Monday, September 10, 2012

Canadian academic pans Harper decision on Iran

From Letters to the Editor, Globe and Mail, September 8, 2012
Very bad diplomacy

As a Canadian and an academic who studies Iran, I must say that the decision to sever ties with Iran makes no practical sense (Citing ‘Threat To Global Peace,’ Canada Cuts Diplomatic Ties With Iran – online, Sept. 7).
With the U.S. and U.K. no longer there, for the past year Canada has been an important source of information on Iran. Canadian diplomats may not have been hobnobbing with Foreign Minister Ali Akbar Salehi at dinner parties, but they were in regular contact with people who were. That is how intelligence works in countries where access to high-level ministries is restricted.
Foreign Minister John Baird cited fear for Canada’s diplomats as the primary basis for severing ties. The reality is that the decision is based on the Harper government’s narrow-minded ideology and not a realpolitik calculation of national interests. Indeed, if it were the latter, Canadian diplomats would be allowed to continue observing and reporting on the internal dynamics of this incredibly important country.
In this time of growing uncertainty, we need people on the ground, lest we follow the same path the Americans took in 2003. In short, this decision is perhaps one of the most ill-conceived ideas in modern history. At least when the Americans and British cut ties, they had good reason.
Bryan R. Gibson, Department of International History, London School of Economics
Thank you for adding your voice to that of Ambassador Ken Taylor in opposing this move by Canada.
What strikes this observer is the apparent refusal to "listen" to voices like yours by the Canadian government under Harper and his 'attack-dog' Baird, both of whom prefer the macho approach, one that appears counterintuitive to the very word that used to define the department of Foreign Affairs, "diplomacy".
While nuanced, opaque, often ambivalent and certainly keeping different and sometimes opposing 'balls in the air' simultaneously, diplomacy includes more listening than speaking, more gathering of information than premature withdrawal, more solidifying of allegiances than fracturing of information lines, and more complex interdependence than blustering independence. With both Great Britain and the United States no longer having embassies in Tehran, the Canadian role inside Tehran would clearly have more relevance and significance than if either or both were still there.
Once again, it would seem that Harper's world view includes "insiders" and "outsiders" and nothing in the middle. A Manichean world view may be much more easily "administered" and "managed" but far less in touch with the complexities of the realities of geopolitics. At home, it is the corporations, particularly the oil and gas companies that have the 'ear' of the government, while the same government turns a 'deaf ear' to the basic needs of the First Nations peoples of the north.
Calling this decision on Iran perhaps one of the most ill-conceived ideas in modern history, as you do in your letter, is most likely the strongest and most unequivocal description of the approach this government takes to Iran, and a signal of the kind of decisions we can expect on other fronts, not to mention those we have already witnessed in sentencing reform, prison development, defence spending and social policy.
Sad but true!

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