The black and white vision of John Baird

Scott Taylor

Scott Taylor

Last Wednesday, Canada’s inimitable foreign affairs minister addressed the American Jewish Committee in Washington, D.C.

John Baird was heartily applauded as he chastised Iran and reaffirmed Canada’s unwavering and wholehearted support for the State of Israel.

To hammer home his personal loyalty, Baird offered up a startlingly revealing anecdote. Apparently, while a young, wide-eyed political staffer in the early 1990s, Baird attended a briefing about rocket attacks against Israel.

The presenter was a senior civil servant who asserted that the Middle East was a very complex equation wherein it is not always possible to identify “the white hats from the black hats.”

By his own admission, Baird was “stunned” by this assessment, and instead of listening to the rest of the briefing, began doodling notes. Under the title “White Hats,” Baird wrote “Israel,” “Liberal democracy” and “our best friend.” On the other side of the page, under the “Black Hats” label, Baird wrote “Hezbollah,” “international terrorism” and “our worst enemy.”

While such a statement of unquestioning partisanship on Baird’s part was bound to be a crowd-pleaser, it should give every concerned Canadian some serious pause for thought. If we believe this tale at face value, it means that at the tender age of 23, with a bachelor of arts degree in political studies and a mollycoddled upbringing in a child-safe district of Canada’s capital, Baird tuned out the teachings of a top-level bureaucrat who had presumably spent years studying the complexities of the Middle East.

Now that he is the minister of foreign affairs, Baird assured the crowd that “20 years later, we don’t have briefings like that anymore. There is no room for moral relativism.”

While it is frightening to think that Canada’s foreign affairs minister would deny himself access to senior civil servants who are paid to study in detail the complex equations that create global hot spots, Baird’s admission certainly makes many of his recent blunders far easier to understand.

In the case of the Libyan uprising in March 2011, surely there were some bureaucrats on the Foreign Affairs Africa desk who understood the tribal rifts and religious overtones of the initial rebellion. Without such a briefing, Baird simply doodled a black hat on Moammar Gadhafi and a white hat on those who opposed him.

With Canada leading the NATO air campaign to assist the Libyan rebels, Baird’s loyalty to the anti-Gadhafi cause remained undivided. Even when it was revealed that a large number of rebels were linked to al-Qaida, Baird had no time for any moral relativism.

Following Gadhafi’s death in October 2011, the true extent of Baird’s folly has come to the fore. The disparate bands of tribal militias and Islamic fundamentalists who fought against the Libyan leader refused to disarm and now fight among themselves.

A new rebel faction from Benghazi has seized the oil facilities, effectively terminating Libyan exports since October. The cessation of revenue has bankrupted the once-rich Libyan treasury, and even Libyan diplomats admit their nation has become a failed state.

Without briefings, Baird need not worry about such complex consequences. He took a similar approach toward the crisis in Syria. Surely some desk officer could have given Baird a detailed explanation about how the secular Baath Party government of Bashar al-Assad enjoyed the support of the minority Alawites, Chaldeans, Assyrians and Armenians for the simple reason that the largely Sunni Muslim rebels contained extremist elements linked to al-Qaida.

Even if such a briefing had been given, we can now believe that Baird would have ignored the input while drawing a black hat on Bashar Assad. To remain consistent with his rejection of moral relativism, Baird would then have had to draw little white hats on the Syrian anti-Assad forces, which, of course, include the al-Nusra Front (a.k.a. al-Qaida).

Now we have the crisis in Ukraine, and the doodling Baird has drawn the black hat on Russian President Vladimir Putin, likening his aggression to that of Adolf Hitler.

This means, of course, that Baird is using his white crayon to draw little hats on the interim Ukrainian government, which includes both the Svoboda party and the Right Sector, both of which are considered to be ultra right-wing anti-Semitic neo-Nazi organizations.