Though we often disagree, I have always found Gerald Caplan to be an entertaining political pundit. That said, I have never met Mr. Caplan, and I wouldn't presume to know whom he consults or the evidence he considers in forming his political opinions.
Apparently Mr. Caplan has no such inhibitions. His recent article (" Harper and the U.S. are wrong on the Iran threat"), which minimized the threat posed by a nuclear Iran, begins with a list of prominent Israeli security and intelligence experts that, he assured his readers, the Prime Minister and I are "unlikely [to]have ever heard of."
Mr. Caplan returns to this theme at the end of his article, wondering rhetorically: "Is John Baird meeting with [Meir Dagan]this weekend to learn why? Don't bet on it." Here's a tip: don't go to Vegas with Gerald Caplan. If Mr. Caplan had bothered to pick up the phone and ask me if I had heard of Meir Dagan or Amos Yadlin, I would have told him that not only have I heard of them, I reached out to them weeks ago to ensure they could attend a discussion of the Iranian situation while I am in Tel Aviv this week.
It's a peculiar taunt, as Mr. Caplan had to know that, as Foreign Minister, I would be privy to a broad range of opinions and expert advice on an issue as fraught as Middle East security. Or does his disdain for those with whom he disagrees extend so far that he cannot imagine they are not merely wrong, in his opinion, but also ignorant and lazy? Perhaps it does, as Mr. Caplan later dismisses Canada's entire foreign policy as "spin notes and sound bites."
It might come as a surprise to Mr. Caplan that Liberal MP Irwin Cotler and I frequently discuss the problem posed by a nuclear Iran, and his counsel amounts to much more than "spin notes and sound bites."
It may also surprise Mr. Caplan to learn how closely I worked, first as Government House Leader and later as Foreign Minister, with New Democrats, Liberals and members of the Bloc Québécois in developing Canada's response to the Libyan uprising. By listening to different perspectives and expert opinion, as well as to each other, we able to avoid partisan posturing and work constructively to ensure the protection and ultimate victory of the anti-Gadhafi forces.
In Mr. Caplan's world, it is only a "lunatic fringe" that considers a nuclear Iran to be a primary threat to international security. Well, here in the real world, that "lunatic fringe" is growing quickly, across the political spectrum. Liberals in Canada, and Democrats in Washington, have vocally opposed Iran's nuclear ambitions.
Just last week, in his State of the Union address, President Obama declared: "Let there be no doubt: America is determined to prevent Iran from getting a nuclear weapon, and I will take no options off the table to achieve that goal." And, a few days ago, in Davos, Nobel laureate Shimon Peres averred that Iran was the single greatest threat to Middle East peace. Some fringe! In my visit to the Gulf States last autumn, it quickly became clear that this concern is not simply a product of Western or Israeli bias. The Gulf States know better than I do – even better, I dare say, than Mr. Caplan – the threat Iran poses to the region, and the dramatic and destabilizing power shift that would occur if Iran were to develop nuclear weapons. The fear in the region was palpable.
Of course, Mr. Caplan is entitled to his opinions, even when his facts and assumptions are wrong. But he goes too far when he accuses Israel of being a greater threat to peace than the fanatical leaders of Iran. Just so I am not accused of hyperbole, here is Mr. Caplan's quote, in its entirety: "The proposition that Iran is more dangerous than Israel, which has repeatedly invaded its neighbours and sends saboteurs and death squads around the world to get its enemies, simply ignores reality."
Talk about the lunatic fringe. Israel faces a constant threat from its neighbours – not just rocket attacks, which are as common in parts of Israel as rain is in Vancouver, but also the existential threat posed by Hamas, Hezbollah and the Iranian regime itself. Yet Mr. Caplan sees in Israel's legitimate self-defense only unprovoked aggression, while absolving Iran of responsibility for years of atrocities committed by Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad, the Shiite militia in Iraq, and the other terrorist organizations and client states Iran trains, funds, and directs.
After this frolic through the looking glass, the reader should be prepared for anything, but Mr. Caplan's leap from the malicious to the absurd still comes as a surprise. Mr. Caplan proceeds to admonish that we have no right to demand the denuclearization of Iran when countries like Britain, France, and the United States possess nuclear weapons.
What utter nonsense. None of these democratic countries has uttered anything like these words:
· "Anybody who recognizes Israel will burn in the fire of the Islamic nation's fury."
· "Today the reason for the Zionist regime's existence is questioned, and this regime is on its way to annihilation."
· "The Zionist regime has reached a total dead end. Thanks to God, your wish will soon be realized, and this germ of corruption will be wiped off."
· "Like a cancer cell that spreads through the body, this regime infects any region. It must be removed from the body."
These are not the words of someone who can be trusted with the destructive power of nuclear weapons. Iran's leaders have repeatedly and unambiguously declared their intention to wipe Israel off the map. Their stated goal is the complete destruction of the Jewish state and the Jewish people. Will they carry out their promise? No one can be one hundred per cent sure, but if the 20th Century taught us anything, it is that when fanatics issue clear threats, it is smart to take them at their word. And when they announce their intentions in advance, it would be foolish not to try to stop them.
Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin apparently felt the same way when he said: "This threat to Israel's existence, this call for genocide coupled with Iran's obvious nuclear ambitions is a matter that the world cannot ignore." I could not agree more with Mr. Martin, or disagree more with Mr. Caplan.
I have said on numerous occasions that I will not speculate as to what actions may be necessary to stop Iran's annihilatory ambitions. And I see no reason to resort to "spin notes and sound bites" when the facts speak for themselves. I will simply say that I agree with the Prime Minister's assessment that a nuclear Iran presents the most significant and immediate threat to global peace and security. That is not rhetoric, that is reality.
John Baird is Canada's Minister of Foreign Affairs