A recent interview on al-Jazeera (posted March 31, 2012) with John Baird, Canada’s minister of Foreign Affairs did nothing to change the image of Canada that is tending to be current in the international arena.
The interviewer, who remained unnamed, asked good direct questions of Mr. Baird, who demonstrated his great oratorical skills of lack of definition, dissimulation (concealing full answers), evasion, denial, and repetition. The latter, as with the other elements, is a key element of Canadian political rhetoric domestically, wherein a line is repeated over and over and over again until either the questioner gives up, or the answer, in all its vagueness and prevarication is accepted through sheer exhaustion. This did not happen with the interviewer here, who kept redirecting questions calmly and forthrightly and kept getting the same political mantras, mostly undefined, returned again and again.
The conversation started with Syria, and served to highlight the double standards that Canada uses as it talks about “moral clarity” and “Canadian principles.” When asked about Syria, Baird responded, that Canadians who “see the bloodshed on television obviously they want it to stop.” My original thought was well, yes, Canadians are sympathetic people, generally, but then the obvious hit, that the bloodshed in Palestine is never shown on television, only when Israel mounts an attack and provides a good light show and sound bites for the Canadian media conglomerates who are within the corporate-military interests of the U.S. Why the U.S.? More on that below.
After being questioned on armed intervention vis a vis Libya, Baird goes on to say, “we want the violence to stop … and there is a huge humanitarian crisis …. [W]e’re all appalled with the violence we’ve seen.” First off, Libya. Canada fully supported, and then directed the attacks on Libya, and while this was contrived through the U.N. as a “right to protect” no-fly zone situation, the attacks were very clearly attacks against military positions, with damage to civilian structures and a considerable loss of civilian life.
Canada is a willing participant in military violence when it suits “Canadian interests,” which in this case, where “actions speak louder than words” (a Baird reference later to Iran) those interests align perfectly with the U.S. imperial designs on Africa: getting rid of a non-compliant dictator, getting rid of the Chinese influence in the oilfields and returning that influence to the west, and getting rid of the possible conversion of oil sales to a gold standard or some other currency. Liberal democracy (more below on this) and freedom were never really on the table .
The result of this demonstration of “Canadian values” is that Libya today has serious internal problems with many armed tribal groups and religious factions jockeying for power and influence.
Palestine, sort of, but mostly Canada
The interviewer then shifted gears to Palestine, and this clearly was the main interest of the interview in consideration of Canada’s full support of Israel. It is in this section where the repetition, avoidance, and dissimulation came full force from the questions presented to Baird.
When asked about the realignment of Canada’s foreign policy, the same tried and tired repetition about Canada’s values and Canadian interests and “liberal democracy” began their series of reiterations. At no time were these values and interests clearly delineated, nor was liberal democracy defined. The Canadian government is far from “liberal”, a great example of the big lie technique with repetition working towards hoping that someone might believe it.
First of all, the government ruling party is called “Conservative” for a reason—because they are not liberal! Their domestic values are based on small “c” conservative principles: small government that does not need to help the people; support for big business because that is where the money is, at least for the corporations; denial of science and environmental concerns (witness Government inaction vis a vis the tar sands—not oil sands, its bitumen, not oil that is processed); the cutting of social spending in health and education, or its downloading to the overburdened provincial budgets; “tough on crime” even though crime rates are dropping. Nothing liberal about all that.
As for the democratic part, Canada certainly has the institutions of democracy, but often not the requisites. The current government has prorogued parliament twice, to avoid the formation of an opposition coalition, and to stall opposition actions on legislation. They uses limits on speech in the parliament, and anyone wishing to speak to a public servant must be vetted through a communications director, or anyone in government has to be vetted and given talking points when speaking in public or to the media. Not highly democratic, certainly better than some, but just as certainly not what it claims to be. Later Baird references Canadian demographics in defense of his “liberal democracy”, but seems to forget that those same demographics show clearly that only eighteen per cent of the population of Canada actually voted for the party.
On Israel, Baird said, Canada is “a good friend and a strong ally and we don’t apologize for that. At the same time we’re a strong supporter of the Palestinian Authority [P.A.].” Well and good, but the P.A. is largely considered at this point to be the hand maiden of the Israelis in controlling the Palestinian population while Israel continues to build settlements and the army continues to occupy the West Bank and the citizens of Gaza live in an open air prison.
Baird’s pat answer to the problems, reiterated on all different questionings by the interviewer, is that what is needed is “a peace negotiated between the two parties.” At this point the listener/reader must wonder where Baird has been over the past three decades of ‘peace negotiations’ between the two. Negotiations have not worked.
Another element of this repeated and ignorant statement concerns the nature of terrorist violence directed at Israel, and the “unhelpfulness” of unilateral action on either side when asked about the legality of the settlements. Unhelpful indeed!
His statement on terrorism fully reflects the ignorance, willful or simple, concerning Hezbollah and Hamas, as “the violence the state of Israel has faced from Hamas, from Hezbollah, it’s deeply concerning….We’re not going to take an honest and balanced approach when it comes to two international terrorist organizations and a fellow liberal democracy.” Where to start? Okay, first of all, they are not international terrorists, they are armed insurrection groups who have used some terror actions against Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory, armed resistance to foreign occupation being a right recognized under the U.N. Charter (not necessarily productive as recognized by Hamas and Hezbollah themselves), if Baird cared to keep up on current events in Gaza and Lebanon. The real terrorists in the region are the U.S. and its ally, Israel, both who have used unilateral military action to occupy and destroy civilian areas and structures in Lebanon, the West Bank, Gaza, Iraq, and Afghanistan.
And what’s wrong with honesty, a Freudian slip?
As for Israel being a liberal democracy (one of Baird’s favorite repetitious undefined sound bites), it, like Canada, has the trappings of democracy, but again, hardly the requisites. It has many discriminatory laws against the Arab population in reference to travel, marriage, land ownership (the latter being the really big concern for Israeli demographics and occupation).
It occupies territory gained in war, and its actions go against international law for occupying forces, as well as international law for human rights. Israel continues to build the apartheid wall, declared illegal by the International Court of Justice. It has unilaterally attacked Lebanon, Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, and with the U.S. is breaking international law by threatening to attack Iran. Its industry is geared towards armaments and security and it is involved with trading military and security technology with a wide variety of countries of the world. It has a nuclear arsenal, created and sustained outside of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), a sector of international law being directed at Iran’s enrichment activities (more below). Liberal? Democratic?
The interviewer then reintroduced Baird’s comments about supporting Palestinians (as defined by their contributions to the P.A.), and Baird returned the argument about Canada doing “a lot to help them [the P.A.] build capacity and security,” followed by his reiteration “We’re not going to stand by neutral. This [terror] is a huge threat to the state of Israel, to a liberal democracy again by an international terrorist organization.” See above, I won’t reiterate my discussion.
Settlements, Israeli of course
The next question focused on the illegality of the settlements, asking if Canada recognized that. Baird’s evasions, while not masterful, were consistent. His favorite response was “unilateral action on either side is distinctly unhelpful.” Unhelpful of course is a long way from being illegal. Not doing the dishes after dinner is unhelpful, but certainly not illegal.
Want to hear it again? “I’m not going to get into the particulars of that, its unhelpful as is the unilateral bid for independence.” Oh, wow, a new twist, comparing the P.A. seeking independence to that of occupying, annexing, controlling all aspects of civilian life in the West Bank, while the settlers build more and more units and the apartheid wall encircles and limits Palestinian movement and lands. I wonder how Quebec would fit into that philosophy—Canada’s disaffected French province that has a strong independence movement. Democracy has been well served by people’s bids for independence, certainly not by occupation.