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Groundhog Day in Ottawa

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.

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About the Author

Reg Whitaker
Political scientist Reg Whitaker writes a political column for Inroads and is a member of its editorial board.

One Comment

  1. gstevenson

    I agree with Reg that our government’s foreign policy is rather predictable and lacking in creativity, but I disagree with his take on the Ukrainian situation. I wonder why so many people I know seem to think that Russia has some sort of inherent right to dominate the neighbouring countries along its western border, or to intervene in them if they form governments which threaten to act against Russian interests. Logic and consistency would suggest that if Russia has such a right, the USA also has the right to use force to overturn the Cuban regime (which admittedly it tried to do in the early days of that regime, albeit in a somewhat half-assed manner) I also think we should avoid jumping to the conclusion that the Ukrainian nationalists are “fascists”, just because Putin says so. Communists, and unrepentant ex-communists like Putin, always label their opponents in that manner, but we don’t have to take their word for it. Russia is a huge country with a strange political culture and a long tradition of expansionist and aggressive behaviour, going back long before 1917. It is probably more dangerous today than it was under Khrushchev and Brezhnev, even though it is weaker. The farther east its western border is, the happier I will be.

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