Tuesday, July 25, 2006

The Middle East: Canada's bias

First, let me open by acknowledging that the best of this post benefits from many reasoned opinions that I've heard and read over the past week, including those of many folks at CKCU, and The Train. The cock-ups are all mine, however.

Second, while I haven't explored this to date, the United Nations' role in international affairs seems to have diminished over the years; this, in turn, must affect Canada's role in the arena. I accept this premise, and wish my country would succeed in spite of it.
I think Israel's response under the circumstances has been measured.

With this oft-quoted statement, and others, Stephen Harper expressed our country's bias, even as most of us were still struggling with the bad news.

Days later, seven Canadians were killed in an Israeli attack, and current estimates put the Lebanese, mostly civilian, casualties an order of magnitude above those of Israel. My point is not that Harper could have predicted this, but rather, that by throwing our support behind one side in this conflict, he has spoiled any role we could have played in negotiating some dialogue between the two sides, and cheapened our country's proud history in international affairs.

Subsequent statements by our government "urg[ing] all sides to act with restraint and take all measures possible to protect innocent civilian lives" strike me as obligatory.

On protecting Israelis...

While acknowledging that both the Israelis and Hezbollah are on questionable moral ground right now, the idea that Israel is simply protecting its citizens is ridiculous. Setting aside Israel's significant military advantage - which the U.S. is "rushing" to supply, by the way - Hezbollah's capturing Israeli soldiers needs to be considered in the context of the other prisoner exchanges between the two countries.
It's essential that Hezbollah and Hamas release their Israeli prisoners...

But, again, with this sort of rhetoric, Harper shows our, seemingly uneducated (frankly), bias. I'm not saying I agree with negotiated prisoner exchanges, but if Israel legitimized it in the past, one must acknowledge that it's possible that Hezbollah was simply attempting to start another round of negotiations; again, a possibility that Harper doesn't seem consider, let alone refute.

I'm ashamed of my Prime Minister's position is this conflict, and I sincerely hope that it isn't indicative of future Conservative foreign policy.


CanuckJack said...

I'm extremely proud of our government's decisive response in this conflict. Straying far from our past approach of "maybe we can just talk it over with them" we are finally taking a stand, and as foreign policy goes that sounds like a good idea to me.

Hezbolla is a terrorist group, not a governing body and they have pledged to continue the fight until "all Isrealies are dead". Not much of a premise to start negotiations on.

Whether Isreal's response has been "measured" is far beyond me, but let us suppose a group in the U.S. was randomly lobing RPGs and short range missiles into civilian communities along the border. How then might we feel about the international community urging us to "talk it over"?

No offense but your left side is showing buddy, and it isn't pretty. Isreal warned civilians to get outta the way via the ol "leflet drop". Any failure to do so was a decision to be a martyr. I'm not sure how you can fight a "fair" battle or have a measured response when the enemy has chosen to hide weapons caches in places that international rules of war demand you avoid. Then again the rules of war apply to contries in conflict, not a country vs a terrorist organisation.

Clearly I've sided with the Isrealies, but given the alternative that seems pretty reasonable.

John said...

First, I accept your charge: I do lean left. I'll even agree that it wouldn't be so pronounced if I lived with the fear of being bombed. However, to continue that analogy - and I've jumped right in the middle of your argument here, I know - my reaction to an international plea for dialogue in that situation would probably be rude, in a word, but it'd be much better than my reaction to them, say, tellin' some guy down the road from me to shape up, while tellin' the U.S., "They had it comin', eh? Bastards."

I suspect that there are many Lebanese in Beirut who feel that way. They're dying. Yes, it seems Hezbollah has made it so that any military action will have terrible consequences, in the worst sense of the word, for the civilian population, but, the way I see it, that should make such action all the more loathsome, and truly a last resort. I maintain that Israel jumped the gun on this one.

Regarding Canada's foreign policy in general, I don't think we've even been strong on pushing for negotiations in the recent past. Correct me if I'm wrong, but we've been invisible. Rashly throwing our support behind one side (and I maintain that that's what we've done) is no more laudable than firmly stating that, whatever the current differences between the parties, the wholesale destruction of a country, and the inevitably large number of casualties that will result, will not be condoned. (And this is where my lamenting the passing of the United Nations Emergency Force days comes in.)

See, to take this further, Canada has no business doing anything beyond that, really. For all the attempts to portray this as a simple "They took our soldiers a few weeks ago, and we're pissed" situation, there's history spanning back to the middle of the last century that's relevant to this conflict. Canada cannot resolve these issues. Canada should not take sides in what is really just the tip of the iceberg (and especially not hastily); both sides are on morally shaky ground - big aside: Hezbollah and Hamas both have elected members in their respective governments, by the way, so this issue doesn't begin and end with their use of violence. This is an asymmetric situation, as I've pointed out, and these organizations have been seein' more sticks than carrots when they play nice, as far as I can tell: how long did it take us to cut off support after Hamas was elected? Hasty again, maybe? - as I've said, so we'll just end up with more blood on our hands.

When I brought up the idea of dialogue, I was referring to what Germany was able to do a few years ago, when, similarly, Israel was bombing the s**t out of Lebanon. They stepped in, got both sides talking, and, in the end, a phased approach to exchanging soldiers for prisoners was agreed upon (as I understand it). That's the sort of immediate end to civilian casualties that I wish we could bring to the conflict, even if it were to flare up again in a few months; that's their damn problem, and they've got to find a solution. The international community just needs to be there when things go beyond a point, as they clearly have here, to stop the killing, though! Not to take sides.

CanuckJack said...

Sadly, the killing is a means to an end. History has shown too clearly that no matter what agreement is reached it will only be temporary. Kind of makes sense when you realize you're dealing with a terrorist group, not the government of the country they are hiding in. The only agreement that could work is one where Lebanon steps up to the plate and vows to quash Hezbollah, clearly not gonna happen if they have elected members.

I think perhaps one thing we can agree on is that Hezbollah should not be making decisions for all of Lebanon, but they are since Isreal has reacted in full force against Lebanon. This is an unfair situation as it's the innocent bystanders paying the ultimate price, but we have Hezbollah to thank for that, not Isreal.

As far as cutting off all support when Hamas was elected. That was a damn fine choice. For too long we've sent along CanuckBucks to countries with governments in place that will not use those funds for their intended purpose. I would be willing to bet that Hamas would fit in among those.

John said...

I do agree that Hezbollah shouldn't be speaking for Lebanon, and, prior to that meeting in Rome, they were.

I heard a few sound bites from Clinton's lecture in Halifax the other day: one talked about no one standing up for the common Lebanese, Israeli and Jordanian citizen. That's what upsets me in all this. Clinton went on to say that that's why the West needs to be in there, which is, of course, tricky, and in conflict with my idea of minding our own business (which I'm not married to, I'm slowly realizing, given its application to clear cases of need like Rwanda).

No bucks for Hamas: I brought that up as an example of our shoot from the hip attitude of late. It may have been a good decision; I'm weak on the details.

One source did say that Hamas had managed to hold together an 18 month cease-fire prior to their election victory, at which point they were rewarded with many immediate withdrawals of international support; and then the cease-fire collapsed.

I'm sure we had analysts on the job, ready with recommendations for foreign policy, but it *seems* like we didn't even give the new government a chance to enjoy their victory and announce their plans. (The press reported that we even beat the U.S. to shutting off the bucks tap.)

That's an aside, though, as I've said. Bringing in the latest developments (that I've heard), I'm happy to hear that Blair is being pressured to adopt an immediate cease-fire position. I wonder if Bush regrets talking with his mouth open at the G8; they're sure playing that footage to death. :-)

John said...

Should've said "eating and talking at the same time". Ventriloquists would be even less entertaining if no one talked with their mouth open. :-P

Anonymous said...

I have a question that is somewhat related to this topic. Why are there 45,000 Canadians in Lebanon in the first place? Sure, some of them are diplomats, duel-citizenship holders, people with work visas and vacationers but from the news clips I saw, I was given a strong impression that many of 45,000 were permanently living in Lebanon. If you're living in Lebanon, then how can Canada be your home? Should Canada be looking out for your interests if you are willingly living another country(and not because your work is making you live there)? What if you didn't even inform Canada that you permanently moved away? There were several people interviewed by news crews who were outraged that Canada was doing nothing to get them out. Perhaps a bigger question is how is it that Canadian Government is completely fine with allowing people to live outside permanently? Why isn't the Government keeping track of these people? Luiza Ch. Savage discusses this very matter in Maclean's magazine:
O Canada, do we stand on guard for thee?

John said...

Nice article. I believe the number of Canadians in Lebanon who'd officially registered was well below that 45000 figure; in the low 30000s, if memory serves. I'd also read of totals - those who hadn't registered included - over 50000.

A review of our policies surrounding citizenship sounds like a good idea. Certainly, as it stood a few months ago, eight Lebanese embassy staff for over 30000 Canadians doesn't represent my idea of Canadian citizenship; and while "degrees of citizenship" also strikes me as a shaky notion, I agree with your implied position on Canadian citizenship as "insurance": it ain't right.

But that's the sort of thing a proper review could clear up, right? That there were so many fundamental questions about Canadian citizenship floating around this story should be evidence enough that clarification - at the very least - is required.