24 October 2007

Meeting Mister Mulroney

On Monday night Tasha and I had the opportunity to listen to former Prime Minister Brian Mulroney speak about his life and career in politics. It is the type of meeting that I always try to attend, as there are only 7 living Prime Ministers of Canada, and each of them has a wealth of knowledge and insight that they can impart. The experiences they have are unique and incredibly interesting to hear, such as Mulroney's ability to speak of his work with Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, and Margaret Thatcher during the height of the Cold War and the Canadian role in ending the vile apartheid regime in South Africa. He has a canny sense of humour that all good politicians are able to wield, usually the self-deprecating kind. I know that there are many Canadians who still revile Mulroney for the imposition of the GST and a myriad of other policies, just as there are those who despise Trudeau for the policies that he initiated. Such is the life in Canadian politics.

There was much that I found myself nodding in agreement with throughout Mulroney's hour-long speech. When he spoke of the undoing of the bizarre moral equivalence that was held up between the United States and the Soviet Union, I harkened to Natan Sharansky's book, The Case for Democracy, and how removing that false equivalence brought forth a tidal wave that ultimately caused the implosion of that decrepit regime under its own weight. Listening to him recall speaking with Helmut Kohl about the future possibilities of reuniting the two Germanies was equally fascinating. Kohl's belief--proven correct--was that television would be the impetus in awakening the democratic spirit of the people of the German Democratic Republic, as East Germany was called. Seeing the colour and choice that the outside world offered to West Germans would create an untenable pressure against the oppressive East German regime that caused the Berlin Wall to come down. It is but one of many examples of the power of democracy and political openness to transform societies.

There was one major area in the field of foreign policy that I could not find myself agreeing with Mister Mulroney's position, however. He discussed the lead-up to the Persian Gulf War, and spoke of his pressure on Bush 41 to get a UN Security Council resolution or else Canada would not participate. This obviously implies that, in the absence of such a resolution, the American-led ouster of Saddam Hussein in 2003 is less just or legitimate than the original Gulf War. The senior Bush did have a point when it came to the problems in occupying Iraq post-Saddam (as current events readily demonstrate) but that is not the thrust of what Mulroney was discussing. His willingness to give individual countries a veto over Canadian foreign policy is an abdication that I cannot support. Recall also that the United States at least believed that it could get the 9 votes required to pass a resolution in the UNSC in early 2003, but the threat of the French veto scuttled all of that. I respect Mulroney's position that the cover of UN legitimacy is important, but it is not all-important and I question the legitimacy of the idea that a 14-1 vote can prevent authorization and passage of a resolution if that 1 vote is from France or Russia or China (or even the US and UK). This is the great paradox created by the structure of the Security Council, and I believe that Mulroney, like so many Canadian Prime Ministers both before and after him, is on the wrong side of the fence in his view that the absence of a UN Security Council resolution in all circumstances is justification for the continuance of an intolerable status quo.

After the speech, there was a book signing and now my copy of Mulroney's Memoirs features his autograph. There were a lot of people, so there was no opportunity to get a photo or have any real discussion. I did manage to have enough time to thank him for playing a key role for Canada in ending the Cold War and apartheid, and not much else other than a handshake. It was, all told, a very nice experience and so now I'm hoping that Jean Chretien will have recovered sufficiently in order to do a similar appearance.

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