Baird's Legacy

By Jason McNaught

John Baird’s recent and sudden departure as Canada’s foreign affairs minister drew heavy media coverage following the announcement of his retirement on February 3.

As a politician, Baird was immensely successful, winning his first election in provincial politics at the young age of 25 … and every election after that for the entirety of his 20-year career as an MPP, MP, and finally as a loyal minister to Stephen Harper.

At first, it was understandable that the media would give Baird a warm send-off. Why kick him in the pants as he’s putting on his shoes to head out the front door? That would be un-Canadian. Besides, the press community in Ottawa is a fairly tight-knit and cohesive bunch. Stepping out of line may make future encounters (and there are many) with Conservative staffers and MPs a little awkward. What reporter wants to skulk around Parliament with their head down after printing something a little more truthful and a little less trivial?

Baird was a walking contradiction: a hypocrite who placed economic benefits above human rights. He worked tirelessly for gay rights yet supported trade deals with nations that would hang you for being a homosexual. His devotion to Israel was so inexplicably fervent that when they began targeting schools and hospitals — full of civilians taking refuge from the attacks — in Palestine, Baird commented that Israel had “every right” to defend itself. Yet, as he stood before a gaggle of jostling reporters on his final day as Minister of Foreign Affairs, he said: “I quickly learned though to make a difference, to really make a difference, you can’t be defined by partisanship, nor by ideology. You need instead to be defined by your values.”

Baird had little understanding of (or use for) diplomacy. There was once a time when other nations respected Canada’s stand on international matters. When Baird became our foreign minister, he turned himself from a ‘pit bull’ in the House of Commons to a little yapping dog on the doorstep of the world’s larger powers. His trademark “black hat, white hat” approach to conflict resulted in an act-first-think-last approach that had him canoodling with Islamic fundamentalists in Libya, would-be ISIS terrorists in Syria, and white supremacists in Ukraine.
Libya is a campaign that Baird and the Conservatives have worked hard to forget about. Once “very impressed” with the capabilities of the rebel council members who sought to oust the regime of Moammar Gadhafi, Canada held a victory parade after the former dictator was pulled into the street, sodomized and shot to death by those who were supposedly fighting for democracy. The post-Gadhafi regime, Baird cautioned, “won’t be perfect.” He was right. Libya is now a failed state, and Canada has stood on the sidelines as it continues to descend into a country devoured by tribal war.

Baird's White Hat/Black Hat labels were better suited for Hollywood, not real life.

Baird's White Hat/Black Hat labels were better suited for Hollywood, not real life.

With Baird’s “no room for moral relativism” foreign affairs strategy, he was quick to tuck himself under the sheets with Syria’s anti-Assad forces until realizing that they, too, were as cruel as the leader they were opposing. After quietly slipping out of bed with bearded ISIS extremists, Baird declined the request to arm them, but somehow stood behind the American decision to do just that.

Following Russia’s sneaky yet bloodless annexation of the Crimea and the subsequent war in Eastern Ukraine, Baird immediately gave up on the prospect of diplomacy by cutting off communication with the Russian embassy in Canada, expelling Russian diplomats, implementing sanctions and making public comments comparing Putin to Hitler.

After standing arm-in-arm with neo-Nazis in Ukraine and praising them as “freedom-lovers,” Baird’s overly simplistic, Hollywood-style Good versus Evil view of the world repeatedly made him look like a buffoon on the international stage. In late 2014, he even began to refer to the West as “the civilized world” when speaking to journalists about Russian involvement in the war in Ukraine. That’s odd, considering that the West’s democracy crusade — starting with the illegal war in Iraq — has helped to produce wave after wave of increasingly barbaric fundamentalist groups in the Middle East — most of whom seem to enjoy the use of high-tech American-made weaponry.

Baird entered politics young — perhaps too young — and his ascension to foreign affairs minister was earned through party loyalty, not by exhibiting the traits that would have made him an effective statesman. Postmedia’s long-serving foreign correspondent Matthew Fisher, who generally steers his columns away from Conservative party criticism, took a different tack when summing up John Baird’s tenure as Minster of Foreign Affairs:

“Whether the subject was the Middle East, Europe or Asia, they [younger diplomats] often complained that he had a wide but thin knowledge of the issues and seemed to come at them with preconceived notions about the world that were seldom modified as he became more deeply briefed,” writes Fisher. “Foreign service officers would roll their eyes or wince when they heard he was coming to town. They did not see the utility of many of his visits and wearied of the arrangements they had to make to accommodate his stays.”

For this country’s sake, let’s hope that our next foreign affairs minister does more listening and less talking.