There is no question that, for politicians, times of war and conflict tend to paint the most interesting portraits of them.
The current war in Lebanon has been no different for Canadian politicians. This conflict has proven to be a political conundrum in ways that few could ever expect. In fact, politicians representing both the governing Conservative party and the official opposition Liberal party have encountered twin conundrums in the form of the War in Lebanon.
Polls Present Harper With Another Lesson to Learn
For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, this crisis has been a huge lesson in many respects. He's learned valuable lessons on the topics of crisis response, image management, and playing the role of a middle power. Now, Harper needs to learn the most important lesson of all: the lesson regarding how to properly determine the will of the people.
As the leader of a party with a strong populist element (courtesy of the influence of the Reform party, of which he himself was a charter member), this was a strength of Harper the party leader, and is going to continue to be a necessary skill for Harper the Prime Minister.
As previously reported, Harper quickly came out in support of Israel. Traditionally, Canada has been a reluctant ally of Israel. While Harper was criticized by his political opponents, Lebanese supporters, and critics of Israel, he was rewarded by praise from Canada's Jewish community (including a rally of more than 1,000 people at a Vancouver Synagogue).
But a recent poll conducted by the Strategic Council, CTV and The Globe and Mail found that 45% of Candians disagreed with Harper's stand on Israel. This would seem like a healthy number for a minority government -- perhaps even for a majority government -- Prime Minister, but the same poll found that only 32% explicitly agreed with him.
In Quebec, a whopping 61% of respondents disagreed with Harper's support of Israel's actions.
77% prescribed a neutral role for Canada. Only 12% believed the government is maintaining a neutral position.
While Canada traditionally supports Israel, during times of crisis, Canada has traditionally maintained the role of the third-party "honest broker".
During the 1956 Suez Canal crises, then-Foreign Affairs Minister Lester Pearson made one of history's great political breakthroughs by advancing the idea of UN peacekeeping (this would net him the Nobel Peace Price in 1957). During the 1967 Six Day War, the Canadian government supported a UN resolution that called on Israel to remove its forces from the territories occupied during the course of the war. During the 1973 Yom Kippur war, Canada failed to condemn the surprise attack on Israel, but pledged peacekeeping forces. Finally, during the 1975-1990 Lebanese civil war, the Canadian government was first to criticize Israel's invasions of Lebanon.
53% of respondants favored the creation of a UN peacekeeping force to enter the region. 57% supported Canadian troops being a part of such a force. This is a strong contrast to the opinion expressed by Deputy Prime Minster Peter McKay, when he insisted, " a ceasefire and a return to the status quo is a victory for Hezbollah."
While it is entirely questionable whether or not peace can ever occur so long as Hezbollah continues to exist, there is no question that Canadians favor peace in the Middle East. Abbortsford MP (representing the Conservative party) may have said it best recently. " There is no such thing as a dialogue for peace with people who are dedicated to violence and the destruction of a free and democratic nation," he said.
In the end, Harper's stand on Israel has done little to harm his party's popularity. While the Liberals made a three-point jump in the polls, the governing Conservatives also jumped a point. The Bloc Quebecois saw no change, while the NDP and the Green Party dropped three points, and a single point respectively.
But Harper's stance on Israel could prove to be costly down the road. Any minority government, by necessity, has to act on its populist urges. A minority government only becomes a majority government by serving the interests of the people.
Certainly, it is being shown that the Lebanon alone is not going to be the issue that denies the Conservative party the opportunity to form a majority government. But left untended, Harper's stance on Lebanon could cause serious problems for the party.
It seems they may have recognized this. Peter MacKay has lately begun advocating in favor of a conditional ceasefire. " There has to be a ceasefire," he said, " But certain conditions must be achieved to reach that stable, durable cessation of violence in the region."
MacKay has urged both sides to cease their attacks. He also called on Israel to show more restraint in their campaign, and upon Iran and Syria to stop supporting Hezbollah. " This has to be a lasting peace," he noted. " It cannot simply be a temporary solution to allow for the rearmament of a terrorist body, and simply begin the violence again."
This isn't so much a drastic shift in the stance Harper and MacKay have taken on the conflict, but it certainly does change the nature of the dialogue, from one that would allow Israel to confinue their conflict unabated by Canadian criticism to one that places the onus to pursue peace on both sides. It is not a neutral stance -- Canada is still supportive of Israel -- but it is a principled stand on the issue that condemns terrorism, but states respect for the value of peace.
That is certainly more in line with what polled Canadians have said they want. But there is still the matter of a percieved alignment with the foreign policy of the United States -- a move which would make a great many Canadians uncomfortable -- to be addressed.
Israel Acting on its Responsibility to Protect
Former minister of foreign affairs Lloyd Axworthy wasted little time in voicing his criticisms over Harper's "measured response" comments.
" I am increasingly concerned about the view that the only role that Canada should play is to adhesively stick itself to Bush administration policies and at the very time when in fact those policies are increasingly showing that they are not working," Axworthy asserted. " [Harper is] almost at the forefront of a very small group of nations who say whatever Israel does is right. We're becoming part of the problem, not part of the solution."
Yet one of Lloyd Axworthy's chief accomplishments as Minister of Foreign Affairs, the ICISS report The Responsibility to Protect (drafted on the topic of multilateral intervention during times of crisis) would actually disagree with him. The report states: "state sovereignty implies responsibility, and the primary responsibility for the protection of its people lies with the state itself."
So, according to his Responsibility to Protect doctrine, Israel had a responsibility to protect its citizens from the dangers posed by Hezbollah's rocket attacks.
Had Israel not lived up to its responsibility, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine lays out a very different prescription: " Where a population is suffering serious harm, as a result of internal war, insurgency, repression or state failure, and the state in question is unwilling to halt or avert it, the principle of non-intervention yields to the internation responsibility to protect."
While the report is clearly dealing with issues of internal strife, one of the foundations of the doctrine is found in Article 24 of the UN chareter, which outlines the responsibility of the UN Security Council to maintain international peace and security. Thus, the applicability to international crises, and the current situation remains intact.
Hezbollah is a force internal to Lebanon (yet allegedly independent of the nation's government), which has willingly placed Lebanese civilians in peril by launching their attacks from Lebanese soil, then hiding amongst the civilian population -- essentially using them as human shields.
Because the Lebanese government has demostrated itself unwilling (or perhaps, unable) to deal with what by necessity becomes a threat to its people, the responsibility falls to external forces -- optimally the international community, but in this case, Israel.
Israel's failure to take into account its responsibility to avoid civilian casualties aside, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine lays the matter out very simply: Israel has a responsibility to protect its citizens. Lebanon has the same responsibility. Should both, or either of these states fail to live up to their responsibility, the onus falls on the international community to saddle up and ride to the rescue.
The Responsibility to Protect Doctrine has three base elements: the responsibility to prevent, the responsibility to react, and the responsibility to rebuild.
In this situation, the Lebanese government has clearly failed in its responsibility to prevent. There have been repeated calls by Israel, and by other members of the international community for Lebanon to deal with Hezbollah, which the Lebanese government failed to do. Israel's hands were tied in this regard, because for Israel to deal with Hezbollah, they would have had to enter Lebanese territory with little or no provokation.
The Israeli government did not, however, fail to live up to its responsibilty to react. The reaction to attacks carried out on your territory is to respond -- even if this necessitates entering the territory of another sovereign state in order to do so.
What has yet to be seen is if either country will live up to its responsibilty to rebuild, which requires both states to provide full assistance with efforts to recover, rebuild, and reconcilliate -- indeed, if the last of these is even possible.
Israel can potentially find its justification under the "Just Cause" article of the Responsibility to Protect doctrine. This article states that, in order for military intervention (or response) to be warranted, there must be "serious and irreperable harm occuring to human beings, or imminently likely to occur, of the following kind: large scale loss of life -- actual or apprehended, with genocidal intent or not, which is the product either of deliberate state action, or state neglect or inability to act -- or large scale ethnic cleansing -- actual or apprehended, whether carried out by killing, forced expulsion, acts of terror, or rape.
When a terrorist organization starts launching rocket attacks on a country's territory, it can be expected that these attacks will result in deaths. But should the perpetrators of these attacks (in this case, Hezbollah) substitute a chemical weapon warhead for a less-effective explosive warhead (for example, mustard gas is remarkable easy to manufacture), "large scale loss of life" is a definite possibility. Under the Responsibility to Protect doctrine, Israel, in this situation, is required to act in order to prevent such an attack from occurring.
In situations where states fail to live up to these responsibilities, the Responsibility to Protect doctrine grants primary authority to authorize multilateral intervention to the UN Security Council -- which has forever been notoriously deadlocked on any issue related to Israel. So, in other words, unless Israel can deal with this problem itself, Israel is, frankly, screwed.
Axworthy likened the situation in Lebanon to that in Iraq, saying, "The morass in Iraq is such a talisman for everything that is going on."
Anyone familiar with the 1991 Gulf War will remember that the UN withdrew the mandate to use force against Saddam Hussein quickly following his surrender, even while he was commencing an oppressive military campaign against the Kurds in northern Iraq. Had the Responsibility to Protect doctrine existed at the time, it certainly would have had to apply to the situation there.
On this note, it is said that hindsight is always 20/20. While this document obviously did no good at a time in which it did not exist, it cannot be used as support for preventative action that did not happen. But the Responsibility to Protect doctrine could be used to support actions long after the fact -- including the U.S. invasion of Iraq, which was done at least partially to remove Saddam Hussein from power, and at least partially for the benefit of the oppressed Iraqi people.
Even Axworthy himself called Iraq one of the most "chillingly oppressed" countries he had ever visited.
At the end of the day, the matter becomes very simple: Canada cannot advance itself as the world's foremost advocate of universal human rights if it would allow the citizens of Israel, a state at least officially considered an ally, to have their most base human rights -- the right to life -- threatened by an external force acting with impunity.
In a way, this was ultimately the point of The Responsibility to Protect.
Axworthy certainly may take a stand on the war in Lebanon if he likes. But criticizing Israel for exercising its right -- and fulfilling its responsibility -- to protect its citizens jeopardizes the value of some of his best work -- and it was very important work indeed.