by Reg Whitaker
In the movie Groundhog Day, Bill Murray is forced to live the same day over and over. He tries to break the loop by changing events; he even tries suicide. Nothing works: his next day is always his previous day.
Canadian foreign policy debates in the year 2014 look very much like Groundhog Day. Two conflicts – Israel-Palestine in Gaza and Russia-Ukraine – have raised much heat, many sharp words, vehement passions, but precious little light. Hanging over the debates is a pervasive sense of déja vu. Trapped in a time warp?
Russia-Ukraine is a good example. Following the coup that drove out the pro-Russian president, Vladimir Putin’s annexation of Crimea and barely covert Russian backing for violent pro-Russian separatists in the eastern part of the country quickly led to talk of a “new Cold War.” Putin was cast as the dictator Stalin menacing eastern Europe circa 1947–48, with the West being called on to revive the heroic spirit of the Marshall Plan and NATO. We in the West, it seemed, were blameless innocents confronted by Putin’s aggression and lust for domination. The failure of appeasement in the 1930s to stop Hitler had taught the West that dictators must always be confronted.