Plenty of people, including countless academics and large swaths of the diplomatic corps, are upset over the Harper government’s decision to sever ties with Iran. We’ll lose our influence! We need dialogue and diplomacy! And what about those wretched Iranian Canadians rotting in Tehran’s jails? We’ve thrown our principles to the wolves, all because of the Harper government’s rash, ideologically driven, radically unbalanced (read pro-Israel) foreign policy.
But Derek Burney, a widely respected former ambassador to the United States, begs to differ. “Enough is enough,” he says. The Iranian regime has flouted “every accepted norm and principle of civilized nations.” As for influence, we’re deluded if we think we have any. In a piece published on iPolitics (co-authored with Fen Hampson), Mr. Burney counts the ways in which our diplomacy has been utterly useless.
It couldn’t save the life of Zahra Kazemi, the Canadian-Iranian photojournalist who was brutalized and murdered by the regime in 2003. It couldn’t save the Americans who took refuge in the Canadian embassy back in 1979. (Courage and bravery did that.) Diplomacy utterly failed to deter the regime from backing a Syrian despot, sponsoring terrorist attacks abroad or shooting students in the streets.
As for Iran’s ceaseless efforts to acquire nuclear weapons, I’m sad to say the ayatollahs haven’t been paying any attention to Canada at all.
The people who imagine that we could exert the slightest influence over Iran tend to be the same people who argue that Canada should be neutral and balanced in international affairs – which generally means sitting on the fence even when the guys on the other side are a bunch of thugs. To them, no thugs are too thuggish for Canada to hug. Besides, they argue, perhaps the Iranian regime isn’t really as dangerous, malevolent and crazy as it seems. Just because they talk tough doesn’t mean they’ll act tough, and even if they get nukes, is that really such a bad thing? We’re all getting overexcited.
Well, maybe. On the other hand, the regime’s rabidly anti-Semitic, exterminationist rhetoric (widely underreported in the West) isn’t all that encouraging. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad describes Israel as an “insult to humanity” and “a cancerous tumour,” and calls for its “disappearance.”
And he’s not the only one. In May, the chief of staff of the Iranian armed forces, Major-General Seyed Hassan Firouzabadi, said: “The Iranian nation is standing for its cause [and] that is the full annihilation of Israel.” In June, Iranian Vice-President Mohammad Reza Rahimi told a United Nations-sponsored anti-drug conference that the Jews were responsible for the spread of illegal drugs around the world, that the Zionists control the international drug trade, and that they had ordered doctors to kill black babies.
Okay, so maybe they’re just kidding. Maybe they’re 99 per cent rational. But that other 1 per cent is a bit worrisome, especially if they get nukes. And as the Middle East analyst Adam Garfinkle points out, in light of recent history, it might be wise to take their genocidal threats just a little seriously.
Instead of doing nothing, Canada is using what moral force it has to condemn a pariah state. Iran probably doesn’t care. But other countries will take note, and some might even follow suit. It’s possible that the force of international opinion might even affect Iran’s behaviour. So good on us. We did the right thing.