Category Archives: Canada’s foreign policy

Does Canada Support an Invasion of Venezuela?

In their obsession for regime change, Ottawa is backing talk of an invasion of Venezuela. And the NDP is enabling Canada’s interventionist policy.

Last week 11 of the 14 member states of the anti-Venezuelan “Lima Group” backed a statement distancing the alliance from “any type of action or declaration that implies military intervention” after Organization of American States chief Luis Almagro stated: “As for military intervention to overthrow the Nicolas Maduro regime, I think we should not rule out any option … diplomacy remains the first option but we can’t exclude any action.” Canada, Guyana and Colombia refused to criticize the head of the OAS’ musings about an invasion of Venezuela.

In recent weeks there has been growing tension on the border between Colombia and Venezuela. Some believe Washington is pushing for a conflict via Colombia, which recently joined NATO.

Last summer Donald Trump threatened to invade Venezuela. “We have many options for Venezuela including a possible military option if necessary,” the US President said.

Talk of an invasion encourages those seeking regime change. At the start of August drones armed with explosives flew toward Maduro during a military parade in what was probably an attempt to assassinate the Venezuelan president. Two weeks ago the New York Times reported that US officials recently met members of Venezuela’s military planning to oust Maduro. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called for the military to oust Maduro in February and other leading Republican Party officials have made similar statements.

Alongside these aggressive measures, Canada has sought to weaken the Venezuelan government. Since last September Ottawa has imposed three rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan officials. In March the United Nations Human Rights Council condemned the economic sanctions the US, Canada and EU have adopted against Venezuela while Caracas called Canada’s move a “blatant violation of the most fundamental rules of International Law.”

Over the past year and a half Canadian officials have campaigned aggressively against the Venezuelan government. Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland has prodded Caribbean countries to join the Lima Group’s anti-Venezuela efforts and made frequent statements critical of Caracas’ democratic legitimacy and human rights record. In June Freeland told the OAS General Assembly, “we must act immediately on the situation in Venezuela to force the exit of the dictatorship.”

Ottawa has encouraged its diplomats to play up human rights violations and supported opposition groups inside Venezuela. A 27-page Global Affairs report uncovered by the Globe and Mail noted, “Canada should maintain the embassy’s prominent position as a champion of human-rights defenders.” Alluding to the hostility engendered by its interference in that country’s affairs, the partially redacted 2017 report recommended that Canadian officials also “develop and implement strategies to minimize the impact of attacks by the government in response to Canada’s human rights statements and activities.”

As part of its campaign against the elected government, Ottawa has amplified oppositional voices inside Venezuela. Over the past decade, for instance, the embassy has co-sponsored an annual Human Rights Award with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos whose director, Raúl Herrera, has repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government. In July the recipient of the 2018 prize, Francisco Valencia, spoke in Ottawa and was profiled by the Globe and Mail. “Canada actually is, in my view, the country that denounced the most the violation of human rights in Venezuela … and was the most helpful with financing towards humanitarian issues,” explained Valencia, who also told that paper he was “the target of threats from the government.”

In another example of anti-government figures invited to Ottawa, the former mayor of metropolitan Caracas, Antonio Ledezma, called for “humanitarian intervention” before the Subcommittee on International Human Rights of the Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and International Development last week. He said:

If the international community does not urgently activate the principle of humanitarian intervention for Venezuela — which developed the concept of the responsibility to protect — they will have to settle for sending Venezuelans a resolution of condolence with which we will not revive the thousands of human beings who will lose their lives in the middle of this genocide sponsored by Maduro.

In November Ledezma escaped house arrest and fled the country.

The NDP’s foreign critic has stayed quiet regarding the US/Canadian campaign against Venezuela’s elected government. I found no criticism by Hélène Laverdière of US/OAS leaders’ musing about invading or the August assassination attempt on Maduro. Nor did I find any disapproval from the NDP’s foreign critic of Canadian sanctions or Ottawa’s role in the Lima Group of anti-Venezuelan foreign ministers. Laverdière has also failed to challenge Canada’s expulsion of Venezuelan diplomats and role in directly financing an often-unsavoury Venezuelan opposition.

Worse still, Laverdière has openly supported asphyxiating the left-wing government through other means. The 15-year Foreign Affairs diplomat has repeatedly found cause to criticize Venezuela and has called on Ottawa to do more to undermine Maduro’s government.

Is Canadian political culture so deformed that no party represented in the House of Commons will oppose talk of invading Venezuela? If so, it’s not another country’s democracy that we should be concerned about.

Canada’s First Principle of International Relations Should Be “First Do No Harm”

Many progressives call for Canada to “do more” around the world. The assumption is that this country is a force for good, a healer of humankind. But if we claim to be the “doctors without borders” of international relations, shouldn’t Canada swear to “first do no harm” like MDs before beginning practice? At a minimum shouldn’t the Left judge foreign policy decisions through the lens of the Hippocratic oath?

Libya illustrates the point. That North African nation looks set to miss a United Nations deadline to unify the country. An upsurge of militia violence in Tripoli and political wrangling makes it highly unlikely elections planned for December will take place.

Seven years after the foreign backed war Libya remains divided between two main political factions and hundreds of militias operate in the country of six million. Thousands have died in fighting since 2011.

The instability is not a surprise to Canadian military and political leaders who orchestrated Canada’s war on that country. Eight days before Canadian fighter jets began dropping bombs on Libya in 2011 military intelligence officers told Ottawa decision makers the country would likely descend into a lengthy civil war if foreign countries assisted rebels opposed to Muammar Gadhafi. An internal assessment obtained by the Ottawa Citizen noted:

There is the increasing possibility that the situation in Libya will transform into a long-term tribal/civil war… This is particularly probable if opposition forces received military assistance from foreign militaries.

A year and a half before the war a Canadian intelligence report described eastern Libya as an “epicentre of Islamist extremism” and said “extremist cells” operated in the anti-Gaddafi stronghold. In fact, during the bombing, notes Ottawa Citizen military reporter David Pugliese, Canadian air force members privately joked they were part of “al-Qaida’s  air force”. Lo and behold hardline Jihadists were the major beneficiaries of the war, taking control of significant portions of the country.

A Canadian general oversaw NATO’s 2011 war, seven CF-18s participated in bombing runs and two Royal Canadian Navy vessels patrolled Libya’s coast. Ottawa defied the UN Security Council resolution authorizing a no-fly zone to protect Libyan civilians by dispatching ground forces, delivering weaponry to the opposition and bombing in service of regime change. Additionally, Montréal-based private security firm GardaWorld aided the rebels in contravention of UN resolutions 1970 and 1973.

The NATO bombing campaign was justified based on exaggerations and outright lies about the Gaddafi regime’s human rights violations. Western media and politicians repeated the rebels’ outlandish (and racist) claims that sub-Saharan African mercenaries fuelled by Viagra given by Gaddafi, engaged in mass rape. Amnesty International’s senior crisis response adviser Donatella Rovera, who was in Libya for three months after the start of the uprising and Liesel Gerntholtz, head of women’s rights at Human Rights Watch, were unable to find any basis for these claims.

But, seduced by the need to “do something”, the NDP, Stephen Lewis, Walter Dorn and others associated with the Left supported the war on Libya. In my new book Left, Right: Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I question the “do more” mantra and borrow from healthcare to offer a simple foreign policy principle: First Do No Harm. As in the medical industry, responsible practitioners of foreign policy should be mindful that the “treatments” offered often include “side effects” that can cause serious harm or even kill.

Leftists should err on the side of caution when aligning with official/dominant media policy, particularly when NATO’s war drums are beating. Just because the politicians and dominant media say we have to “do something” doesn’t make it so. Libya and the Sahel region of Africa would almost certainly be better off had a “first do no harm” policy won over the interventionists in 2011.

While a “do more” ethos spans the political divide, a “first do no harm” foreign policy is rooted in international law. The concept of self-determination is a core principle of the UN Charter and International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Peoples’ inalienable right to shape their own destiny is based on the truism that they are best situated to run their own affairs.

Alongside the right to self-determination, the UN and Organization of American States prohibit interfering in the internal affairs of another state without consent. Article 2 (7) of the UN Charter states that “nothing should authorize intervention in matters essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state.”

A military intervention without UN approval is the “supreme international crime”. Created by the UN’s International Law Commission after World War II, the Nuremberg Principles describe aggression as the “supreme international crime, differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” In other words, by committing an act of aggression against Libya in 2011 — notably bombing in service of regime change — Ottawa is responsible not only for rights violations it caused directly, but also those that flowed from its role in destabilizing that country and large swaths of Africa’s Sahel region.

If Canada is to truly be the “good doctor” of international relations it will be up to Left foreign policy practitioners to ensure that this country lives up to that part of the Hippocratic oath stating, “First do no harm”.

Labeling Critics Anti-Semitic to Deflect from Crimes of the Jewish State

On Thursday lawyer Dimitri Lascaris called on two Liberal MPs to denounce death threats made by B’nai B’rith supporters against a number of other Liberal MPs and the Prime Minister. But instead of condemning those who called for racialized politicians to face the “guillotine” or “stoning”, the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) and Canadian politicians smeared the individual drawing attention to the death threats.

And on the weekend NDP leaders participated in this unprecedented multi-party smear campaign against one of Canada’s most effective advocates for Palestinian rights. At the behest of CIJA, MP Hélène Laverdière called Lascaris “anti-Semitic” while Jagmeet Singh inferred as much.

Here’s the background: After an August 29 demonstration opposing B’nai B’rith’s smears against the Canadian Union of Postal Workers, Lascaris called on Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt, CIJA, and others who have recently defended B’nai B’rith, to publicly repudiate two of that group’s supporters who called for a number of Muslim and brown politicians to be killed in a video detailing their participation in a counter protest to the rally against B’nai B’rith. On Thursday Lascaris tweeted about the two B’nai Brith supporters who “called for the death penalty to be imposed on Justin Trudeau & Liberal MPs Iqra Khalid, Omar Alghabra & Maryam Monsef” and asked Levitt and Housefather to “to denounce” the threats “but shamefully, they’ve said nothing.” Then Lascaris tweeted: “Apparently Liberal MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt are more devoted to apartheid Israel than to their own prime minister and colleagues in the Liberal caucus.”

In this tweet about Housefather and Levitt prioritizing the defence of Israeli crimes above their own party, Lascaris could also have cited the two Liberal MPs’ response to Trudeau questioning whether Israeli forces should have shot Canadian doctor Tarek Loubani in Gaza. The day after Trudeau’s May 16 comment Housefather and Levitt issued a joint statement  dissociating themselves from the Prime Minister’s mealy-mouthed criticism of Israeli actions. Conservative Senator Linda Frum described it as “distancing themselves from their own government”, Globe and Mail reporter Robert Fife said they “broke with Mr. Trudeau’s criticism of Israel” and Housefather himself noted in July that he was “disappointed … with the recent statement on Gaza … [so] Levitt and I released our own statement.” The Housefather/Levitt statement claimed “the terrorist organisation Hamas bears direct moral responsibility and culpability” when Israeli troops shoot peaceful protesters, including Canadian doctors.

So, clearly the tweet by Lascaris was a fair comment/criticism of the action/inaction of two MPs and their apparent disloyalty to the own political party. Regardless, in our upside down world where those who defend racist policies in another country are supported even when they cry “racism” against those fighting that discrimination, CIJA saw Lascaris’ innocuous tweet as an opportunity to attack him and Canadians for Justice and Peace in the Middle East (CJPME). In response CIJA tweeted: “Yesterday, CJPME Chair Dimitri Lascaris accused Jewish MPs Anthony Housefather and Michael Levitt of being disloyal to Canada. This is the literal definition of antisemitism under the IHRA [International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance] definition. Will CJPME publicly retract & apologize for this antisemitic smear?”

Soon thereafter a slew of MPs, Conservative party leader Andrew Scheer and Prime Minister Trudeau jumped to Housefather and Levitt’s defence or directly smeared Lascaris. NDP foreign critic Laverdière tweeted: “I consider Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather to be my friends as well as colleagues, & I condemn the anti-Semitic comments directed against them by Dimitri Lascaris. We can have legitimate disagreements on Canadian foreign policy without questioning anyone’s loyalty to Canada.”

Employing slightly more restrained language, NDP leader Jagmeet Singh also joined the anti-Palestinian lunacy. He tweeted: “Antisemitism has no place in Canada. I know what it’s like to experience racism & discrimination, and to have my loyalty to Canada questioned. Michael Levitt and Anthony Housefather, I stand with you today.”

But, it’s worse than that. While Laverdière, Singh and others found time to label Lascaris racist, they’ve never seen fit to question Levitt and Housefather’s ties to an explicitly racist institution. The York Centre MP is a former board member of the Jewish National Fund and participated in an event with that organization in Israel last year while Housefather did an event with the JNF in May. The JNF systematically discriminates against Palestinian citizens of Israel, who make up a fifth of the population. According to a UN report, Jewish National Fund lands are “chartered to benefit Jews exclusively,” which has led to an “institutionalized form of discrimination.” (During a visit to Israel in 2016 Laverdière participated in a ceremony put on by the head of the JNF.)

Even if Lascaris had written what Trudeau, Laverdière, etc. claim, it shouldn’t be particularly controversial. Leavitt and Housefather are fairly open about the centrality of Israel to their politics. In July Housefather describes himself as a “huge supporter of Israel” and “one of the foremost advocates on behalf of support for Israel.” On August 28 he wrote in a Canadian Jewish News article that “like many in our community, there is nothing more upsetting to me than when the UN unfairly singles out Israel for condemnation.” In that same piece Housefather noted how he “works tirelessly to have Israel’s back” and boasted that the current Liberal government has the most anti-Palestinian voting record of any recent Canadian government at the UN. The Montréal MP wrote, “we have voted against 87% of the resolutions singling out Israel for condemnation at the General Assembly versus 61% for the Harper government, 19% for the Martin and Mulroney governments and 3% for the Chrétien government. We have also supported 0% of these resolutions, compared to 23% support under Harper, 52% under Mulroney, 71% under Martin and 79% under Chretien.”

For his part, Levitt chairs the Canada Israel Interparliamentary Group, has by far the most official parliamentary contact with Israel lobby group CIJA, travels regularly to Israel, attends events with the Israeli Ambassador, Consul General, Tel Aviv Mayor, etc., attends “walks with Israel”, says he “stands with Israel”, lobbied Canada to withdraw its logo from the 2016 World Social Forum in Montréal because of criticism of Israel, lobbied to have the Canadian Food Inspection Agency improperly label wines from illegal Israeli settlements, co-founded the Canadian Jewish Public Affairs Committee “to engage Jewish and pro-Israel Canadians”, etc.

Since 2016 Lascaris has been repeatedly smeared by Israel lobby groups. In August of that year he led a push within the Green Party to support elements of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. A resolution he proposed at their convention sparked a backlash that saw party leader Elizabeth May demand a convention redo to rescind the resolution, which Lascaris successfully defended.

Lascaris’ effective activism is a problem for the Israel lobby. So are his credentials. Lascaris was named one of the 25 most influential lawyers by Canadian Lawyer Magazine in 2012 and the next year Canadian Business Magazine dubbed him one of the 50 most influential people in Canadian business, labelling him the “fiercest legal advocate for shareholder rights.” In 2016 he quit a lucrative law career to devote himself to activism and journalism on issues ranging from climate change to Canadian foreign policy.

Singh and Laverdière should apologize for participating in CIJA’s scurrilous attack on a leading social justice campaigner. And shame on all the Canadian politicians who have fallen for this sickening smear campaign!

NGOs and Development Studies promote Canadian Foreign Policy

Are they critical thinkers or cheerleaders pretending to be independent of the government that funds them? Given the title conference organizers chose — “Is Canada Back: delivering on good intentions?” — one would guess the latter. But, an independent researcher keeps an open mind.

Publicity for the mid-September conference organized by the Canadian Council for International Co-operation (CCIC) and the Canadian Association for the Study of International Development (CASID) notes: “Inspired by Justin Trudeau’s 2015 proclamation ‘Canada is Back’, we are presenting panels that illustrate or challenge Canada’s role in global leadership. Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?”

Formulating the question this way seems like a sop to the government that provides their funding. Conference organizers must be aware of the Trudeau government’s arms sales to Saudi Arabia’s monarchy, backing for brutal mining companies, NATO deployments, antagonism towards Palestinian rights, efforts to topple the Venezuelan government, failure to end Canada’s ‘low level war’ on Iran, refusal to support nuclear weapons controls, promotion of military spending, etc.

The reality is that while the two conference sponsors are supported by some labour unions, left groups and internationalist-minded young people, they are heavily dependent/tied to Canada’s official foreign policy apparatus.

To understand government influence over the NGO/development studies swamp requires wading through acronym-filled historical waters. An umbrella group representing dozens of major development NGOs, the CCIC was created fifty years ago with financing from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA, now part of Global Affairs Canada). The aid agency expected it to coordinate relations with the growing NGO network and build domestic political support for the aid program. While it has challenged government policy on occasion, the CCIC is highly dependent on government funds. Shortly after it publicly complained the government created a “chill” in the NGO community by adopting “the politics of punishment … towards those whose public views run at cross purposes to the government,” the CCIC’s $1.7 million CIDA grant was cut in 2012. This forced it to lay off two thirds of its staff.

CASID and international development studies programs more generally have received significant support from CIDA and the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), a Crown Corporation. In 2015 CASID’s president thanked “IDRC for its support of CASID over the past decade and more.” As part of one contract, IDRC gave CASID $450,000 between 2012 and 2015.

In the mid-1990s IDRC sponsored an initiative to enhance university undergraduate international development programs. This led to the creation of the Canadian Consortium for University Programs in International Development Studies (CCUPIDS), which has as its primary objective to “strengthen the position of International Development Studies.” CIDA also funds CCUPIDS conferences.

CCUPIDS is a branch of CASID, which publishes the Canadian Journal of Development Studies. In the introduction to a journal special issue on Canadian universities and development, editors Leonora Angeles and Peter Boothroyd write:

Thanks mostly to grant funding from the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the International Development Research Council (IDRC), Canadian academics have been able to engage intensively in development work for over three decades.

CIDA and IDRC also directly fund international development studies initiatives. In the late 1960s CIDA sponsored a study with the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC) to investigate what schools offered development studies courses. According to IDRC: 40 years of ideas, innovation, and impact, “early on, it began funding Canadian area and development studies associations, their conferences, journals, and research — gathering and communication activities.” The Canadian Association of African Studies, Canadian Association of Latin American and Caribbean Studies, Canadian Asian Studies Association and Canadian Association of Studies in International Development all “received substantial core funding from IDRC, intermittently in the 1970s and 1980s, and continuously since 1990.”

Significant sums of aid money continue to flow to international development studies programs. The website of the McGill Institute for the Study of International Development lists a dozen contracts worth more than $600,000 from CIDA, as well as $400,000 in contracts from IDRC and Foreign Affairs. An NGO and CIDA training ground, these programs often include internships and volunteer opportunities funded by development aid. The Students for Development Internships is “offered through the AUCC and CIDA, and students are funded to work for up to four months with an NGO anywhere in the world.” Queen’s Global Development Studies exchange program, for instance, received $270,000 from CIDA in 2011.

Individuals who participated in aid agency-funded projects, notably the government-backed Canadian University Services Overseas (CUSO), spurred or launched international development studies programs. In Canada’s Global Villagers: CUSO in Development, 1961-86 Ruth Compton Brouwer writes:

CUSO staff and RV’s [returned volunteers] contributed substantially to the establishment of university-level courses and programs related to global issues and the centres for international education and development studies. These are now such ordinary features of Canadian universities that it is difficult to conceive of how novel they were when they began in the 1960s.”

Led by CUSO’s former West Africa coordinator Don Simpson, University of Western Ontario opened an office of international education in 1969, which “operated in collaboration with CIDA.” Similarly, “valued friends of CUSO” instigated development studies programming at the universities of Ottawa and Toronto.

Canadian aid also directly shapes international development studies research. Half of the respondents to a 2002 survey of 64 scholars reported that CIDA’s six development priorities influenced their research focus. A professor or student who aligns their pursuits with those of the aid agency or IDRC is more likely to find funding or a fellowship. And IDRC/Global Affairs Canada’s priorities don’t include challenging Canadian foreign policy.

Given the sponsors ties to the foreign policy apparatus it is likely that the September conference will offer little more than cheerleading for the Trudeau Liberals’ foreign policy. Still, one can’t be certain and, having been invited by a Facebook friend to attend, I emailed the conference organizers to ask if they would allow me to present a critical look at Trudeau’s foreign policy. Thus far they have not accepted my offer.

If you agree that answering the question “Are we doing all that we could be doing in the world?” requires some critical voices, please email (ac.ciccnull@stneve) and ask them to allow Yves Engler to speak on Justin Trudeau’s foreign policy at your upcoming conference.

I love a good debate and maybe both sides will learn something new.

Justin Trudeau Breaks Promise On Iran

Another Liberal broken promise. Before becoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau promised to re-engage with Iran. His government has failed to do so and is beginning to echo the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv.

I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran],” Trudeau told the CBC in June 2015. “I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage [Iran],” he said.

Nearly three years into their mandate the Liberals haven’t restarted diplomatic relations with Iran. Nor has Trudeau removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list (Syria is the only other country on the list).

Numerous Canadian sanctions targeting Iran remain and Ottawa continues to present a yearly UN resolution critical of the human rights situation in Iran. Similarly, Liberal MPs participate in the annual “Iran Accountability Week” on Parliament Hill, which showcases individuals such as Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which helped kill the nuclear deal and is pushing harsh sanctions against any country doing business with Iran.

Dubowitz is a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2015 Global Affairs Canada gave the Munk School’s Digital Public Square $9 million to expand an anti-Iranian initiative, which the Trudeau government appears to have maintained.

Trudeau has continued important components of the Stephen Harper government’s “low-level war against Iran”. One major exception had been on the rhetorical front, but that’s changing. In January foreign minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement saying, “Canada is deeply troubled by the recent deaths and detentions of protesters in Iran” and two months ago tweeted, “Our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights.” Last month Liberal parliamentarians supported a Conservative MP’s private member’s motion that “strongly condemns the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border.” In effect, the resolution makes Iran responsible for Israel killing Palestinians peacefully protesting the US Jerusalem embassy move, siege of Gaza and historic theft of their land. The motion also called on Canada to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations” and to make the highly provocative move of listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity.

The Liberals hardline on Iran coincides with Trump withdrawing from the “p5+1 nuclear deal” with Iran and re-imposing tough new sanctions. Now, Washington is threatening to sanction any country that buys Iranian oil. (If the US succeeds Tehran says it will seek to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.)

The US and Israel recently created a “working group” to foment internal protests in Iran. (Demonstrating once again the hypocrisy of US complaints about other countries interfering in its elections.) According to Axios, “Israel and the United States formed a joint working group a few months ago that is focused on internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran and pressure the country’s government.” In May the Washington Free Beacon reported on a three-page paper discussed by the US National Security Council to spark regime change in Iran.

Three weeks ago Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, called for regime change at a National Council of Resistance of Iran conference in Paris. (Harper also spoke at an event led by the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a cultish group that was previously deemed to be a terrorist organization.) Previously Giuliani said, “we got a president who is tough, who does not listen to the people who are naysayers, and a president who is committed to regime change [in Iran].” (In “Follow The Money: Three Billionaires Paved Way For Trump’s Iran Deal Withdrawal” Eli Clifton describes the role of arch Zionist donors, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, in shaping US Iran policy.)

In April Trump appointed John Bolton as his national security advisor. An important proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bolton has called for bombing Iran, penning an op-ed in the New York Times headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.

By breaking his promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran Trudeau has enabled US-Israeli hawks. In taking up their rhetoric the Liberal Party is further empowering those hurtling towards a major conflict. Shame.

Justin Trudeau Breaks Promise On Iran

Another Liberal broken promise. Before becoming prime minister, Justin Trudeau promised to re-engage with Iran. His government has failed to do so and is beginning to echo the warmongers in Washington and Tel Aviv.

I would hope that Canada would be able to reopen its mission [in Tehran],” Trudeau told the CBC in June 2015. “I’m fairly certain that there are ways to re-engage [Iran],” he said.

Nearly three years into their mandate the Liberals haven’t restarted diplomatic relations with Iran. Nor has Trudeau removed that country from Canada’s state sponsor of terrorism list (Syria is the only other country on the list).

Numerous Canadian sanctions targeting Iran remain and Ottawa continues to present a yearly UN resolution critical of the human rights situation in Iran. Similarly, Liberal MPs participate in the annual “Iran Accountability Week” on Parliament Hill, which showcases individuals such as Mark Dubowitz, CEO of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, which helped kill the nuclear deal and is pushing harsh sanctions against any country doing business with Iran.

Dubowitz is a senior research fellow at the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs. In 2015 Global Affairs Canada gave the Munk School’s Digital Public Square $9 million to expand an anti-Iranian initiative, which the Trudeau government appears to have maintained.

Trudeau has continued important components of the Stephen Harper government’s “low-level war against Iran”. One major exception had been on the rhetorical front, but that’s changing. In January foreign minister Chrystia Freeland put out a statement saying, “Canada is deeply troubled by the recent deaths and detentions of protesters in Iran” and two months ago tweeted, “Our government is committed to holding Iran to account for its violations of human and democratic rights.” Last month Liberal parliamentarians supported a Conservative MP’s private member’s motion that “strongly condemns the current regime in Iran for its ongoing sponsorship of terrorism around the world, including instigating violent attacks on the Gaza border.” In effect, the resolution makes Iran responsible for Israel killing Palestinians peacefully protesting the US Jerusalem embassy move, siege of Gaza and historic theft of their land. The motion also called on Canada to “immediately cease any and all negotiations or discussions with the Islamic Republic of Iran to restore diplomatic relations” and to make the highly provocative move of listing the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist entity.

The Liberals hardline on Iran coincides with Trump withdrawing from the “p5+1 nuclear deal” with Iran and re-imposing tough new sanctions. Now, Washington is threatening to sanction any country that buys Iranian oil. (If the US succeeds Tehran says it will seek to block oil shipments through the Strait of Hormuz.)

The US and Israel recently created a “working group” to foment internal protests in Iran. (Demonstrating once again the hypocrisy of US complaints about other countries interfering in its elections.) According to Axios, “Israel and the United States formed a joint working group a few months ago that is focused on internal efforts to encourage protests within Iran and pressure the country’s government.” In May the Washington Free Beacon reported on a three-page paper discussed by the US National Security Council to spark regime change in Iran.

Three weeks ago Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, called for regime change at a National Council of Resistance of Iran conference in Paris. (Harper also spoke at an event led by the Mujahedin-e Khalq, a cultish group that was previously deemed to be a terrorist organization.) Previously Giuliani said, “we got a president who is tough, who does not listen to the people who are naysayers, and a president who is committed to regime change [in Iran].” (In “Follow The Money: Three Billionaires Paved Way For Trump’s Iran Deal Withdrawal” Eli Clifton describes the role of arch Zionist donors, notably casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, in shaping US Iran policy.)

In April Trump appointed John Bolton as his national security advisor. An important proponent of the 2003 invasion of Iraq, Bolton has called for bombing Iran, penning an op-ed in the New York Times headlined “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”.

By breaking his promise to restart diplomatic relations with Iran Trudeau has enabled US-Israeli hawks. In taking up their rhetoric the Liberal Party is further empowering those hurtling towards a major conflict. Shame.

Trump, Trade Wars, and the Class Struggle

All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and [humans are] at last compelled to face with sober senses [our] real conditions of life, and [our] relations with [our] kind.

— Karl Marx and Frederick Engels, The Communist Manifesto

An unfolding trade war pitting the United States simultaneously against China, the European Union, Canada, and Mexico has begun. The economic and political consequences – intended and unintended – are now unfolding.  How this trade war develops and “ends” is a political question that cannot be predicted concretely. But the framework to foresee what is coming down the road is coming into focus.

There is no letup in the continued erosion and breakdown of the post-World War II, post-“Cold War” eras characterized at their core by the predominance of US capital in the institutions of world capitalism and in world politics.

China

On June 15, 2018 the Donald Trump Administration announced it will be adding a 25% tariff-tax on some $50 billion worth of Chinese goods imported into the United States. On June 18 Trump then threatened another 10% tariff-tax on $200 billion worth of additional Chinese commodities, raised to $500 billion on July 5, affecting virtually every Chinese product throughout the US-China production-to-exchange chain.

The first-round of tariffs, $34 billion worth, took effect on July 6, applying to 818 commodities and products. The second round, $16 billion on an additional 284 items, await “reviews,” that is vetting by the major industrial and financial oligopolies whose profits may be more or less directly affected. They are lobbying Trump and his enforcers for exemptions, waivers, and dilutions individually and collectively.

Trump’s threats to escalate were presented as being contingent on any Chinese government and state counter-tariffs on US goods and services. These, of course, were bound to happen; there could be no other political choice for the Xi Jinping government. The Chinese Ministry of Commerce immediately announced counter-measures “of the same scale and the same strength.” The statement further announced as “invalid” the recently reported “progress” on a deal that would have led to an additional $70 billion in US imports to China, based on a negotiated reduction of Chinese tariffs and other legal barriers to selected US commodities and services, including energy, agricultural, and high-tech products. Agricultural commodities were an initial focus of Chinese counter-tariffs, since China is a major market for US agricultural products, especially soy beans.

Trump’s announcement was rolled out with provocative and jingoistic rationalizations. Uncle Sam as bumbling sucker, the victim of nefarious Chinese practices. They are stealing our technology. They carry out “state subsidies” of industries and dump surplus production stealing the jobs of American workers. And so on…as if the entire system of world capitalist production, finance, and exchange were not lubricated and dependent as a whole on such practices. Practices by which the most advanced capitalist states and industrialized economies – the United States, the former colonial powers of western Europe, and Japan – are the historic masters and mentors.

At a July 5 campaign rally in Montana which drew thousands, Trump thundered:

We are bringing back our wealth from foreign countries that have been ripping us off for years…For too long we watched and we waited and we saw as other countries stole our jobs, cheated our workers, and gutted our industry.

With his trademark national chauvinism and demagogy, Trump continued:

The United States of America was the piggy bank that everybody else was robbing. Our allies in many cases were worse than our enemies. We opened our country to their goods, but they put up massive barriers to keep our products and our goods the hell out of their country because they didn’t want that competition.

Trump is upending the decades-long, highly profitable arrangements between the US capitalist class, its various governments in Washington, and the Chinese state. US capital would invest in commodity production inside China for sales to the US and other developed capitalist markets. It has been an arrangement that has been crucial in the formation and accumulation of state and private capital in China by Chinese business owners and government officials.

While it is very difficult to calculate precisely balance-of-trade surpluses and deficits of nation-states within globalized production chains, as well as calculating so-called “services” onto the balance sheets, China’s trade “surplus” in finished goods with the United States has been in the low-to-mid 100s of billions of dollars range for many years. A good slice of which is recycled and parked in US Treasuries. This greatly cushions the impact for US debt markets, making it easier for US federal and private banking institutions to obscure, dilute, and hide dollar-denominated debt. It also helps the US Federal Reserve suppress higher interest rates, and keeps low or non-existent tax rates and outlays for billionaires, millionaires, and US-style oligarchs.

China today owns nearly $2 trillion in US Treasury securities, which makes it the largest US “foreign creditor” and the second largest owner of US bonds, after the Federal Reserve itself. No one can know for sure what the impact of the unfolding trade war will be on Chinese purchases of US Treasuries, insofar as the US-China balance of trade numbers and those of China’s purchases of US government debt have become the intertwined sine qua non of the entire economic and financial relationship. China’s vast holdings register both leverage and vulnerable dependency. China’s decades-long massive economic expansion and growth (high single-digit to low double-digit GDP rises every year since 1991!) has been strongly predicated on maintaining China’s access to US markets for the wholesale and retail sales of these commodities.

Over the decades US-China economic ties and exchange led to the massive expansion of Chinese factory manufacturing and industrial development, as well as huge profits for US capitalists and their Chinese state and private partners.

This process also contributed mightily to the large expansion of the Chinese industrial proletariat, including a super-exploited sector of migrant workers, and urban petty bourgeoisie, with the concurrent reduction in the size of China’s peasant population. All of this has led to the massive production and reproduction of surplus value in the country based on the application of labor power to produce commodities to be exchanged, that is, sold in the US and world markets.

This massive production and reproduction of real value, real social wealth, and real capital was certainly siphoned off disproportionately and corruptly by Chinese bureaucrats and capitalists. But it has also been massively invested in infrastructure and urban development projects, led by high-speed rail production and construction.

Two giant Chinese initiatives in the past period highlight these historical developments. First, the Chinese Belt and Road Initiative which promotes regional “connectivity” through infrastructure and other economic projects, and second, the China-initiated Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB) which finances infrastructure and other economic projects in the Asian-Pacific region. AIIB is headquartered in Shanghai and has 86 members, including a number of US NATO “allies.”  Washington, from Barack Obama to Trump, has so far declined to be any part of it. Moreover, China has publicly issued its Made in China 2025 plan to be world leaders in future industrial applications in artificial intelligence, robotics, and chip manufacturing, which is viewed with hostility in Washington.

Looming Recession?

Washington – and this is a largely bipartisan cry – gets particularly worked up over so-called state aid and subsidies to Chinese industries and companies that are themselves state or quasi-state-owned or nominally private. China also attempts to get around efforts led by Washington to pressure companies to restrict Chinese access to some technologies by making such access a condition for sales and commercial exchanges in the vast Chinese markets themselves.

A June 29 column in the Financial Times (“Bond markets send signals of a looming recession”) by University of Chicago “Professor of Finance” Raghuram Rajan states:

[E]conomic metric estimates of the effects of one or two rounds of tariff rises are small. But the models do not capture the intertwined nature of global supply chains. Moreover, the effect on business sentiment, as well as the pall of uncertainty cast over investment will be considerable, A trade war will be costly.

Rajan points to the political difficulties for any governments and national leaderships today “to be seen [as] giving in to threats, making trade conflicts more likely.” He then continues with:

… a final reason for concern. China is cleaning up its financial system, an immensely complicated task given the debt that has built up. Growth has slowed, the cost of riskier loans has been rising, as have defaults. The Chinese authorities are working to spread losses across the system, but this needs to be managed carefully to avoid panic. If China is caught in a trade war while it is still restructuring its financial system, its difficulties could spread abroad.

If the dynamic of a large-scale US-China trade war is unleashed, then it will have critical economic and commercial – and therefore political — consequences for the trade and diplomatic regime that has been built up and stabilized over many decades between Beijing and Washington – and Wall Street and China.1

The EU, Canada, and Mexico

The tariffs on China set in motion by Trump and his Executive Branch team of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came on top of tariffs on steel and aluminum exports carried out against Canada, the European Union, and Mexico, announced with great hoopla, earlier in the June month. These ostensibly aim at boosting US domestic steel and aluminum production, but also led to immediate retaliatory measures of equal reach and value by all. So far, every dollar-value of US tariff-taxes have been met with an equal value in counter-tariffs. Can that be sustained?

On June 29, 2018 Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freedland defiantly announced Canada’s response to the Trump tariffs on steel and aluminum. “We will not escalate — and we will not back down,” said Freeland. (Before her current gig as Foreign Minister for the Justin Trudeau government, Freedland was a leading editor of the Financial Times, the quintessential organ of British and world capital.)

She unveiled counter-tariffs on US goods entering Canada, including whiskey, toilet paper, washing machines, and motorboats. Altogether, Canada will tax $12.6 billion worth of American goods, which matched the value of the US tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.

“I cannot emphasize enough the regret with which we take these countermeasures,” Freedland added. She emphasized that the only way Canada might reverse them would be if the Trump White House rescinded first. There are always political dangers when many faces need saving at once.

Trump’s Executive Orders were invoked under the cover of “national security.” This provoked umbrage from Canadian, EU, and other US post-World War II era NATO “allies.” They pointed to the various imperialist wars they fought over the years hand-in-glove with Washington.

The current framework and regime for the regulation of tariffs and the resolution of trade disputes is the World Trade Organization (WTO). The US tariffs are already being contested in WTO bodies in a likely bruising battle. The WTO as an “objective” arbiter and judge, is clearly in danger of losing authority and fraying under great pressure. Trump’s back-to-back measures are bound to accelerate a breaking down of world capitalist trading norms and stability.

Allies and Competitors

The EU bloc, most of its individual nation-state components, and Canada are military allies of Washington — still by far the predominant military power with the most firepower and global reach on Earth – through the NATO alliance. But, at the same time, all are home bases for some of the fiercest competitors of US based multinationals and other capitalist firms in world markets. In a time of intensifying, cutthroat global competition, with financial volatility and turbulent waters ahead, the “competitors” side is being more sharply expressed and rising to the fore. The political fallout from policy choices and decisions on trade, tariffs, currency manipulations, debt and capital flows are, at the very least, posed more sharply in today’s world. Old trading blocs and ties come under pressure and weaken, rebooting political policies and alliances.

Consequences, Intended and Unintended

While Trump’s public utterances – “Trade wars are good and easy to win” – exude typical flippant political confidence on his part, these policies are highly contentious within the broader US capitalist class. Within these circles there is growing anxiety and dread that Washington will not be able to drive things through without serious political consequences in the world arena.

The shift that Trump looks to realize registers the political erosion internationally of the “neoliberal globalization” regime which greatly benefited many US-based giant corporations, banks, and businesses – and the mounds of capital behind their brands – as they set up shop in China, Mexico, and elsewhere with greatly increased profit rates. The major benefit of this inside the United States for US capitalists was the lowering of the value of labor and the evisceration of industrial jobs and industrial unions. The decisive factor involved is relatively cheaper (usually very much so) labor costs, which outweigh other disadvantages and extra costs for US-based capital in production outside the US, such as in transport costs, management training, and so on.

Of course, US capitalists couldn’t care less about the social devastation in working-class communities in the US.2

US Capital is Divided

Opposition to Trump’s measures is strongest among business groups and elected officials from both the Republican and Democratic parties who have been identified with the general “free trade” neoliberal policies worldwide that have dominated trade pacts and mainstream bourgeois economics for decades. These anti-working-class policies have increased in unpopularity since the so-called Great Recession and financial crisis of 2007-08 and are now widely discredited and hated in the US and around the world, especially among working people. But the opposition to them takes varied “populist” forms – left and right — that have done and can do little to effectively counter them or provide any program and perspective of mobilization and independent working-class political action and power. In the face of popular hostility and battered credibility, almost by inertia, the “neoliberal model” limps on.

What will be the impact on world economic developments of Trump’s tariffs? Does it give a push to the next – inevitable – financial jolts and economic downturn-recession? Will the EU, Canada, and Mexico have the political will and strength to counter them? Is there space for increasing domestic US assembly and manufacture of commodities, finished products, and capital goods (machinery, etc.) that have been “farmed out” for decades now that US labor value and costs has been driven down in recent decades? Can increased US domestic manufacturing (up 36,000 in June 2018 according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics) sustain sales volume and profit rates?

Diminished US Political Power

There are wide layers in top US business, financial, and social circles who do worry that Trump is accelerating and deepening the deterioration in US political influence worldwide. They are anxious that Trump’s course, rather that restoring the post-World War II full-spectrum dominance of US capital – capsulized in his campaign slogan “Make America Great Again” – will do the opposite and actually accelerate US decline.

There is considerable substance to this anxiety. Under Trump there has been a striking US political isolation in world political forums on one major international political question after another: Washington’s withdrawal from the (fairly toothless, in any case) Paris climate change accords; Trump’s unilateral withdrawal from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran’s nuclear production and activity, an agreement which was ratified by China, France, Germany, Russia, the UK, and the EU as a body; Washington’s humiliating isolation every year in the UN over its criminal and hated blockade of revolutionary Cuba; and issues around Israel and Palestine that might ameliorate Palestinian conditions and advance a two-state solution.

Korea is Hardly a Trump Triumph

Trump’s escalating moves on US trade and exchange with China were announced when the ink was hardly dry on the document issued, amid great world attention and hoopla, after the June 12 Summit between Donald Trump and the Kim Jong-un government in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

While the Trump White House has been eager to spin the Summit results as a feather in its cap, his ability to do so was necessarily predicated on the US suspension of “war games” and other joint US-South Korean military maneuvers off the North Korean coasts. Maintaining Washington’s “right” and political will to do so became politically untenable following the Kim government’s ending of missile launches, atmospheric and underground tests, and even the verified destruction of one nuclear site while at the same time the two Korean governments deepened relations through friendly encounters amid popular enthusiasm. No one can seriously doubt that the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea favored and pushed for the US suspension of the “joint” war games.

It seems apparent that China and South Korea forcefully intervened behind the scenes to keep the US-DPRK talks on track. In reality, Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo (with National Security Advisor John Bolton kept in the shadows) found themselves in an isolated diplomatic and political corner and risked a politically unwinnable confrontation with both China, South Korea and the United Nations large majority. This became even more dangerous politically for Washington on the heels of the US withdrawal from JCPOA treaty with Iran.

As this article was being finished, the US-DPRK negotiations had a negative public eruption after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met with top North Korean authorities in Pyongyang. The DPRK Foreign Ministry issued a detailed statement on July 7, calling the meetings “regretful” and Pompeo’s apparent sole focus on unilateral DPRK denuclearization “gangster-like.” The DPRK statement promoted, “in the spirit of” the Singapore Summit and its written statement signed by Trump and Kim, an interconnected focus on issues like a formal peace treaty replacing the “Armistice” ending military combat in 1953; improved US-DPRK bilateral relations; and building a “peace regime on the Korean Peninsula,” that is, building on the momentum of improving relations between the two Korean governments and states. Pompeo and Trump have both downplayed the DPRK statement, with Trump on July 9 spinning that China “may be exerting pressure on a deal because of our posture on Chinese Trade – Hope Not!”

Of course, as the DPRK statement said, “suspension of one action called exercises is a highly reversible step which can be resumed at any time or any moment as all of its military force remains intact in its previously held positions without scraping even a rifle.” Nevertheless, for the Trump Administration to revert to a “maximum pressure” policy while demanding North Korean capitulation and permanently subordinating all other political issues, starting with formal and actual bilateral and multilateral peace, is not politically tenable, starting with South Korea and China and, overwhelmingly, world public opinion.

Mexico

The July 1 landslide election in Mexico of left-wing “populist”Andres Manuel Lopez Abrador (AMLO) is also setting Washington’s nerves on edge. It is not Lopez Obrador’s political orientation and program, per se, that is setting off (mostly muted) alarms. While he is solidly progressive with anti-imperialist instincts flowing from Mexican and Latin American historical experience, AMLO has sent out clear signals that he is loath to directly promote anti-capitalist measures and policies. His campaign focused on the corruption of private capital and the Mexican capitalist state and the intertwined, massive violence and death associated with the illegal capitalist drug cartels.3

What is worrying for the US (and Mexican) ruling classes is the tremendous enthusiasm and mobilizations around AMLO’s campaign, which points to the rising expectations among Mexican working people and youth who want action and who are saying Enough is Enough! Rather than channel mass political combativity into harmless electoralism and parliamentary wrangling, it is more likely that any significant progressive measures promoted by the Lopez Obrador government and its clear majority in both houses of Mexico’s legislature, will spur on the class struggle. This is particularly worrisome for the guardians of US imperialism, given the remarkable history of gratuitous, patronizing insults and anti-Mexican demagogy employed by Donald Trump since the beginning of his campaign for US president. And his reactionary and brutal anti-migrant policies once in office.

In any case, a window into the arrogance of the US ruling rich came with a short editorial in the July 3 Wall Street Journal, titled “The Peso Federales.” Acknowledging Lopez Obrador’s “landslide” and “mandate,” the Journal’s editors warn of the pressure coming from a “different sort of election – the one that takes place daily in financial markets.” Pointing to a 1% drop in the Mexican peso (that “recovered” the next day) following the election, the editorial continued “the president-elect now has to worry what the markets think if he wants to improve the lives of Mexicans.”

One of the biggest concerns for the academic, journalist, and big-business monitors of world economic developments today, prior to the next sharp economic crisis and recession-depression, is that there has been a significant and growing outflow of capital from so-called “emerging” countries into the capital markets of the most advanced capitalist economies, especially the US. This is reversing a mild trend otherwise in recent years.

Sharp turns down for the Argentine peso is the starkest expression of this tendency. In June 2018 the IMF came up with a $50 billion “loan,” a bail out for austerity package, that has already provoked the biggest labor mobilizations in that country for over a decade.

The Class Struggle Will Ratchet Up

When you enter a period like the current one, within the transition from one era-epoch to another, old truisms become stale, alliances and allies can and do change, traditional state-to-state relations become strained and even boil over. No one can doubt that class struggle, social polarization, and political volatility is likely to be ratcheted up considerably in the context of the coming global economic downturn. This will happen everywhere and anywhere. In the United States itself we can expect more massive working class and popular eruptions – seemingly coming out of nowhere – like the wave of solid, disciplined, and victorious teacher’s strikes in the US states of West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona in early 2018.

The unfolding trade wars unleashed by Donald Trump are now facts on the ground. To cite the great socialist pioneer Frederick Engels:

Those who unleash controlled forces, also unleash uncontrolled forces.

  1. The origins of the contemporary US-China relationship and the deeply intertwined  economic ties between both came during the final period of the Vietnam War. US President Richard Nixon and his Secretary of State Henry Kissinger carried out a secret diplomacy with the Mao Zedong-Zhou Enlai Chinese government in the early 1970s to establish mutually beneficial ties. The context was the sharp crisis and looming defeat of the US war effort in Vietnam and Indochina. Nixon and Kissinger were under tremendous pressure to end all US military operations and withdraw US troops from Vietnam and Southeast Asia. They were keen to preserve the “South” Vietnamese neo-colonial state and hoped to manipulate China (and China’s fierce political antagonist, the Soviet Union) to pressure the Vietnamese revolutionaries – who they both gave crucial military aid to — to make concessions to Nixon. This failed and Washington went down to final military defeat in 1975. Nevertheless a de facto political alliance and the foundations for the massive expansion of economic exchange between the United States and China was consolidated over four decades under both Republican and Democratic White Houses and Congresses.
  2. Before retiring in 2016, I was a Locomotive Engineer for Amtrak and member of the Brotherhood of Locomotive Engineers and the teamsters Union. I operated the high-speed Acela and other passenger trains between New York city and Washington, DC. For some 25 years, I would see, along the main line tracks from the locomotive cab, on the Northeast Corridor tracks, especially along the stretches between Wilmington, Delaware and Philadelphia towards Trenton, New Jersey, mile after mile of rotted out and abandoned industrial facilities, factories, plants, mills, metal shop, giant behemoths and myriad smaller ones in what were once, in the world War 2 era and subsequent decades, I imagined thriving working-class communities employing many tens and hundreds of thousands of workers. Today they really look like documentary films from the Battle of Stalingrad on the World War 2 Eastern Front. The authorities, decade after decade, never even bothered to tear them down. I would joke to younger workers in my cab qualifying on the physical characteristics of the territory – track speeds, interlocking rules, industrial sidings, and so on – when we would pass these areas, that the state should put a giant bubble over it all and open up “The Museum of American Industrial Glory.”
  3. The stunning failure of Mexico’s “war on drugs” has left hundreds of thousands dead and mutilated without making a dent in the production, consumption, or the profits of the cartels, and the corrupt wealth of officials up and down the supply chain. The production, marketing, and commercial exchange of cannabis, cocaine, methamphetamine, cocaine, opium, and heroin is a major component of the Mexican capitalist economy as a whole, counting for perhaps up to 10% of GDP, as well as propping up Mexican banking.

Right-wing, Fascist-supporting Tilt among Canada’s NDP

In response to Ukrainian Canadian Congress campaigning, two NDP MLAs recently convinced the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission to withdraw a brand of Russian vodka from its stores. Alberta MLAs Deron Bilous and Jessica Littlewood argued that a hammer and sickle logo on a bottle of vodka was “offensive“. Articulating a growing rightist effort to equate communism with Nazism in Eastern Europe, Ukrainian Canadian Congress Alberta chapter president, Olesia Luciw-Andryjowycz, told the Edmonton Journal that the hammer and sickle was akin to “having a swastika on a bottle of cognac.”

This is not the first attempt by a provincial NDP to ban Russian vodka. In response to the 2014 upheaval in the Ukraine, a minister in the NDP government in Manitoba discussed a provincial ban on Russian vodka. At the same time, NDP MPP Cheri DiNovo tabled a motion at the Ontario Legislature calling on government-run liquor stores to suspend sales of Russian Standard vodka.

DiNovo was one of the NDP representatives that flirted with Ukraine’s hard right. She attended a Ukrainian parade in Toronto where some marched behind a banner titled “Right Sector Canada”. Its parent organization in the Ukraine said it was “defending the values of white, Christian Europe against the loss of the nation and deregionalisation.” At another Toronto event NDP MP Peggy Nash shared a stage with a speaker from Ukraine’s Right Sector.

Over the past four years, the NDP has backed a coup in Kiev, war in eastern Ukraine and NATO military build-up in Eastern Europe. In 2014 the right-wing nationalist Euro-Maidan movement ousted Viktor Yanukovych who was oscillating between the European Union and Russia. The US-backed coup divided the Ukraine politically, geographically and linguistically (Russian is the mother tongue of 30% of Ukrainians). After Yanukovych’s ouster Russia reinforced its military presence — or “seized” — the southern area of Crimea and then organized a referendum on secession. Home to Moscow’s major Baltic naval base, Crimea had long been part of Russia and the bulk of the population preferred Moscow’s rule to the post-coup right wing nationalist government in Kiev.

The NDP echoed the US/Stephen Harper government position on Ukraine. The day after Yanukovych fled, NDP MP Olivia Chow told a Euro-Maidan Canada rally in Toronto, “we must be vigilant, we must ensure our government, our Canadian government, continues to keep an eye on the Ukraine to make sure that the Russians do not interfere.”

But, the NDP MP wasn’t bothered by Canadian interference in that country. Eighteen months after the coup the Canadian Press reported that opposition protesters were camped in the Canadian Embassy for a week during the February 2014 rebellion against Yanukovych. “Canada’s embassy in Kyiv was used as a haven for several days by anti-government protesters during the uprising that toppled the regime of former president Viktor Yanukovych,” the story noted.

Ottawa played a similar role during the “Orange Revolution” a decade earlier. In a story headlined “Agent Orange: Our secret role in Ukraine,” Globe and Mail reporter Mark MacKinnon detailed how Canada funded a leading civil society opposition group, promised Ukraine’s lead electoral commissioner Canadian citizenship if he did “the right thing” and paid for 500 Canadians of Ukrainian descent to observe the 2004-05 elections. “[Canadian ambassador to the Ukraine, Andrew Robinson] began to organize secret monthly meetings of western ambassadors, presiding over what he called ‘donor coordination’ sessions among 20 countries interested in seeing Mr. [presidential candidate Viktor] Yushchenko succeed. Eventually, he acted as the group’s spokesman and became a prominent critic of the Kuchma government’s heavy-handed media control. Canada also invested in a controversial exit poll, carried out on election day by Ukraine’s Razumkov Centre and other groups that contradicted the official results showing Mr. Yanukovych [winning].”

Indifferent to Canada’s interference in Ukrainian affairs, during the 2015 federal election leaders debate Mulcair said, “with regard to Ukraine, yes, Putin is a danger. We stand firmly with Ukraine against the aggression by Russia.” The NDP leader also reiterated the party’s call for harsher measures against Russian officials, naming two businessmen whom he said should be added to Canada’s list of Russians targeted for sanctions. In March 2014 NDP foreign critic Paul Dewar released a statement calling for “travel bans against certain Russian officials and suspending trade with Russia’s military sector.” Five months later the NDP put out a press release under the headline “Conservatives shield Russian business elite from sanctions: Toothless sanctions are out of step with Canada’s closest allies.” In 2017 NDP foreign critic Hélène Laverdière applauded a bill modeled after the US Magnitsky Act that would further strain relations between Ottawa and Moscow by sanctioning Russian officials. NDP MPs voted for legislation Laverdière labelled an “important step to support the Global Magnitsky movement.”

In summer 2016 NDP defence critic Randall Garrison expressed support for Canada leading a NATO battle group to Latvia as part of a ratcheting up of tensions with Russia. Four hundred and fifty Canadian troops are currently leading a 1,000-strong NATO force in Latvia while the US, Britain and Germany head missions in Poland, Lithuania and Estonia. As vice-chair of Parliament’s Standing Committee on National Defence, Garrison endorsed a December report titled “Canada’s support to Ukraine in crisis and armed conflict.” It denounced Russia’s “war of aggression against Ukraine” and lauded Canada’s “support of Ukraine in its fight against Russia.”

Deploying Canadian troops to the Russian border and Alberta MLAs pushing to ban Russian vodka both empower rightists in Eastern Europe. They are part of a troubling game of brinksmanship with Russia.

Is this really in Canada’s interest? And why is the NDP enabling the agenda of extreme right forces?

Canada, the Korean Dispute and Foreign Policy Mythology

Repeat after me: Canada is seldom a force for good in the world, Canada is seldom a force for good in the world.

Thomas Walkom’s “Canada should board Korean peace train” is yet another example of how the progressive end of the dominant media has been seduced by Canadian foreign policy mythology.

The leftist Toronto Star columnist offers an astute analysis of what’s driving rapprochement on the Korean Peninsula. He points out that the two Koreas are moving the process forward and that Pyongyang believes “complete denuclearization” of the Peninsula includes the US forces in the region aiming nuclear weapons at it.

But, Walkom’s column is cloaked in naivety about Canada’s role in the geopolitical hotspot. He ignores the international summit Ottawa and Washington organized in January to promote sanctions on North Korea. In a highly belligerent move, the countries invited to the conference in Vancouver were those that fought against North Korea in the early 1950s conflict. “We went over there and fought the war and eventually burned down every town in North Korea,” General Curtis LeMay, head of US air command during the fighting, explained three decades later. “Over a period of three years or so, we killed off … twenty percent of the population of Korea as direct casualties of war, or from starvation and exposure.”

(During another dreadful chapter in Korean history Canada supplied war materials to the Japanese army that occupied Korea before World War II.)

Continuing its aggressive diplomatic posture, Chrystia Freeland brought up North Korea at the Munich Security Conference in Germany in February and the next month Canada’s foreign minister agreed with her Japanese counterpart to send a “strong message” to Pyongyang at the upcoming Group of Seven meetings. In a subsequent get together, Freeland and Japanese officials pledged to maintain “maximum pressure” on North Korea. After “welcoming South Korea’s critical role in maintaining diplomatic and economic pressure on North Korea” in March, Freeland responded gingerly to Seoul and Pyongyang’s joint announcement last month to seek a formal end to the Korean War and rid the Peninsula of nuclear weapons. “We all need to be careful and not assume anything,” said Freeland.

Walkom also ignores the Canadian Forces currently seeking to blockade North Korea. Three weeks ago Ottawa announced it was a sending a CP-140 Aurora surveillance aircraft and 40 military personnel to a US base in Japan to join British, Australian and US forces monitoring efforts to evade UN sanctions. Earlier in the year a Vancouver Island based submarine was sent across the pond partly to bolster the campaign to isolate North Korea.

Canadians are also part of the UN military mission in Korea. The first non-US general to hold the post since the command was created in 1950, Canadian Lieutenant General Wayne Eyre was recently appointed deputy commander of the UN force stationed there.

(To be fair, Walkom hints at Ottawa’s belligerence, noting that Canada is “still technically at war with North Korea” and is among countries that “traditionally take their cue from the U.S.”)

In my forthcoming book Left, Right — Marching to the Beat of Imperial Canada I discuss how leftist intellectuals concede a great deal to the foreign policy establishment’s outlook. Laziness is a simple, though not unimportant, reason why these writers mythologize Canadian foreign policy. Buried amidst a mass of state and corporate generated apologetics, critical information about Canada’s role in the world takes more effort to uncover. And the extra work is often bad for one’s career.

A thorough investigation uncovers information tough to square with the narrow spectrum of opinion permitted in the dominant media. It’s nearly impossible to survive if you say Canadian foreign policy has always been self-serving/elite-driven or that no government has come close to reflecting their self-professed ideals on the international stage. Almost everyone with a substantial platform to comment sees little problem with Canadian power, finding it expedient to assume/imply Canada’s international aims are noble.

Rather than a story titled “Canada should board Korean peace train”, Walkom should have written about how “Canada must step off the belligerence bus”. His conscious or unconscious naivety regarding Canada’s role in Korea is part of a mainstream left trend that partly explains why Canadians overwhelmingly believe this country is a benevolent international actor despite a long history of supporting empire and advancing Canadian corporate interests abroad.

Canada Openly Seeking “Regime Change” in Venezuela

Is there no voice in Parliament willing to denounce Canadian interference in another country’s electoral process?

The Trudeau government is engaged in a wide-ranging campaign to weaken Venezuela’s elected government. In a bid to elicit “regime change,” Ottawa has worked to isolate Caracas, imposed sanctions, and supported the country’s opposition.

Recently, foreign minister Chrystia Freeland endorsed Peru’s decision to block Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from attending the mid-April Summit of the Americas in Lima. “As Venezuela slides deeper into dictatorship, and as Venezuelans continue to suffer, Maduro’s participation at a hemispheric leaders’ summit would have been farcical,” Freeland noted. But, Freeland has no problem with the presence of Brazilian President Michel Temer, who doesn’t have any pretence of electoral legitimacy. Nor has she opposed the participation of Honduran president Juan Orlando Hernandez who defied that country’s constitution in running for a second term and then ‘won’ a highly questionable election.

Since the summer Freeland has participated in five meetings of the Lima Group, a collection of foreign ministers opposed to Venezuela’s elected government. As part of this initiative she declared that Canada wouldn’t recognize the upcoming presidential election. Two months ago she tweeted out that “we reject this decision by the Gov of Venezuela to call these elections, as they do not give a reasonable amount of time to ensure free and fair elections” and then three weeks later Canada’s foreign minister “demand[ed] that presidential elections be called with sufficient advance notice.” When the opposition and government agreed to push back the presidential election from April 22 to May 20, Freeland responded by tweeting “Maduro regime’s decision to postpone Venezuela’s elections until May changes nothing.”

Another demand Freeland has made of the Venezuelan authorities is that international observers be allowed to monitor the election. Yet, the Venezuelan government’s vocal request for UN observers has been opposed by the country’s opposition alliance. Behind the scenes the US is undoubtedly lobbying the international body to reject Caracas’ request.

(Notwithstanding the partisan attacks, Venezuela has among the world’s most efficient, secure and transparent electoral systems. In 2012 former US President and head of the Carter Center Jimmy Carter stated, “as a matter of fact, of the 92 elections that we’ve monitored, I would say the election process in Venezuela is the best in the world.”)

The third condition Freeland has imposed for respecting the election is “that all Venezuelan political players be included in the election.” But, the Maduro government doesn’t have the power to release those found guilty of crimes and repatriate political figures who have fled the country to avoid criminal charges.

Alongside its impossible-to-meet conditions, Canadian officials have prodded Caribbean countries to join its anti-Venezuela campaign. At a Jamaica-Canada bilateral consultation three weeks ago Canadian officials brought up Venezuela and earlier in the year Freeland tweeted that “Canada welcomes signatures by Saint Lucia & Guyana to Lima Group declaration.” Last month Freeland met Costa Rica’s vice minister of foreign affairs to discuss Venezuela and Canadian representatives were part of a recent session dealing with that country on the sidelines of a Group of 20 finance ministers meeting. Canadian officials are set to join an upcoming discussion of Venezuela called by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Following Washington’s lead, Ottawa imposed two rounds of sanctions on Venezuelan officials in the Fall. Last week the United Nations Human Rights Council passed a resolution condemning the economic sanctions the US, Canada and EU have adopted against Venezuela. It urged “states to refrain from imposing unilateral coercive measures (and) condemn(s) the continued unilateral application and enforcement by certain powers of such measures as tools of political or economic pressure.”

As I, Anthony Fenton, Neil A. Burron and others have detailed, Ottawa has supported opposition groups inside Venezuela. In August outgoing Canadian ambassador Ben Rowswell told the Ottawa Citizen: “We established quite a significant internet presence inside Venezuela, so that we could then engage tens of thousands of Venezuelan citizens in a conversation on human rights. We became one of the most vocal embassies in speaking out on human rights issues and encouraging Venezuelans to speak out.”

In line with its policy of amplifying oppositional voices, on March 7 the Canadian Embassy in Caracas gave a human rights prize to Francisco Valencia, director of the Coalición de Organizaciones por el Derecho a la Salud y la Vida (CODEVIDA). Numerous media outlets reported on the award given to an aggressive opponent of the Venezuelan government. “I believe that we are facing a criminal State”, Valencia told Crisis en Venezuela.

The Embassy’s human rights prize is co-sponsored with the Centro para la Paz y los Derechos Humanos. The director of that organization, Raúl Herrera, has repeatedly denounced the Venezuelan government. Six months ago Herrera said, “the Venezuelan State systematically and repeatedly violates the Human Rights of Venezuelans and political prisoners.”

Clearly Ottawa is guilty of interfering in the electoral process of Venezuela. When Russia has been accused of (a much more mild) form of intervention every party in Parliament is quick to condemn them.

Has the NDP become so tied into the American Empire that it cannot point out this obvious hypocrisy?