Canada’s reaction to the nuclear deal in Iran served to highlight an ever-weakening area of the Harper Government: foreign policy. As I have pointed out a few times before, our policies convey a hawkishness that is uncharacteristic and unworthy of Canada’s peacekeeping record. And while it is great that Foreign Minister John Baird feels secure enough with Canada’s state of affairs to loudly point out other countries’ failings, most of what Canada does now on the international stage is an awkward combination of punching above our weight and refusing to engage in sane discourse with other international actors.
Take the aforementioned Iranian deal as an example. A day after it was closed, Baird held a press conference to inform Canadians (because the rest of the world didn’t care) that Canada is “deeply skeptical” of the deal and will keep all sanctions against Iran in place. “Dammit,” said the thousands of Canadians of Iranian descent who must keep their money in their mattresses because they are not permitted to have a bank account. “What sanctions?” asked Iranian officials, the least of whose concerns is Canada’s refusal to sell maple syrup and lumber to them.
But this isn’t the first time Canada has had words with Iran’s new government. A few weeks ago an op-ed published by Baird angered Iran’s administration so badly that Iran’s foreign minister called his comments “disrespectful” and “rude,” stating that they “show total lack of understanding, in fact, absolute ignorance with regard to the realities in Iran.” Yowza–he really pissed them off! But honestly, what did they expect from a man who suddenly cut all diplomatic ties with Iran a year ago?
John Mundy, Canada’s former ambassador to Iran, even went on record saying Ottawa’s reaction to the deal was “unnecessarily hostile,” pointing out that negotiations are the only way to end the cycle in which “one side increases sanctions, the other side increases their nuclear program, and unless both sides agree to step back that eventually would lead to a confrontation.”
Good thing then that Canada was not involved in the negotiations and was probably not asked for input at any point in the process. This is indicative not so much of the world powers’ opinion of us, but rather of the new niche that Canada’s foreign policy as of late has engendered. Canada has abandoned any strategy and tact that diplomacy would require, and instead prefers to shout loudly from the sidelines. From the sidelines because we have been steadily withdrawing from any international body that we can, ostensibly due to our focus on improving our ties with other countries by way of multilateral trade agreements (but in reality so that John Baird can say whatever he wants without having to back it up with money).
But as Mr Mundy observed, diplomacy is not a game of chicken, but rather a willingness of both sides to make concessions while still (implicitly) insisting on core necessities. It is hardly espoused by Baird’s condescending attitude toward Iran–he tersely stated that “Iran has not earned the right to have the benefit of the doubt.” Fair enough, but how has Canada earned this right? By engaging in industrial espionage? By its Prime Minister declaring that Canada will not accept no for an answer on the Keystone Pipeline? Or perhaps by ominously threatening to withhold aid to Palestinians when their leader won a vote at the UN for Palestine to be recognized as a state?
In the worst sort of irony, Canada’s human rights record actually came under fire this past September in a UN review. Among the most vocal complainants were Belarus, Cuba, Russia, and–yep–Iran! Instead of accepting the recommendations like a responsible country, the Harper government lamented the entire practice of having its record reviewed by countries with less-than-stellar records. How productive. In fact, our response to these countries’ concerns led the UN to send an envoy to investigate our treatment of indigenous peoples. Baird was unavailable for comment as he was busy clinging to a shrub while the moral high ground he had been perched upon crumbled into the sea.
Baird has termed his fun new style of international (dis)engagement “made-in-Canada foreign policy,” as if Canada has somehow discovered the magic key to foreign policy that had eluded all of humanity until now. This is highly unlikely. Also unlikely is our government realizing that excessively hardline rhetoric and refusal to dialogue with…well, anyone, is an inaccurate representation of Canada’s national character (as well as an egregiously counterproductive modus operandi). The international community will only begin to listen to what Canada has to say when we make a genuine effort to engage with international organizations and stop making unconvincing threats. Until then, it’s the shrub for us.