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Leadership Vacuums and Lame Duck Governments

December 30, 2008

I initially intended to write a New Years Eve post today, looking back over the course of the year, and looking forward on a few Canadian-and-international issues. But I found Mara’s post on the recent Israeli-Palestinian crisis so thoughtful, I felt the need to first say something, anything, on point, even if I may end up saying very little at all.

Only days ago, Israel launched a large-scale air campaign in Gaza to stop what it called a steady stream of Qassam rockets being lobbed into its southern cities. At a time when much of the west is quietly celebrating holidays, violence is spiraling out of the control in the Middle East. But my concern is not about holiday season, but the lame duck governments – both in the United States and Canada – that create a vacuum of world leadership that makes resolving such crisis that much more difficult.

According to a story on the Toronto Star website, Israel is “under international pressure”, as it “weighs its options” while its air campaign in Gaza continues. The piece talks about European Union proposals, behind the scenes work by Egyptian President Hosni Mubarek, and in front of the scenes talks in Paris held by French President Nicolas Sarkozy between Israeli and Palestinian officials.

But there is no mention of Canada doing anything at all. No statement. No actions. No diplomatic efforts. No proposals. Nothing. And this is a Canadian paper! Might things be different if Canada was not led by a beleaguered minority government that had to prorogue Parliament to save itself? A critic would say the Canadian Parliament would have adjourned for the holidays anyways, but emergency sessions can be called by the Prime Minister to debate important issues. The problem with a lame duck and prorogued government is that it leads to no government, and no leadership on world issues, at all. I am not saying that Canada is a central player in Middle East, or that its ideas might found peace, or that it has to say something original, but the leadership vacuum in Ottawa has led to a silence that is ringing loudly in this Canadian’s ears.

The problem is even worse in the United States. Curiously, in the Star story there is a mere two lines dedicated to the work being done by the U.S., with President Bush and Secretary of State Rice issuing a statement that “called leaders in the Middle East to press for a durable solution”. In short, Bush and Rice appear to be doing very little and are calling on others (“leaders in the Middle East”) to do the hard work– come up with a “durable” solution.

But is this surprising? Not really. There is a also leadership vacuum in the United States right now. The Bush administration is a lame duck government. While the Bush regime “technically” remains in power until January, no one really pays much attention to what it says now. People care more about incoming President-Elect Barack Obama’s views. But right now, these are views only. The President-elect has no government through which to act. While Bush has a government, but no legitimacy to act or to be taken seriously.

While Canada is not a major player on Middle Eastern affairs, the United States is immensely important. Among all countries, it has the power to make both Israeli and Palestinian officials listen. But nobody is listening right now. And that contributes to a deep void of world leadership.

This post has thus not been about blame, casualties, or how “peace” can be achieved, though it does concern the conditions that may be necessary to help facilitate either short or long term ceasefires or peace– the need for leadership and action from stable and legitimate Western democracies like Canada and the United States. The continuing problem of weakened and unstable minority governments in Canada, and inefficient and unnecessarily drawn out political transition in the United States may be questions of constitutional design and nation building, but today they are, at least in some sense, a question for international leadership and peace, and lack thereof.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. January 1, 2009 11:28 pm

    It makes me wonder if perhaps the timing was intentional. Yes, I know that the ceasefire was running out anyway, but if it had run out six months from now with Obama firmly ensconced, would Hamas have done what it did? Would Israel?

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