Bob Rae is former premier of Ontario and a former member of Parliament.
If Canadians turn our attention at all from the bliss that is a short but intense summer, we look to the nasty, brutish and long election campaign that yawns before us. Meanwhile, the world reckons with the possibility that the alliance between the U.S. Republicans and the government of Israel might well undo the multi-government deal limiting Iran's nuclear ambitions.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke to the American Congress a few months ago, he warned that "a bad deal" would mean the threat both to Israel and the world would be enhanced and not restrained. He is making that case in even stronger terms today. Relations between the U.S. government and Israel are the worst they have been since U.S. president Dwight Eisenhower and Israel prime minister David Ben-Gurion went toe-to-toe over the Suez Crisis in 1956.
Let's first understand the case against the deal: Iran's regime is repressive towards its own citizens; it funds and foments violent extremists in the Middle East and more widely; it is intensely anti-Israel and indeed anti-Semitic; its nuclear ambitions are not merely "destabilizing" but a genuine and existential threat to Israel and its other "enemies" in the region – if Iran gets the bomb, others will quickly follow suit – Turkey, Egypt, Saudi Arabia at the top of the list; Iran's government can't be trusted.
The deal does nothing to stop internal repression or international bad behaviour and the end to sanctions will give an economic and financial bonanza to the regime and at best will buy a bit of time in slowing down Iran's March to having a nuclear weapon.
It is a strong case. The problem is the alternative. President Barack Obama has made the compelling argument that defeating the deal will mean Iran's drive to having the bomb will intensify, and that the only means to stop it would be a difficult, bloody, war that has no guarantee of success. What the President can't say publicly is that the Europeans, Russians, and Chinese would not, in all probability, maintain effective sanctions, and that the anti-Iran coalition that has been built with such difficulty would simply fall apart.
Mr. Netanyahu's pitch that the world should insist on a "better deal" is an illusion. This is the deal that's there. International inspection with a trigger to re-establish sanctions if Iran breaks the deal is all that's on offer.
Stephen Harper's government has made a point of being a rock-solid ally of the Likud government in Israel. It has been completely silent on the deal. Mr. Harper's Conservatives are also closely allied to the Republicans in the United States. As a result, we are doing and saying nothing.
A better approach would be for Canada to be clear: In a difficult, dangerous world it is better to be deterring Iran's nuclear ambitions, and Israel and the Republicans should at least hear the view that rejecting the deal is worse than signing it. This won't happen, because our foreign policy has become so tied up with domestic political considerations that Canada has nothing to say if it doesn't involve ritual denunciations and moral outrage.
The Harper approach of megaphone diplomacy has left Canada isolated, even to the point that our relations with the United States are at an historic low. Mr. Harper and his supporters believe they have established "moral clarity" and "Canadian self-interest" as the hallmarks of a new shining Canadian presence in the world. The reality is a little different.
In the world of difficult choices, where the best is not always on offer but the "least bad" often is, Canada's diplomats are forced into silence and submission, scurrying to get speaking notes written by political aides in the prime minister's office. The best and most sophisticated advice on issues around the world is simply ignored, and we have become a branch plant of Republican International. It's a pity none of this will become an election issue.