By Scott Taylor
While the sudden departure of former Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird admittedly came as quite a shock, what was truly shocking was the heap of unblemished praise pundits, colleagues and the media dumped into his legacy-forming farewells.
I’m not one to relish in kicking a guy when he’s making a voluntary exit, but in this case — for the sake of bringing a little balance back to the equation — I think a few pointed reminders are in order.
My press gallery colleagues can muse all they want about what a quiet, gentle man Baird was in private, but his public persona was that of the Conservative Party’s barking monkey and loyal pit bull defender of Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
Kind-hearted analysts credited Baird with having single-handedly forged Canada’s current foreign affairs policy. This would not have taken Baird very long to do, as he admitted early on in his tenure as minister that he simplified all equations into either Black Hats or White Hats (Bad Guys vs. Good Guys).
Armed with this failsafe formula, Baird was quick to plunge Canada into the civil war in Libya in the spring of 2011. Crazy old Moammar Gadhafi had to be the black hat, so Baird set about with his white crayon drawing white hats on the Libyan rebels. While Canadian Lieutenant-General Charles Bouchard led the international military intervention, Baird became by far the most strident of all Western leaders in pushing for Gadhafi’s ouster.
As the uprising stagnated into a military stalemate, international observers began to examine just who constituted the assortment of Libyan rebel leaders. It quickly became apparent that they were a motley collection of Islamic fundamentalists, human traffickers and ruthless criminals.
However, this did not deter our man Baird, who flew into the rebel-held city of Benghazi in June 2011 to meet with the anti-Gadhafi leaders. At that juncture, it seemed that even with the full might of the NATO air armada on their side, the rebels could not make any additional headway against the Gadhafi loyalists.
South Africa was pushing for a negotiated peace that would have seen a partitioning of Libya, with Gadhafi left in control of the western half of the country.
While some rebels had been weighing that option, after Baird’s visit all peace talks were off.
With additional weapons, ramped up NATO airstrikes, and the covert provision of Western Special Forces, Baird was finally able to give the Libyan rebels their victory. His captors captured Gadhafi alive and brutally murdered him in the street. Again, such barbarism — Gadhafi was sodomized with a tent spike and left to bleed out — might have been a clue as to the mindset of Baird’s Libyan allies.
Of course, there was no time for such an assessment; Canada had a massive $850,000 victory celebration to plan for in Ottawa.
On November 24, 2011, the skies above Parliament Hill buzzed with the sound of a flypast that employed more planes than we had deployed to the Libyan conflict. On the ground, massed bands paraded with the ship’s company from HMCS Charlottetown and a contingent of the Canadian Special Operations Regiment (CSOR).
It is significant to note that none of our NATO allies or coalition partners staged any similar victory festivities. There was also no such celebration in Libya.
Immediately following Gadhafi’s death, rebel factions refused to disarm and soon began fighting among themselves, conducting horrific reprisal killings while Libya quickly began a steady descent into the violent anarchy of a failed state.
Under Baird’s direction, Canada took a lead role in ousting Gadhafi, and Canada alone celebrated the alliance’s military victory. Thus, the Libya fiasco cannot be divorced from Baird’s legacy.
Ditto for when Baird took his white and black crayons and again drew hats on the stakeholders in the Syrian civil war. Naturally, Bashar al-Assad was the bad guy, so those opposed to him must be the good guys. It was a no-brainer.
Then, once again, as the civil war dragged on, analysts started to examine just who exactly was doing the fighting to oust Assad. It turned out that the democracy-loving moderate Syrian opposition were sitting in cafés in Istanbul while Islamic fundamentalists were on the ground in Syria battling Assad loyalists.
It was these same Syrian anti-Assad forces to which Baird initially pledged Canada’s full support that eventually morphed into what we now call ISIS.
For all of Baird’s previous chanting that “Assad must go,” now, no matter how you try to spin it, the Canadian military is engaged in battling Assad’s ISIS enemies in Iraq and Syria.
Baird also drew black hats on the Iranians, shutting down diplomatic relations with Tehran on September 7, 2012. However, our soldiers are now undeniably allied with the Iranians who support the Shiite militias in Iraq in the battle against ISIS. Of course, Assad is also backed by Russia and Hezbollah, which would have truly led Baird into a crayon colour-choosing crisis.
Baird was a loud, petulant checkers player at a world chess tournament. While gone, he will not soon be forgotten.