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Book Excerpt: The Fight For A Principled Foreign Policy

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The Fight for a Principled Foreign Policy: Commentary and Select Speeches from my First Year in Parliament is a book just published by Garnett Genuis on Amazon. The following is an excerpt from the introduction:

The previous Conservative government, imperfectly but sincerely, applied a principle-based lens to foreign policy decisions. This approach periodically won acclaim across the political spectrum, finding adherents even within the Liberal Party. Yet, to some Canadian Liberals, this approach was not only wrong-headed, it was entirely unintelligible. To them, foreign policy is by nature about interests. Operating on their reading of interests, they simply could not understand some of the strong positions we took.

Because of their assumption that everything is ultimately rooted in interests, Liberals often concluded that the 'principled' positions which the Conservative government took were really about a different kind of interest -- partisan interest. To these cynics, everything was always about currying favour with diaspora communities: Support for Israel was about the Jewish vote, meeting with the Dalai Lama was about the Tibetan vote, and the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom was about outreach to target communities facing religious persecution.

Notably, those who insist on viewing principled foreign policy decisions through a political lens never account for the fact that, while these decisions had positive political implications in certain communities, they also had significant potential negative political implications in others. There is no concentration of Tibetans voters in any constituency that is plausibly winnable for the Conservative Party, for example, and Jewish voters make up a very small percentage of the population compared to other communities.

The Liberal Party in opposition, while often seeming perplexed by the Conservative approach to foreign policy, was at a loss to present a compelling alternative. They therefore supported, or at least went along with, many (though not all) of the principled foreign policy positions taken. They rarely directly criticized Conservative support for Israel; they were much more measured in their desire for increased engagement with Iran; they explicitly supported the implementation of special sanctions against Russian human rights abusers (known as "Magnitsky Sanctions"); and they did not oppose the creation of the Office of Religious Freedom. While many Liberals seem to have wanted a different kind of foreign policy, they were rarely active in their criticism of particular measures. A foreign policy based on the pursuit of interests, they seemed to realize, is as hard to sell to the general public as it is easy to implement.

Once in power, the Liberals initiated a significant shift in foreign policy. It's difficult for me, from the opposition benches, to speculate about whether there was an actual 'shift' in Liberal thinking behind the policy change, or whether this was a planned pivot all along. Regardless, there has been an unmistakable shift away from both the approach taken by the previous Conservative government and that of the Liberals in opposition.

Shortly after his appointment as foreign minister, Stephane Dion was, according to the media outlet iPolitics, musing about Canada returning to an "honest broker" role in the Middle East. This term is obviously ambiguous. However, in this context, it is generally understood to mean that a country is declining to 'take sides' in favour of freedom and democracy -- and is instead taking a more neutral position somewhere in between that of free democracies on the one hand, and the rest of the world on the other.

This government makes no attempt to hide its intentions to strengthen relations with Iran, even highlighting the possible economic benefits that could come with stronger ties. When speaking about business opportunities in Iran, a minister went so far as to highlight opportunities associated with a growing Iranian demand for civilian aircraft. Given the Iranian pursuit of advanced missile technology, there is something eerie about highlighting aerospace opportunities in Iran.

Breaking a pre-election commitment, the Liberal government appears to no longer support special sanctions for Russian human rights abusers -- the "Magnitsky Sanctions" referred to above. The prime minister no longer intends to call out Vladimir Putin for invading Ukraine, even though he said he would during the election campaign. The government also shut down the Office of Religious Freedom, ostensibly so as to protect human rights in some other way. Perhaps most disappointingly, on June 14th, 2016, government MPs overwhelmingly opposed a Conservative motion to label the atrocities of Daesh/ISIS against certain religious minorities as genocide -- even though the Parliaments of the European Union and the United Kingdom, as well as the American Congress and Administration adopted unanimous or nearly-unanimous resolutions to that affect.

In any revolution, there is some degree of give and take. Minister Dion did concede some ground on the genocide issue after a UN body started using the word. The Office of Religious Freedom was, after much delay and substantial pressure, replaced with a still largely undefined new 'Office of Human Rights, Freedom, and Inclusion.' Notably, the Office of Religious Freedom was led by an Ambassador, while the new office will simply be led by a director. Without an Ambassador, this new office is unlikely to have anywhere near the prominence or profile that that previous office did. In any event, the broad trend is unmistakable -- a movement from clear stands on human rights and intrinsic human dignity, to a more quiet and inoffensive policy -- the movement from 'principles' to 'interests.'

The book is available here.

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