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Canada’s real international shame — and it’s not Ford November 23, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canada petroleum, Canadian Mining, Environment.
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Roger’s note: the author ends this article by lamenting the damage done by the Harper government to “Canada’s global reputation.”  What needs to be added to this are the damages themselves done not only to our environment but to the thousands of human beings who suffer at the policies of this mean-spirited and imperious government.

 

Canada has become the target of unprecedented international condemnation as one of the world’s worst polluters.

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The international community is unimpressed with Canada’s environmental record, which for some includes the oilsands industry in Alberta.

 

Jeff McIntosh / THE CANADIAN PRESS

 

 

When will this horrid scandal end? Can someone please turn the channel? Shamed on the world stage and ridiculed by many, Canada has been exposed in recent days as a country with political leadership that is greedy, self-indulgent, incompetent and dismissive of our children, as well as woefully captive of special interests.

And I’m not referring to Rob Ford. His 15 seconds of fame — as “The Crack-smoking Mayor Who Knocked Down Granny,” as London’s tabloids described him — will end one day. Just keep breathing deeply.

 

I mean, in tabloid terms, another story: “The Short-Sighted Canadian Government That Robbed Our Children.” And, sadly, its legacy may never end.

 

What makes it worse is that this comes at a time when the government of Stephen Harper faces criticism for blackening Canada’s reputation in foreign policy in other areas as well.

 

Although it hasn’t received the media attention of the Ford soap opera, Canada in the past week has been the target of unprecedented international condemnation as one of the world’s worst polluters. These reports have coincided with a major UN climate change conference in Warsaw, Poland.

 

One after another, accusations have been directed at the Harper government for being an international deadbeat when it comes to climate change and the environment.

 

The Washington-based Center for Global Development ranked Canada dead last among the 27 wealthy nations it assessed in terms of environmental protection. Every other country has made progress except Canada, according to the group.

 

A report issued this week by the Europe-based Germanwatch and Climate Action Network placed Canada at the bottom of an international list of countries in tackling greenhouse-gas emissions, ahead of only Iran, Kazakhstan and Saudi Arabia.

 

By any measurement, this is not how most Canadians want their country to be seen internationally in an area so crucial to Canada as the environment. This challenges the conventional wisdom — often reflected in current political debate and media coverage — that Canadians have tired of the environment and climate change as public policy issues.

 

According to a new survey released last Monday, Canadians increasingly believe — six in 10 — that climate change is real and caused by human activity, which is the highest level since 2007. But they are losing faith in government to address the issue. The survey was conducted by the Environics Institute for Survey Research and the David Suzuki Foundation.

 

These results were broadly consistent with another national survey released in early November that showed that three out of four Canadians were concerned about climate change but many were critical of how the federal government handled the issue. The poll was sponsored by the Canada 2020 think tank and the University of Montreal, and was conducted by Leger Marketing.

 

The Canadian government’s handling of climate change is part of a pattern. Domestic political calculations here in Canada — rather than any high-minded sense of Canada’s international obligations — seem to drive the Harper government’s foreign policy decisions.

 

How else to explain Canada’s unquestioning support of the Israeli government? The price of that has been to relegate Canada to irrelevance in the Middle East.

 

How else to explain Canada’s abrupt decision a year ago to pull its embassy out of Iran? The price of that has been to eliminate any possibility Canada can be a factor in the current nuclear negotiations. Even Britain is now taking steps to reconcile with Iran.

 

How else to explain Harper’s decision to boycott the recent Commonwealth conference in Sri Lanka in response to pressure from Canada’s Tamil community? The price of that was to sideline Canada from the human rights debate at the conference. In contrast, British Prime Minister David Cameron, who attended the conference, was able to challenge directly the Sri Lankan government for its handling of the Tamil minority.

 

The Rob Ford scandal has been a genuine black eye for Canada. His continuing presence on the political scene is as mystifying to foreigners as it is embarrassing to Canadians. But one day, thankfully, Ford will be gone.

 

In a variety of areas including climate change, the damage being done by the Harper government to Canada’s global reputation is a stain that will stay with us for much longer.

 

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. (tony.burman@gmail.com )

Burman: What has prompted Canada’s move against Iran? September 8, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East.
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Published on Friday September 07, 2012

            FRED CHARTRAND/THE CANADIAN PRESS                    People wait at the door of the Iranian embassy in Ottawa on Friday to collect passports following Canada’s decision to expel all remaining Iranian diplomats in Ottawa.       
Tony Burman

By Tony BurmanSpecial to the Star
Although his swearing-in at Rideau Hall must have happened in the dead of night, Canada appears to have a new foreign minister. His name is Benjamin Netanyahu. His day job may be prime minister of Israel, but Canada’s abrupt actions against Iran seem to confirm that the Harper government’s outsourcing of Canada’s Middle East policy to Jerusalem is now complete.

There is little else to conclude from Canada’s unwise decision to move unilaterally on Iran at this moment. All sorts of crucial issues are in play with Iran. They involve the future of its nuclear program, the impatience of Israel’s leadership to attack Iran, the shape of a new Middle East as the heinous Syrian regime implodes and several delicate life-and-death issues involving Canadians on death row in Iran. Surprisingly, Western nations have held together on how to approach these key challenges — except, now, for Canada.

So why would Canada indulge in a meaningless poke in the eye that will only be dismissed by Tehran and serve to push the Canadian government even further to the extremes of diplomatic irrelevance?

For a clue, let’s flash back two weeks ago to Israel, where the debate over Iran has been at a fever pitch among politicians and in the media for months.

Prime Minister Netanyahu met privately with the U.S. ambassador to Israel. Netanyahu “lost his temper,” according to U.S. officials, and was described as nervous, agitated and frustrated at American reluctance to move on Iran. Several days later, Gen. Martin Dempsey, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, further upset him by warning that an Israeli strike, with all its risks, would only “delay but probably not destroy Iran’s nuclear program.”

Now, enter the Canadian government. In recent years, with its passionate pro-Israeli stance, it has gained the reputation throughout the Middle East of being a passionate warrior on behalf of Israel’s foreign ministry. I was in Israel in July — coincidentally at the same time as Mitt Romney — and there were references in the Israeli media about Canada’s unwavering support of the Israeli government.

It was obviously appreciated, but one sensed it was also seen by some Israelis as somewhat mystifying. After decades of being one of the world’s most respected “honest brokers” on Middle East issues, what in God’s name has slipped into the water supply in Canada to explain such a change?

Contrary to the Canadian government’s statement on Friday, it is unimaginable that its actions against Iran will affect that country’s policy regarding Syria or its nuclear program. Instead, its priority seems to be on the Israeli issues. It is not surprising that Canada’s actions were warmly welcomed by Netanyahu.

But it is difficult to understand Canada’s timing. It will have precious little impact on Iran’s behavior and seems at variance with the current state-of-play on the nuclear issue. In fact, it actually comes at a time when the mood in Israel’s top leadership seems to have turned against the idea of an imminent strike against Iran.

On Thursday, Defence Minister Ehud Barak — who has sided with Netanyahu in arguing that a nuclear-armed Iran is an ”existential” threat to Israel — seemed subtly to temper his rhetoric. He emphasized a desire to work with the Americans on this issue, even if this meant a delay in potential military action: “One should not ignore the impressive preparations by the Americans to counter Iran on all fronts.”

Barak’s remarks may have reflected several important realities that are gaining attention. One, it is clear that U.S. president Barack Obama is as determined as the Israelis to prevent a nuclear-armed Iran. Two, there is still no evidence that Iran actually wants nuclear weapons. And three, most of the Israeli public, military and political class find the idea of a strike against Iran as unnecessarily dangerous. Last Sunday, a former Supreme Court Justice Eliyahu Winograd— whose committee criticized Israel’s role in its 2006 war with Lebanon — warned that an Israeli strike on Iran “may endanger the future of the country”.

And then, there is that other crucial issue: If Israel attacks Iran, with or without U.S. help, what will be the repercussions? Will the region be engulfed in war? Will the Iranian government, so loathed by many of its people, be emboldened and strengthened by this attack? Will such an action actually ensure that Iran eventually develops a nuclear bomb?

Canadians have every right to ask its government how it believes such a conflict will evolve. However, reflecting on its recent actions, we may have to wait until our government checks with its new foreign minister in Jerusalem before we get some answers.

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com

Why there will be a war in the Middle East this year January 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Iran, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011.An Iranian woman walks past an anti-U.S. mural painted on the wall of the former U.S. embassy in Tehran on Nov. 19, 2011. ATTA KENARE/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

By Tony BurmanSpecial to the Star
There will be a war in the Middle East within the next several months, triggered by an Israeli attack on Iran, and this is how it will happen. Like the Iraq war, it will be a fatal blend of political arrogance and near criminal risk-taking, and this should come as no surprise to us because we know the political players. But we should also know that the time to prevent it is running out.

In Iran, the government is reeling from colossal economic and political pressures. There are signs of desperation. Western sanctions over its nuclear program are biting and there is an open power struggle among key government leaders. The murders since 2010 of four nuclear scientists — most certainly masterminded by agents of Israel’s Mossad — are deeply humiliating. With parliamentary elections in March regarded by many as the most important in the history of the Islamic republic, the pressure within Iran to hit back at Israel in some damaging way is inevitable — and this will happen soon.

In Israel, the calculation is also overwhelmingly political. The fractious government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is obsessed with the prospect of a nuclear Iran even if the evidence is still unclear how imminent that threat is. Netanyahu is also driven by his bitter rivalry with President Barack Obama. There is growing speculation the prime minister will trigger early Israeli elections in June to shore up his political position before Obama, as Netanyahu believes, is re-elected in November. He knows his best opportunity to attack Iran will be shortly before the U.S. election when he figures Obama would be politically cornered. But Netanyahu needs a pretext to act in “self-defence” and that is why Mossad is still covertly at work inside Iran. Iran will have to retaliate before Israel can act — and this will happen soon.

In the United States, Obama is caught up in the morass of election-year politics. His likely Republican presidential rival, Mitt Romney, is accusing the president of being weak on Iran: “If you elect me as president, Iran will not have a nuclear weapon.” The U.S. and its European allies now have a deadline of July 1 to impose a full embargo of Iranian oil. Ehud Barak, Israel’s defence minister, claimed on Wednesday that a decision to launch a pre-emptive strike is “very far off.” But U.S. defence officials, according to the Wall Street Journal, are increasingly concerned that Israel is preparing to strike Iran — and this will happen soon.

READ MORE: Burman’s columns

Can we be certain that events in the Middle East will unfold in this way? Of course not. But like a high-stakes poker game where each player slowly reveals his cards, there are increasing signs that this game is careening out of control.

There is no consensus within Israel in favour of an attack on Iran. In fact, a recent poll suggests that less than half of Israelis (43 per cent) support a strike even though 90 per cent of them believe Iran will eventually acquire nuclear weapons. But the drumbeats for action are growing louder inside of Israel and they are egged on in the U.S. by the shrill tone of the extremist Republican primary process.

In Israel, the political case in favour of a strike, led by Netanyahu, points to its limited attack in 2007 on a burgeoning Syrian nuclear facility. But there are crucial differences this time. Iran’s nuclear facilities are well-dispersed and well-defended, and most experts believe that such a strike would likely fail or, at best, only delay Iran’s nuclear ambitions for a year or two.

But even more significant are the potentially frightening consequences of such a strike. Iran has threatened to hit back with full fury if its nuclear facilities are attacked. It could place Israel in considerable peril and lead to a resurgence of anti-American fever. Such a strike would also strengthen Iran’s rulers internally at a time of its greatest weakness and would radicalize the Arab world.

Serious people are doing serious work to prevent this from happening. There are meetings later this month in Tehran with officials of the International Atomic Energy Agency and the move to stiffen sanctions against Iran is accelerating. However, this first decade of the 21st century serves as no model. Disastrous decisions were made by political leaders in an environment of arrogance and stupidity, and these disasters were condoned by a public which largely chose to look the other way and a news media which, at various times, was either complicit or incompetent.

Let’s hope that, in the handling of Iran, history is not repeating itself.

Tony Burman, former head of Al Jazeera English and CBC News, teaches journalism at Ryerson University. tony.burman@gmail.com

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