Wednesday Night #1474

In Japan, new boss meets same problems as old boss
The ruling Democratic Party of Japan selected Japanese Finance Minister Naoto Kan to succeed Yukio Hatoyama to lead the party and the country, a move that will thrust him into many of the same problems that have flummoxed several Japanese administrations. Kan faces the country’s debt, fiscal scandals and a nettlesome security relationship with the U.S. — problems that have in recent years come to define Japanese domestic politics. The Washington Post (6/4) 

The Prologue
Wednesday Night’s good friends David and Terry (Teresa Chin) Jones will be with us as part of their annual fact-finding tour of eastern Canada. For those of you who have not had the pleasure of meeting and debating with them, here’s a little background. Both are retired (not very) U.S. diplomats and served in Canada. David was political counsellor at the Embassy in Ottawa and Terry was first, economic/political officer at the Consulate General in Montréal and then, Science Officer at the Embassy. They are a remarkable pair. David writes frequently for Canadian media, including IRPP’s Policy Options, the Hill Times, Embassy and the MetropolitaIn. He also is co-author (with David Kilgour) of Uneasy Neighbo(u)rs: Canada, the USA and the Dynamics of State, Industry and Culture. Terry was a chemist before becoming an economist, and closely follows science and technology developments in Canada (she feeds us pertinent Eureka items on a weekly basis).

Michael Scharding, the Political/Economics Officer at the US Consulate General will be joining us. His previous tour (2007-2009) was at the US Embassy in Vientiane, Laos. He is multilingual (including French and Japanese) and for 6 years served as assistant at the Defence Section of the Japanese Embassy in Washington. We are looking forward to meeting him and having him assume the traditional chair reserved for the US Consulate.

David Mitchell, whose surprise appearance last week was a delight, will be with us again, having attended the June 1st ceremony at which his son Parker and George Rotor, co-founders of Engineers Without Borders (EWB) will receive honorary Doctorates from Queen’s University Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science.

Hans Black, Kimon Valaskakis and Pierre Arbour will join us and we also look forward to welcoming Marie-Claude Johnson for a return visit.

With these guest experts, there are many topics to cover, but Monday’s news of the deadly raid by Israeli naval commandos on a flotilla of aid ships bound for Gaza has pushed other items down the list. Mr. Netanyahu has canceled his visit to Washington (good idea!) and returns to Israel from Ottawa to deal with the fallout. Public reaction around the world has been swift (see Israel-Gaza) as one Wednesday Nighter asks: why isn’t an Israeli attack on a Turkish ship leading an international aid convoy that has been deemed ‘clean’ in Turkey not perceived as an attack on a NATO country requiring a collective security response?

From there, we will likely move on to the recently released U.S.  National Security Strategy (NSS) about which David Kilgour comments I believe this is the first broad statement by this administration on “the promotion” of democracy that finds its way into the mainstream of a statement of US foreign policy. You may also wish to consult the cogent analyses by members of the Council on Foreign Relations Obama’s NSS: Promise and Pitfalls

Guy Stanley offers the following thoughts:
“Obama’s NSS is remarkable, I think, for the many ways it reminds us why the US has no longer (since the Cold War) any real rivals for the role of global hegemon. Why? Because the role of hegemon is so hard. True, the Chinese are perhaps trying to be recognized as The Lords of East Asia, but that is a far cry from having such a broad range of activities and goals as the US. The NSS articulates a to-do list for a single country that has so far succeeded rather well in creating and maintaining a global architecture in which global power at the top is not increased by weakening the base and success is defined as peace, prosperity, rule of law, spread of democracy  and access to the tools necessary to move forward in the western sense of economic development (a consumer society), — basically the goals of the Atlantic Charter — but as its name suggests, the Charter goals did not at first seek to encompass the planet. As the NSS also indicates, keeping it going is a colossal responsibility that requires the best that the US and its allies can do–from dealing with climate change to pandemics, to organized crime and economic dislocations as well as more traditional security concerns, such as who might attack whom. Generally a costly job in blood and treasure without much thanks in return. So, Chapeau! And a toast to the men and women in all forms of service in the US for their service and as well to the NSS writers for their generous observations about Canada.
That said, the churlish question might nevertheless be posed–what about those countries that don’t share those goals at all? A lot of people  think a consumer society is the devil’s work, or that the west has always subjugated the east (since the Crusades) and only an Islamic Caliphate can return the world to spiritual sanity and correct living, and still others think strong government by definition requires a weak population. What’s more, a handful of these now have the capital required to begin to shape the world according to their vision of things. Add to that the success of the current system in creating the conditions for economic takeoff in the BRIC countries— who now see global progress as a zero sum contest between haves and have-nots, so are manoeuvring to block and at the margins replace the US and its allies. Recent signs:  Brazil & Turkey with Iranian nuclear fuel processing, Brazil & India on the successful completion of the Doha Round, China and some others calling the west to task at Copenhagen. Add as well, the hegemon’s loosening grip on chaos, indicated by  the Americanization of the Afghan war, the escamotage of a two-state solution in Israel, N. Korea’s risky behaviour in loose alliance with the Chinese military,  and of course an economic crisis that is far from over and whose point of origin was the US. Just about any one of these forces could tear the system described in the NSS apart–and now there are at least four, maybe five, of them (including the pressures on the WTO) all sawing away on the underpinnings of the system of which the US is the centre pin. In the 30s, it took the collapse of the economic system to put the revisionist demons in power. Now we have (admittedly less campily obvious) revisionists in power. They all believe– contrary to reason–that the collapse of the current US-centred system would make them and their countries individually better off. They couldn’t care less about the global system and certainly don’t want to run it: “le grand ressentiment” as Tocqueville and Nietzsche predicted, the revolt of those who for too long have been condemned to oblivion in (by?) the west.
Did I miss something in the NSS, because I didn’t find in it any sense of that kind of challenge?”

David and Terry are seeking enlightenment on developments in Canada, so we propose to offer the Canadian angles (although not necessarily enlightenment) on the continuing discouraging news about failed attempts to cap the Gulf of Mexico oil spill. Amongst the lessons learned will be effects on Canada’s environment regulations and policies, (see Canadian legislators grill BP over Arctic drilling); the politics of offshore drilling; and, of course, the Tar Sands (“The dramatic impact of oil sands expansion should give the companies involved and their investors pause, cautions a new report commissioned by Ceres, a coalition of investors and environmental groups, and authored by the financial risk management group RiskMetrics.”).
Meanwhile, we would like to have someone explain why BP is ignoring recommendations from former Shell CEO John Hofmeister to use supertankers to suck up the spill. It’s been well over two weeks since BP was first approached and nobody seems interested in following a proven method that was used in a hitherto unknown Arabian Gulf spill in the ‘90s. Similarly, Kevin Kostner has reportedly developed an oil separating technology that BP is not interested in hearing about.

Monday’s tabling of the Oliphant Inquiry Report fails to deliver any political drama. The conclusion, Mulroney-Schreiber dealings inappropriate, is hardly surprising, nor the sub-text that “Mulroney failed to live up to the ethics code he himself introduced in 1985 for holders of public office.” Will there be any longer-term effects? Doubtful.

The 880 (some say 904)-page Omnibus Bill presents more immediate fodder (and relates also to whatever measures Ottawa may endorse regarding environmental regulations). It’s a clever and cynical tactic (The Gazette says ‘shabby’) on the part of Mr. Harper, neatly boxing the Liberal Opposition between some objectionable legislation and the dreaded election. Among the questionable inclusions is the provision that an environmental assessment is not required for federal building projects in places other than a national park, park reserve, national historic site or historic canal. Under another section, authority is granted to the Minister responsible for Atomic Energy of Canada Limited to do whatever he or she wishes with some or all of Canada’s nuclear assets – and that includes selling it.
We can only hope that Senator Murray will act on his announced intention to split the bill in the Senate and force careful review of these and other items.

The estimated Security cost for the G8 and G20 meetings is, unfortunately, nothing we can do about. Sheila Fraser will investigate – after the fact. One billion dollars certainly seems an insane amount – even the Public Safety Minister questions the costs –  but what would be the cost to Canada’s reputation if terrorists prevailed? We are still at a loss to understand the choice of downtown Toronto for the G20 Toronto’s G20 plan is a paranoid’s dream – wouldn’t a remote resort have been easier to handle? Better yet, a repeat of the G7 Finance Ministers’ meeting in Iqaluit?

Canada’s Foreign Policy is also coming in for some criticism. Mexico is very, very unhappy with its northern NAFTA partner’s imposition of visas for Mexican tourists and Senor Calderon received cold comfort from the Harper government this week; Cleo forwards this piece Love Not War For Insurgents? on Canada-India and visas that bears scrutiny (rather nasty about attitudes in the Canadian High Commission). Meanwhile, Al Jazeera comments on the visit to Ottawa by Binyamin Netanyahu – Israel’s new ‘best friend’? may not be so true following Monday’s events.

Politics and politicians
Finally, should we run out of topics (!), Rex Murphy’s Saturday column (rather narrowly titled For Ignatieff and friends), although an argument against popular representation, has much good advice for politicians of all stripes and on both sides of the border. As Canada faces the ever-looming threat of a general election that nobody wants, the US is in the run-up period to the mid-term elections affecting all 435 House of Representatives seats, 36 of 100 Senate seats and 37 of 50 state governorships.
Much as Canadians may bemoan the quality of some of their elected representatives, they do not look enviously across the border as more accounts are published regarding the excessive amounts spent by candidates to win election, making a mockery of the democratic process. (Who Wants to Elect a Millionaire?) As Kimon Valaskakis observes: A good example of the perplexing relationship of money and elections in US where the one person one vote ideal has become one dollar one vote. A dangerous path to Dumb Democracy.
What can be done to improve the overall quality of Canadian candidates for public office, and to improve access in the US to elected office for good candidates of modest means?
We realize that several dissertations could be devoted to this topic, but suggest that the solution (with all due respect) is too important to be left solely to academics and theorists. For inspiration, we suggest reading this profound and beautifully written tribute to Pvt. Mike Mansfield: Just One Marine in Arlington Cemetery, which goes a long way towards defining the qualities of an ideal political leader.

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