It’s time for the Trudeau government to move past its errors and post some wins in foreign policy
The painful confrontation with Saudi Arabia is yet another example of the continuity-of-error that defines much of this Liberal government’s approach to Canada in the world.
“It’s a sad tale of unfulfilled promises and possibilities left unexplored and amateurish stumbling about,” says Daryl Copeland, a foreign policy analyst who spent three decades as a diplomat at Foreign Affairs. “And it needn’t be so.”
Chrystia Freeland’s mishandling of the contretemps with the Saudis is truly baffling. Yes, Riyadh wildly overreacted to the tweets from the Foreign Affairs Minister and her department demanding the release of human rights activists. But the prolonged detention of those activists is now virtually guaranteed, which is the very opposite of what Ms. Freeland hoped to achieve.
Beyond that, Canada earned the hostility of an important power in the Middle East. Other regional players have lined up in solidarity with the Saudis, and Canada’s traditional allies, including the United States and Britain, refuse to take sides. We are very much alone.
“Why don’t we just talk to them? Why do we have to tweet about it?” asks Richard Nimijean, a political scientist at Carleton University. Traditionally, Canadian governments have secured the release of political prisoners through quiet diplomacy. Those tweets were neither quiet nor diplomatic.
All this appears to be part of a general Liberal incoherence on foreign policy. A key aspect of that incoherence is the government’s tendency to over-promise and under-deliver.
So a “Canada is back” commitment in Paris to fight climate change morphed into the nationalization of the Trans Mountain pipeline project, to the alarm of environmental activists.
And while Mr. Trudeau promised that Canada would resume its traditional role in peacekeeping, the government took forever to commit to the mission in Mali, and that commitment was far less than originally promised.
Then, there is the Liberals’ high-minded promotion of human rights internationally, which at times has harmed this country’s national interests. Canada’s insistence on including labour, gender and environmental issues as part of trade negotiations with China caused China to walk away from those talks. Members of the new Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement are still fuming over Canada’s last-minute demands, which included new environmental and cultural provisions. And now, we have the Saudi imbroglio.
People in the Prime Minister’s office appear to be receiving bad advice from officials at Global Affairs, or ignoring good advice – the latter seems more likely – leading to gaffes and embarrassments. Remember the trip to India?