Seamanship Quotation

“In political activity, then, men sail a boundless and bottomless sea; there is neither harbour for shelter nor floor for anchorage, neither starting-place nor appointed destination.”
— from Michael Oakeshott's
Political Education” (1951)

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

“Small Rump”: Harperland and America, with Israel

Political outcasts often attract insulting labels—Great Britain was called “a chicken” in 1940; the nationalist wing of Canada’s socialist movement was called “The Waffle” in the late '60s. Slurs can be telling, yet they can end up being embraced with pride by their intended targets—if the targets survive. (See “Obamacare,” which may soon haunt its Republican authors.)

Globe and Mail reporter Campbell Clark's description of the diplomatic alliance of Canada, the US, and Israel—the only significant votes against the immediate recognition of Palestine as an associate member of the UN—as a “small rump” deserves closer attention. It rings true in political circles in Canada, and most likely in Europe and across the Middle East as well. But, more importantly, it may stick because it expresses a genuine fellowship.

Harper and Obama were compelled to stand in isolation with Israel because of the exceptional nature of their alliance. Americans, Canadians, and Israelis are not of one mind about the tactics of the government of Israel. However, on questions related to the survival and final recognition of the State of Israel, they have each other’s backs on the floor of the UN General Assembly.

The ideals of these three upstart liberal democracies are behind their isolation at the UN, not diplomatic ineptitude.

The United States, Israel, and Canada, especially Western Canada, are breakaway societies. They see themselves as new societies, literally as nation-builders. Their forefathers were the malcontents, the adventurers, and the victims of the Old World. Good Europeans have been complaining about American roguery and vulgarity for over 200 years. Annoyance toward Western Canadian and Israeli success has been more recent.

No people likes to be alone and, of course, should do their best to avoid it. However, for Israel to be isolated in Europe yet again and still alone in the Middle East is hardly an offense against nature in Harper’s Canada or in the United States.

Critics, of course, will not grant Stephen Harper the compliment that he’s actually representing Canada and is not, as Liberal leader Bob Rae implies, crudely driven by “polls and short-sighted partisanship.” As if you can’t hold power in Washington and Ottawa without pleasing Palm Beach in Florida and Forest Hill in Toronto.

Rae and smart circles in Canada are extremely ambitious for Canadian diplomacy. That’s fine. It would be neat, if it was possible, to stand beside the American power broker as an honest broker in the Middle East. However, let’s not confuse ends and means.

Canada’s support for Israel is not one side of an equation. It stands whether its anti-Semitic neighbors are elected or not. Canada’s foremost interest is not to be front and center in a peace process, but to help establish Israel as a safe home for Jews in the Middle East.

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