Terry Glavin (The Ottawa Citizen):
“Unfortunately only when the poor enter the halls of the rich, do the rich notice that the poor exist,” the United Nations refugee czar Antonio Guterres was heard to lament in the bleachers at the UN General Assembly the other day. “Until we had this massive movement into Europe, there was no recognition in the developed world of how serious this crisis was.”
That’s putting it mildly, but it is a useful starting point for a look at the uniquely Canadian exertions that the Conservatives, Liberals and New Democrats are all employing to garrison their variously-scripted morality plays in the matter of “foreign policy,” now that those four million Syrian refugees have so rudely insinuated themselves into our national conversations. And in the middle of a federal election campaign, too, if you can believe the impudence of those people.
Maybe it’s got something to do with our national inferiority complex, being one of the world’s most decentralized democratic federations, a lightly-populated, bilingual, multicultural constitutional monarchy, and we’re quietly strung out along the northern border of what was, until only very recently, the world’s loudest military, economic and cultural powerhouse. Maybe it’s partly because it wasn’t until 1926 that Canadians even began to gradually assert their sovereignty in foreign policy, and we have remained more or less content to leave things to the experts, requiring only that they flatter us from time to time about how nice Canada is.
Whatever the cause, Canadians do seem particularly susceptible to the many pretty lies the diplomatic establishment likes to tell about this country, and in times of international trauma, our political leaders do seem to encourage us to retreat into the comforting fictions that have proved so useful in justifying Canada’s abdication from the duties unavoidably implied by the “Canadian values” they’re always talking about.
There are variations in the blandishments that distinguish the Liberal, Conservative and NDP encomiums to Canadian virtue, of course. We are either “peacekeepers,”or we are “honest brokers” who strive to “punch above our weight,” or we are a principled people, averse to the unseemliness of merely “going along to get along.”
As the global order continues its collapse across the Middle East, Africa, and Eastern Europe, and as China reverts to its nastiest police-state habits throughout the Asian Pacific, Canada’s political elites are making only greater exertions to encourage an ever-deeper retreat into the rich fantasy life we’ve invented for ourselves. We’ve even taken on its make-believe lexicon, as though “the world stage”was a real place, and all that matters is merely which of Stephen Harper, Tom Mulcair or Justin Trudeau is best suited to play the leading role on behalf of Canada’s “international reputation,” which must either be maintained, or restored, or traded upon.
Following upon the Munk Debate on foreign policy this week, we judge the federal leaders more on their “performance” than on what useful purpose they propose to put Canada to in the world. And yet we marvel that Justin Trudeau emerged out of nowhere only a couple of years ago with nothing much to show for himself except a famous last name and habits of style that recalled nothing so much as melodramatic iterations of Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean, and he now not only matches Harper and Mulcair in the turf accountants’ poll rankings, but he genuinely and rightly deserves to be there.
We’ve grown accustomed to talking about “Canadian values” as though the term was not merely a cheap rhetorical device. We still talk about “Syria,” which no longer even exists. Pore over every word in the Munk Debate transcripts and you would never know that the Syrian implosion is only the most obvious catastrophe arising from President Barack Obama’s foreign-policy vanity project, a rickety nuclear-deal rapprochement with the ayatollahs in Tehran, which is coming at the cost of a cascade of mayhem from the Horn of Africa to Central Asia.
While Canada’s three party leaders have been quarreling over the minutiae of their differences in refugee policy and which of them is most generous or sensible in their plans to resettle a few thousand, give or take, by C-17 strategic airlift or by chartered cruise ship, this is what is happening in the real world.
Four million Syrian refugees are now on the move. Another seven million Syrians still inside the Iranian satrapy that Bashar al-Assad has made of his police state are expected to soon join them in the long march (if they survive), especially now that Vladimir Putin has dispatched his own bombers to join the Iranian-led Hezbollah and the Quds Force and Assad’s barrel bombers in the ongoing indiscriminate slaughter of Syrian civilians that Obama has persisted in dismissing as “someone else’s civil war.”
In February, Obama pulled his special operations out of Yemen and shuttered the American embassy in that forlorn country in retreat from the advance of Iran’s Houthi proxies. The calculus was that it was smarter to run away than jinx the nuclear talks. By March, Yemen was in flames. The Saudis are still bombing the place to smithereens, and now it’s anyone’s guess how many of Yemen’s 22 million innocent civilians will soon be joining the Syrian refugee exodus.
Remember how China was going to be Canada’s “pathway to prosperity” and our great emancipation from the monopsony the Americans have so cunningly exploited by their controls on Canada’s oil and gas exports? Remember when the Obama administration, too, was not long ago talking about a “pivot to Asia” to justify the abandonment of Arab Spring democrats and the erasure of Obama’s “red lines” around the massacre of Syrian civilians by chemical warfare? Inconveniently, the Beijing kleptocracy is now annexing airspace and laying claims to Vietnam’s share of the ocean floor, militarizing the South China Sea and pushing outwards to the Sea of Japan.
It’s probably just as well that China didn’t even come up, not once, in the Munk debate. As for the content of Obama’s address to the UN General Assembly on Monday, David Rothkopf, senior editor of Foreign Policy magazine and author of National Insecurity in an Age of Fear, summed it up quite sufficiently and succinctly this way: “Good morning. Cupcakes. Unicorns. Rainbows. Putin is mean. Thank you very much.”
But what Canadians noticed was that Obama said some nice things about peacekeeping, and we like to tell ourselves that peacekeeping was a Canadian invention, so, hooray us. In the real world, meanwhile, it’s all Vladimir Putin’s show now, and it’s Chinese strongman Xi Jinping’s show. It’s Chief Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s show.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players,” as William Shakespeare put it all those years ago. “At first, the infant, mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms,” so the lines go, in As You Like It, and the child ends in a second childishness, “sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.”
A bit too much for comfort like Canada on the “world stage” these days.