Commentary from JL Granatstein

Who is really to blame for this global mess? Everyone and no one

by J. L. Granatstein

National Post
February 10, 2015

The Middle East is in crisis, Shia and Sunni at each other’s throat, fanatical terrorists of all kinds killing each other and all hating the Israelis. Ukraine seems to be powerless to deal effectively with Moscow-inspired separatists determined to turn the eastern provinces into Novorossiya, and the West appears unable to get its act together to mount a firm opposition. The Baltic states and much of Eastern Europe look on fearfully. Islamists in Western Europe feast on and foster anti-Semitism, cowing many with their attacks. Who is to blame for this slide into chaos?

The easiest answer, and the one most everyone prefers, is to point the finger at President Obama. American policy has wobbled on almost every issue.

The U.S. and its European allies cannot agree on how best to force President Putin to halt his aggression against Ukraine. The Europeans, led by Angela Merkel and François Hollande, now seemingly favour a neutralized zone that would be de facto recognition of Putin’s victory. The Americans, for their part, are leaning to tough talk and the possibility of providing advanced weapons to a Ukrainian army that is not likely to be well trained enough to use them. All aid short of real help, in other words.

Very simply, Putin has prevailed in eastern Ukraine, the sanctions that have hurt Russia’s economy (along with the drop in oil prices) nowhere tough enough to force Moscow to re-consider its course. Why should it? Putin’s nationalist rhetoric is hugely popular with his people, and he has consistently buffaloed his counterparts in the West.

In the Middle East, U.S. policy again is completely uncertain in its aims. The Republican Congress, extraordinarily acting without consulting the White House, invited Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to address it. The President, who can only hope that Israeli voters toss out Netanyahu, is furious but unable to do anything. Obama, meanwhile, continues to try to deepen ties with Iran in a (vain) effort to bolster the fight against the Sunni Islamists who make up the hitherto triumphant ISIS legions.
The U.S. administration also desperately wants a nuclear deal with Tehran, a pact that Washington believes will slow the Iranian march toward nuclear weapons. The Israelis believe that the U.S. has completely misjudged the Iranians, who seem to be extending their control throughout the region — Damascus and Beirut are already dependent on Iranian gold, and now Yemen, its Houthi rebels apparently in firm control of the country, responds only to the mullahs in Tehran. Can it really be in American interests to let Iran spread its power even further? Does anyone, except Obama, truly believe that Iran will abide by any nuclear pact that does result from the ongoing — never-ending — negotiations?

Meanwhile, Syria continues to burn and the explosions and killings in Iraq go on without cease. The Greeks seem intent on pulling the pillars of Europe down with them, and Spain seems interested in following suit. The Western economies are in difficulty, and there is no sign of light at the tunnel’s exit.

Who is really to blame for this global mess? Everyone and no one. Obama is weak, Merkel and Hollande desperate to keep economic ties with Moscow. The Iranians are advancing their territorial aims, but their economy is suffering from the fall in oil prices. The Greeks are intent on suicide.

And Ottawa? Canada’s hands are far from clean in all this. Ottawa under Stephen Harper and John Baird talked a tough game against Moscow, Tehran and ISIS, but has done almost nothing of any use. We go along with sanctions on a few Russian individuals of no account; we continue to face-slap the Iranians and keep our embassy in Tehran shuttered; and we deploy a six pack of CF18s and a few Special Forces troops to fight ISIS. But of real action there is little — just Canada’s “principled foreign policy” pitched to electoral considerations, and government policy devoted to cutting the muscle and sinew out of the Canadian Forces. John Baird at least spoke with vigour while carrying the small Canadian stick; Rob Nicholson, his successor, will be unlikely to have enough of the Prime Minister’s confidence even to shout loudly.

Is this the 1930s again? Is there a politician ready to proclaim “peace in our time” once more? It is only a matter of time.

J.L. Granatstein is a Fellow of the Canadian Defence and Foreign Affairs Institute.

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