10 September 2012

The folly of shunning Iran

"Keep your friends close and your enemies closer," said the oft-quoted ancient military strategist Sun-tzu. Our government, as militarist as it is, has decided to ignore this advice and cut all ties with its enemy of the day. Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird announced last week that we are suspending diplomatic relations with Iran, expelling its diplomats and closing our embassy in Tehran.

Baird declared that, "Canada views the government of Iran as the most significant threat to global peace and security in the world today." Iran may be a bit of a bad boy on the world stage (at least in the eyes of the West), but accusing it of being "the most significant threat to global peace" is a little over the top for a country that hasn't attacked another nation in centuries and indicates no intention of doing so now. By comparison, I could name a couple of countries that practically make a habit of it, and they're friends of ours.

This action, added to our government's abandonment of any balance on the Palestine issue, underlines our loss of credibility as an honest broker and peacemaker in the Middle East—appropriate, I suppose, to our new militarism. Nonetheless it is sad to see this country, once a real force for peace in the region, decline into impotence.

So why did they do it? Why did they decide to cut off communication with the very country that, according to their own rhetoric, we most need to talk to? To please our favourite nation in the region, Israel? If so, it worked. Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu congratulated Mr. Harper, saying "The determination which Canada demonstrates is extremely important so that the Iranians understand that they cannot continue in their race to achieve nuclear weapons. This practical step must serve as an example to the international community [as regards to] moral standards and international responsibility." The bit about nuclear weapons was a bit rich coming from Israel, as was the bit about international responsibility, but the message was pleasing I'm sure to the ears of Messrs. Baird and Harper.

Or did they do it out of pique because a country they like to think of as a pariah state managed to attract 120 nations to a conference last month? Or were they taking advantage of being in Russia at the time of the announcement to give the Russians a slap on the wrist for their attitude toward Iran? Or have they been tipped off about an attack on Iran by Israel and the United States and our getting our people out while the getting is good? Or are we being psyched up to participate in the attack?

Whatever the reason, the move is counterproductive. I will leave the last word to Iranian-Canadian Mohamad Tavakoli, a history professor in the Department of Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations at the University of Toronto: "I view the decision as irrational ... If Canada is interested in resolving key crises in the Middle East, such as in Syria, then the timing is also bad ... [To deal with geopolitical situations] you don't shut down dialogue and communication—you actually intensify dialogue and communication."

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