We cannot enter into alliance with neighboring princes until we are acquainted with their designs. We are not fit to lead an army on the march unless we are familiar with the face of the country--its mountains and forests, its pitfalls and precipices, its marshes and swamps. We shall be unable to turn natural advantages to account unless we make use of local guides.
Sun Tzu, The Art of War.
The National Post story on Iran introducing legislation which would have minority groups wear colour-coded clothing has died on the pages of that journal. The internet version has been removed lest we who wouldn't line a birdcage with Conrad Black's printed copy should wish to hold out to his Lordship the kind of stercus his star production issues forth. If you haven't followed the saga, down to the flaccid "retractions" from some quarters, I highly recommend you go here.
Juan Cole picked-up on the point that this whole thing looks like a psycological warfare stunt and Panglossian Notes observes that it is Canada's own little swiftboat operation and that Stephen Harper, in an attempt to appear tough and decisive, opened his mouth too much and too wide.
But, that is the real Stephen Harper.
Harper has an entire communications staff, purpose selected to prevent gaffes. He has undergone tutoring in media relations. He has been handled, trained and reminded to stay on message. The result is that if you asked the colour of his shoelaces you'll get a mass-produced, cult-like answer about his five key principles.
Harper would have you believe he is fully covered on all issues. And if you believed that you'd be wrong. Harper has some buttons exposed and all you have to do is push them. The biggest one is labelled "tough talking US ally". He can't resist appearing to be a tough guy.
Adept politicians when faced with a contentious issue, such as being questioned about odious legislation in foreign countries are cautious about commenting. Without solid information most would withold any statement pending further, substantive information. And given that situation, speculation beyond if it's true it's not good, is both dangerous and irresponsible.
Harper flew his true colours over the false story produced by the National Post. He bit. When initially questioned he said he couldn't vouch for the accuracy of the report. If he had ended it right there and stated that he would be receiving reports from government authorities before making any further comment, that would have put him in a position of control. But instead, he kept on talking and made it clear that he believed what the National Post had written:
"Unfortunately, we've seen enough already from the Iranian regime to suggest that it is very capable of this kind of action," Harper said.He then went on to say:
"We've seen a number of things from the Iranian regime that are along these lines . . .
"It boggles the mind that any regime on the face of the Earth would want to do anything that could remind people of Nazi Germany."
the report [is] a reminder that the international community must prevent Iran from gaining nuclear weapons.Which is to say he believed the report and was quite prepared to provide a knee-jerk response.
His communications advisors, if they're any good at their jobs, must have been chewing their tails. Harper, with no substantive evidence of the report's accuracy made a combative comment about the regime of a country he knows little about and then compared them to Nazi Germany. And then he kept it up by providing a statement that was in lock-step with the position of George W. Bush.
It was the performance of a rank amateur. A man who was unable to hold back when given the opportunity to present his "tough guy" theatrics in the presence of a visiting Australian prime minister John Howard.
This is not new. This is the real Stephen Harper.
In the March 25th, 2002 edition of Report Newsmagazine, as Bush was manufacturing a case to invade Iraq and was either cherry-picking or inventing false intelligence, Harper said this:
I don't know all the facts on Iraq, but I think we should work closely with the Americans.Indeed he didn't know all the facts. Yet, without qualification or reservation, he was prepared to hitch his wagon to George Bush's star. No need for facts, just an uninformed knee-jerk reaction.
On January 29th, 2003, as it became obvious the Canadian government would not commit to the US invasion of Iraq, Harper stood up in Parliament and said:
In my judgment Canada will eventually join with the allied coalition if war on Iraq comes to pass. The government will join, notwithstanding its failure to prepare, its neglect in co-operating with its allies, or its inability to contribute. In the end it will join out of the necessity created by a pattern of uncertainty and indecision. It will not join as a leader but unnoticed at the back of the parade.On April 2nd, 2003 in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Harper said this, after calling then defence minister David McCallum an idiot:
It was probably not an appropriate term, but we support the war effort and believe we should be supporting our troops and our allies and be there with them doing everything necessary to win.He took that position with no more information than any reader of a daily newspaper. He had no insight except for that which had been provided publicly by the Bush administration. He was not only proven wrong, but he had to retract his position when he found himself on the government side of the House of Commons.
But the actual piece-de-resistance had come six days earlier when Stephen Harper and Stockwell Day co-wrote an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal condemning the duly elected Canadian government for not going to war with Iraq alongside the Bush administration.
The Canadian Alliance -- the official opposition in parliament -- supports the American and British position because we share their concerns, their worries about the future if Iraq is left unattended to, and their fundamental vision of civilization and human values. Disarming Iraq is necessary for the long-term security of the world, and for the collective interests of our key historic allies and therefore manifestly in the national interest of Canada.Harper had bought the Bushco line that Iraq was a viable military threat, with no more information than that held by a bus-rider in Toronto. He also repeated the totally debunked Bush administration linkage of Saddam to the September 11th, 2001 attacks. No thinking politician would do that. Even Tony Blair was careful to avoid such a linkage because above all, it simply wasn't true.
These values continue to be embodied in our allies and their leaders, and scorned by the forces of evil, including Saddam Hussein and the perpetrators of the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
Harper's letter to the WSJ underscored a point. Harper was a shallow thinker, was possessed of an extremely short temper and held Parliament, of which he was a member, in contempt while openly admiring the administration of the US president. It demonstrated another point: a letter published in a US newspaper for a US audience, literally condemning the people of Canada was utterly petulant - a temper tantrum from a spoiled brat who didn't get his way.
So, Harper's recent display of short-thought, long-mouth over Iran, where he would undoubtedly have suffered at least a small amount of embarrassment for inappropriate language is nothing new. Harper is no statesman. He is a diplomatic dilettante.
The media, considering the treatment they have received from Harper and his sycophants, should keep their eye on this important vulnerability and run with it whenever he leaves himself so exposed.
What Harper has proven is that he's no leader. Anyone gullible enough to swallow raw BS, whether from a Conrad Black journal or George Bush's falsified intelligence doesn't have what it takes to run a dog pound, much less a country.
And the "tough guy" act won't go as far as he thinks.
Clarity: Just to point out that the National Post is owned by Canwest-Global which is controlled by the Asper family in Winnipeg. While Conrad Black no longer owns it, little has changed since he sold it. Apologies if I created confusion.