Advocacy and Ideology
It took “a ‘major study’” to do it, to prove it, to force the dailies to feature the headline. Now the secret’s out in the open, and “Canada has become an irrelevant force on the international stage” [cited in “Anti-American Think Tank Pushing Canada Back to Prominence on World Stage”, by Judi McLeod, 25 January 2005, Canadafreepress.com. Story posted at http://canadafreepress.com/2005/cover012505.htm
]. The Canadian Institute of International Affairs (CIIA) asked former president of the transportation and aerospace giant Bombardier, Robert Greenhill, to conduct six months of fieldwork, during which time the executive-turned-research analyst learned Ottawa had withdrawn from the affairs of the international community. Should this have triggered concern and anxiety? According to critics of the “Anti-American” CIIA, Greenhill, contrary to what may have been desired, grew overjoyed, realizing his work pointed to something “exciting” [cited in http://canadafreepress.com/2005/cover012505.htm
]: Canada had become so far removed from the world that it was untainted, uncorrupt, and in the “unique” position of being one of the few, if not the only country, on the planet acceptable as an impartial mediator. The unawareness of all things outside our borders was no shortcoming, rather a strategic asset in a world plagued by conflict and divisiveness, where the services of an unbiased mediator would be invaluable. If one can’t do, one teaches; if one can’t stand up, fight terrorism, accept that means being “compromised politically” and go ahead with solving global problems, one finds virtue in ignorance and isolation. Or, I suppose that’s how the right might sum up things.
But how is it the right could be so wrong? Why advocate for a greater international role for Canada, when that just isn’t possible, given the country is so well-equipped to meddle? At least, that’s what the far left would be inclined to point out. According to some observers, motivated primarily by ideology, and a desire to sift through the facts secondarily if at all, Canada hasn’t either the additional time or energy to subvert third world governments, given it is already so overextended in doing that. Take note of what is said, by just one group, of Canada’s involvement in the Caribbean:
On February 29, 2004, an advanced force of Canadian, French and U.S. military units invaded Haiti and overthrew the elected government of Jean-Bertrand Aristide. Aristide was forcibly removed from the country, and the invasion force joined with rightist gangs in Haiti to unleash a rein of terror on the population. Several thousand supporters of the ousted government were killed. On the day of Martin's interview with CBC [13 December 2004], armed forces from Brazil, Jordan and China stormed into Cite Soleil, a working class neighbourhood in the capital city Port au Prince, and opened fire on supporters of the ousted government. Several protests of up to ten thousand people have occurred in Port au Prince since the coup, calling for the restoration of the Aristide government. Protests continue. [from “Paul Martin Reveals Canada’s Foreign Policy Future: Imperialism,” by Roger Annis, 15 December 2004, Autonomy and Solidarity. Story posted at http://auto_sol.tao.ca/node/view/1055].
But what can be said about Canada’s foreign policy after one takes a step back from the advocacy and ideology? A roughly year-long policy review is coming to an end, and the results of that process, just maybe, are to be made known before the time the next federal budget is tabled around 22 February 2005. According to mainstream coverage of that policy review, it seems our political elites are well aware that our strategic assets are downgraded, faded away, gone. They do, however, promise to change for the better almost everything: “The Martin government is poised to enshrine the army as Canada's pre-eminent military service, and sharply reduce the number of countries to which it gives foreign aid, while boosting international spending in areas where it believes it will have the greatest impact, sources say.” And in a bold revolutionary move, more of the diplomatic service will actually have to spend time abroad, in foreign cultures: “The foreign service initiative is intended to redress a perceived imbalance in the deployment of Canada's diplomats, whereby two-thirds of total diplomatic staff are in Canada and one-third abroad. Foreign Affairs Minister Pierre Pettigrew is determined to bring this ratio closer to the G8 average of 50 per cent, a source said” [passages quoted in “PM Said to Reshape Foreign Aid”, by Michael Den Tandt, Globe and Mail
, 27 January 2005. Also posted at http://www.theglobeandmail.com/servlet/ArticleNews/TPStory/LAC/20050127/POLICY27/TPNational/TopStories
]. But how will all the money needed to do this materialize?
Won’t the Liberal government have to make good first on social policy spending priorities, perhaps most especially shelling out for the national daycare program already promised, many, many times over? And while the PM and other ministers say Missile Defence (MD) is not on the agenda, can they really continue to deflect that issue by saying nobody is pressuring, even after US President Bush has hinted future presidents may not be inclined to remain passive in the face of Canadian evasiveness? And if Bush himself tips Canada to act, how will acceptance of MD impact both how it’s justified and how past decisions are accounted for? If it is claimed MD is needed to defend the north, why was so much money blown on an obsolete Operation Narwahl? Is a cost-weary public ready to accept yet another financial scandal, this time involving, of all things, a cash-strapped military? And while on the Arctic, do Canada’s borders impact any aspect of our foreign policy? Already Hans Island is staked out by Denmark; submarines routinely pass through the area, likely mapping transit routes; nobody seems to recognize Canadian claims to the Northwest Passage; Canadian corporations are paying foreign interests fees for drilling and exploration rights; and, Arctic rangers, Canada’s main line of defence in the region, are armed with antique firearms and trained in the art of building walls of snow to block bullets and mortar fire. Perhaps there is a way to combine ideology and advocacy in a truly unique Canadian way. In the days of the ancients, political entities have not necessarily been panicked when boundaries contracted or expanded. If there are any descendants of Octavian Augustus, the governing elite may see a target for recruiting, or at the very least, a skilled advisor.
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The Year Gone By, and All That Was Unexpected
Looking back at Prime Minister Paul Martin in office in 2004 means having to fight the urge to write a political obituary. In the year that was, Martin spent much time abroad, in fact more than any other Canadian leader in recent memory. Yet for all that, analysts appear hard pressed to explain either the substance of the Liberal leader’s foreign policy or why he should get any credit for all that travel. This, I fear, is both a commentary on Canada’s capacities to be critical of world affairs and a situation that may end up in the PM’s being charged with neglecting the domestic front.
But why the obituary? Simply, Martin appears to be showing so much wear and tear that one may be excused for believing he’s spent many decades in top office, and not just the past twelve months. The tired, rattled, at times unkempt image comes across most graphically in photos, and at this point is not something that can be attributed just to a laid-back style. The likeness is rendered even starker when compared to that of predecessor Jean Chretien, who left office looking fit, arguably well-rested. Chretien had the good fortune of being able to govern in an era characterized by relative global stability, sound alliances, and prosperity. His genius was that he understood this, and sensed when not to act or to become overly creative in the policy field, which was most of the time. Perhaps the PM observed, and came away with the conclusion the world would forever remain in a geopolitical limbo. If this at all describes the case, he was well off the mark.
Since Martin’s coming to office, profound change has not only gripped the globe, but is now fodder for the popular media. In 2004 stories began to focus well-deserved and overdue attention on the emerging world powers, China and India. Commentaries have dealt with the serious blows suffered by existing alliances and systems, with observers even hinting at least some of the cracks and fissures endured in 2003-3004 may be irreparable. Terrorism, while a serious issue, is gradually being exposed for a phenomenon that just may have been overblown, overestimated. And if the goal was not and is not to build up a Greater Iran over time, then developments in the Middle East, almost daily, serve to define the very real limitations of superpower. Unfortunately for Martin, domestic events have had an even greater impact. There remains the issue of billions spent on a gun registry that should have cost only a few million dollars. Then there’s the sponsorship scandal, involving allegations of at least millions in misappropriations, that appears unwilling to die. Add Governor-General Adrienne Clarkson’s spending habits, and you have some Canadians feeling “fleeced” [CTV, 14 February 2004. See story posted http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1076676942066_12/
]. Given all this, Martin decided to move into 24 Sussex Drive with an attitude and approach that served his predecessor well. Inexplicably, the thinking in Liberal insider circles concluded the public would not only reward Martin for this insight with a win at the polls, but honour him with one of the biggest majorities in history. Some handlers insisted taking 250 seats represented a low-ball estimate.
And so, especially when domestic scandals heated up, there came much to pass that was unexpected. The minority win the public handed the PM in the elections of 2004 was unexpected. The internal divisions within Liberal ranks gave way to Carolyn Parrish’s somewhat unexpected and very public rants. In foreign affairs, there was also much unexpected. The response to international developments, however, was entirely expected.
What Canadian policy has been for many generations, and remains under Martin, is the mission to eke out a trade niche, and to tackle any other geopolitical developments in as limited a manner as is absolutely possible. The assumption is always that Ottawa has minimal foreign policy capital, and the option is usually to safeguard the cache, not to seek out a greater share. Four events in 2004, largely under the radar in some respects, illustrate this point best of all.
But first, much is made of former Premier of New Brunswick Frank McKenna’s being named on 14 January 2005 new ambassador to Washington. Critics point to his having many ties to Republicans and business interests in the United States, including defence contractors. These voices charge the implication is that Martin is going to move much closer to accepting the unpopular missile defence program, and will in other ways serve American foreign policy aims. McKenna’s selection is noteworthy for a number of reasons, not the least of which for being the first time a former politician has been selected for the role. As for his critics, the newly picked ambassador says he will have to disappoint, claiming “I must tell you, I have a relationship with a few members of the Bush family. But it is not a very tight, strong relationship…I think that my connections, if I can be totally candid here, have been totally overblown…Am I cozy with folks [in Washington]? I'm afraid I'm not” [CBC news, 14 February 2005. Cited in story posted at http://www.cbc.ca/story/canada/national/2005/01/14/mckenna-announce050114.html
]. Yet Martin’s desire for a long time has been to warm strained ties with the US. Back on 17 April 2004, when the Dalai Lama arrived, he signaled his intention to meet the spiritual leader, an occasion, albeit quiet but profound for its break with past practices. Is it too much to suspect that Martin’s critics back then, and not just now, might have been aware of some shifts in his approach to the outside world?
Just how invested Canadian capital is in relations with the US might just be illustrated by President George Bush’s two-day visit that began on 30 November 2004, at first an event coming across as entirely unexpected, in terms of timing that is. For instance there was very little to signal that a breakthrough on the cattle trade would be or had been reached, and the affair revealed not much past the formality of a cordial working meeting. Yet since the President’s departure, Canadians learned beef products are to move across the border starting in March, barring more reports of mad cow, I suspect. Does this mean quiet diplomatic work, behind the scenes, has been going on and progressing nicely for some time? Did the timing of the Bush visit really blindside Liberal insiders? And since this particular trade issue, huge for Canada, means far less for our neighbours to the south, does it also signal the PM has had to barter something which we may only learn about sometime in the future?
There’s also the interesting case of Martin’s visit to Russia back in October 2004. Not long after returning from that trip, events in Ukraine made headlines worldwide. Moscow’s candidate, Viktor Yanukovych, attempted to steal victory from the pro-reformer, Viktor Yushchenko. International condemnation of what was happening materialized quickly, and served as invaluable support to the mass street demonstrations that arose in Kiev. In the end, the affair found a peaceful resolution, run-offs held on 26 December 2004, and Yushchenko’s 23 January 2005 inaugural met “a vast crowd of supporters celebrating with a burst of orange balloons, doves and chants” [cited in AP, 23 January 2005]. In the absence of much, if any evidence available on the public record, it is tempting to speculate that Martin and Russian President Vladimir Putin discussed the Ukraine vote, maybe just in passing. Did Martin raise the topic, and hint at any possible reactions in the absence of a free and open vote? Did Putin so badly misread not only Martin, but all of world opinion, in believing the international community was content to stand by while Moscow defined ties with a “Near Abroad,” and not had respectful relations with geographically close but politically independent neighbouring states? Was the run-off in fact avoidable? Might we at the very least conclude that the limits on our foreign policy capital prevented us from being to communicate effectively with Russia’s leadership? In any event, Canada did play an outspoken role in defending free and fair elections in Ukraine.
Finally, Martin has said much about failed states and emerging economies, perhaps leading some to think these are our foreign policy priorities. Yet the 26 December 2004 tsunami disaster underscored how little political capital, excluding rhetoric, had been allocated to projects outside the “developed” world, indeed outside immediate ties with the US. When the horrific tragedy took place, most of this country’s elite rested, on vacation. In the countries impacted by the disaster, Canadian embassies and official offices remained closed, in some cases for up to two days, as holidays were marked. Since being caught flat-footed, Canada’s leaders have made gains on public opinion and generosity, with Martin taking time in mid-January to travel to the region and see first-hand the impact of one of the greatest natural disasters. Yet likely the one date no Liberal would want to be reminded of is 22 September 2004. It was then the PM, speaking at the UN, told world leaders not enough was being done for the world’s suffering, notably for the victims of Darfur. Was there, then, really any excuse for how the events of 26 December 2004 were at first handled?
If the weary PM ever had a grand strategy or vision that might consume a decade in office, he’s surely parted with those dreams. The combined impact of domestic developments, and fundamental shifts in the international community, force him to become a tactician. He may stay in office for some time yet, but the tenure of a whole decade at this stage seems remote. True to form, he is defining his international commitments fairly precisely. Just returning from a visit to Asia, the China stopover, where trade took centre stage and human rights were at least mentioned, stands out. Then so does what happened in India. On 18 January 2005 the issue of same-sex marriage surfaced, only to be condemned by Indian religious figures, notably Sikh spiritual leader Joginder Singh Vedanti who denounced legalizing gay marriage and who had said “same-sex marriage originates from a sick mind’ [CTV news, 19 January 2005. Cited in story posted at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/1106050854857_2/?hub=TopStories
]. Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh side-stepped the entire issue, saying it would likely not be well received in his country, but that Canada’s internal affairs were its own. Martin, however, felt compelled to respond and to explain, noting same sex marriage will not obligate any religious organization or institution, that it is a civil matter, and above all an issue of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms. Since, he has said he would go to the polls over the issue, or that aspect of it which pertains to the Charter. Likely this tactic is meant to quiet rebels within the Liberal ranks who may be unprepared for a vote and serve as a trial balloon, which may expose how much support Martin could win towards securing a majority. While an actual election call certainly within the next few months seems a remote eventuality, Stephen Harper’s reply of “bring it on” when the PM offered up the bait suggested the Tory leader is still responding, following the lead of the Liberal tactician. Harper just might go beyond taking out ads in ethnic community papers that call into question the validity of gay marriage, and develop a strategic vision for a campaign that might just combine new approaches to defence, immigration, social and foreign policies, which might produce at least a stable minority government. Now that just might be very, very unexpected. Then again, documentarian Michael Moore could scrape together enough downtime to film Fahrenheit Frank McKenna
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