Robert Fowler hasn't been reading Yves Engler's books
I've just watched retired diplomat Robert Fowler's speech on Canadian foreign policy at a Liberal policy conference.
And I couldn't help but think that Fowler was giving Canada far more credit than it deserves for its international conduct since the end of the Second World War.
Those foreign-policy misadventures were covered extensively in The Black Book of Canadian Foreign Policy (Fernwood Publishing, 2009) and Canada and Israel: Building Apartheid (Fernwood Publishing, 2010), by Montreal writer Yves Engler.
I expect that Fowler's speech will be presented in fawning terms by liberal commentators in the mainstream media.
He's a former Canadian ambassador to the United Nations and former deputy minister of defence, providing him with all the right credentials to be giving Liberals advice.
Fowler was also kidnapped in 2008 by al-Qaeda while on a UN mission in Niger, which gives him moral authority to speak about terrorism.
Fowler began his speech by acknowledging that the Conservative government saved his life, though he didn't say exactly how. One can assume it was because somebody somewhere made a deal.
That didn't prevent him from excoriating the Conservative government for using foreign policy as a tool to win votes from ethnic communities.
In particular, he cited the Conservatives' willingness to blindly support Israel in the pursuit of votes from Canadian Jews.
Fowler also said that he believes the Liberal party has lost its way in foreign policy.
He cited Liberal politicians' willingness to cozy up to supporters of the Tamil Tigers and an independent Khalistan. He noted that some Liberal politicians have appeared at parades that glorify people who bombed an Air India flight in 1985.
"To this observer it seems that Liberals today don't stand for much in the way of principle," Fowler said. "I have the impression that they will endorse anything and everything which might return them to power and nothing which won't, whatever the merits of either.
"It's all about getting to power, and it shows," he continued. "I believe Liberals seem prepared to embrace an infinite array of special interests in order to shill for votes rather than forging a broad-based principled alliance founded in deep liberal traditions, one with a distinct social contract and an independent Canadian character which would protect, project and defend core liberal values at home and abroad."
He reiterated his view that the Afghan war was unwinnable.
Fowler's underlying message was that Liberals used to be fair-minded players when it came to foreign policy. He also claimed that Canada had a widely admired reputation for fairness and justice in the Middle East.
Engler's books suggest that this reputation came about, in part, because former Liberal prime ministers Lester Pearson and Pierre Trudeau effectively convinced the Canadian public that they were evenhanded.
Engler argues that the reality was quite different. In his latest book, he shows how Canada has always been a reliable ally of Israel, and suggests that it's a myth that the Harper government has suddenly changed policy directions.
To burnish his arguments, Engler describes how Canada has allowed registered charities to raise money to fund Jewish settlements in land seized by Israel.
Fowler said that the growth of these settlements is a driving force behind Islamic terrrorism around the world. But Fowler didn't acknowledge the role that Canada has played in promoting their growth through the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s.
Engler argues that Canadian policy in the Middle East is not really about winning Jewish votes because there aren't enough Jewish votes to make a big difference in Canadian elections. (As an aside, I've spoken to several Jewish people in Vancouver who opposed Israel's attack on Gaza in December 2008.)
Fowler, on the other hand, claimed that this was the main motivation for the Harper government's policies in the Middle East.
Instead, Engler maintains that the real goal of Canadian foreign policy in the Middle East is to support the American empire, which benefits from having a strong ally such as Israel in an oil-rich region.
Fowler didn't talk about the American empire in his speech. This leads me to conclude that this veteran diplomat probably hasn't read any of Engler's books on foreign policy.
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