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Scott Brison's Canadian Doctrine for the Middle East


House of Commons Debates

Monday March 17, 2022

Scott Brison, M.P.
Speech on Canada’s Involvement in Iraq

Mr. Scott Brison (Kings—Hants, PC):
Mr. Speaker, under the Liberal government, Canada has gone from influencing the world, to first becoming irrelevant and now becoming an irritant. Under the Progressive Conservative government, Canada helped shape the world. Under the current Prime Minister's government, Canada is trying to escape it.

The 1991 Persian Gulf conflict was an example of how a Canadian government played a role in shaping both UN and U.S. policy. Then prime minister Mulroney, working with the leader of my party as the Canadian foreign affairs minister, was able to convince then President Bush from taking unilateral military action to liberate Kuwait, to help build a multilateral UN sanctioned effort.

We were trusted then by the world and trusted by the United States. We used our role as a powerful middle power to shape the world at that time and to prevent a U.S. unilateral effort.

Canada should have, in the current Persian Gulf crisis, played a leadership role in helping avert a non UN sanctioned effort. However, the government's ambiguity, hesitancy and poll mongering has served to reduce Canada's role to that of an irrelevant bystander. In fact we have seen 10 years of defence and foreign policy neglect and drift under the Liberal government that has resulted in a role today where nobody knows really where Canada stands. When we finally do make up our mind on a foreign policy issue, it is too late to have any influence on the rest of the world.

Several weeks ago one of Canada's major newspapers had as its headline something to the effect that the Prime Minister was prepared to back Bush. Another Canadian newspaper ran a headline on the same day saying that the Prime Minister refused to back Bush.

The fact that two of Canada's major newspapers were able to present diametrically opposite headlines about the same Prime Minister's position on the same important foreign policy issue indicates the confusion around the government's position on this and other issues. The problem is the Prime Minister uses ambiguity as his modus operandi, which is bad for domestic policy and is dangerous and irresponsible in foreign policy.

This debate has become a bumper sticker debate. It has been dumbed down to sound bites and as such, it is ignoring a lot of the complexities of foreign policy in the most complicated part of a very complicated world. There are some who say there should be no Canadian military support or intervention in any conflict in Iraq at this time, some who say only if it is UN backed, and others who say we should simply support the U.S. and the U.K. led efforts without really trying to shape them.

Foreign policy ought to be aimed at building a better world and at protecting our national interests. Failing to shape the efforts of our traditional allies, failing to stand with our allies, does neither. It certainly does not help to build a better world and it clearly is contrary to Canada's national interests.

If Canada had stood by the U.S., the United Kingdom and Australia and helped those countries to shape UN support, that would have been far better. A unified effort of the United Nations would be far more effective in seeking to achieve both disarmament and a regime change in Iraq.

However, the government's foreign policy is shaped more by anti-Americanism than it is by respect for institutional institutions. It is also shaped, it would seem, by the Prime Minister's affinity for dictators. He was willing to pepper spray Canadian youth to protect Suharto from embarrassment. He has defended and stood by Mugabe. Now of course with Hussein he is opposed to action to see regime replacement in Iraq.

I think the Prime Minister admires these dictators and their ability to cling to power. Perhaps he would like to emulate them. I guess it would be a surprise to Canadians to expect that the Prime Minister would ever support regime change, particularly not regime change that would lead to a more democratic government. He certainly does not support regime change in Canada and I do not think he should be expected to support regime change in Iraq.

We should be shaping the policy of and standing beside our allies, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia. I am not suggesting a ready, aye, ready blind support for the U.S. We should not blindly follow the UN or the U.S. We are a sovereign country and we should develop a sovereign foreign policy. Canada should play a leadership role in shaping U.S. and UN policy, as we did in 1991.

Recently when U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell presented his case for war in Iraq, our foreign affairs minister and our Prime Minister learned of that case by watching CNN. That is how far away we are from shaping the policies of either the U.S. or the UN.

Mr. Hussein has failed to comply with 16 UN resolutions. He has actively thwarted UN weapons inspections efforts. The sanctions placed upon his country have served to hurt innocent citizens but have not hurt or weakened his regime. Clearly the current approach is not working. Obviously there is a strong case to be made for action against Mr. Hussein and regime change in Iraq.

The UN Security Council led by France has chosen to give Mr. Hussein more time. After 12 years it believes that more time is warranted. The UN was not right in Somalia or in Rwanda. The UN is not without fault or flaws. Libya after all is the chairman of the UN human rights commission. We should not blindly follow the UN. I am not suggesting that we blindly follow the U.S. either. But we could be helping to shape the approach of the U.S., the U.K. and the coalition of the willing on this issue.

I would rather change it from a coalition of the willing to a coalition of the wilful by focusing on an end game, not just in terms of regime change in Iraq but a macro approach to the entire Middle East. We should be focusing on an end game, including reconstruction and democratization and in helping develop a vision not just for a post-Saddam Hussein Iraq but for a more stable, democratic and peaceful Middle East.

President Bush's recent speech to the American Enterprise Institute provided some broad strokes of an end game, but lacked details on how to achieve that end game. Canada should play a leadership role in helping to fill in the blank spaces in that end game working with President Bush and others and to propose a Canadian doctrine, so to speak, for the Middle East with a macro approach to the Middle East, including a democratically led Iraq, working with Israel and the Palestinian authority to first of all ensure a democratically led Palestinian authority and ultimately to an independent and democratically led Palestine.

It is not too late for Canada to introduce a Canadian doctrine today to actually help shape the future of the Middle East. We should have done that before. The fact is that we are now in a position where we basically have a choice of either supporting or not supporting our allies in an imminent war in the Middle East with less opportunity to shape the position of those allies or to help create a long term macro end game approach to a more stable, peaceful and democratic Middle East. It is absolutely awful that we have lost the opportunity to do that.

We can still play a positive role through a Canadian doctrine today in helping to provide a vision for a part of the world that I described as the most complicated part of an increasingly complicated world and in now being able to both work with the U.S. and broker with the UN an agreement in a post-Hussein reconstruction and democratization effort in Iraq. All our foreign policy efforts, in my opinion, ought to be guided by the principles of democracy and democratization.

Some would argue that Iraq is not ready for this sort of democratic leadership. Those same arguments were made in post-war Japan in saying that Japan was not ready for democratic leadership and democratic system at the time. I believe fundamentally that the best, most natural governing system for people is democracy and that people anywhere in the world deserve to live under democratic freedoms. Part of the role that we can play, if we can regain the trust of our allies after this debacle and if we can regain our relevance to the world after this situation passes, is to play a role in helping to shape a more democratic and stable Mideast.

We do have a responsibility to present not just to the world but to Canadians an independent, sovereign foreign policy, but it should not be guided simply by anti-Americanism. It should be guided by our desire to build a better, more stable world and to protect our national interests.

France, that bastion of foreign policy consistency, is certainly protecting its national interests in this most recent UN decision, or intransigence, not to support a military effort in Iraq. We are failing to protect our national interest by thumbing our nose at our greatest trading partner and ally, the United States, and at our traditional ally, the United Kingdom. We are choosing to be pulled around by the nose by France, while at the same time thumbing our nose at our best allies. I think that might be a shortsighted way to appeal to immediate polls, but part of leadership is not simply focusing on next week's polls but on the challenges and opportunities of this century.

I think it would be a laudable goal for Canada to seek to build a more stable, peaceful and democratic Mideast, to help provide a blueprint for that as part of the Canadian doctrine, and to work with our partners in the UN and in the United States and with our traditional allies to help make that happen. If we were to succeed in that, in 10 years or 15 years we could look back at this time in history and be proud of the role that Canada played in shaping the world and shaping a more secure Mideast.

I am concerned, though, that we are missing that opportunity and will see a continued drift by the government and an ambiguity and a lack of foreign policy consistency or principle. That is not good for Canada and it is not good for the world.

In a post-cold war environment, in an environment where there really is only one superpower left in the world, it is now more important than ever that Canada be a trusted partner of the U.S., trusted by the United States and trusted by the world in being able to work between and shape the policies of both. That is what we are capable of. That is what we have done in the past. That is what we will be capable of doing in the future, but we have to step up to the plate and demonstrate courage, vision, foresight and the intestinal fortitude to make not simply the politically palatable short term decisions, but to actually take the courageous long term view and do what is right and what is not always popular.

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