What was a poorly kept secret is now leaking all over Ottawa.

When John Diefenbaker was elected he used to fulminate about “the Pearsonalities” in the East Block, then the offices of the old Department of External Affairs.  Ironically Dief’s Minister Howard Green came to get along famously with his civil servants and realized that a long war with the public service was thoroughly counter-productive.

Times have changed.  The Harpercrats have decided it’s time to fight.  Foreign policy is highly centralized in the PMO.  The Minister’s office keeps a close eye on every memo, and the language police’s interventions have now made the pages of Embassy, the weekly newspaper that reports on diplomatic news in Ottawa.

“Equity”, I’m reliably informed, is a bad word.  “Responsibility to protect” is dead, as is “human security”.  “International law” exists, but apparently “international humanitarian law” does not.

On the surface this might seem like much ado about nothing.

It’s not about the language of memos.  It’s about much more than that.  It’s about the direction of Canada in the world.  And it’s about control.

Down with multilateralism, the UN, Africa, a balanced Mid-east policy, China, Russia, the list goes on.  It’s a cocktail consisting of 50 percent ignorance and 50 percent ideological claptrap.

Not surprisingly, the women and men who have made the study and practice of diplomacy their careers are unimpressed.  They try to push back.  Their colleagues in other countries are asking them what is happening, where is Canada, they have difficulty answering.  Berated by 25 year old staffers who have drunk the above mentioned cocktail they become demoralized.  Some quit.  Some try to wait it out, hoping for better days.  Some suck it up and hope for better appointments as they earn a reputation for “reliability”.

What gets lost in all this are issues of great substance.  Our military effort in Afghanistan is still not matched by diplomatic imagination, not because our public servants in Ottawa, Kabul, Kandahar, Islamabad, Delhi and other capitals don’t have talent and dedication, but because the leadership is missing.      Mr. Harper will finally make it to China, but only after four years of lost time, effort, and opportunity.  It’s not that he misses photo shoots, it’s that he misses the boat entirely.  And like Captain Queeg of Humphrey Bogart fame he will start to worry about who stole the strawberries.

Bob Rae is a former member of Parliament and former premier of Ontario.