Vive Le Canada

Putting A Swagger Into Foreign Policy
Date: Saturday, March 17 2007

Under Stephen Harper's watch, Canada's top military man has helped refashion our approach to international affairs

Mar 17, 2007 04:30 AM
James Travers
National Affairs Columnist

Ottawa–Rick Hillier is a splash of colour in an anonymous, grey capital. Outspoken and contentious, he's the toast of the barracks and the first chief of the defence staff in decades to consistently poke his head above the public parapet.

Raised in Newfoundland and seasoned in the base camp hoorah culture of Fort Hood, Texas, Hillier is more than the sum of military clichés. A soldier's soldier, Canada's top general also has what counts in a government town now under Conservative command and control: influence.

Promoted past more cautious rivals in 2005 by then-Liberal prime minister Paul Martin, Hillier is now the most visible member of the elite group helping Stephen Harper transform this country's international image. They are doing a remarkable job.

Decades ago, Lester Pearson famously commented: "Foreign policy is merely domestic policy with its hat on." Now, when Canadians go abroad they are more likely to wear a helmet.

No longer the good-scout peacekeeper, there's new toughness and even some swagger in the way Harper's government's and Hillier's troops walk through the global village. It was obvious last summer when the Prime Minister abandoned Canada's traditional neutrality and nuances to take one side in the Israeli-Hezbollah conflict. It is even more evident in Afghanistan where reconstruction is the rhetorical sugar coating on a bitter conflict.

Canada's unequivocal position on a complex border clash and Harper's arguably reckless rush to extend the Kandahar tour to 2009 are more than just reflex responses to the helter-skelter challenges of a post-cold war, post-9/11 world. They are the philosophically coherent, if politically controversial, result of a new, tightly focused and equally tightly held international perspective.

Instead of caring about everyone and everything – a Conservative charge more accurately targeted at ineffective aid than effective multilateralism – Harper has two dominating priorities. While he is nostalgic enough to again hang the Queen's portrait in the cabinet room and worried enough about the neighbourhood to muse about the hemisphere, what really matters are the United States and Afghanistan.

This article comes from Vive Le Canada

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