FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Respect Squandered?

Yves Engler’s The Ugly Canadian:  Stephen Harper’s Foreign Policy is partly a follow-up to his excellent Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid.   Because I have problems with this second monograph, I want to stress that it’s well worth having simply for its meticulous and damning analysis of Canada’s how-low-can-you-go efforts in support of Israel on the international scene.  Engler’s researches move beyond Canada’s contemptible posturing at the UN to unearth such lesser-known disgraces as persecution of pro-Palestinian activists and enhanced tax breaks for Israeli settlements.   The book also contains an important account of Canada’s shameful behavior in Haiti.  Elsewhere, despite some valuable research, it suffers from a questionable premise and excursions into material much trickier than the Israel/Palestine conflict.   Let me try to explain.

The questionable premise, a handy narrative device, is that Harper has squandered the respect Canada once earned in foreign policy.   This builds on a deeply entrenched Canadian myth.   Canada is an attractive destination for immigrants from many countries, but this should not be confused with its stature as a player on the international stage.   There it was indeed respected by many smug diplomats and commentators in the white world, people who themselves suffered from an excess of self-respect.    It probably is still respected by this same bunch.    For most other observers, Canada has always been seen as America’s poodle – a creature that earned amused applause for its occasional outbursts of disobedience, but certainly not an object of respect.   That would have required more than occasional refusal to participate wholeheartedly in America’s most ludicrous idiocies, in Cuba, Vietnam  and Iraq.   If you try to imagine Canada sending substantial economic – let alone military – aid to these ‘enemies’ of the US, you’ll see what I mean.   You could also consider Canada’s pre-Harper engagement in America’s Afghan operations, especially after the initial 2001-2002 deployment.

As for difficulties with Engler’s material, they fall into two categories.   One has to do with opening a book on foreign policy with a critique of Canada’s energy and environmental policies under the heading of “Tar Sands Diplomacy”.   To cast these policies as foreign policy sleaze has two drawbacks.   First, it focuses on the diplomatic effects of a domestic political cause and, frankly, a defect of the democratic process.   Harper, like most democratic politicians, panders to his core electoral base, in this case  in the energy-producing provinces.   The policies can’t be understood by focusing on diplomatic maneuvers.   Second, Engler’s focus misses what makes this a more difficult issue.   It is not the Canadian government so much as the Canadian people who are the real obstacle to serious environmentalism, which would require some sacrifices.   But the foreign policy issues that occupy the rest of the book aren’t just pure foreign policy issues, they’re issues where Canada acts almost on a whim.    What’s so striking about Canadian policy on Israel, Iraq, Libya and Haiti is that Canada has nothing at stake.   Not so the foreign-policy effects of domestic environmental politics.

Engler’s other difficulties have to do with trying to make his subject-matter serve his ends before it’s in shape to do so.   When Engler discusses Israel, he draws on decades of well-established research and reporting, so that the facts are virtually beyond reasonable doubt.   What’s more, there is a rich vein of material that relates directly to Canadian foreign-policy decision-making, and Engler has a field day with that.   But when he discusses Libya, and by extension Canadian policy elsewhere in the contemporary Middle East, the ground shifts.    Here Engler does not and cannot deal with well-established facts.   To make his case against Harper, he must make the truth appear far more obvious than it really is.     He is conducting a polemic about events that are still unfolding, and cannot hope to speak with the authority he established when discussing the Israel/Palestine conflict.

Rather than trying to argue with Engler about the whole truth concerning Libya and Syria,  I’ll provide one example of the pitfalls of his approach.   Anxious to prove that Canada was wrong to oppose Gaddafi, he would like to show that virtually every widespread anti-Gaddafi story is at best ill-founded, at worst a deliberate fabrication.   One of these stories is that Gaddafi employed mercenaries.   Engler favors the idea that this is a falsehood prompted by racism towards the black Africans in Libya.  In support of this contention, he draws on a story very widespread on the internet, which has an investigator for Amnesty International, Donatella Rovera, stating that “…even the rebels have admitted that there were no mercenaries, almost all have been released and returned to their countries of origin.” (Engler, p.103)   And that indeed is a verbatim quote from every English-language account of the investigator’s statement that I could find online.   There is a small problem here and a big one.   The small one has to do with what the story seems to establish.  If the Libyan rebels decided that these Africans were not mercenaries, it doesn’t exactly bolster the hypothesis that all the claims about mercenaries were driven by racism.   In fact the new Libyan government did eventually convict some white Ukrainians of being mercenaries, and there is direct eye-witness testimony of hiring in Chad.   The larger problem is that the Amnesty’s claim that “there were no mercenaries” rests, not on an official report, but on an interview Rovera gave to an Austrian newspaper.   The interview has been mistranslated.   “There were no mercenaries” should read “These were no mercenaries”, i.e., the rebels stated that there were none among a particular batch of detainees.

These are the dangers of basing a foreign policy assessment on ‘findings’ before the verdict is in.

MICHAEL NEUMANN is a recently retired professor of philosophy.  He is the author of  What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel. He can be reached at:mneumann@trentu.ca and maintains a blog at http://insufficientrespect.blogspot.fr/

 

More articles by:

Michael Neumann is a professor of philosophy at a Canadian university.  He is the author of What’s Left: Radical Politics and the Radical Psyche and The Case Against Israel.  He also contributed the essay, “What is Anti-Semitism”, to CounterPunch’s book, The Politics of Anti-Semitism.  He can be reached at mneumann@live.com

February 21, 2019
Nick Pemberton
Israel, Venezuela and Nationalism In The Neoliberal Era
Chris Orlet
The Bill and Melinda Gates’ Fair Taxation Scaremongering Tour
Bruce E. Levine
“Heavy Drinking” and the NYT’s Offensive Obit on Herbert Fingarette
Lisi Krall
This Historical Moment Demands Transformation of Our Institutions. The Green New Deal Won’t Do That
Stephanie Savell
Mapping the American War on Terror: Now in 80 Countries
Daniel Warner
New York, New York: a Resounding Victory for New York Over Amazon
Russell Mokhiber
With Monsanto and Glyphosate on the Run AAAS Revokes Award to Scientists Whose Studies Led to Ban on Weedkiller in Sri Lanka and Other Countries
Jesse Jackson
Trump’s Fake National Emergency Moves America Closer to an Autocracy
Alex Campbell
Tracing the Threads in Venezuela: Humanitarian Aid
Jonah Raskin
Mitchel Cohen Takes on Global and Local Goliaths: Profile of a Lifelong Multi-Movement Organizer
Binoy Kampmark
Size Matters: the Demise of the Airbus A380
February 20, 2019
Anthony DiMaggio
Withdrawal Pains and Syrian Civil War: An Analysis of U.S. Media Discourse
Charles Pierson
When Saudi Arabia Gets the Bomb
Doug Johnson Hatlem
“Electability” is Real (Unless Married with the Junk Science of Ideological Spectrum Analysis)
Kenneth Surin
The Atlantic Coast Pipeline: Another Boondoggle in Virginia
John Feffer
The Psychology of the Wall
Dean Baker
Modern Monetary Theory and Taxing the Rich
Russell Mokhiber
Citizens Arrested Calling Out Manchin on Rockwool
George Ochenski
Unconstitutional Power Grabs
Michael T. Klare
War With China? It’s Already Under Way
Thomas Knapp
The Real Emergency Isn’t About the Wall, It’s About the Separation of Powers
Manuel García, Jr.
Two Worlds
Daniel Warner
The Martin Ennals and Victorian Prize Winners Contrast with Australia’s Policies against Human Dignity
Norman Solomon
What the Bernie Sanders 2020 Campaign Means for Progressives
Dan Corjescu
2020 Vision: A Strategy of Courage
Matthew Johnson
Why Protest Trump When We Can Impeach Him?
William A. Cohn
Something New and Something Old: a Story Still Being Told
Bill Martin
The Fourth Hypothesis: the Present Juncture of the Trump Clarification and the Watershed Moment on the Washington Mall
February 19, 2019
Richard Falk – Daniel Falcone
Troublesome Possibilities: The Left and Tulsi Gabbard
Patrick Cockburn
She Didn’t Start the Fire: Why Attack the ISIS Bride?
Evaggelos Vallianatos
Literature and Theater During War: Why Euripides Still Matters
Maximilian Werner
The Night of Terror: Wyoming Game and Fish’s Latest Attempt to Close the Book on the Mark Uptain Tragedy
Conn Hallinan
Erdogan is Destined for Another Rebuke in Turkey
Nyla Ali Khan
Politics of Jammu and Kashmir: The Only Viable Way is Forward
Mark Ashwill
On the Outside Looking In: an American in Vietnam
Joyce Nelson
Sir Richard Branson’s Venezuelan-Border PR Stunt
Ron Jacobs
Day of Remembrance and the Music of Anthony Brown        
Cesar Chelala
Women’s Critical Role in Saving the Environment
February 18, 2019
Paul Street
31 Actual National Emergencies
Robert Fisk
What Happened to the Remains of Khashoggi’s Predecessor?
David Mattson
When Grizzly Bears Go Bad: Constructions of Victimhood and Blame
Julian Vigo
USMCA’s Outsourcing of Free Speech to Big Tech
George Wuerthner
How the BLM Serves the West’s Welfare Ranchers
Christopher Fons
The Crimes of Elliot Abrams
Thomas Knapp
The First Rule of AIPAC Is: You Do Not Talk about AIPAC
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail