Monday, July 24, 2006


The Toronto Star ran this piece on Harper's foreign policy over the weekend, and this particular passage troubles me:
Holmes argued that "Norway, Denmark and Canada have achieved reputations for flexibility and non-conformity," while "countries like Australia and New Zealand have been considered ineligible for some of the duties and opportunities of middlepowermanship because of reputations for excessive partisanship."

Now, Harper is looking much more to the clarity of Australia's robust approach to foreign policy — emphasizing the role of a military configured for combat, rather than peacekeeping — rather than the mediating approach taken by Norway, which played a key role in the (ultimately unsuccessful) peace processes in both the Middle East and in Sri Lanka.

"The two foreign policy leaders are Harper and (Chief of the Defence Staff Gen.) Rick Hillier," says Carleton University historian Norman Hillmer of the Norman Paterson School of International Affairs. "It is a kind of Harper-Hillier foreign policy that is very heavy on rhetoric about muscle and clout and toughness."
There's two things that upset me about this, and the first is simple: Harper is leading the smallest minority government in Canadian history, and is treating it like a royal seal. But I imagine that complaint won't make the Conservative rethink this foolhardy policy, so let me propose a second one.

If Hillmer is right, and Chief of Defense Staff Rick Hillier is playing a leading role in Canada's foreign policy, then we should all be concerned. I have no doubt that Hillier is a good, competent soldier, and I've generally been in favour of a lot of his initiatives, lately and during the Liberal government as well. Full disclosure: I went to school with his son, though I've never met the man myself.

All that said, it worries me that a military officer would have such a strong influence on foreign policy, for the very simple reason that the militaries of the world have not had a stellar record when it comes to ending the fighting. This cuts across all sort of political systems and ideologies - when foreign policy gets put in the hands of the military, the fighting lasts longer than is good for the country. The most obvious example is wartime Japan, but we can also point to post-war France and other democratic countries who relied to heavily on their military.

Now, as things continue to go balls-up in Afghanistan my concern is that with Harper believing he needs to look tough, and with Hillier providing that muscular credibility, there's going to be a reluctance to withdraw from Afghanistan if things go from worse to awful. The Canadian military would see withdrawal as a failure on their part, even though the failure has really emanated from Washington. If we're unwilling to admit defeat, and unwilling to sacrifice little Stevie's precious manhood, then we could be waist-deep in Afghan fighting for a long time to come.

Now, that's a hell of a long way for me to go based on one quote from a story, but it does confirm a lot of the language we've seen from both this government and the military. Anyone with contrary evidence is welcomed to send it in.

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