Canada Foreign Policy
Saturday, December 30, 2006
  “Their Courage and Commitment”

There was very little that was as important to him. In a year end message to Canadians Prime Minister Harper tells us that, “for me, the highlight of 2006 was visiting our troops, diplomats and aide workers in Afghanistan…We should be very proud of... their courage and commitment, of their skill and professionalism. Through their selfless acts, these brave men and women are protecting our security interests and making a real difference in the lives of the long-suffering Afghan people.” Governor General Michaelle Jean, in her remarks said, “My thoughts are especially with our soldiers in Afghanistan and their loved ones who have endured great hardship. Indeed, they are making great sacrifices” [observations by Harper and Jean cited in Terry Pedwell’s ‘Afghanistan Prominent in PM, G-G Messages,’ CP, 29 December 2006. Story posted at].

In Afghanistan itself, NATO’s Operation Baaz Tsuka, slated to have been wrapped up before Christmas, goes on. So far, there has been little Taliban resistance, but that may change in coming days. There may be fighting, perhaps serious. According to one account from earlier this week, “the NATO-led offensive is expected to intensify this week as soldiers continue to sweep the area of the former Taliban stronghold area…The National Post reported that troops involved in Baaz Tsuka were still in the thick of things when they paused for Christmas dinner - served by Canadian General Rick Hiller and comedian Rick Mercer” [Danielle Godard’s ‘Canada: Afghanistan Mission ‘Will Intensify’,’ AHN, 26 December 2006. Story posted at].

PM Harper, at least once this past week, confessed “to just love the job” in government. How long he gets to stay in office, some analysts suggest, may depend mostly if not entirely on his handling of two policies: That is “While public policy experts and kitchen-table pundits can argue over the merits of Conservative policy on income trusts, Quebec nationhood, Senate reform and targeted program cuts, early indications suggest it’s a pair of big, intractable issues - Afghanistan and the environment - that could dominate the coming year and make life miserable for whoever is at the wheel” [from Bruce Cheadle’s ‘Environment, Afghanistan Could be Biggest Challenge for Harper in 2007,’ CP, 30 December 2006. Story posted at].

Almost certainly Afghanistan will make life difficult for anyone in office for most of 2007. Yet will this issue really have a decisive impact during the upcoming campaign? In some ways the recent reactions of the opposition may prove a windfall for Harper. Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe, just weeks ago, threatened to introduce a no confidence motion because of the Tories’ handling of the war in Central Asia. Seemingly in no time did he back away from the threat of bringing down the government over Afghanistan, and found himself explaining that in fact his position had been either misunderstood or misrepresented [See Duceppe Interview on Question Period, CTV, 24 December 2006]. And for his part, Liberal leader Stephane Dion has already said restrictions should be placed on how Afghanistan might be treated during the campaign. In fact, he specified it should not be a major issue, stating, “It is certainly something we need to discuss. Today the country was receiving half of our international aid, almost, and we have a lot of soldiers risking their lives, and we need to be sure that the mission is well designed. But again I think the main focus of the campaign should be how to strengthen our economy, how to become competitive in this very difficult world.” As one account of his remarks observes, it does seem to be the case Dion “doesn’t believe Canadians should go to the polls solely over Canada’s role in Afghanistan and said it won't likely be a top issue during a campaign” [This observation and Dion’s remarks from the 24 December 2006 Question Period interview cited in CTV News, 24 December 2006. Story posted at]. Will Harper place any restrictions on himself should Afghanistan surface, or can and might he somehow opt to define it as a major campaign issue?

Posted by Stan Markotich
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Tuesday, December 26, 2006
  And another war...

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Saturday, December 23, 2006
  Year End, New Preparations

As 2006 draws to a close, there are signs some issues may be resolved, while others will linger, perhaps for many years to come.

Maher Arar is back in the news, and was on the agenda when Foreign Affairs Minister Peter MacKay met with his US counterpart, Condoleezza Rice, in Washington on 21 December 2006. Arar’s case, an irritant in Canada-US bilateral relations came about because “the RCMP passed false and inflammatory reports about Mr. Arar's supposed ties to terrorists to U.S. officials — bad intelligence that very likely was used to deport the Canadian man from the United States to Syria, where he was tortured” [cited in Tenille Bonoguore’s ‘U.S. to Reexamine Its Stand on Arar,’ Globe and Mail Update, 21 December 2006. Story posted at]. In Canada, a Commission of Inquiry investigated what happened to Arar, clearing him of any wrongdoing. MacKay said on Thursday he communicated this to Rice, noting that Arar now has no restrictions imposed on his abilities to travel insofar as Canada is concerned, and that he is no longer on any watch lists. MacKay urged that the US follow the Canadian lead. However, Washington continues to maintain that there is justification for keeping Arar on a watch list, though the information supporting this conclusion remains classified. What MacKay might have received was a pledge that “The United States will re-examine its decision to include Maher Arar as a person of interest on its security watch list following a meeting [with]…Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice” ” [cited in Tenille Bonoguore’s ‘U.S. to Reexamine Its Stand on Arar,’ Globe and Mail Update, 21 December 2006. Story posted at]. And so it is at last possible there may be, perhaps once some legal obstacles are cleared, closure for Mr. Arar.

The environment, missing from Tory planning, will likely make a resurgence in 2007, especially as an election date draws nearer. It appears Harper’s Conservatives gave little, if any, thought to environmental issues when they took office early this year, simply assuming rhetoric about Kyoto’s shortcomings and pledges to do more than previous Liberal governments would galvanize enough of the electorate and neutralize any serious opposition. Rona Ambrose’s performance in the Environment portfolio has demolished any and all hopes that environmental policies might be shunted aside, presumably to fade away. Not only has her handling of her ministry triggered waves of domestic opposition, but has raised protests internationally. Now rumours say she will lose her job, possibly very early in the new year.

Among the first to find opportunity in Ambrose’s failings is Stephane Dion, new leader of the Liberals, selected at a party convention on 2 December 2006. Dion, according to some a “green Liberal” and himself a former federal environment minister, likely studied both the very best polling evidence and Ambrose’s tenure, reaching the conclusion that stressing the environment should win many votes. In fact he has already “put the environment at the forefront of his campaign from the get-go, proclaiming sustainable development to be the Liberals’ ‘third pillar’ alongside fiscal responsibility and social justice” [cited in Philippe Gohier’s ‘Missing all the Fun: Rona Ambrose has taken a beating for her party’s environmental policies. Is she about to lose her job just as the Tories go green?’, 21 December 2006. Story posted at]. And so, in any attempt to undo what Ambrose may have done, Stephen Harper and a revamped environment policy team may have to be prepared to link green issues and foreign policy, if only to counter any headway Dion may make in the upcoming (spring?) election.

Towards the end of the year Governor General Michaelle Jean went on a 24-day, 5-country tour of Africa. During that time, on 10 December, she met with members of Canada’s armed forces in Morocco. “I think it was very important for me to come and encourage them,” she said. Yet her visit was most striking in how it recalled Canadian foreign policy traditions, especially those of peacekeeping and most especially generosity. Jean remarked at one point that not only was Canadian donor aid important to Africa’s well-being, but that it was making a profound difference, perhaps even being a main driver of what is described as an “African renaissance.” Certainly there were problems in Africa, she insisted, and some conditions remain “very troubling,” but overall Canadians could be sure that the $1.5 billion spent annually was making vital change possible. “There is hope in Africa…A lot of good signs. Good governance, sound economic management, civil societies, men and women, who are very vibrant and who are making credible efforts in order to make the ownership ... of their development” and “African women are really more empowered now,” stressed Jean [Governor General cited in ‘Governor General Visits Canadian Troops at a Stop in Morocco,’ CTV News, 10 December 2006. Story posted at].

And finally, it was in 2006 that Afghanistan at last emerged the main foreign policy story for the media, and likely the main foreign policy preoccupation for the government. Over the past week or so news has surfaced that Canadian troops have once again been involved in fighting across Southern Afghanistan, most recently taking part in Operation Baaz Tsuka. The opposition New Democratic Party and the Bloc have, over the course of this current government, demanded that Ottawa pull away from the military option and refocus on reconstruction in the Central Asian state. Harper’s position, simply, continues to be that doing so is utterly impossible. Reconstruction would be pursued, if only doing so were a realistic possibility. “The emphasis is on the military side because these people are in danger, because the strongest resistance in all of Afghanistan... What am I going to tell them [the soldiers]? Don't shoot? Go out and drop your weapons and start going out and delivering aid? I mean, it’s crazy,” argues the PM. And in the same televised remarks on 21 December 2006 Harper added he sees no chance that current conditions might improve in the foreseeable future. Harper said:

"Obviously we'd like the security situation to improve. Frankly, I don't think it will improve in the next 12 months. .. If we pull out today, if Canada, and those that are carrying the freight -- and there's seven or eight countries in the south that are doing most of the heavy lifting -- if we all leave, my prediction is we'll be back there in less than a decade …The Taliban represents not just a tyrannical force in Afghanistan but one that has made it clear it intends to spread violence and hatred throughout the world and has shown a capacity to do so in the past. I think if we leave, it will only come back to haunt us" [cited in ‘Canada Doesn’t See Safer Afghanistan in Next Year,’ Reuters, 21 December 2006. Story posted at].

Canadians will likely be in Afghanistan for some time yet, and it is not inconceivable for our presence and mission to grow in coming years. Now comes news that the government is investing in new high-tech weaponry as “the Defence Department has agreed to buy six more 155-mm howitzers from British-based BAE Systems Inc. Most of the new guns will shipped overseas and are expected to join a battery from the 2nd battalion, Royal Canadian Horse Artillery from Petawawa, Ont., now deployed in the Kandahar region” [quoted from Murray Brewster’s ‘Canada to Send More High-Tech Guns to Afghanistan in New Year,’ CP, 21 December 2006. Story posted at].

Posted by Stan Markotich
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  Canadian comedy goes to Afghanistan:

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Sunday, December 17, 2006
  France's stay over?

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006
  Does Canada have an opinion?

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A discussion of geopolitics and Canada's role in the world. A series of essays to examine the components of Canadian foreign policy making. Psychological, sociological, historical, and cultural variables impacting Canada's perceptions of the world.

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