One day after two top UCP cabinet ministers announced they would not seek re-election in May there were still few answers to be had.
Twenty years ago, Lt Col Karen Kwiatkowski was working as a desk officer in the Pentagon, when she became aware of a secretive new department called the Office of Special Plans.
The OSP had been set up to produce the kind of intelligence that the Bush administration wanted to hear, about Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction. Kwiatkowski, then age 42, saw first-hand how the disastrous war was confected.
“I had this huge faith in my superiors, that they must be there for a reason, they must be wise and strong and all of these fairytale type things, but I came to find out there are very incompetent people in very high positions,” she said.
Kwiatkowski, who became a Pentagon whistleblower over the war, is now a farmer, part-time college professor, and occasional political candidate on the libertarian end of the Republican party in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. She says she was somewhat cynical about war and politics even before she was seconded to the Pentagon’s Near East and South Asia department in 2002. But seeing America’s governance subverted up close dramatically deepened her disillusion.
“There’s a crisis of faith in this country,” Kwiatkowski said. “As always, when you have these crises of faith you see populist leaders, and the emergence of Trump certainly was a response to a crisis in faith. It’ll be interesting to see what happens next, because Americans have a lot less to be proud of than we think.”
On the whole, she believes the experience of the Iraq war has imbued Americans with a healthy scepticism about what they are being told by the establishment – but not nearly enough.
“I could go into the Walmart right now and ask everybody about WMD in Iraq and probably three out ten people, maybe more, will swear that it’s all true,” she said. “Our public propaganda in this country is supremely good.”
Polling figures over the past two decades suggest that overall attitudes towards foreign policy are fairly stable. When the Chicago Council on Global Affairs asked Americans whether “it will be best for the future of the country if we take an active part in world affairs or if we stay out of world affairs”, 71% supported activism in 2002 and 64% still supported it in 2021.
More generally, the Iraq invasion coincided with a collapse in public trust in government which had very briefly recovered from its post-Vietnam slump after the 9/11 attacks. Data from surveys by the Pew Research Centre, show the post-Iraq malaise is deeper and more enduring.
“It said first and foremost to young people that the government can’t be trusted,” John Zogby, another US pollster, said. “It also said that the American military may be the strongest in the world but it has serious limits, and it can’t impose its will, even on smaller countries.”
He added: “Americans will go to war, but they want their wars to be short, and they want them to make a positive difference.”
There are still US soldiers on counter-terrorist missions in Iraq and Syria. The Authorisation to Use Military Force that Congress first granted to the Bush administration in the run-up to the 2003 invasion has yet to be repealed by the Senate, and has been cited by the Obama and Trump administrations in justifying operations in the region.
Coleen Rowley, an FBI whistleblower who exposed security lapses leading to the 9/11 attacks, wrote an open letter to the FBI director in March 2003, warning of a “flood of terrorism” resulting from the Iraq invasion. She says now that two decades on, nobody has been held accountable for the fatal mistakes.
“I think the real danger is that their propaganda was very successful, and people like Bush and Cheney have now been rehabilitated,” Rowley said. “Even the liberals have embraced Bush and Cheney.”
The terrible mistakes made leading to and during the Iraq war forced no resignations and neither George W Bush nor his vice-president, Dick Cheney – nor any other senior official who made the case the war and then oversaw a disastrous occupation – have ever been held to account by any form of commission or tribunal.
However, the taint of Iraq arguably altered the course of US politics by hobbling those who supported it.
“In some ways you can argue Iraq is what led to Obama being president as opposed to Hillary Clinton,” said Daniel Drezner, professor of international politics at the Fletcher school of law and diplomacy at Tufts University. “I don’t think Obama wins the 2008 Democratic primary if Hillary hadn’t supported the war.”
The war also opened a schism in the Republican party, strengthening an anti-intervention faction that eventually triumphed with the 2016 election of Donald Trump.
George W Bush and his former vice-president have drawn some positive liberal press for their low-key opposition to some of the excesses of the Trump era, but Kenneth Pollack, a Middle East and military expert at the American Enterprise Institute, they paid a political price by becoming marginalised within their own party.
“The system has punished those people. If you were a Bushie, if you were a neocon, you’re no longer welcome to the party,” Pollack said. “I would say there has been a lot of accountability, but it’s been accountability in a traditionally American way.”
Those excluded included traditional conservatives with less extreme domestic social positions than Maga Republicans. The drive to war was fueled by partisanship – the Bush administration was contemptuous of Democrats and all opposition – but it also served as an accelerant to the extremism that led to Trump and the 6 January insurrection.
“It’s very hard to say how much Iraq was responsible for that, but it does seem to me that it was an important element in making our partisanship worse,” Pollack said.
Pollack is a former CIA analyst and a Democrat who backed the invasion, believing the evidence on Saddam Hussein’s WMD and supporting the humanitarian argument for ousting a dictator.
Pollack jokes that he is the only person to have since apologised. It is not entirely true as a few other pundits, like the conservative commentator, Max Boot, have also been contrite, but there have been no public expressions of remorse from former senior officials who took the fateful decisions. It is one of the important ways in which the US has still not had a proper reckoning for the war.
Pollack, who has stayed in touch with several of the Bush team for a forthcoming book on the US and Iraq, said that some express private regret for specific decisions and choices, but others remain unrepentant.
“I’ve heard it said to my face that: ‘Nope, I wouldn’t change a thing. I’d do everything all over again the exact same way’, which I find shocking,” he said. “I don’t see how you look at American behaviour during this period and not have regrets.”
Toronto-area MP Han Dong is at the centre of a political firestorm following a Global News report that he allegedly spoke with a Chinese diplomat in 2021, advising Beijing to delay freeing Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor, according to two intelligence sources.
While Dong acknowledged he had the conversation with China’s consul-general in Toronto, Han Tao, he strongly denied the allegations that he told Beijing to hold off the release of the two Canadians.
He has subsequently resigned from the Liberal caucus, giving an emotional speech Wednesday night in the House of Commons.
“What has been reported is false, and I will defend myself against these absolutely untrue claims,” said Dong, who will now sit as an Independent.
“Let me assure members that, as a parliamentarian and as a person, I have never advocated, and I will never and would never advocate or support the violation of the basic human rights of any Canadian or of anyone, anywhere, period.”
Han Dong leaving Liberal caucus, will sit as an Independent
Global News previously reported last month that Dong is one of at least 11 Toronto-area riding candidates who was allegedly supported by Beijing in the 2019 federal election, according to national security sources.
The sources spoke to Global News on the condition of anonymity, which they requested because they risk prosecution under the Security of Information Act.
Dong has denied the allegations.
In an effort to glean more about the Don Valley North MP’s positions on issues regarding China, Global News has compiled a review of his votes and statements inside and out of the House of Commons:
Trudeau says foreign interference ‘very real challenge,’ urges people to watch Han Dong’s speech
Kovrig and Spavor spent more than 1,000 days in prison in China in what was believed to be in retaliation for Canada’s 2018 detention of Meng Wanzhou. The Huawei senior executive was arrested in Vancouver on a U.S. extradition warrant over fraud charges related to U.S. sanctions violations against Iran.
While two national security sources told Global News that Dong urged Chinese Consul General Han Tao to delay freeing the Michaels, Dong pushed back strongly against the allegations in a response to Global News.
“I raised the status of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig and called for their immediate release,” he wrote.
“At every opportunity before they returned home, I adamantly demanded their release to Canada without delay. Any suggestions otherwise are false and are attempts to mislead you and your readers, and slander me.”
More on Politics
Global News reviewed all statements made by Dong in Parliament since he was elected in 2019 and found no remarks related to the Two Michaels or calls for their freedom prior to March 2023.
Dong did not respond to questions about where he’s previously made such statements.
Liberals ignored CSIS warning on 2019 candidate accused in Chinese interference probe, sources say
The Globe and Mail reported Thursday that the Trudeau government determined there was no “actionable evidence” after it received a CSIS transcript of a 2021 conversation between Dong and China’s top diplomat in Toronto.
According to The Globe, a senior government source indicated that conclusions could not be drawn that Dong asked Beijing to keep the two Canadians in prison for political reasons.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau was asked Friday by reporters about whether he believed Dong advocated for delaying the Michaels’ freedom.
The prime minister did not directly answer that question despite his office’s review of the conversation’s transcript.
“Dong gave a strong speech in the House that I recommend people listen to. We fully accept that he is stepping away from the Liberal caucus in order to vigorously contest these allegations,” the prime minister said.
Trudeau added that meddling by China, Russia or Iran “is a very real challenge to our democracy and is absolutely unacceptable.”
Liberal MP Han Dong says he won’t ask PMO to verify allegations of Chinese election interference
Shortly after resigning from the Liberal caucus, Dong voted Thursday for an inquiry into foreign election interference.
The Trudeau government has been under intense pressure for perceived inaction after reports of China’s alleged meddling in Canadian elections.
Dong voted with the Conservative Party, Bloc Québécois and New Democrats to help pass the motion with 172 votes in favour and 149 against, largely comprised of Liberal MPs.
Since 2019, there have been three votes on Canada-China relations. One was to review “the Canada–China relationship,” the second a call to combat growing Chinese foreign operations in Canada, and third recognizing that authoritarian regimes like China “increasingly pose a threat to the rules-based international order.”
Dong voted with the entire or vast majority of the Liberal caucus against the three motions.
MPs votes to declare China’s Uyghurs persecution as genocide
On Feb. 1, a Liberal motion was brought forward condemning China’s human rights abuses of the Uyghur minority in Xinjiang and called on the government to bring 10,000 Uyghurs and other Turkic Muslims to Canada.
Uyghurs in other countries, the motion said, are pressured to return to China, where they face “forced sterilization, forced labour, torture and other atrocities.”
Dong voted before and after the Uyghur genocide motion but missed the show of hands on the Uyghurs, which passed with the unanimous consent of all 322 MPs present. His absence was first reported by the National Post.
The Toronto MP did not respond to questions from Global News about his non-attendence and referred Global to his statement before the House of Commons.
“Members skip their votes, abstain their votes all the time, and I wasn’t the only one that skipped the vote,” he told reporters Tuesday.
In February 2021, there was a House vote to declare that China’s treatment of the Uyghurs constituted genocide.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his cabinet abstained, but MPs were free to vote. Dong skipped that motion, which passed unanimously.
Liberals insist Trudeau government worked “tirelessly” to bring home 2 Michaels
Amid a flurry of questions from reporters about the stunning allegations against him, Dong said that in 2020 he had called for a motion to study “election interference.”
In November 2020, Dong did call for a study on “ways to further protect Canada’s democratic and electoral institutions from cyber and non-cyber interference.”
The study, he said at the time, should include “how new domestic and international stakeholders, as well as other orders of government, can work together to strengthen Canada’s whole-of-society preparedness, resilience and civic engagement in the face of evolving threats to democracy.”
In 2021, a Conservative motion sponsored by MP Michael Chong requested that the Public Health Agency turn over unredacted documents related to the shipment of viruses sent from Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory to Wuhan, China in 2019, and the subsequent firing of two scientists from the Winnipeg facility.
Dong voted with the nearly entire Liberal caucus against the motion, which nonetheless passed in Parliament.
Speaking to reporters outside the House of Commons earlier this week, Dong said he had voted in favour of motions considered hostile to Beijing’s interests.
“I voted to condemn China when they sanctioned one of our vice chairs of a standing committee,” he said. “I voted to include Taiwan in the WHO. In 2020, I moved a motion in [an] ethics committee to study election interference, domestic and international.”
Liberal MP Han Dong secretly advised Chinese diplomat in 2021 to delay freeing Two Michaels: sources
China considers Taiwan a breakaway province and views any overture of support as meddling in its internal affairs.
In October 2022, Dong indeed joined 323 MPs in voting for the politically sensitive country to become a WHO member. And in June 2021, Dong joined all 327 MPs in favour of unanimously passing a Parliamentary committee motion to condemn Chinese sanctions levied against Conservative MP Michael Chong.
In February, Dong publicly supported the Liberal government’s move to expand the open-work permit program for Hong Kong residents.
The former British colony, which reverted to Beijing’s control in 1997, has seen a massive wave of emigration following anti-government demonstrations four years ago. The protests were sparked by a bill that would have allowed people to be extradited from Hong Kong to mainland China.
“[This] announcement will ensure that Hong Kong residents who share Canada’s values of freedom and democracy will continue to be able to seek opportunities to settle and succeed in Canada,” Dong said in a press release at the time.
One day after two top UCP cabinet ministers announced they would not seek re-election in May there were still few answers to be had.
On Friday afternoon, both Finance Minister Travis Toews and Environment Minister Sonya Savage announced they were opting to spend more time with family instead of running again in the next provincial election.
Premier Danielle Smith on her Saturday radio show on QR770 noted Toews’ ability to manage through the pandemic and deliver two consecutive balanced budgets. She called Savage her “point person in dealing with Ottawa.”
“I’m grateful to both of them,” said the premier. “I’m looking forward to finding out how we might be able to continue to use their incredible talents post-election in an advisory role, because I think that they’ve done so much for our province and I want to continue to see them have an opportunity to contribute.”
Smith, in a press release on Friday, said she will appoint replacement UCP candidates for Toews’ riding in Grande Prairie-Wapiti as well as for Savage in Calgary-North West.
The two are the latest cabinet ministers who have withdrawn from the coming spring election. They join former Jobs, Innovation and Economy Minister Doug Schweitzer, who stepped down before the UCP leadership race last summer, and Minister of Trade, Immigration and Multiculturalism Rajan Sawhney and party whip Brad Rutherford who have withdrawn since Smith took office in October.
Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said it is not uncommon to have a 25 per cent turnover in MLAs. What is different is to have so many cabinet ministers — especially single-term politicians — decide not to run again.
Adding to the intrigue is both were at one point prepared to run again. Toews was the first runner-up to Smith in the leadership race, while Savage had already secured the nomination for her riding.
He called the reasoning to spend more time with family a mere cliché but said it is difficult to know their full reasons for not running again.
He also does not expect this to be the end of the withdrawal of cabinet ministers, pointing to the potential of two more members of former premier Jason Kenney’s inner circle — Health Minister Jason Copping and Justice Minister Tyler Shandro — stepping away before May.
“You wonder how united the party is as Smith was able to rally them,” said Bratt.
Smith said Toews promised to stay on to at least deliver his fifth budget, which he did on Feb. 28. The implementation bill was passed on Thursday and he then informed the premier he was not going to run again.
Bratt said the deal could potentially have been that Toews was to stay on to get the budget passed before stepping away all along, while Savage was just “hedging her bets and keeping her options open” until the legislative session was over.
“I don’t know how you could ignore the shift in leader and the role that that plays,” he said.
Melanee Thomas, a political science professor at the University of Calgary, said it is curious what changed for the finance minister. If he didn’t share the premier’s vision, he likely would not have been given the power to put the budget together.
The question is, how this will play out come election time, especially with Calgary considered to be a key battleground with both the UCP and the NDP needing to win the city to win the election.
While Calgary-North West has been a long-time conservative stronghold, Thomas said Savage stepping down could mean the riding is up for grabs.
“The NDP vote is inefficient in Edmonton. The UCP is inefficient in rural areas, which means that it comes down to who wins all the seats in Calgary,” she said.
Bratt said the fact two more high-profile ministers have decided not to run again, regardless of the publicly stated reasons, will play on the minds of the undecided electorate when it comes to the UCP leader.
“You know, people do have questions and wonder, ‘if I have doubts about Smith, well, maybe Toews and Savage and Schweitzer and Sawhney have doubts about her as well,’” he said.
Sanctions have become all the rage in international politics. The United States and its allies are imposing them on rivals with increasing frequency and severity. And those rivals are reciprocating where they can.
Now, American states, too, are increasingly getting in on the act. And that’s bad news — for the world, and for US foreign policy. A much-publicised episode of a Chinese balloon entering US airspace seems to have created new energy for such restrictions and has led to legislation being proposed in at least 11 states.
On Wednesday, the South Carolina State Senate passed a bill barring ownership of land in the state by citizens of US geopolitical adversaries Russia, China, North Korea, Iran and Cuba. The bill’s top sponsor even compared a planned purchase of South Carolina land by a Chinese biomedical firm with the Trojan Horse plot of Greek mythology.
Meanwhile, Texas State Senator Lois Kolkhorst has proposed a similar law that has drawn strong condemnation on human rights grounds but has been defended by Greg Abbott, the state’s Republican governor. A simple reading of the original version of this bill would lead one to conclude that any individual who holds citizenship from any of the mentioned countries, or any firms which they own, would be barred from owning property. This would have included American citizens who hold dual citizenship. Since then, the language has been softened to protect dual citizens and permanent residents but not citizens of those countries residing in Texas on a visa.
Implementation of such language would impose new and unusual due diligence requirements on common land transactions. Meanwhile, creating special restrictions on various immigrant communities to own property poses human rights concerns.
Existing sanctions laws and Treasury Department designations already block leaders from those American adversaries from transferring money into the US or owning property in the country. Meanwhile, recently introduced federal legislation aims to ban US adversaries from purchasing large swaths of farmland in the US.
So why would a state engage in what is essentially a foreign policy and national security matter?
On the one hand, some scholars see sanctions as often being a product of domestic politics, aimed at portraying muscle to the electorate, at times influenced by pressure groups such as “ethnic lobbies”. Those in this camp of scholars are more inclined to believe that sanctions are not particularly effective. If sanctions are for the satisfaction of domestic onlookers, they will not be designed and implemented with an eye towards efficacy and the security context.
Other scholars, however, argue that sanctions are indeed imposed due to a meaningful effort to address national security concerns.
Like many in the national security decision-making scholarship community, I feel both of these binary constructions frequently fail when confronted with the history of economic sanctions. The truth is that foreign policy choices are a product of complex national security matrices that accommodate both foreign policy and domestic political considerations.
Yet irrespective of one’s overall view on the efficacy of sanctions more broadly, it is hard for anyone to deny that policies against foreign nationals adopted by state governments can have little explanation other than domestic and even local politics.
In the US, the executive branch has always been best suited to make foreign policy decisions due to its clear mandate and wherewithal in this field. Congress has a constitutional role in foreign policy matters but it’s far more likely to be influenced by domestic political pressures and national anxieties.
The executive branch largely controlled sanctions policy throughout the Cold War era. But after the fall of the Soviet Union, as major threats to the homeland faded, Congressional and sub-federal forces became increasingly involved in this field.
While Congress has largely ceded its war power authority in the modern era, it has become more active in sanctioning due to an impulse of members to be seen as projecting power against American adversaries even when it interferes with the president’s efforts to engage in strategic policy.
What about state legislators and governors? They have no real national security staff nor the relevant mandate, as their elections almost always lack any meaningful foreign policy discussion and are decided based on provincial issues, whether taxes or abortion rights.
Yet their meddling in foreign policy isn’t superfluous — it can actually be reckless, for global diplomacy and for US foreign policy. Here’s how.
As written, the mentioned measures are unlikely to meaningfully interfere with the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy. But one can imagine a scenario in which sanctions imposed by states do just that.
New York state and California preside over major nodes of the global banking community and the international technology supply chain. Texas itself is a major player in global energy markets. Other states can wield a more narrow version of such powers as well.
There are already examples of when New York State has targeted European firms for their perceived violation of sanctions, ignoring objections at the federal level. States can, as the federal government has often done, impose restrictions on firms operating in their jurisdiction in a way that has extraterritorial consequences.
This in turn sets up a precarious dynamic. The federal government might have to mollify or negotiate with state governments led by ambitious politicians responding to special interests or catering to local constituencies.
Equally, state governments of the party in opposition can actively undercut diplomatic efforts of the federal government using such sanctions. For example, a federal effort to ease sanctions on Cuba could create political momentum for state sanctions in Florida, where families of those who fled communist rule are a powerful lobby.
Ultimately, sanctions are a tool of foreign policy and the capacity to modulate or even repeal them is critical to accomplishing the political goals behind sanctions campaigns. For the president or Congress to have to lobby with state governments, each representing a fraction of the overall population, to alter America’s sanctions against a country would represent a bizarre new obstacle to the federal government’s ability to carry out its foreign policy obligations.
The proposed Texas and South Carolina laws are textbook examples of sanctions as political grandstanding meant for domestic consumption. They are also a reminder of the jingoistic zeal that can be nurtured and exploited by foreign policy amateurs at the state level.
As we embark upon what scholar Peter A G van Bergeijk calls the “second wave” of global sanctions, states will likely look further to getting in on the act with human rights and global affairs.
Washington’s basic ability to carry out a coherent foreign policy hangs in the balance.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.
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