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.

Derrick O’Keefe is a Vancouver-based author and activist. He is cochair of the Canadian Peace Alliance and a member of the Lower Mainland’s StopWar Coalition.

Comments (66) Add New Comment
No, the greatest threat to world peace continues to be the U.S. and now we've got a Neo-Con stooge ready to go along for the ride - all evidence of danger once again based on American propaganda.
Rating: +26
The PM's foreign policy helps sustain the price of Alberta crude, so only a radical financed by foreign interests could question any of it.
Rating: -17
Ray I
I don't see anything scary here. Unless jobs and increased wealth generation scare you?
Rating: -27
We need to somehow overthrow Harper before 2015.
Rating: +27
john 316
One must remember that it is many a Iranian cleric believes that to die a Martyr and bring about the end of mankind is good as it will bring the return of their god, therefor Nuclear war for many in that thinking is good, logical and the route of choice. We who value life can not negotiate or rationalize with those who seek death as the ultimate way to imortailty. Wake up world!
Rating: -16
Well said and explained. From the very first day when Harper took control of government we knew he was the twin brother of G.W. Bush ,the meniac who was the zionist's Stooge. we saw time and aggaine he acted as Superpower for Hire and Served Israel the best way he could. Now Harper wants to finish G.W.bushe's job. God forbid.
Rating: +26
Well said and explained. From the very first day when Harper ran for election a lot of people warned that this guy is a fanatic G.W.Bushe's stooge. The meniac who bankruped the world. We should drive this stooge out the office before he does some more damage.
Rating: +5
The safety of Canadians is at risk every time he opens his mouth- I feel that a decision has been made with respect to Iran and there is nothing Iran can do in order to reverse it! Like when Saddam was accused of withholding information from Hans Blitts and we all know what happened next!
And however insane any of these countries leadership, the west (most of the time) had a hand in propping it up or creating it!
Isn't that more insane than the insane leadership!
Harper should be arrested or impeached !
Rating: +28
Yeah, what's six million more dead Jews, give or take. Not a big deal eh, Derrick?
Rating: -3
Harper's comments sound like talking points from the mushroom cloud era of WMD rhetoric just before Bush played the Colin Powell card at the UN. But speaking of the world's greatest threat, Obama is acting as if he is worried the Israeli's might to go off half-cocked. How many wing-nuts does it take to be threatening enough?
Rating: +16
P. Clement
Did I just read an entire journalistic piece on Iran without seeing the name Mahmoud Ahmadinejad even ONCE ?!? I'm the last person to support Harper, and I don't, but unfortunate that the columnist had to diminish his critique of Harper by inserting his un-nuanced bandwagon mentality Israeli prejudiced rhetoric throughout.

I take issue with his statement "The greatest threat to peace in the Middle East is, in reality, Netanyahu’s Israeli government". It takes two idiots to idiot tango, not one. Isn't that where Derrick should have referred to the sociopath Achmadenijad?

Ahmadinejad is not suicidal, but, and this is a big but, *culturally* and religiously he equates 'compromise', (not to mention making peace) with humiliation and defeat, no less than Saddam, Gaddafi, Assad, and radicalised Muslims everywhere did and do. Analysing the Middle East through the lens of Western Judeo-Christian interpretation will miss this significance every time. The fact that Israel has nuclear capabilities is as inhibiting to Ahmadinejad as it was to Bin Laden when he destroyed the Trade Centres, as it is to every suicide bomber who straps on explosives. If you've been brought up since childhood thinking dying for your "religion" ( ahem) is the goal of life - why would a few Israeli nuclear bombs worry you. 777 virgins can't be wrong.

The culture is an eye for an eye - and although I am 100% against war, and have dear muslim, friends, not understanding that culture leads to distorted perspectives. Harper and Netanyahu are made of the same cloth, and both should be locked in a room together with their counterparts from the Islamic countries. And Derrick Okeefe should lock himself in a room and learn about the culture of Jihad, and how reason and logic have as much impact, as telling a born again Christian that Mary could have never conceived without intercourse.
Rating: +3
Small C
Have you been watching the the murders in the street committed by the Iranian Mullahs served by gangs of thugs? Now imagine those guys with a nuke, thinking they are sending you to hell and themselves to heaven. It's people like you would let a dictatorship murder it's own people, of going against it would result in profit for evil corporations. As for Israel, it's the only democracy in that region friendly to the west, so let's not support them either. I'm sure your position on all of these issues will make more sense to me if I twist up a fatty and get in your headspace.
Rating: +3
@john 316: the clerics are no less crazy than the Armageddonists of all "Christian" fundamentalist stripes whom flock to the Republican party.
Rating: +7
What is not in question is Iran's complete lack of regard for its own citizen's, the jailing and killing of Canadian Zahra Kazemi and all the headaches and crimes they have committed against, Kurds, Their woman, their students, Bahai religions and others. Harper is speaking politics for the votes of Jews in Canada and support of Jews in the USA and elsewhere. So its all politics, but the question is when is there a good fight to fight? Why Germany in WWII to save the world from fascism and not now to save the world from terror???
Rating: -1
kiddaa magazine
Why should we care what he says. Even the US defense secretary 2 days ago said Iran was not making nuclear weapons. Harper and the Cons are supporters of the Evangelical right that also supports anything Israel does.
Its common knowledge Israel has 200-300 working nuclear weapons and an Apartheid of Palestinians. You can view articles in the Link Newspaper or KiDDAA.
Just like Iraq this is more fear mongering more based on faultering world economies and Israel than reality. The Christian and Israeli right are just as nuts as Islamic extremists. And they are similar religions that came of of the same area.
Rating: +16
kiddaa magazine
The Iraq war found no WMDs and killed 5,000 US soldiers and over a millions Iraqis costing a trillion dollars.
Any Iran war based on the same bs, no nukes is plain insanity.
Some people think that Israel who according to international law, hosts the largest running Apartheid and has nuclear weapons.
This Iranian threat is so ridiculous that China, Indian and Russia are giving the middle finger. Its impossible for Iran to build a weapon when they are monitored by the UN, unlike Israel.
That an Iran isnt even enriching weapons grade uranium.
Yes we know many white people, far right, evanglicals hate muslims, but Iran is far from irrational and the Yanks know it too. Even Bush Jr. knew it and he was loco.
At the end of the day Iran is a power and has to be treated as one, even if its goverment is not the best.
All these nuts are saying Iran is bad, just look at Saudi Arabia, Yemen, Israel, Bahrain, all allies where women cant drive and thousands languish in prisons.
Rating: +7
Bushin Sheepskin
As eluded to by other posts, Harper is Canada's very own George W. - a fear-mongering, bible-thumping, gun-loving, backward-thinking, oil-suckin leader of a government that has no idea where the heck the ship is floating. Only this time, the bugger has four years in power to be the best pawn for the USA it can possibly be.
Rating: +43
glen p robbins
Mr. Harper is selling oil. The Keystone plan was to take oil from Alberta to Texas - refine it and sell it to Latin America and Europe, while Canada also shipped to China through BC. The theory is that this would offset Russia's leverage over Europe - split the Russian Iranian strategic dominance and ameliorate some of the dependence from the Middle East against Iran's counter measures to sanctions.

The Republicans don't want to talk tough on Iran during their primary season in a presidential year - and President Obama isn't - Americans are just coming home from war and don't want to turn around and spend another trillion fighting Iran.

Harper is the United States international proxy in the middle east - a junior role he is happy to take so his friends in the oil business can pump their Alberta Tar Sands oil. Part of this role is to talk tough against Iran.

It brings no joy to think of Iran with nuclear weapons, but India has them - and Pakistan has them with the latter country certainly of dubious stability and at odds with India. Afghanistan sits right in the middle of this contention and Israel has its focus on Iran. I mean, never mind if you like Iran or don't like them, what would you be doing in the circumstance if you were running that country?
Rating: -3
BC Fisherman
The people of BC will go to war against EnBridge before Iran.

Rating: +26
Harper's right. You're spouting a bunch of fear-mongering rhetoric, just like you accuse him of doing. Get over yourself.
Rating: -8


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