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Good Sport or Sore Loser?

Christopher Sands

The Wall Street Journal gets it right this morning: Canadians should not worry about not winning a seat on the United Nations Security Council.

I’m not convinced that Canada had a compelling reason for a place on the Security Council this time—the argument seemed to be that it deserved it for past performance, like a gold watch or entitlement, rather than because Canada wanted to accomplish something (e.g. reform of peacekeeping operations, focusing attention on Darfur or Haiti, even improving maternal health). As any athlete knows, sometimes the reason you don’t win is that you didn’t bring your “A” game, or were outperformed by another competitor fair and square. That’s all this was.

However the media commentary of this past week has raised another issue, which is whether the competition was fair.

An American blogger caused a controversy when he blamed the Obama administration for not supporting Canada’s candidacy more actively. The United States rarely intervenes in Security Council races, and Washington’s support for a candidate is a kiss of death as often as not. Sometimes the United States will support a rival to block an unpalatable candidate—as it did with its support for Guatemala when Venezuela was campaigning for a seat. But it would have been shocking for the United States to intervene against allies Germany and Portugal, even though Canada is also a great friend and ally.

Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff fueled the U.S. conspiracy explanation when he raised doubts about whether Canada deserved a seat on the Security Council and was accused by some Conservatives of sending a signal to Susan Rice, the American ambassador at the United Nations. Rice is a former Princeton professor who knows Ignatieff from his days as a Harvard professor. This is a typical conspiracy theory—just enough of a connection to seem dimly plausible, but not very convincing after a moment’s reflection.

Another of the blogger’s claims is that Canada is being punished by a world unhappy with the Harper government’s strong support for Israel. If only Harper had been willing to throw Israel under the bus, it could have won the prize! Politics being politics, it is only natural that some Canadians would look to blame Stephen Harper for the outcome. But Canada’s relations with Israel—or any other country—ought to be grounded in the Canadian national interest, values and principles. A country willing to sacrifice friends to win a popularity contest would not be a very desirable friend.

The United Arab Emirates still leant credence to this explanation for Canada’s loss by letting it be known that the UAE had campaigned against Canada’s Security Council bid. It is true that Canada and the UAE have been in conflict over the Canadian Forces’ use of airfields in the UAE to resupply its troops in Afghanistan, and that the UAE and other Arab countries voted solidly against Canada for the Security Council seat. Yet in terms of global influence and “soft power” Canada far outstrips the UAE—even if they did film “Sex in the City 2” in Dubai rather than Montreal. If this is the best the UAE can do, Canadians need not fear its further wrath.

It is unfair to judge a country by the nonsense that passes for media commentary in its periodicals and over its airwaves. But in the wake of the failure of Canada’s bid for a term on the UN Security Council, Canadians have only one thing to prove: that they look no further than themselves for an explanation for the loss, and resolve to do better next time. Canadians ought not to give any further time and attention to the conspiracy theories and excuses that have been generated in the wake of Portugal’s success.

By rising above the temptation to self-pity, Canada will earn “bravos” for good sportsmanship from the Wall Street Journal, and its friends around the world.

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