Thursday, January 21, 2016

Trudeau's Foreign Policy: A Syndicated Assessment

I spent early this morning talking to radio hosts across Canada from Cape Breton to Kamloops to Yellowknife and places in between about the new Prime Minister and his foreign policy.  Did I blast him and his international relations adviser?  Only a wee bit.

The nine or so hosts had a script that they worked from, developed from a conversation I had with the folks at CBC Syndicated Radio.  Some went through the script pretty much verbatim, others riffed and asked some related questions.  But here's what I remember (having woken up mighty early, my memory ain't great):

As Trudeau was quoted at Davos as being committed to pulling the CF-18s out of the anti-ISIS mission, what did I think of that?
That he would stick to it.  That this seems to be a campaign promise that he is wedded to.
Not rightly sure, as the Liberals have bombed in the past.  The argument that we should do x (humanitarian aid or training of the Iraqi forces) and not bombing does not explain why not bombing as Canada can do two or three things at once.
Is Trudeau a pacifist?

No idea, but he might be skeptical about the efficacy of bombing.
The Conservatives have called Trudeau's stance "incoherent".
Sort of.  We still lack a good explanation for why he does not want to do bombing.  He could come up with one--that the Royal Canadian Air Force is stretched, that we need to reduce the burden on these planes since they have to last longer, that the next part of the war involves air strikes on more populated areas, etc.
Why has the government moved slowly on this?
First, this government has only been in power for a few months and the first month was chock full of summits which meant that the foreign policy team was chasing Trudeau all over the globe and not figuring out this policy.  The second month was partly a break where Ottawa does not get much done. 
Second, this government is not a top down, one guy makes the call kind of government, but government by cabinet which means the various ministers have to figure stuff out, tussle and then be arbitrated by the PM.
Why the tepid responses to the various terrorist attacks in Paris and Burkina Faso?
This is a silly argument to make, that passion, impatience and fury lead to bad decisions.  The previous government was good at bluster but follow up?  Not so much.
What about the Saudi arms deal?
Whether intentionally or not, Harper set a nice trap for the Liberals.  The Conservatives do not have a strong human rights stance, but the Liberals do.  But this arms deal means 3000 jobs for 15 years in Canada.  The Liberals might have made the deal if they had the chance, but now that the deals is made, the government is mostly stuck with it unless it wants to tell 3000 families that their jobs are gone and tell the Saudis, who are an unreliable yet important actor on the world scene, to screw off (not what I said on the radio).  So, the best stance is to say: we cannot reverse every single decision the Conservatives made.  This is one where the costs of changing the stance are too much.
What should be Trudeau's priorities?
  • the war against ISIS, not so much because of the threat presented but because Canadians are in harm's way in this mission and will continue to be so, even if the CF-18s come home
  • Russia because the stakes are mighty high
  • Climate Change--seems to be a focal point
  • US-Canadian relations--because duh.
What about the snub?
I repeated what I said here.

What about Trudeau's line about Canada being not just about resources but resoucefulness?
This didn't go over well in Alberta apparently, but I think making the claim that Canada has more interests and more capabilities than oil is a perfectly fine thing to say.  It ain't all about minerals. 
How has Trudeau done so far?
I think people have forgotten how much went right.  That four summits in the first month without making major mistakes and making a major positive impression speaks well.
I am not a fan of everything this government has done.  I am mostly a fan of how they are doing it--with deliberation, with more transparency, with less hostility, less bluster, and yes, less passion.

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