Last night, Bill Clinton came to Halifax and delivered an address that went far beyond the parameters of "Canada-U.S. Relations" and delivered on a number of fronts the need for people to not only embrace interdependece, but also participate in it and use their power as individuals to help make the world a better place. It was not a particularly earth-shattering speech, as nothing new or revelatory was unveiled (including, of course, the question of whether or not Senator Hilary Clinton would run for President in 2008), but it was a lucid and inspiring address that one would expect from Clinton. He has clearly not lost any of the personal charm or charisma that made him President and still popular long after his term has ended, providing a few laughs and anecdotes along the way to keep the mood fairly light despite the obvious gravity of the topics that were discussed.
The event did start an hour late, as he did the rockstar thing and didn't get into the building until after the scheduled 7pm start time. Also, Peter Mackay was scheduled to speak between Frank McKenna and Clinton, but did not appear. This is entirely understandable, as the Minister of Foreign Affairs obviously has a lot on his plate right now to deal with.
Clinton spoke only fairly briefly about Canada and the United States, framing the speech around the notion of interdependence. "Where do you want the world to go in the 21st century?...How can we get there?...Who's supposed to do it?" These three questions were the theme of the evening. While addressing that there will be the occasional dispute between our countries and that neither of us is always right, he made an excellent point: there is no divorcing us. We're inextricably linked to one another, and this is a good thing. The partnership that we have can serve as a model to the world, highlighting the importance of "good" interdependence as opposed to the "bad" interdependence that we see in so much of the world. Case in point, the Middle East, which he spoke of at length and cites as being "not one whit less interdependent" than we are here. He made an interesting point that throughout human history, we have focused too much on what makes us different rather than what we have in common, and only when we reach the brink of destroying one another because of our differences do we truly realize just how many features we share. He is optimistic about the future, a sentiment which I share, but realistic that there is no quick fix to the problems of the world.
One of the most interesting topics of the evening was Clinton's discussion of the resurgence of what can be called "people power." The advent of the Internet has been crucial in this, allowing people "with modest means" to make a significant contribution alongside those who share their concerns about a certain issue at a particular time. Of all the money donated in America for disaster relief after the tsunami, significant amounts came over the 'net: "30% of households gave, over half of them gave over the Internet."
A fun anecdote was a carny in New York stuffing $50 in his hand because she said she didn't have time to make a donation over the computer. I must agree that this phenomenon is truly amazing; I've made contributions over the internet for everything from keeping favourite websites alive to charities to helping out friends. It goes to show just how small the world has become and the extent to which people from all over the world can come together to support international public good.
"We live in a world that is interdependent, but it is unstable, unequal, and unsustainable, because we not only share great opportunities...we also share some inconvenient facts."
A fascinating statement, and one that is true. He was referring here to the challenges of development and the problems posed by global poverty. Clinton's done a lot of good work through his Foundation after leaving the White House to mitigate the problems, but there is so much more that can be done. He noted the great disparity between military spending and development spending: $300B in Iraq and only $3B for AIDS programs. That's a big gap, and while I have seen Iraq as a potentially very good thing for the future of democracy in the Middle East, that disparity is shocking to note.
Inevitably Iraq came up, and Clinton's statement on this was very good and provided a lot more clarity than most people have on the subject. He said that, were he a Senator, he would have given assent to the resolution granting the President authority to use force in Iraq if necessary. He noted the significant amount of unresolved CW/BW stockpiles issues that existed at the time Iraq kicked out the weapons inspectors in 1998, and argued that there was still a measure of threat there, far moreso than the nuclear concerns. The inspectors should have been given more time, he argued, to loud cheers from the audience. He acknowledged without dispariging those who believed that the WMD argument was largely irrelevant and that the democracy promotion aspects of the war were the more important considerations in their minds; this is largely a conclusion I made in my thesis, so hearing this from Clinton is a good thing for my own arguments in that forum. Overall I found his discussion to be among the strongest Democratic statements on Iraq, as he did also state that it's now a case of 'we've broken the eggs, we have to make an omelette' out of the mess. He's not a "cut-and-run" type, he realizes the difficulties of the situation, and even though he disagreed with what happened in 2003 he is cognizant of what we have to do in 2006 and beyond to make sure that Iraq doesn't become another terrorist playground.
Wierd part of the night came during the Q&A with McKenna, when the former Ambassador, in discussing Chechnya, referred to the "Soviet Union." Note: the Cold War ended in 1989 and the Soviet Union disappeared in 1991, it's just Russia now.
Like I said earlier, nothing revealing at all regarding Hilary's intentions. She's still got a Senate election in November to deal with, and you never can look past the next election, or else you won't make it there. That said, he did say that she would make a great president, despite her occasional politically incorrect statements and breaks with the Democratic caucus on issues like Iraq.
A fun night and a great experience that I will not soon forget.
*Update* More videos now available over at YouTube.