Harper steps up as world leader
Prime Minister Stephen Harper (R) and his Australian counterpart Tony Abbott shake hands at a joint news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa June 9, 2014. REUTERS/Patrick Doyle
Stephen Harper is best known for his economic policies. But in recent months Harper has defined himself as a foreign policy prime minister too.
He has been strong on foreign policy since he first became prime minister, abandoning Canada’s morally ambiguous policy of being an “honest broker” between good and evil. Harper prefers to choose to side with good, which is why he stood so firmly by the Middle East’s sole democracy, Israel, and why he criticized China’s dictatorship so vigorously.
But in recent months Harper’s foreign policy hasn’t just been symbolic and philosophical. Vladimir Putin’s slow-motion invasion of Ukraine has made it a very real, day-to-day issue.
While France proceeds to sell Russia a new aircraft carrier, Britain remains resolved to be the banking capital for Russian oligarchs, and Germany seems happy to import a third of its energy from Russia’s state-controlled companies like Gazprom, Canada has stood out as a champion of freedom.
Canada has been Ukraine’s strongest ally. It was Harper, not Barack Obama, who flew to Kiev months ago, to stand with the Ukrainian people against Russian invasion. If Obama had merely done that symbolic act – just go and stand in Ukraine, for the world to see – that alone might have deterred Putin, as it would have shown strength and resolve.
Obama didn’t; that fell to Canada. And Harper was the first G7 leader to visit Ukraine’s newly sworn-in president just last week.
Freshly back from Europe, Harper hosted Australia’s new prime minister, Tony Abbott, another freedom-lover. And the newly elected prime minister of India, the pro-free-market Narendra Modi, is a natural ally of Harper too – and unlike other western countries, Canada did not diplomatically marginalize Modi or India for his alleged political sins as a local governor.
These are important countries. And Harper is a leader. That leadership usually falls to the president of the United States, but he is too busy appeasing Putin, cutting deals with nuclear proliferators like Iran and North Korea, and even negotiating with the Taliban, even as U.S. troops still fight the Taliban every day in Afghanistan.
As Obama has shrunk, Harper has grown.
What a contrast to the man who would be prime minister, young Justin Trudeau. Trudeau’s chief foreign policy pronouncements to date have been that he admires China’s dictatorship more than any other foreign country and that he worried Putin would invade Ukraine out of pique over a lost Olympic hockey game. That’s Trudeau’s policy talk.
While Harper was in Eastern Europe shoring up the west against Putin’s new slow-motion imperialism, Trudeau’s Liberals were competing the only way they knew how – by releasing pictures of Trudeau mugging for the cameras at a dance party in Saskatchewan.
It was childish, but it was what Trudeau does best: posing for photographs, looking like an aging male model.
But we shouldn’t be too critical. These days, it’s better that Trudeau take selfies with fans, or talk about his one policy love – marijuana legalization – than to talk about the deadly matters of foreign policy in the age of terrorism and a revanchist Russia.