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We Have No Iron Ladies – Only Merchants

“To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values, and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.”
Margaret Thatcher

“Freedom will destroy itself if it is not exercised within some sort of moral framework, some body of shared beliefs. . .”
Margaret Thatcher


There’s an easy way to tell the difference between a major threat to our national security and a minor one – rhetoric. The more bellicose the rhetoric by our political leadership, the less danger they perceive from whoever it is they are condemning or in terms of political fallout.

That shouldn’t be taken to mean that there are no serious threats, even the most stupid among them (and there is a serious competition to earn that title) can identify and understand that there are; but the level of accusatory rhetoric is dependent the source and nature of the threat to economic or political interests.

Developments this past week underscore how international affairs as it is being practiced by world leaders.

Canada’s Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, has gone to China to foster – or more accurately, to repair – relations with China that he damaged early in his first mandate. He was successful in getting a couple of billion in new trade deals and the support of the Chinese government in creating a currency hub in Toronto.

At some point, he will also mention that he discussed the issue of human rights violations although it will be the trade deals that will be the only evidence of anything having happened.

‘’Human rights violations” is one of those wonderful catch-all phrases our current politicians like to use because it seems filled with meaning  and principle but is so vague on specifics as to obscure the necessity of doing anything.

It’s a way to legitimize lusting after trade and economic benefit from repressive but economically strong nations. Despite how often they meet to discuss trade and human rights violations – it is only trade on which any progress is made.

The People’s Republic of China is an oppressive, communist regime that is a threat not only to its neighbours but to the world in general made all the more so because it is not only the second largest economy globally but has the second most powerful military.

It has invaded and occupies Tibet, is saber-rattling at Taiwan and Japan, supports North Korea, is an ally of Iran, has arrested two Canadians on absurd charges of espionage, conducted multiple cyber attacks against Canada, the United States and other countries and is now suppressing the democratic rights of the citizens of Hong Kong.

You would think that at least some of that would be fodder for the usual political rhetoric that has been so often bandied about against less serious threats but economic interest got in the way of the consistent application of principle once again.

According to the Government of Canada:

In 2012, Canada–China merchandise trade totaled $70.1 billion, comprised of $19.4 billion in Canadian exports to, and $50.7 billion in imports from, China.

That level of economic interaction can buy a lot of forgiveness when it comes to deciding which oppressive regimes to condemn and which to dance with at the prom.

By contrast, Russia – itself no slouch militarily – is of much less importance to Canada in economic terms.

In 2012, Canada–Russia merchandise trade totaled $2.7 billion, comprised of $1.7 billion in Canadian exports to, and $1.0 billion in imports from, Russia.

The actions of our leaders flags just how important trade is compared to a strong and consistent defense of democracy and human rights wherever they are threatened in the world. They really aren’t leaders – they’re merchants and not very good ones at that. You don’t have to look much farther than the EU to understand that.

The current Canada/EU Free Trade Deal which is in danger of coming unraveled appears to have given corporations the power to overrule government regulation with which they disagree and if that isn’t selling the store to make a buck, I don’t know what is.

Earlier this week, John Baird, Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister, was quick to condemn Russia for invading eastern Ukraine with tanks and heavy artillery. Beyond allegations made by the government of Ukraine no real evidence was provided to substantiate the accusation and some reports stated it was Ukrainian rebels and not Russia that was moving the equipment. It didn’t matter to Mr. Baird nor did the fact that the Canadian government has been slow to honour loan guarantees made to Ukraine out of concern that the government of that country may, in fact, be corrupt.

Russia isn’t seen as a direct threat to the economy and there is a sizable Canadian-Ukrainian population so it’s a wonderful opportunity to demonstrate strong action on the part of the Harper Government.

How our leaders are handling ISIL is another case in point.

ISIL and Al Sham (an even more serious emerging Jihadist group) are only the latest manifestations of Islamic extremism that is sweeping across the Middle East and North Africa. It was only after ISIL became a serious threat to our political and economic interests that the world leaders started to act.

Islamic extremism is a real threat and not just to the Middle East. Unfortunately, the threat of ISIL is one that the majority of members in the Coalition are afraid to confront in any serious manner. It isn’t because they are afraid of ISIL; it’s the fear of how the politics of war play to the constituents at home, that has our leaders being reluctant to doing what is necessary.

Instead, they have formed a coalition of 60 nations that is putting on a grand show with a lot of noise and technology that is accomplishing little and signifies nothing.

There is not really any immediate political or economic damage to getting all Winston Churchill on Russia and even some possible short-term benefit. There is, however, potential for significant political fallout using the Coalition’s combined military strength to defeat and destroy ISIL with an all out military offensive. It is the concern for economic repercussions and lost opportunity that prevents our leaders from applying the same standards of decency to China that it demands from Russia.

So besides selling ourselves very cheaply, what does that all get us? Do we get a safer, more economically stable world? The short answer is no. A few benefit – the majority don’t. In the end, it gets us nothing and merely postpones the inevitable as we’re seeing in Ukraine, Syria, Libya, Egypt, Palestine and Iraq.

Conflicts that were thought to have been resolved were so poorly handled that they became catalysts for more terrorism, more conflict and outright wars.

So unfocused and inept is our leadership that it took almost a decade to effectively end Somali piracy and at that, there are still an estimated 30+ hostages being held. When you add to that the fact that an armed force of around 40,000 fighters are holding their own against a coalition of 60 countries, it’s not difficult to understand why so many in the world have lost respect for, or trust, in our governments.

Barrack Obama is the poster boy for modern leadership. He has dithered and blundered his way through nine years as president. This past week it was revealed that he has been engaged in discussions with Iran to join the Coalition against ISIL. It was just a month ago that he was unequivocal in his position that under no circumstances would Iran become an ally in the fight against ISIL.

Later in the week he also announced that he was authorizing the deployment of an additional 1500 troops to Iraq.

According to U.S. Rear Adm. John Kirby, this isn’t mission creep, it’s a ‘new phase’ of the existing mission. I always get more than a little creeped-out when I hear our political and military leaders denying that an increase of anything in direct contradiction to earlier commitments is mission expansion.

It’s a dichotomy that I can’t resolve and a folly that history has exposed time and time again.


The Admiral was quick to reassure Americans that the additional troops aren’t combat boots on the ground – they are military advisors being sent to train Iraqi forces.

The Americans became embroiled in the Indo-China War – commonly referred to as the Viet Nam War – in pretty much the same manner that they are becoming embroiled in the current Middle East conflict. First intelligence agents were sent to help the South Vietnamese; then advisors to train troops and finally a full-out military force.

That strategy of backing into war didn’t work out very well for the United States or South Viet Nam; but having learned nothing from its own history it appears that the American leadership is preparing to make the same mistakes in dealing with ISIL.

Canada like many other Coalition partners is following along blindly because, quite simply, our leaders don’t have the political courage to do what is required.

There are some who believe that there is no military solution to fighting Islamic Extremists. It’s not a view I share but I’m willing to concede that they may yet be proven right. Regardless, most rational people tend to agree that if you’re going to go to war, then go knowingly and with commitment. Don’t tip toe in lying to yourself and everyone else about where increased involvement is leading.

Try to imagine the result if Margaret Thatcher had chosen to impose economic sanctions on Argentina for its invasion of the Falklands rather than sending the fleet. Try to imagine the consequences if John Kennedy had resorted to nothing more than issuing threatening communiqués rather than blockading Cuba during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Real leaders confront the dangers and threat we face by making whatever commitments are necessary to deal with them, including war if it cannot be avoided. Real leadership requires some steel in your backbone; a readiness to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous political fortune in order to do what is necessary and what is right.

Margaret Thatcher was such a leader. So were Ronald Regan, Brian Mulroney and Mikhail Gorbachev. During their tenures the world started to become a safer place. The Berlin Wall came down, the Cold War ended, acid rain was overcome, greenhouse gas emissions were starting to be reduced and Apartheid was eliminated. None of those things came easily and each leader made mistakes but their focus was always on the security of their nations and its people not merely on trade. They were leaders unafraid of being unpopular for standing up for that in which they believed.

You can look all you want but you won’t find any Iron Ladies here ready to defend their principles. All you will find are merchants and career politicians who talk a good game but who don’t walk the talk. They are out of their depth, more parody than leaders, and they fall back on compromise and consensus in lieu of providing leadership.

There is no vision beyond the day after tomorrow. Our politicians sign agreements like Kyoto and Copenhagen which they don’t honour and their foreign policies are driven by two main considerations – economic interests and political consequences which in turn are fueled by endless attempts to build consensus with other leaders to avoid standing alone.

They hold summits and emergency meetings where they discuss and debate until a politically safe, usually tepid agreement has been reached or even, in some cases, postponed. Typically it is all virtually meaningless (although it usually takes more than a just few words in a very impressive communiqué to deliver that message).

Fostering international economic opportunity is important for the growth and stability of a nation but it should not take priority over defending our fundamental principles as nations or freedom for those who are oppressed and murdered by tyrants and sociopathic dictators.

What our leaders condemn today in one country, they tacitly support or ignore tomorrow in another. The decision is entirely dependent on calculating the political fallout at home and the potential economic benefit.

It seems to me that if we are going to risk lives and our national security to defend something, it would be better to defend what we stand for rather than to make pointless gestures or offer timid but seemingly safe military compromises. It would be better to confidently and vigorously defend the principles in which we believe rather than the political reelection chances of politicians or the short-term economic opportunities for corporations.

I tend to believe that it is more important to defend those who are oppressed and slaughtered by brutal regimes than compromising who you are and what you stand for just to get a trade deal.

I suspect that the millions struggling for their freedom in various parts of our small, increasingly dangerous world probably feel much the same way.

You seldom hear those fighting oppression, or even just to save their lives, shouting: “Increased trade! Increased trade!


© 2014 Maggie’s Bear

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Twitter: @maggsbear – Facebook: Maggie’s Bear  – ivmaki@sympatico.ca


  • MaggiesBear

    I’m not sure I know to what you’re referring but your comments are accurate and I was aware of both facts.

    • Buk McBukerson

      “Barrack Obama is the poster boy for modern leadership. He has dithered and blundered his way through nine years as president.”

      That’s what I’m referring to, you state that he has blundered his way through nine years as president.

  • Buk McBukerson

    Barack Obama has only been in office for five years, also the 22nd Amendment to the Constitution allows for only two 4-year terms as President.

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