Canadian Imperialism? The Paul Martin Doctrine? What’s Going On?
This past week President George Bush spoke at the United Nations, asking for aid intended to help rebuild Iraq. However he remained unapologetic about the US role in that Middle Eastern country, insisting he was right all along, stressing the world is better off without Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein. This, the bravado, was in part designed to appeal to his domestic audience, and what those assembled offered up was polite applause. Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin, also at the UN, on 22 September 2004 delivered a speech in a near-empty meeting hall, and he too garnered a round of polite applause from those few who dared or cared to attend.
There was something uncharacteristic, arguably un-Canadian, about what Martin said. He called for UN reform, in a tone uncompromising and lacking in the diplomatic niceties one might expect to find in Canadian pronouncements. Perhaps the stated topic of the speech diverted attention from its unusual qualities. Many Canadians insist the purpose of this country’s foreign policy is to improve this world for all in it. Usually such aims are to be accomplished through a considered application of soft power. Very often the beneficiaries of this generosity are meant to be the stricken peoples of the developing nations. This time around, the PM made his case citing the specific events taking place in Sudan, where a raging civil war has claimed at least 50, 000 lives, and forced an estimated million others to flee their homes seeking safety. He chided the world for its inaction. “While the international community struggles with definitions, the people of Darfur continue to suffer. They are hungry, they are homeless, they are sick and many have been driven out of their own country,” he said [cited in Beth Gorham’s CP piece of 23 September 2004].
The status quo response, argued Martin, is no longer acceptable. Where there are humanitarian crises, disease and epidemics ravaging populations, dictators who refuse to relent, or states that simply cannot function, idle debate must not serve. “Our common humanity should be a powerful enough argument and that is precisely what is missing. Put simply, there is still no explicit provision in international law for intervention on humanitarian grounds,” he said [see Gorham]. This was a clear call for interventionism, as “The Security Council has been bogged down in debating…” [see Gorham]. Yet Martin also insisted that what he demands is well delineated, and no general call to arms. Only where countries are invoking policies beyond the Pale could swift action be just and justified. That others may not accept that his intent is to convey so narrow a definition was in fact acknowledged when he spoke to reporters, noting his comments represented a near-impossible sell to some and “Moving international opinion is sometimes like pushing a string up a rope…There's no doubt there are some countries that will be more resistant to the notion...Ultimately what we're dealing with is a very fundamental shift in the way the world sees itself” [cited in Gorham].
Yet what is not entirely clear is that Martin’s aggressive, assertive call for UN reform must be confined to the particular case of Sudan. In the past, the PM has spoken with urgency of restoring Canada’s clout on the international stage. Has he in fact found the means for doing so by starting with Sudan? Judging from how limited his UN audience, Canadian relevance long ago slid right off the world stage, and Martin has more than a little work if he intends to even rekindle interest in Ottawa as a factor in global policy. Or, were his words merely rhetoric, a way of appealing to a number of constituencies without having to make additional commitments? The Canadian left, once identifying at least in part with cultural relativity and decrying violence, may now see a role for Canadian intervention and armed forces. If one ever hears an activist noting the failure to intervene where genocide is taking place, for example describing Rwanda in the 1990s as a disaster because it brought to light the “racism” of the Western powers, he or she has encountered the new face of the left, which sees a role for violence and the military. Does Martin have to play to this constituency? Or, can he use the rhetoric that satisfies this group as the vehicle for reconstituting Canada’s armed forces, to be deployed in situations and contexts that are ultimately unlike Sudan? As long as his words mollify the interventionists who advocate on humanitarian grounds, will they remain diverted from or unaware of the broader possibilities of a beefed-up army, navy and air force? Will Martin’s approach in fact signal to our allies, to NATO and especially Washington, that now Canada intends to define a military role? In the past, more unambiguous signs, including a willingness to consider missile defense, have played poorly, prompting even Liberal MPs to chastise Martin. Is the PM’s in essence a new circuitous approach, relying on Sudan, a way to appease both the leftist interventionists and the more traditional militarists?
Late September continues to provide an advantageous time to consider where Paul Martin may be able to take Canadian foreign policy. Other major events over the past month have been unsurprising, if not necessarily predictable. The world appears to be grinding along a familiar path: the Asian economies are growing apace, and their spiraling demand for raw materials will continue to strain the Western economies’ abilities to control the pricing of resources. Global wealth transference to Asia has now been established, with entrepreneurs from that part of the world eyeing Canadian resource companies as potentially attractive investments. The war on terror remains very much in the media, along with a Western focus on Coalition casualties in Iraq, which may in fact be contributing to the public’s not being entirely informed about how bad, how violent and chaotic, conditions may really be in that country. About a week or so ago President Bush's national security adviser, Condoleezza Rice, noted she could find no evidence of a civil war brewing in Iraq. On 21 September news broke that Canadian hostage Fairuz Yamulky was rescued after about two weeks of captivity in Iraq, in an operation that involved the US army and possibly Canadian security agents who, for the record, do not operate in that theatre. On 26 September US Secretary of State Colin Powell likely stunned no one by confessing the obvious, saying on American television that “We have seen an increase in anti-Americanism in the Muslim world ... I'm not denying this” [quoted in “Powell Says Iraqi Security Situation Worsening,” by Tabassum Zakaria, Reuters, 26 September 2004. Posted at http://news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&u=/nm/20040926/pl_nm/iraq_usa_dc_4
]. At this point, I can’t help but stop to think the time may be just right to reflect on Stupidity.
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