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When U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry bloated last fall about officially ending the Monroe Doctrine (the U.S. belief that God grants only Americans the right to interfere with the internal affairs of other western hemisphere countries), one wonders if Stephen Harper and his foreign affairs pitbull John Baird immediately took the concept on for themselves.
Perhaps they also adopted a bit of manifest destiny thrown in for good measure. How else — other than through the lens of someone who truly feels anointed by the heavens — can one begin to understand Harper’s messianic foreign policy, one in which he and John Baird play tag-team John Waynes making the world safe for Canadian corporate profits?
While it is true that Canada has always had a sense of manifest destiny — the notion that a little bit of Canada goes a long way in ‘developing’ nations, whether that means invading Russia after World War I, overthrowing the Aristide government in Haiti, or maintaining a genocidal occupation of First Nations — it has not always been trumpeted as loudly as in recent years. Indeed, one can almost hear the alarums playing in their heads as the PM and his trusted sidekick globetrot over to Ukraine, imagining themselves as Churchillian figures standing up against the Russian bear as they support the junta ruling post-coup Ukraine. Needless to say, Ukraine is a pearl awaiting exploitation, as global natural gas producers and investment bankers salivate over this region where Chevron hopes to frack $10-billion of shale oil out of the landscape and the IMF imposes gut-wrenching austerity that will drain away social programs and economic diversity in favour of privatization and evaporation of state funds into the hands of the wealthy few.
The Ukraine mess is also a boon for weapons manufacturers who, frightened at the slight decline in potential orders as governments try to tighten their belts, now have a new excuse to keep the taps flowing, one as welcome as when the U.S. invited Saddam Hussein to invade Kuwait and then, playing bait and switch, rallied the weapons corporations together with massive new funding that most thought would have made for a great post-Cold War peace dividend. Harper’s dispatch of six CF-18 fighters to the region (with nary a whisper of outrage from the opposition in Ottawa) is also great PR for a government that will soon use their overseas presence as an advertisement to entice us into supporting the stealth fighter purchase for the purpose of NATO interoperability. For Lockheed Martin stockholders, it’s Christmastime.
The Ukraine debacle represents the latest in a pattern of Harper and Baird supporting coups and ignoring human rights violations as a nasty but necessary part of doing business. (Though let’s not blame the Conservatives too much, for the Liberals have a long tradition of supporting gross human rights violations as well. We all too easily forget the war criminality in which Lester Pearson immersed himself over Southeast Asia. Who can forget the Trudeau government’s shamefully immediate recognition of post-coup Chile’s General Pinochet, guaranteeing Canadian mining interests the ‘stability’ they desired to continue business as usual?)
Harper’s Psychological Apocalypticism
That Harper can boldly state the Crimean crisis represents the worst threat the world has seen since the end of the Cold War reflects what the brilliant U.S. social critic and psychiatrist Robert Jay Lifton identifies as “a psychological apocalypticism in which all prior products of the human mind give way to a new collective mind-set” that is “pure, perfect, and eternal.” In the pure and perfect minds of Harper and Baird, there has been no invasion and slaughter of Iraqis claiming over two million lives since 1991, nor the imposition from without of PTSD on an entire nation of people in Afghanistan, drone strikes claiming thousands of lives, genocide in Rwanda and Sudan, or any other horrors that have often been the product of U.S., Canadian, and NATO policies and actions. For Harper, this is his World War II moment, an opportunity in his own pure mind to cement his footprint in history.
Nonetheless, Harper and Baird’s foreign policy has been touted much of late in editorial pages, picking up on Baird’s idea of a “principled” approach to the world. On March 27, Canada’s foreign affairs minister pounded his podium and declared: “Challenging and confronting those who threaten freedom, democracy, human rights and the rule of law” is where he wants his representatives abroad to “distinguish themselves.” Of course, such rhetoric is used equally easily by the likes of Vladimir Putin and George W. Bush, and is emptier than a California aquifer in the middle of that state’s record-breaking drought.
For anyone willing to take even a cursory look at the Harper/Baird record, it is clear that this duo is acting as the advance guard to sell the world Canadian weapons that can be used by repressive regimes and private militias who are defending Canadian mining and petroleum companies from the democratic aspirations of peasants, labour organizers, and journalists who question why their air, water, land and rights must be despoiled in the interest of Canada’s economic prosperity. Canadian trade officials are now openly embedded into Canadian business organizations and trade associations, such as the Canadian Association of Defence and Security Industries (CADSI), which claims half of its $12-billion in annual revenues come from overseas sales. Ottawa has made no secret of its desire to grow its arms export market, including to such rights-violating countries as the U.S., Mexico, Pakistan, Bahrain, Iraq and Egypt. In fact, back before he became a convenient whipping post, the Ukraine government of Viktor Yanukovych was the recipient of over $80,000 in weapons, some of which may well have been used in the repression of last winter’s protests.
Canada Supporting Coups
Canada’s global mining industry similarly presents Canada with an opportunity to support the coups and repressive regimes that host them. In Guatemala, for example, where some five dozen unionists have been murdered in the past five years, favoured trade status with the EU and U.S. is under threat for that government’s failure to investigate these murders. Canada has been silent no doubt because conditions are perfect for record mining company profits. In the same neighbourhood, Canada supported the 2009 coup in Honduras by opening up free trade talks, while Nobel LaureateJody Williams noted, “The Canadian embassy remains silent on the human rights abuses committed by mining companies, while playing a prominent role in facilitating high-level meetings for corporations.” John Ralston Saul writes that some three dozen Honduran journalists have been killed since 2009 with impunity: only two convictions have been registered in these crimes.
Ottawa has treated post-coup Egypt with kid gloves as well, refusing to condemn the overthrow of the democratically elected Morsi government, claiming in retrospect that because Morsi tended toward the autocratic, there was no need to return him to power (an argument one could perhaps use in the case of Stephen Harper as he bulldozes through with omnibus legislation and his “Fair Elections” Act). Canada continues regular relations with Egypt while that country holds Canadian citizen and Al Jazeera reporter Mohamed Fahmy, and pretends all is well as 529 individuals were sentenced to death last month following an in absentia trial lasting less than one hour. The Egyptian government, meanwhile, has not been held to account for the murder of over 1,200 civilian protesters and the mass jailing of over 16,000 people, and Canada has increased weapons sales to Egypt by 83 per cent. Not to be worried about the ongoing repression, Canada maintains at least 13 trade commissioners in its Egyptian embassy.
Just to the west of Egypt lies the mess in Libya, created with the full co-operation of the Harper government (and its NDP opposition, which had no trouble fully supporting the illegal NATO bombing campaign that ousted the Gaddafi regime). There are no headlines calling out for justice in Libya, where dozens have reportedly been tortured to death, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights noting that “members of the armed brigades freely admitted, and even tried to justify, the physical abuse of detainees.” These are the same militias who worked hand-in-hand with Canada and NATO, but in the Harper paradigm, it’s a new day in Libya, and the Canadian Trade Commissioner Service declares: “Whether you are looking to export, invest, attract investment, or develop innovation and R&D partnerships in Libya our trade commissioners are available when and where you need them.” The commission’s website does caution about travel risks and terrorism, but not a word about torture.
Meantime, Canada and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have signed a nuclear co-operation agreement even though the government’s own internal briefings shows Ottawa is well aware of human rights abuses, noting “international human rights organizations believe that national security has been used as a pretext by the UAE government to suppress dissent and repress activists asking for democratic reforms.”
Economic Diplomacy Rules the Day
Given Canada’s focus on “economic diplomacy” with the world, it makes sense that the profits being made from exporting coal to China (Canada has gone from shipping $13-million in 2007 to well over $1-billion now) cannot be tampered with by speaking out forcefully on behalf of Canadians illegally jailed there, such as Burlington’s Huseyin Celil, an Uighur who continues to suffer in extreme isolation behind bars while Harper welcomes a China Investment Corporation office in Toronto.
Similarly, for all the self-serving rhetoric about liberating women in Afghanistan as an excuse for the illegal occupation of that country, Canada has been fairly tight-lipped about repression of women in Saudi Arabia, to which $10-billion in light-armoured vehicles (which were used to help suppress Arab spring demonstrators in neighbouring Bahrain) are being sent from London, Ontario.
While President Obama tries to thaw out relations with Iran, Ottawa goes harder on Tehran, even declaring that country a state sponsor of terrorism. Perhaps Canada’s role as a petro-state has something to do with the stance, for as the Financial Post baldly stated last September 27, a warming up of relations with Iran means Iranian oil could flood the world market, driving down the price of Canadian petroleum products. And while Syria is now on the backburner (with Canada conceding fewer than 10 Syrian refuges have actually made it to Canada), Canada waited until after the Olympics to drive home the point that Russia has continued to support the Assad regime. While Harper was making that point one fine day in September 2013, the very same day two trade ministers were in Moscow to bolster economic ties with Canada as a “top of mind” partner. Russia was called a priority market, and two-way trade grew exponentially from $179-million in 1999 to over $2.65-billion in 2012. The ‘evil’ Putin was in power most of that time, and invaded other territories (South Ossetia in 2008, Chechnya in the 1990s), but with little sense of outrage from the so-called west.
While space does not permit a comprehensive overview of Canadian foreign policy here, the trends are clear. The idea that Canada will be, in the words of Mr. Baird, pressing for human rights, the rule of law, and freedom in its dealings with the world is so Orwellian as to debase the oft-used term. It’s not so much a double standard as it is a single standard, the one that emerges from the state of exceptionalism with which the Canadian government views itself on the world stage. In this pure and perfect world, there is no such thing as contradiction or irony, complicity with torture and human rights abuses, legacies of colonialism and economic strangulation. No, there is only the truth of economic prosperity as tweeted and facebooked by government ministers and regurgitated by a pliant press.
Canadian Weapons Repress Women
In this cynical game, the problems of the world — torture, refugee crises, poverty, environmental destruction — are an annoying but easily dismissed backdrop best reflected in the rah-rah statement of Jayson Myers, president of Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters. While Human Rights Watch found that “In Saudi Arabia, 2013 was another bad year for human rights, marred by executions and repression of women and activists,” Myers gushed upon the recent news that the Saudi dictatorship would be receiving billions in Canadian weapons:
“This is an Olympic win for Canada and for Canadian manufacturers. It shows how great people in truly innovative companies like General Dynamic Land Systems Canada can compete internationally and bring home the gold. Like all victories, it’s been the result of a team effort in which the government has played a crucial role. All Canadians should be proud of this record achievement.”
If that news doesn’t have you running the maple leaf up your flagpole, nothing will.
Matthew Behrens is a freelance writer and social justice advocate who co-ordinates the Homes not Bombs non-violent direct action network. He has worked closely with the targets of Canadian and U.S. ‘national security’ profiling for many years. This article first appeared on the rabble.ca website.