Where RGM talks about "the vision thing," part one
One of my favourite sayings is "something can only be a disappointment if it offers great hope." Life is full of disappointments for people who have high hopes for the world, their lives, and the lives of the people they know and care about. On a wide range of issues, I feel disappointment, largely because I have a conception of what a better world can and might one day look like. When I compare that with the reality around me, a letdown is inevitable.
The best example of this sense of disappointment is that I occasionally dream of a world in which every single adult--women and men over the age of 18 or whatever an individual country decides upon--has the right to choose their political leadership. Not "one person, one vote, one time," but regular exercises in democracy that occasionally result in turning over power with less outrage than an American Democrat still expresses over the 2000 presidential election (and tried to manufacture again in 2004). It's been 15 years since the Soviet Union disappeared, and the much-vaunted "end of history" has failed to materialize, as dictators still hold sway over large segments of the world. Their ideologies may be discredited and easily seen as thoroughly inferior to liberal democracy, yet they still maintain an iron grip on power throughout large segments of the world, including the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia. Perhaps it is inevitable that the rottenness of such regimes will be exposed, that these tyrants are living on borrowed time, and that they will ultimately rot and decay, paving the way for true democratic revolutions.
Yet we must also bear in mind the warning that backsliding is just as likely an occurrence as democratization. For young democracies still experimenting with the great project, there is still a danger: until a country has had at least three major votes and at least one major transfer of power, its institutions are not secure and are succeptible to the temptation of a popular figure--the elected leader for life. I believe that, as promoting democracy is a major pillar of Canada's foreign policy, we can, should, and must lend our support and expertise to these fledgling democracies. We should make a bigger deal out of the assistance we lent to places such as Ukraine during their Orange Revolution, sending hundreds of our people abroad to monitor and oversee the electoral process. We should trumpet our belief in democracy, human rights, and the rule of law, and make such contributions on a consistent and profound basis. Jean Chretien once said that "the world needs more Canada," and this is certainly one area where we can come in particularly useful.
The disappointment that registers in my head and on my face when I see Canadians demanding that we withdraw our Canadian Forces from Afghanistan is palpable. This is because the people making those demands fail to understand the importance of our contribution to a global effort, the absolute necessity that we get Afghanistan right and build its democratic and political institutions, to say nothing of the need to develop civil society there. They are saying that the lives of Afghan women and children, of the current and future generations, are not worth the sacrifice. That so many of these protestors are, themselves, young women is a cause for concern; women here have so much opportunity for excellence, and are the key to a successful society, why would they seek to deprive women in far-away lands of such opportunity and thus consign Afghanistan to further failure?
Without our support and a global effort, we know what the future holds for Afghan women. We know because we know (a "known known," to use Rumsfeldian parlance) the recent past of Afghanistan, where women were denied access to education, denied the right to vote and run for political office, and could be murdered in public executions by stoning for violations of religious law. With half the population effectively shut out of political life and forced to remain at home, Afghanistan under the Taliban was a miserable failure of a state. All that creative energy, intelligence, and perspective was forcibly and systemically suppressed, leaving that country mired in failure, poverty, illiteracy, and stagnancy.
Imagine a world where one day a female President of Afghanistan comes to Canada to thank us for our sacrifices, for building institutions where children are taught to read and write and think critically about the world around them, for giving them security for the first time in centuries, and the people are creative and innovative and hope for a better future. This is not some utopian vision that can never happen, this is absolutely within the realm of the possible. But it will not happen if we, as Canadians, and others in the so-called international community turn our backs on Afghanistan. What a disappointment that would be if we were to take away the hope that we inspire.