting messages. Wisely, JFK decided to respond to the moderate message and ignore the other.

Parallels between historical and current events are, under the best of circumstances, tenuous, but which of these two pieces of paper is instructive in the present situation? Potentially both are.

Chamberlain failed to recognize his enemy as we should not fail to recognize the blood-lusting extremism in Al Qaeda and Hezbollah. Kennedy astutely supported the message of moderation and politically undermined the posturing of the war-mongering faction in the communist government. Today, in the Middle East and Afganistan we also face the threat of violence from those who want war. But there are also moderates in these regions as there are moderates in every country. This is a dependable feature of human nature.

Our role should be to support the moderates with money, media attention, and military backing if necessary at every opportunity and to humiliate and sideline those who commit violence. The moderate voices in these countries understand the particularities of their own political situation and general culture far better than we can. If we listen, they will tell us what they need and when. Yet this support should never become merely a dogmatic and simple minded picking of sides. Moral clarity will not be achieved by designating one religion or ethnic group as angels and another as devils. For example, the spasm of Israeli rage in the past few weeks is understandable, but I fear that the excessive reaction, bombing Lebanese infrastructure and the indiscriminate terrorization of the general population, is a grave tactical error since they are also embarrassing the promising newly elected government of Lebanon which is pro-Western. Israel is unwittingly entrenching the ascendancy of the terrorist Hezbollah over a legitimate democratic movement.

Some home-grown observers are claiming that Canada is too small to make a difference in the world. We are a bit-player, a natural follower, insignificant. The partisanship of this feigned weakness is patent. I suspect that these same commentators will also loudly applaud Stephen Harper’s every burp and sneeze on the international stage as a sign of Canada’s strength and new found power since the Conservatives have taken charge. The shame is on you for sneering at our country for political expediency. We are not a superpower, but as a member of G8, NATO, a leader in the english Commonwealth and the french Francophonie, plus a frequent seat at the U.N. security council we are far from impotent.

So where do we exert our influence such as it is? This week, I was planning a long post on specific conditions that the Liberal party could insist upon with regard to further support of the mission in Afganistan. But this was largely done (and written better) by two editorials that appeared in the Toronto Star this week.

editorial 1 editorial 2

I also recommend reading recent articles by CBC columnist Jim Reed. At the moment I will only emphasize the observation that the solution to the violent conflicts in Afghanistan and the Middle East is principally political, not military. George War Bush and Stephen Harper have adopted the nihilistic position that a new world order can be imposed by a bloody purge of opposition. Other grander historical failures may suggest otherwise (Robespierre, Stalin, Mao, Vietnam).

My next post will be in September.

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