middle east, muslims, politics

Canada’s foreign policy: Business before human rights

Published on March 18th, 2014 by Al Jazeera English

The latest arms deal between Canada and Saudi Arabia exposes the ideological hypocrisy that underpins the Canadian Conservative Party’s present foreign and trade policy.

The Ontario-based General Dynamics Land Systems (a subsidiary of the Virginia-based aerospace and defence company, General Dynamics) outbid Germany and France to win a US$10m deal to export military hardware to Saudi Arabia, with a poor human rights record.

edfast

The deal is the largest of its kind in Canadian history, and was announced by Trade Minister Ed Fast this past February. Fast portrayed the deal as a triumph of effective diplomacy that will generate thousands of jobs for Canadians. The agreement is also meant to fulfil Canada’s “Global Markets Action Plan,” which aims to extract commercial and economic benefits from Canada’s international relationships. Concerns with respect to Saudi Arabia’s human rights have largely gone unaddressed by Canadian Tory officials.

Toronto Star editorial from February notes that Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s government “rarely shrinks from bemoaning the state of the world”. This is especially accurate with regards to the administration’s stances vis-a-vis the Middle East. Yet when it comes to doing business, Prime Minister Harper and Foreign Minister John Baird, among others, have time and time again demonstrated a willingness to suspend their artificial affinity to principle.

Money comes first

As Canadian writer and journalist Derrick O’Keefe notes, for all the Conservatives’ talk about free market ideology, “the Saudi deal confirms that the Conservatives […] do believe in industrial strategy and government intervention in the economy – at least when military hardware and arms, or bitumen, are involved.”

Both the Canadians and the Saudis refuse to reveal the specifics of the deal, but GLDS is famous for manufacturing the LAV III armoured vehicles used by Canada in Afghanistan, as well as the Stryker armoured vehicles used by the United States. US$10m can buy hundreds of such vehicles.

The deal was announced shortly after Postmedia News, a prominent Canadian wire service, reported that the Tories have planned to help the Canadian arms industry through “hard times” by looking for more international buyers of Canadian military equipment.

It’s long been revealed that Saudi Arabia’s forces have previously used military hardware from General Dynamics to crush dissent in the Gulf region. In March 2011, Saudi forces rolled into Bahrain with armoured vehicles made by General Dynamics to help suppress a growing protest movement. Inspired by the “Arab Spring” in Tunisia, Egypt, and elsewhere, the mostly peaceful protests were violently crushed.

The Harper government didn’t say much, and maintained its silence even when it was revealed that a Canadian citizen, Naser al-Raas, was tortured for over 30 days for taking part in the protests. Raas was finally assisted by Canadian consular services and released, but still seeks justice for the inhumane treatment he received.

When FM Baird visited Bahrain around two years later in April 2013, he made sure not to publically denounce what happened in 2011. So for all of the Harper regime’s rhetoric on its clear and principled stance regarding international human rights, the record shows that for Canada, business and money come first.

The exercise of silence

Of course, the Harper administration’s human rights hypocrisy doesn’t start or end with Saudi Arabia and Bahrain. Similar to Human Rights Watch’s recent (though in keeping with a long and unfortunate tradition) denunciation of Saudi Arabia in its 2014 report, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has reportedEgypt as one of the most dangerous countries for journalists to report from/in.

A military regime, the current Egyptian government has essentially put freedom of the press on trial. The primary manifestation of this chilling development is the arrest and detention of 20 Al Jazeera journalists who have been branded enemies of the Egyptian state. According to state prosecutors, the journalistsattempted “to weaken the state’s status, harming the national interest of the country, disturbing public security, instilling fear among the people, causing damage to the public interest.”

Among the detained and charged is Canadian citizen Mohamed Fahmy, who, along with his colleagues, was captured late last December. Since then, he has suffered through solitary confinement and was only recently dumped into a lower security prison. Of course, Fahmy and his colleagues have pleaded not guilty to the Egyptian state’s charges.

So what does Harper and his party colleagues have to say about all this? On his first trip to Israel, Harper congratulated Egypt’s “return to stability” under the auspices of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who has become de facto ruler of Egypt.

Editorials and op-eds from across the political spectrum in Canada have called for more action on the part of Harper’s government. The Australian government has advocated for the release of its citizen, Peter Greste (though some saynot enough), also an Al Jazeera journalist. The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for the “prompt release” of all those captured.

Even President Barack Obama has put out a statementcondemning Egypt’s abysmal devolution into journalist purgatory. And yet, so far, the Harper administration has shown itself capable only of mere platitudes regarding “consular services.”

Lecturing the world

It’s important to note, then, that just like every other governing political party or administration, Harper and his Conservatives operate with an ideological agenda in mind when it comes to foreign policy. This means that their selective condemnation of human rights abuses around the world is done on a strategic basis (or so they seem to think).

Sure, Baird had no problem condemning the blasts that killed four people in Beirut this past January. Harper also had no trouble expressing his disapproval of the bombings in Iraq that killed 37 people last Christmas. All this is well and good, but observers inside and outside of Canada would do well to treat the Harper administration’s self-proclaimed commitment to clear-cut and “principled foreign policy” with a substantial dose of scepticism.

There’s truly no shortage of speechifying by high-level Tory officials when it comes to proclaiming how principled the Conservative administration is with regards to human rights issues. Baird has, by now, lectured the rest of the world on the matter several times.

But his speeches, in front of the United Nations to “defend” the state of Israel, provide the best window for those who care to look, beyond the rhetoric, at Canada’s true stance on human rights.

It’s not a secret that numerous human rights organisations have condemned Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, both inside and outside of Israel. But for reasons of ideology and politics, Harper and his Conservatives, much like those who came before them, don’t really care.

 

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obama, politics

The future of Libya

Published on: The Canadian Charger, April 14th, 2011
[http://www.thecanadiancharger.com/page.php?id=5&a=868]

The airstrikes on Libya, as authorized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1973, has a veneer of “internationalism” about that that needs to be addressed.

Compounded by the calls for a no-fly-zone from the Arab League, the African Union, and the provisional council set up by the Libyan rebels themselves, the air strikes—especially in the usual media corners—seem to be much, much more than an effort anchored by the United States.

This is a myth. The coalition forces of France, the United Kingdom, etc. was led by a U.S. commander—General Carter Ham.

The helm has since then been passed on to a Canadian official, who is supposedly heading up a joint NATO venture.  The U.S. has contributed substantially to a barrage of 110 Tomahawk missiles on Libya’s air defenses on March 19th, 2011. Named by the U.S. as “Operation Odyssey Dawn,” the multi-phased no-fly-zone/airstrikes operation was just beginning—and right off the bat, the Associated Press reported that the United States deployed a slew of B2s, F-15s, F-16s, Navy EA-18G electronic warfare planes and Marine attack jets. In other words—despite the carefully crafted image of “limited military action” from the Obama administration—it is clear that the United States is calling the shots and doing the heavy lifting.

The rebels have since then called for a ceasefire after losing one of their key oil ports, Ras Lanuf, while also being stopped at Brega.

Whether international intervention helped or not is a tough question to answer, given mixed results. Qaddafi’s forces have not been able to fight where they wanted to, but rebel leaders have also come out to criticize the foreign airstrikes. “NATO is not doing their job, the airstrikes are late and never on time. NATO is not helping us. Gadhafi still gets ammunition and supplies to his forces–that’s why he is pushing us back,” says Mohammed Abdullah, a rebel who defected from loyalist ranks. The UK Daily Telegraph has also reported that “strafing runs” have been carried out by NATO helicopters trying to rescue fallen allied pilots. This practise has put civilian lives at risk.

The purpose for Resolution 1973 was, basically, to obtain a ceasefire. Barack Obama, on the other hand, has made it clear that Operation Odyssey Dawn seeks to implement genuine regime change. This lack of overlap in terms of end goals gives some indication of what each party has at stake in Libya. Despite its rhetoric of massacre prevention and international cooperation, the Obama administration’s geopolitical vision extends beyond the conditions of war, and into the conditions of peace. Suffice it to say that if Libya was a land known for carrots, Qaddafi’s troops would not be facing constant airstrikes.

By now, the most likely scenario is a partitioned Libya, and thus a divided Libya. The rebels in Benghazi—aside from asking for a ceasefire—have also rejected an overture from the African Union to broker talks, and for good reason, given that 15% of the AU’s expenses were paid by the Qaddafi regime. Furthermore, the Transitional National Council in Benghazi has agreed to a temporary “trust fund” to help channel assets from “international donations,” according to Al Jazeera English. All this indicates that the situation in Libya is perhaps entering a stage of stalemate. Subsequent planning is not clear, and long-term peace may indeed—like many feared—be subject to the interests of the NATO powers who have so much at stake in Libya.

If the endgame involves the removal of Qaddafi and the dissolution of his regime (it is hard to imagine the coalition forces allowing Qaddafi to stay in power), then an imposition of a no-fly-zone will most likely be protracted into a “long war”. Indeed, according to a report by Reuters, Obama has already signed off on a presidential “finding” (although no admission has been made), that authorizes “covert U.S. government support for rebel forces seeking to oust Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, government…”

The best case scenario of course is for Qaddafi to be eliminated permanently, or to have him remove himself from power. This may be a possibility if the no-fly-zone is kept in place and works fluidly in order to protect places like Benghazi and Tobrouk from reprisals. If this happens, it may be possible to negotiate a political settlement. The talks can be brokered by international coalition forces and will most likely include the removal of Qaddafi—or at least an agreement from him to submit to parliamentary elections (or a trip to the International Criminal Court?). This, however, may be wishful thinking. For now, Libya’s war of liberation is looking more and more like a civil war. Support for Qaddafi is tough to quantify, and estimates have ranged from 10% all the way up to 30%.  Obama may do well to let the pro-Qaddafi towns alone, and focus strictly on protecting civilians. This will prove to be more and more difficult as airstrikes take on new configurations.

One can only hope that Resolution 1973 (1) does more good than harm when it comes to civilian protection, (2) works to facilitate more civilian involvement instead of restricting it, and (3) does not lead to foreign troops on Libyan soil.

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middle east, muslims, politics

No-Fly Zone in Libya: let us be clear

What is “liberal intervention” but a deceptively labelled concept meant for making military intrusion possible? The abstract idea of a utopic and humanitarian bouquet of bombs and missiles may be easy to imagine in a world filled with disinformation, but history has taught us that such pseudo-events do not exist. Remember the former Yugoslavia? Remember Iraq and Afghanistan? Those who tell us that Libya 2011 is “unique” embrace the overbearing clichés  churned out by the corporate media.

Libyans must determine their own fate. If a no-fly zone is unquestionably what the rebelling Libyans want, then so be it. But let us harbour no illusions and tell it like it is. Full stop. A no-fly zone imposed upon Libya will be a serious, multifaceted, military operation controlled by the United States and its lapdog, the United Kingdom (perhaps also France). Russia and China have both expressed serious reservations. Thus, the usual suspects have returned, as have the vague “responsibility to protect” (R2P) non-ideologies they espouse. It is like a bad dream recurring over and over again.

The top-dogs of the U.S. Department of Defense and the U.S. Central command, Robert Gates and General James Mattis respectively, have both concurred that the implementation of a no-fly zone means—without any doubt—the destruction of Libya’s air defenses. This appears to be a standard prerequisite for the sending of any jets from a “protecting power”. Getting the United Nations to back a no-fly zone is tough enough, given the reservations by Russia and China, but certain international agreements (rules of engagement) will have to also be addressed, just so the forces controlling the air do not shoot at each other—or a civilian airliner for that matter.

The implementation of a no-fly zone is also commonly perceived as a reduction of violence. This is not true. First of all, it is ludicrous to say that Qaddafi’s instruments of death are confined by the air. His usage of mercenaries (mainly as snipers) is infamous by now. Second, a no-fly zone would mean more—not less—planes and missiles flying through the skies. What will this do to the surrounding areas?  If the Qaddafi air force is as formidable as some R2P apologists will have it, then a battle in the skies will ensue. What will this mean for the people on the ground? Anti-aircraft weaponry also includes missiles shot from the ground, operated by their corresponding personnel. This means U.S.-U.K.-France troops directly on the ground in Libya. What will become of them when—God-willing—Qaddafi is ousted?

Furthermore, how serious is Qaddafi’s aerial power—actually? The official numbers are 227 fighter aircrafts and 35 attack helicopters. It is certainly a scary tally, and should not be underestimated. However, let us again be clear. Most Western countries have their planes repaired, maintained, and serviced around half of the time. The rate is astronomically higher in Libya. So far, not more than a few planes have attacked the rebels. The bombardment of Brega, a key oil port in eastern Libya (quite close to Qaddafi’s hometown of Sirte), was carried out by a single jet that dropped all but two bombs. Military and air force analysts have noted that “lone-wolf” operations are extremely rare to begin with, due to high risk, not to mention only to drop two bombs. This is the closest real indication of the Libyan air force one can get thus far. It means that either the Libyan air force has some seriously disenchanted pilots (the two bombs dropped on Brega were—according to some eye-witnesses—purposely off-target, and left no casualties), or that the fleet is so deficient that no more than one or two planes can get in the air at one time.

Given these ramifications, how desirable is a no-fly zone? Suffice it to say that a more serious assessment of Qaddafi’s military power will have to be done by the media (a difficult proposal given that the international media in Libya is  under lock-down and cannot move freely).

Wahid Burshan, a Libyan political analyst and activist, has expressed that “taking Libyan air defenses out…and things like that…in order for them [the U.S./U.K.-France] to manage the skies…could be problematic. The Libyan people may consider that hostile and it may tip the point to Qaddafi’s favour.” Burshan also pointed out on Al Jazeera English’s Inside Story that the military in Libya is not always 100% pro-Qaddafi, and seriously antagonizing the army may not be the best strategy. It may be useful to remember the two Libyan pilots who defected from the Qaddafi camp in February and landed their planes in Malta after a refusal to obey orders and bomb fellow Libyans.

At best, it seems that the Libyan people are divided on the idea of a U.S.-U.K.-France imposed no-fly zone. Based on all the information one can gather from rather opaque reports coming out of Libya, a no-fly zone may not be worth it right now—but a better assessment may be available to us and the people of Libya in the future.

Note that serious reservations for a no-fly zone as of now is not grounded in the opinion that it simply will not work. It may work, especially given Libya’s weak defenses. Rather, serious reservations arise out of several concerns: (1) once Western powers are involved in the Libyan revolution, they are involved in that revolution’s future outcomes—and the future of Libya—Qaddafi or no Qaddafi, (2) the information regarding the will of the Libyans themselves is extremely opaque, and a serious cost-benefit decision has yet to be made by Libyans, and (3) despite some calls not to compare Libya’s situation to other similar (proposed) interventions previously, serious analysts take into account the past behaviour of Western powers.

On that last point, let us just say that suspicion is a much understated sentiment as of now. Given that Prime Minister Cameron recently returned from a trip selling arms to his Gulf despot friends, the principle motivation for this R2P inspired spirit of intervention is just too hard to take seriously.

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