Wanted: nuance in Canada's foreign policy

Politique étrangère et Militarisation du Canada

This summer gave the lie to the cliché that all politics is local. On the contrary, much of politics these days is global in one form or another, even if the last Canadian election barely acknowledged the existence of the world out there.
Months after Canadians elected a government with no international experience or apparent interest in affairs beyond our borders, the world rushed in. And Canadians responded politically, mostly to the government's detriment. The Lebanon conflict. The weekly carnage from the war in Afghanistan. Iran's nuclear ambitions. Climate change, the ultimate international challenge. The softwood lumber deal, a foreign policy test case of dealing with the Americans. Arrests in Toronto of suspected terrorists inspired by imported ideas.
Sure, a few of the usual domestic issues, such as waiting times and the mythical fiscal imbalance, surfaced briefly. Maybe these might interest Canadians later on - health care is always atop every poll but never drives voting behaviour. But, for now, it's all foreign most of the time.
The last election was a national embarrassment for a Group of Eight country. Foreign policy and Canada's role in the world never arose. We in the media deserve our fair share of responsibility for the absence, since we didn't even ask questions about international issues.
Anyway, you might reply, Americans elected in 2000 former Texas governor George W. Bush, who'd only been outside his country twice before becoming president. Indeed they did, and with what consequences. The United States has never been so unpopular in so many parts of the globe.
The Harper government, unschooled in international matters, fixed on one broad policy: to get along better with the United States, a policy the Conservatives believed was in Canada's interest and consistent with our values. Almost everything they have done since assuming office has reflected that premise.
At least the Conservatives have not fallen for British Prime Minister Tony Blair's conceit that alignment increases influence, because that has not worked for Britain and assuredly would not work for Canada, whose influence in the world, let alone Washington, is far greater in the minds of Canadians than in reality.
So Canada has not tried, at least publicly, to pretend to persuade the United States of any particular international policy, in part because the Harperites likely don't have any to sell and in part because the Bush administration seldom buys anyone's ideas but its own.
A minority government such as Stephen Harper's must pay especially close attention to the domestic political implications of any foreign policy. And here the biggest shift this summer has been among Canadian Jews, many of whom have switched, or are switching, their allegiance from the Liberals to the Conservatives.
Generalizations about Jews are as useless as those about any other group, because groups are usually divided. Look at Israeli politics, with its Mad Hatter coalitions, or the searing debates that crop up in the Jewish Diaspora.
Threats to Israel, as perceived there and in the Diaspora, drive Jews together. So Mr. Harper's unfettered approval of Israel's response to the capture of two soldiers and shelling from southern Lebanon was hugely appreciated by the Jewish community, for whom Israel's relations with its neighbours is almost always a black and white affair. The community must also love the comparisons being bandied about by senior Conservatives between Hezbollah and the Nazis.
Jews, of course, are dwindling as a share of Canada's population, but they have great influence, hard-earned through contributions to Canada, their own success, their access to the media, and their lobbying organizations. Some of them used to be big political donors, too, but that doesn't count any more. Those with money would likely open their wallets for the Conservatives these days, but the Conservatives' own legislation this fall will limit donations to only $1,000.
Evangelical Christians, a part of the Harper coalition, are also big backers of Israel. Indeed, the evangelicals and other social conservatives in the Conservative caucus - pro-Israel, pro-Taiwan, pro-Bush - are influencing the government's foreign policy.
Which is probably why, taking all these foreign issues together, the government has lost political ground. Canadians prefer their foreign policy more nuanced.

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