FacebookTwitterRedditEmail

The Canadian / Saudi Arms Deal: More Than Meets the Eye?

It is difficult to predict what kind of government misstep can seriously tarnish a government’s reputation. Some mistakes have legs and others, inexplicably, seem not to. But the stunningly stupid decision to go ahead with a $15 billion sale of light armoured vehicles (LAVs) to Saudi Arabia has the potential to expose Justin ‘Canada is back’ Trudeau as a phony. Indeed you could hardly design an issue so perfectly fitted to reveal a government with a progressive public face contradicted by a ruthless disregard for human rights. It begs the question as to whether the spin doctors simply misjudged how widespread the public revulsion would be or whether there is something deeper going on. Is it really just about jobs or is there a hard-nosed commitment, inherited from the Conservatives, to a backward Middle East foreign policy?

Dion has been severely weakened by his performance on the Saudi arms sale file. First he essentially lied about the government’s inability to get out of the contract – saying it was legally committed by the Conservative government’s actions. He compounded his credibility problem with another misleading gambit – that he was in fact following Canadian law in signing the export permits. Dion attacked the Globe and Mail for its accusation of  hypocrisy claiming that “…the Foreign Affairs Minister may block the exports permits at any time if there were serious evidence of misuse of the military equipment.” That is, presumably, after our LAV’s have been used to attack civilians. But in fact the export control guidelines don’t refer to “serious misuse” but to whether “…there is no reasonable risk that the goods might be used against the civilian population.”

There is no need here to repeat what everyone already knows about the hideous human rights record of Saudi Arabia – it is amongst the worst of the worst. And in fact the Saudi government has used exactly this kind of armoured vehicle against its own dissenting citizens. According to  Belkis Wille, Yemen researcher for Human Rights Watch:   “The Saudis have used such vehicles to violently suppress peaceful protests in eastern Saudi Arabia in 2011 and 2012.” Is there a “reasonable risk” that it will do so again? Everything we know about the new and far more aggressive regime in Riyadh today says yes. In January the regime executed 47 prisoners (most by beheading) on a single day, many of them for simply demonstrating against the government. The regime executed 151 in 2015 – the most in twenty years. The Saudi government described the executed as “terrorists” but the law defining terrorism casts an enormous net. A terrorist is “…anyone who demands reform, exposes corruption or otherwise engages in dissent or violence against the government.”

While the arms sales guidelines aim to protect the civilian population of the country in question, surely the Trudeau government should consider the use of its exports against civilians anywhere to be a human rights deal-breaker. It is precisely this situation which has prompted Canada’s allies in the European Parliament  “…to launch an initiative aimed at imposing an EU arms embargo against Saudi Arabia.” Saudi Arabia’s brutal bombing campaign in Yemen against the Houthi rebels has sparked outrage in most Western capitals.  The United Nations Panel of Experts on Yemen “…documented 119 coalition [bombing] sorties relating to violations’ of the laws of war.”

There is little doubt that Stephane Dion and his boss would like us to believe that Saudi Arabia’s total disregard for civilian lives and its targeting of medical facilities in Yemen (a possible war crime) are irrelevant when it comes to signing arms exports permits. But it appears to many governments, international agencies and ngo’s as decisive. In swimming against the international tide Dion’s new foreign policy philosophy – “responsible conviction” – might better be called “conviction when convenient.”

But putting all of this down to a botched political calculation regarding Canadian jobs is not a very convincing explanation. Does this ugly bit of Trudeau policy reveal something more substantive? What does it say about the government’s overall Middle East policy? One of the reasons Dion has given for the arms sale is that Saudi Arabia is an ally in the fight against Islamic extremism. But anyone with knowledge of its roots knows that Saudi Arabia is the motherland when it comes to radical Islam. Right now in the US there is a fierce debate raging about whether or not to release a secret 28-page section  of a 2002 congressional report  on 9/11, dealing with possible involvement of elements of the Saudi regime in the terror attacks.

While it is still relatively early days in the Trudeau government promises of a significant shift in ME policy are still nowhere to be seen. A 2013 assessment of where Trudeau would go on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict suggested major shifts in balancing the interests of the two sides. But so far Canada’s support for Israel seems unwavering.   What stands out is Trudeau’s support of a Conservative resolution that would have the government “condemn” any advocacy for the BDS (boycott, divest, sanction) campaign for Palestinian rights. He also opposes the EU’s new product labelling initiative  “…that require products produced in the settlements and sold in the EU to be clearly marked.” And there seems to be little if any movement on Trudeau’s commitment  to re-engage with Iran. In short, so far, Trudeau’s ME policy looks disturbingly like Harper’s.

While policies supporting both Israel and Saudi Arabia may seem contradictory they are in fact quite consistent. The two countries share a number of common enemies, including Shia Islam, Iran, pan-Arab nationalism, the Assad regime in Syria, and Hizbollah.  They are also the most vociferous regional opponents of US and EU efforts at a rapprochement with Iran. If Canada doesn’t move on its  pledges regarding policy change it will find itself increasingly at odds with the US and EU. At no time in the past three decades has the tension between the US and Israel and Saudi Arabia, its two principal Middle East allies, been greater. One way for Dion to indicate he’s not off-side on re-balancing ME policy would be to end his self-righteous posturing on the LAV deal and reverse the export permits.

More articles by:

MURRAY DOBBIN, now living in Powell River, BC has been a journalist, broadcaster, author and social activist for over forty years.  He can be reached at murraydobbin@shaw.ca

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550
Weekend Edition
February 28, 2020
Friday - Sunday
Rob Urie
Bernie Sanders and the Socialism Question
Vijay Prashad
Witnessing the Hell a Migrant Can Face
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Knives Out
Andrew Levine
Bloomberg: What Is He Good For?
T.J. Coles
The Space Force Becomes a Weapons System, Arms Companies Profit
Henry Giroux
Cult-Like Ignorance is Death: Trump and the Coronavirus
Paul Street
The So-Called Party of the People: From Nevada to South Carolina
Matthew Stevenson
Carolina and Super Tuesday on My Mind
Robert Hunziker
Forever-Chemicals Tap Water
Pete Dolack
No Thinking Please, We’re Red-Baiting
Nick Pemberton
If Bernie Sanders Is Unelectable, Then What The Hell Are The Rest Of You?
Jacob Hornberger
Immunity for Killings by Immigration Police
John Curiel – Jack R. Williams
Analysis of the 2019 Bolivia Election: No Evidence of Irregular Trends or Fraud
Ramzy Baroud
Israel at the Cusp of a Bleak Era
Ron Jacobs
Bloomberg’s Billionaire BS
Farzana Versey
Who Will Douse Delhi’s Flames?
Joseph Natoli
Dispelling the Darkness
Marshall Auerback
Boris Johnson, Not Donald Trump, is the Real Blue-Collar Conservative
Steve Early
VoteVets for Buttigieg:  Who’s Really Keeping Us in the Dark About Campaign Funding?
Thomas Knapp
Election 2020: Those Meddling Kids …
Arshad Khan
Trump Visits Modi and Delhi Erupts in Anti-Muslim Riots
Karen J. Greenberg
How Democracy Ends
Tom Clifford
Corona and Flu in Beijing: a Report From the Chinese Capital
Scott Tucker
Pete Buttigieg: The Energizer Bunny of Hegemony
Victor Grossman
Breakthroughs Against the Rightwing Menace in Germany
William Hartung
It’s Time to Debate Pentagon Spending
Seth Sandronsky
Struggling for Shelter: Resistance to California’s Housing Crisis Grows 
Daniel Warner
The UN, Homeostasis and China
Eve Ottenberg
Police Torture in Chicago
Kenn Orphan
The Ruling Class Will Stop at Nothing
Sean Reynolds
A Difficult Peace
W. T. Whitney
For the Climate: Protecting the Commons and Fixing Democracy
Binoy Kampmark
Julian Assange, Political Offences and Legal Restraints
Dedrick Asante-Muhammad – Jamie Buell
Does This Economy Work for Black Americans?
Tracey L. Rogers
Reflections on “Black Excellence”
Jill Richardson
Stop Calling Harmful Bigotry “Religious Freedom”
Barbara G. Ellis
Don’t Depend on FEMA to Save Us From Global-Warming’s Armageddon
Mike Garrity
Why We Sued Trump’s BLM Over Its Sagebrush-Juniper Burning Project in Montana
Christopher Brauchli
The Modi/Trump Anti-Muslim Alliance
John Kendall Hawkins
Science and the Turf Wars of Consciousness
John Peeler
Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism
Nicky Reid
Socialism Without Anti-Imperialism: A Different Flavor of Tyranny
Louis Proyect
Spies, Lies and Videotapes
David Yearsley
The Beef with Kobe
Andrew Stewart
How Netflix And “Manning Marable” Killed Malcolm X (The Third Time)
FacebookTwitterRedditEmail