Derrick O’Keefe: Stephen Harper’s rhetoric on Iran should frighten us all
The toxic brew of Big Oil and militarism at the core of Stephen Harper’s politics has been on full display this week.
In an interview with Peter Mansbridge on CBC’s The National, Harper connected the threat of a new conflagration in the Middle East with his ongoing push for new pipelines to export tar sands crude from Alberta. The prime minister cited Iran’s recent talk of closing the Strait of Hormuz as an argument for the building of proposed tar sands pipelines like the Keystone XL and Enbridge projects. Harper’s argument is that foreign, Middle Eastern oil supply routes are unstable, and thus the tar sands are a key to U.S. “energy security”. Of course, Iran’s threat to close the key oil shipping route of Hormuz comes as a response to aggressive sanctions from the West. The latest round of sanctions , which the Harper government and its allies have been pushing, aims to starve Tehran of oil revenues.
This was just one of a bevy of cynical, unethical arguments Harper has used to boost proposed tar sands pipelines aimed at expanding exports of crude oil from Canada. Harper appears willing to make almost any argument whatsoever to defend the interests of Big Oil. And he is proving equally shameless when it comes to pushing militarism in Canada and on the world stage.
Later in that same interview with Mansbridge, Harper made perhaps his most dangerous comments yet with respect to Iran. The prime minister has been fear mongering about Iran for some time, repeatedly calling Iran the greatest threat to world peace. Harper one-upped himself in this latest conversation with Mansbridge, asserting that he knew “beyond any doubt” that Iran was working to develop nuclear weapons. Not only that, but Harper stated that he is “absolutely convinced” that Iran “would have no hesitation about using nuclear weapons”.
This last comment is extraordinary; Harper is in effect claiming to know for a fact that the regime in Tehran is suicidal. Israel already has an arsenal of nuclear weapons—a fact everyone knows but which the government in Tel Aviv has never formally admitted. (Israel, unlike Iran, is not a signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.) Any attack by Iran, let alone its use of hypothetical nuclear weapons, would result in its total obliteration.
There is simply no evidence whatsoever to support Harper’s claim, and so it’s shocking that there hasn’t yet been a loud, outraged reaction by opposition voices in Canadian politics. Harper claims that Iran “frightens” him. In fact, it is Harper’s foreign policy that should frighten us all.
It’s worth looking back to 2003, when Harper bemoaned Canada’s failure to fully join the invasion of Iraq. Then leader of the Official Opposition to Jean Chrétien’s Liberal government, Harper rose in the House to explain his support for George W. Bush’s war. (Parts of one speech by Harper were later found to have been plagiarized from Australia’s John Howard.)
Harper later publicly regretted his warmongering on Iraq, saying that he had put too much faith in U.S. claims that Saddam Hussein possessed “weapons of mass destruction”. Either Harper has learned nothing from this mistake, or his second thoughts about Iraq were mere political expediency, since 80 percent of Canadians opposed that war.
What, then, explains Harper’s hawkish sound bites on Iran? Part of the answer is that a key component of Harper’s political project is to make Canadian foreign policy more aggressive and the country more militarized. This is as much about domestic politics as it is about the particulars of international interventions. In the long-term, the key thing for Harper is to build up militarism throughout Canadian society. This goal can be achieved, even where specific military missions end in withdrawal and fail to achieve their stated goals, as was the case with the Kandahar counter-insurgency. For Harper a failure on the foreign battlefield can still count as a success on the battlefield of politics.
In the Middle East, arguably, these strategic political considerations are only part of the story. There’s a more particular, irrational element at play when it comes to Israel. Here’s how Harper described his determination to defend Israeli policies in a November 2010 speech in Ottawa: “as long as I am prime minister, whether it is at the United Nations, the Francophonie or anywhere else, Canada will take that stand, whatever the cost.”
The cost is already being paid in Canadian credibility (and arguably a lost Security Council vote) at the United Nations and even within the G8.
This Israel-first attitude goes a long way to explaining Harper’s belligerent talk on Iran, since it is the extremist government of Benjamin Netanyahu that is pushing hardest for a strike against Iran.
The danger of an attack on Iran, and a subsequent regional war, is real. The greatest threat to peace in the Middle East is, in reality, Netanyahu’s Israeli government with which Harper has Canada riding shotgun.
If Harper wasn’t willingly subordinating other vital considerations to the needs of Israel, one might even be tempted to argue that radical, foreign interests have hijacked Canadian foreign policy.
Harper’s fighting words on Iran should be a call to action for the vast majority in Canada who opposed the war on Iraq. The situation is very different today than in 2003, but no less dangerous. In fact it’s almost guaranteed that war on Iran would destabilize the whole region, not to mention the fragile global economy. That’s why it’s almost impossible to overstate the irresponsible nature of Harper’s comments.
Everyone in Canada working to stop Harper needs to speak up against this insane drive to war with Iran.