In all areas of life the hypocrite is despised. Canada’s leaders are among the most vocal critics of Vladimir Putin and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. They are also the most outspoken supporters of Israel. Masked in moralistic rhetoric, the Harper administration’s foreign policy is an empty defence of Western — and particularly American — political views.
Applying the same moral standard to oneself as to others is a basic moral principle, but is routinely forgotten when matters of state are involved. When others fail to apply this standard we rightly laugh — no one takes Egypt seriously when it condemns the United States for human rights abuses in Ferguson. Yet, it is standard protocol to denounce our enemies while ignoring the crimes for which we are responsible.
In an op-ed for the Globe and Mail, Foreign Affairs minister John Baird condemns the brutality of ISIS to justify Canadian involvement in Iraq. Baird praises the “Iraqi peoples’ fight for their dignity and freedom from bigotry and oppression,” assuring that it will “forever stay ingrained in [his] thoughts and will guide Canada’s foreign policy in the region and beyond, moving forward.”
Surely Iraqis deserve such praise. They have suffered at the hands of the West perhaps more than any other nation. In 1990, Canada voted to pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 661, which imposed harsh economic sanctions on Iraq. UNICEF estimates these sanctions killed 500,000 people — mostly children. The deaths of nearly another 500,000 Iraqis have been caused since the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2003. Baird’s praise is therefore justified, but in a much broader context. The Iraqi people’s fight has been a long one, but the oppression they have faced has mostly been from us.
It is not surprising that Prime Minister Stephen Harper supported the invasion of Iraq. In the Wall Street Journal in 2003, Harper discusses the lack of Canadian involvement, “For the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood beside its key British and American allies in their time of need.” Since Harper has been in power, he has made sure his government stands beside its key allies in their time of need — namely Britain and the U.S.
Under Harper, Canada has played the role of obnoxious cheerleader for the crimes of its allies or the U.S. Consider Harper’s recent comments in his speech kicking off his campaign for the upcoming 2015 election. The Prime Minister repeated his hard stance on Ukraine, “We will not rest until the people of Ukraine are free to choose their own destiny.” With no irony intended, he went on to reaffirm his internationally isolated position on Israel. “Israel is the front line and anyone among the free and democratic nations that turns their back on Israel, or turns a blind eye to the nature of Israel’s enemies does so, in the long run, at their own peril.” Going even further, he declared that “Israel’s fight is Canada’s fight.”
But what exactly is the nature of Canada’s fight? Israel has been illegally occupying Palestinian territory for 47 years, but Harper makes no mention of the Palestinian peoples’ right to also choose their own destiny. Operation Protective Edge, Israel’s most recent massacre in Gaza, resulted in the deaths of more than 2,100 people, the destruction of more than 17,000 homes and the displacement of half a million people.
Among Israel’s most despicable crimes were the bombings of schools and UN run refugee camps, the destruction of agriculture and power plants and the indiscriminate shelling of civilians. Human Rights Watch concludes that “the Israeli military carried out attacks on or near three well-marked schools where it knew hundreds of people were taking shelter, killing and wounding scores of civilians.” If Israel’s fight is Canada’s fight, Canada is also guilty of supporting these atrocities.
In the same speech, Harper elaborated on Canada’s policy for the Middle East. Commenting on ISIS, the Prime Minister said, “Canadians are rightly sickened by their savage slaughter of anyone who doesn’t share their twisted view of the world.” Because ISIS is “evil, vile and must be unambiguously opposed,” Canada joined the American coalition to combat the Islamic State. One member of this coalition, who “plays an important role in promoting regional peace and stability,” is Saudi Arabia, according to the Canadian Government’s website.
Of course, the promotion of “regional peace and stability” means the promotion of American interests — and that is why Saudi Arabia is an ally and ISIS is an enemy. Oddly enough, Saudi Arabia is known to have funded ISIS and is one of the most oppressive countries in the world. The things that disgust people most about ISIS — beheading, the subjugation of women and persecution of activists — are all practiced regularly in Saudi Arabia. The Harper administration routinely condemns the crimes that it is supporting.
The inconsistencies of the Harper administration’s foreign policy are difficult to understand if they are judged using basic moral standards. The language in which Baird and Harper speak is that of moral superiority, but they support crimes just as horrific as those they condemn. They fail to meet their own standards, which are selectively applied to enemies and not allies. There is a simple explanation for the incoherence however, which is that the Harper administration condemns only those who threaten Western hegemony. If the Harper administration is serious about preventing the kind of atrocities it condemns, it should stop supporting them.