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Harper’s foreign policy review is (almost) in (probably)

Boldness hasn’t prevented the government from being blindsided again and again by the big cruel world


 

What an unexpected and not-entirely-pleasant surprise Canadian Press reporter Mike Blanchfield had for the bureaucrats at Fort Pearson yesterday: he wrote about their ongoing foreign-policy review, which they thought they were doing a good job of keeping secret. (This is actually not the first we’ve heard of this low-profile review; Carleton University’s Fen Hampson complained about its rumoured existence in July.) Oh well. Highlights from Blanchfield’s report:

The FPP will attempt to enlighten the Conservatives about a number of strategically important countries. Among them are two major Muslim countries — Indonesia and Turkey.

Indonesia is the world’s fourth largest country with the largest Muslim population and is spread across a sprawling archipelago that spans the Indian and Pacific oceans. Turkey is a NATO ally that shares land borders with Syria, Iran and Iraq.

A core purpose of the FPP is to give the government a heads-up on potential flashpoints across the globe. Sources say the Tories believe Canada has been caught off guard in recent years by international events and the new plan would serve to mitigate that.

The document could be tabled in Parliament at some future point after Harper’s office gives it the green light. But some sources say the FPP is unlikely to ever see the light of day because it could box the Tories in politically at a later date.

Why the low profile? Because Paul Martin’s foreign-policy review was a bit of a joke, more for its process (long delays; endless redrafts) than for the unobjectionable result, which handily remains archived at the DFAIT website.

In the heady days after the 2006 election, the Harper legions could sometimes be heard to boast, “We don’t review foreign policy; we do it.” But it turns out that boldness and a photogenically jutting jaw don’t keep a government from being blindsided, again and again and again and again and again, by the big cruel world. When that happens to you enough times, you start to wish you could see the hits coming. Hence Blanchfield’s line about Tories who (it’s said) “believe Canada has been caught off guard in recent years by international events.”

The bad news is that no foreign policy review will keep a country from being caught off guard. The world is really good at catching you off guard. Every time something surprising happens — the Arab Spring uprisings early this year were only the latest example — a chorus of second-guessers wonders why “we” (or “Obama” or “the West”) didn’t see it coming. But you don’t have to go to Egypt to discover life is full of surprises. Closer to home, nobody foresaw the 2008 post-election Dion coalition play, or its out-of-focus denouement. Nobody, including the NDP, expected the NDP to win most of the seats in Quebec. This is stuff that has happened in a country Stephen Harper knows well. How can he expect to be more clairvoyant in Syria or Turkey or Myanmar?

No, the goal of foreign policy isn’t to avoid surprise, it’s to be a little better-positioned to handle it when it happens. Here, Harper has already made one decent move, replacing the incurious Lawrence Cannon with John Baird at Foreign Affairs. It would be hard to overstate the overdue goodwill Baird has begun to win for himself and this government simply by turning up at receptions on the Ottawa diplomatic circuit; ambassadors used to complain Cannon was unreachable. I find Baird a bit too linear in his thinking (as in, “What is the shortest distance to the next headline” — he went to Libya when Libya represented Strength of Purpose, but now that it represents Hard to Tell Which Way is Up, he won’t be troubling them further). But he is at least taking the trouble to show up at two international conferences this month, which means he is likelier to bump into an unexpected bit of information than most of his recent predecessors.

There is nothing wrong with reviewing foreign policy, especially if it turns up handy advice like “don’t forget Turkey.” And the least that can be said about Harper’s attempt to generate new ideas is that the quality of advice he’s receiving has almost certainly improved.

 


 

Harper’s foreign policy review is (almost) in (probably)

  1. I’m sure Harper and company will treat any good advice they receive from Mr. Khan with the same disdain they show the for the country’s scientific community when topics like climate change or salmon farming are the subjects of discussion.

    A good article though. Love the ‘linear thought’ comment on Baird.

  2. If Harper spent less time worrying about how to nail the Opposition, and more time keeping up with world news online….he wouldn’t BE blindsided by these events.

    Nor would he need to be ‘advised’ by Fort Pearson…although he won’t listen to them in any case.

    He doesn’t see recessions coming either, even when everyone else does.

  3. I believe Baird is going to do a fantastic job with the foreign affairs portfolio.   Embassy Mag did an upbeat article:        http://www.embassymag.ca/page/view/appearances-10-12-2011
     
    “Keeping up appearances with John Baird
    In making the rounds, the foreign minister pleases the crowds. ”
     
     
    U.A.E. just ordered 50 more Boeings 777 airliners worth billions so they are still hungry for extra landing rights.   Can’t remember where I read that Baird, while flying to G8? ended up sitting next to some higher up Palestinian who invited him to visit.   Nothing like face-to-face time to understand each other a little better.  Big plus – Harper trusts and listens to Baird.
     
    Now that he is hob-knobbing with all these Sheikhs, you can see why he spent an extra $200 bucks for the ‘gold embossed’ business cards, lol.

  4. “I find Baird a bit too linear in his thinking (as in, “What is the shortest distance to the next headline” — he went to Libya when Libya represented Strength of Purpose, but now that it represents Hard to Tell Which Way is Up, he won’t be troubling them further”
     
    LOL…that one could be inscribed on just about any politicians tombstone…some of the great ones too.
     
    It is sometimes said that life can only be understood looking backwards  and lived going forwards.[ Kierkegaard?]
    What’s fascinating is to stand time on its head. Look at 1989 to the present. What govt or expert come to that saw coming the fall of the Berlin wall and the peaceful reintroduction of a reunited Germany into Europe; who saw the cold war ending as it did, relatively peacefully; the release of Mandela and the end of Apatrheid, relatively peacefully; the rise of Islamo facism, 911, or the resulting Iraq and Afghan wars; who would have believed the US would start to lose its preeminent position in the world only two decades after its triumph in the cold war? The list is endless.
     
    Bertrand Russel nailed it in unpopular essays. “Philosophy for Laymen:
     
     ” Dogmatism is an enemy to peace and an insuperable barrier to democracy…it is the greatest of the human obstacles to happiness… The demand for certainty is one that is natural for man, but is nevertheless an intellectual vice…to endure uncertainty is difficult, but then so are most of the other virtues…knowledge is not so precise a concept as is commonly thought. In stead of saying “i know this” we ought to say, “i more or less know something more or less like this”.    
     
    Want to make God laugh? Tell him your plans for the future.” – WA
     
    It is a great pity politics is everywhere so fashionable and philosophy less so.

    • Mark Twain ‘rephrased’ the ideas in the dogmatism paragraph into:

      What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know…
      It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.

      I love that Mark Twainism.

      • Yeah he was a genius all right. Couple of my favs:

        “To succeed in life, you need two things: ignorance and confidence.”

        “Golf, a good walk spoiled.”

        • oops…names out there for some reason. Even then the bloody system got it wrong.

          • $ % & * DISQUS!!!

            Several ‘new’ glitches today.

            The GUEST comment below (hob-knobbing…gold business cards) was meant to be a ‘reply’ to Le_o, above.

        • Those are beauties!!

      • My favourite Twainism:

        If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you read the newspaper, you’re mis-informed,Today that applies to all forms of media. 

        • In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing. 

          another beauty.

          • “In religion and politics people’s beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination….”

            I assume, then, that you’ve carefully examined that assertion?

          • Thanks, i have and do frequently [ see B.Russell above]
            Do you? ”
            An unexamined life is not worth living”.

            I have the feeling your trying to make the point i don’t walk the walk as much as talk the talk. I plead human falibility.
            Examine your preconceptions/biases rather then try and ensnare mine.

        • I’m currently using the “…just ain’t so” Twainism as a part of my e-mail auto-signature……prior to that I had the “…uninformed…misinformed” one – definitely a classic.

  5. Now that he is hob-knobbing with all these Sheikhs, you can see why he spent an extra $200 bucks for the ‘gold embossed’ business cards, lol.
     
    Oooooooo…

  6. For myself I’d rather see a review along these lines–posts at the Canadian Defence & Foreign Affairs Institute’s “3Ds Blog”:

    Whither the Canadian Forces?

    Thinking About Defence Priorities and Programs

    Proposed “worthwhile [Canadian] initiative”
    Mark
    Ottawa

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