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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, National Post, 5-4-12

On Nov. 8, 2010, Prime Minister Stephen Harper addressed the Inter-Parliamentary Coalition for Combatting Anti-Semitism, which gathered dozens of legislators from over 50 countries in Ottawa. Harper’s address stood out for its warmth, its passion, its power.

“I know, by the way, because I have the bruises to show for it, that whether it is at the United Nations or any other international forum, the easiest thing to do is simply to just get along and go along with this anti-Israel rhetoric, to pretend it is just about being evenhanded, and to excuse oneself with the label of honest broker,” Harper said. “There are, after all, a lot more votes – a lot more – in being anti-Israeli than in taking a stand. But as long as I am Prime Minister, whether it is at the United Nations, the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost.” He explained: “Not just because it is the right thing to do, but because history shows us, and the ideology of the anti-Israel mob tell us all too well, that those who threaten the existence of the Jewish people are in the longer term a threat to all of us.”

In this, Harper articulated a vision for Canadian foreign policy far beyond a repudiation of anti-Semitism and bold support for Israel. Harper’s talk about “taking a stand, whatever the cost,” and his concerns about “a threat to all of us” – with “us” meaning the liberal democratic West – positioned Canada as a leading player in the Western democratic fight for survival. At a time when the United States under Barack Obama is flirting with isolationism and realism in foreign policy, Harper embraced idealism as an essential force in shaping his foreign policy.

Surprisingly, and most especially, that November in Ottawa, Harper’s idealism proved contagious – and all-party.

At a conference, Michael Ignatieff, reaffirmed his disgust at the way accusation of the crime of apartheid, as perpetuated for decades in South Africa, was being inaccurately and immorally applied to Israel’s actions in its national conflict with the Palestinians. In 2009, Ignatieff had first denounced the absurdity of “Israel Apartheid Week,” a week devoted to linking democratic Israel to the cruelties of racist, apartheid South Africa.

Further to Ignatieff ‘s left, Thomas Mulcair, new leader of the NDP, positioned himself as a thoughtful, reasonable progressive who refuses to join the pile-on against Israel. Mulcair affirmed his deep commitment to democracy and the rule of law, refusing to sacrifice core ideals to follow one trend or the other. In that spirit, he said he was embarrassed, as a graduate of McGill Law School, that McGill hosts Israel Apartheid Week. Finally, he de-scribed an ugly moment in an anti-Israel demonstration, when protestors wanted to attack a Jewish-owned business. He quoted Martin Luther King’s teaching that, “he who passively accepts evil is as much involved in it as he who helps to perpetrate it. He who accepts evil without protesting against it is really cooperating with it.”

The Mulcair-King formulation goes even further than Harper’s affirmative, idealistic vision. While neither Harper nor Mulcair seems interested in getting Canada mired in every fight against evil on the planet, the simple comfort, from left and right, with language about good and evil in both foreign and domestic affairs is refreshing. We have come a long way from Jean Chrétien’s snivelling, split-the difference, don’t rock the boat, accommodationist foreign policy.

Moreover, claims of a backlash have been exaggerated. When Canada failed to get a seat on the Security Council in the fall of 2010, critics were quick to blame Harper’s support for Israel. In fact, internal regional bloc politics at the UN were the problem. Even more important, in May 2011, the Canadian electorate gave Harper a majority. Thus, claims that Harper and his party would suffer at the polls for befriending the Jewish state proved empty.

Canada can stand tall as a force for good in foreign affairs, defending democracy and Western civilization, as necessary, without overstretching. And in a world with too many forms of aggressive ethnic nationalism, which indeed sometimes seems to be “winning,” having this positive, constructive, tolerant, civilizing, civic vision can be most welcome, as Canada plays a new, affirmative and assertive role in its long, successful run as the world’s conscience.

 

Gil Troy is a professor of history at McGill University. A longer version of this article appears in the April issue of Policy Options magazine. 

Canada, back again as the world’s conscience, as the world lacks one — Policy Options, April 2012

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OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, National Post, 5-24-11

Reuters

Tim Pawlenty: Could be last man standing

Believe it or not, just as we finished with Canada’s mercifully brief -but far too frequent -national election campaign, the first American presidential debate for 2012 took place. Fox News and the South Carolina Republican Party hosted a candidates’ forum on May 5 in Greeneville, S.C., a mere 18 months before Election Day.

Former governor Tim Pawlenty was the only A-lister present; other participants included Rep. Ron Paul, tycoon Herman Cain, former senator Rick Santorum and former governor Gary Johnson. The Ronald Reagan Library postponed its debate, originally scheduled for May 2, until September, when presumably more candidates will have announced.

Of course, a Reagan debate on May 2 would have been better poetically, both because of its overlap with the Canadian contest, and because, more than 30 years after his inauguration, Ronald Reagan -or at least his iconic reputation -remains the standard by which Republicans judge their candidates.

On the Democratic side, it is safe to assume that some future historians will begin their account of the 2012 campaign with the death of Osama bin Laden. Whether it proves a boost to Obama’s campaign or not, it is a significant historic move that arrived just as the Republican party is beginning to prepare for the coming election.

We can, of course, expect that this campaign, like all the others, will feature high-minded calls to focus on substance -even as candidates, journalists and, let’s face it, voters, succumb to base appeals and debates. Such spectacles are a necessary part of democratic politics. But we should hope that the inevitable rhetorical fireworks don’t eclipse the important debates that should dominate the coming campaign.

Americans should be debating at least three fundamental questions: What kind of government do they want, what kind of military do they need and what kind of leadership have they been getting?

Although Obama and the leaders of the Tea Party do not agree on much, they have been addressing this first basic question for months. In a recent speech on deficit reduction at George Washington University, Obama spoke of two threads “running throughout our history” -one of rugged individualism, with a belief in free markets, and “a belief that we are all connected … that there are some things we can only do together, as a nation.”

It is too facile to caricature the Republicans as the individualists and the Democrats as the communitarians, but Republicans are individualists -who believe in a strong national defence. Democrats like Obama are communitarians -who understand that a strong economy must be free. How precisely to weave the two threads together is one of the central challenges of modern governance, and of the upcoming election.

Regarding the military, there are practical, tactical questions along with abstract ideological dilemmas. Especially in an age of cutbacks, the military must justify the huge chunk of the budget it devours. And America’s partial involvement in the attempt to dislodge Muammar Gaddafi is a suitable launching pad for wider-ranging discussions about when the United States should resort to military force, what kind of force the U.S. should engage in, and whether American foreign policy should be realist or idealistic. All these questions again feed into the broader issue of just what kind of country America will be.

Finally, this election will be a referendum on Obama. It is hard making a re-election campaign about anything else but the incumbent. And especially considering the tremendously high hopes Obama’s “Yes We Can” campaign stirred in 2008, the overwhelming challenges Obama has faced since winning and the continuing questions about just what are his core ideals, the election is likely to pivot around him and his job performance.

Amid all the predictions and speculation about the final result, candidates, commentators and voters have an opportunity to debate the serious issues facing the United States today. Whether any and all tackle these three key questions will be the true measure of the upcoming campaign’s success.

Gil Troy is professor of history at McGill University. His latest book is The Reagan Revolution: A Very Short Introduction.

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