Thursday, October 23, 2008

The New-Age Political Dilemma: Leadership or Management?

Canada needs to correct historical leadership deficit

If one were to ask Canadians, there would be little question: Canadians want to lead the world.

Paradoxically, if one were to ask Canadians, they may receive a contradictory answer: Canadians feel as if their country has failed to ascend to a position of leadership in the world, and has instead been relegated into the ranks of the followers.

For one, Lieutenant General (ret) Romeo Dallaire would wistfully agree. And as disappointing as this state of affairs may be for many Canadians, those many Canadians may also have to agree with Dallaire when he points out that we may ultimately only have ourselves to blame: Canada's failure to lead on the global stage may have come about as a result of a deficit of leadership at home.

"We have been a very well-managed country, but we have not been well led," Dallaire recently told an audience in Peterborough, Ontario. "We are within the power structure of the world, what are we going to do with it?"

"We've got to move to change the future," he added.

Anyone who has ever been privileged enough to hear Dallaire, who continues to serve his country as a Liberal Senator, speak understands the depth of his faith in Canadians. This is a man who not only fervently believes that Canadians can lead on the global stage, but rather knows we can.

He's done it himself. In 1994, he sacrificed too much of himself trying to avert the genocide that took place in Rwanda, where Hutu militia slaughtered nearly 1,000,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus.

Dallaire and his UNAMIR peacekeeping force struggled against the superior numbers of the Hutu militia, insufficient supplies and ammunition, and scarcity of even the most basic necessities while waiting for the world to wake up to what was taking place in Rwanda.

By the time the civil conflict in Rwanda began to wound down and a reinforced UNAMIR 2 mission began to deploy, Dallaire was utterly spent. Suffering from the Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome that would frame the next few years of his life.

Both Dallaire's message and his example are crystal clear: leadership on the world stage isn't a right -- it's a privilege that must be earned. Furthermore, it comes with a price.

Sadly, it seems that all too often either Canadian leaders, or Canadians in general, aren't willing to pay the price for leadership on the world stage. Global leadership comes with various costs: financial, political, personal, and human.

Throughout much of the postwar period, Canada's political leaders proved unwilling to pay the financial cost of global leadership. Under Pearson, Trudeau, Mulroney and Chretien, funding of Canada's armed forces continually declined until after 9/11, when security-related pressures forced the Chretien government to start to take the issue seriously.

But by the time the 1994 conflict in Rwanda rolled around, Canada's military was approaching dire straights. While many other countries came to admire Canada's armed forces, it was largely because they were accomplishing tremendously impressive feats with tremendously sub-par equipment.

The argument could be raised that even if Chretien's government cared enough about what was happening in Rwanda, it was still unable to respond due to the neglected state of Canada's military.

Yet remarkably many of those who would have been most eager to send a significant contingent of Canadian troops into Rwanda have actually decried recent military spending that, once upon a time, would have made such a rescue operation possible.

It's hard to fault blinkered ideologues such as Linda McQuaig for such an inconsistency. They literally have no understanding of what most modern peacekeeping missions actually entail.

Even those who may otherwise profit politically from denouncing the Harper government's military spending understand why it's so crucial. As Michael Ignatieff notes:

"One of the things I have learned in 15 years out there in the killing fields of Africa and the Balkans, is that you can't protect human beings with blue berets and a sidearm. I'm fiercely proud of our peacekeeping tradition. Where peacekeeping of the traditional Pearsonian sort can be practiced we must practice it. But in a lot of cases now, in situations where you want to protect human beings, you want to prevent them from being ethnically cleansed or massacred because of their race, religion or ethnicity, you've got to have bulked up capabilities. You gotta go in there with flak jackets, you've got to have armour, you've gotta protect them."
What individuals such as Linda McQuaig -- in fact, the entire core of writers publishing via Global Research have willfully overlooked is the nature of modern conflict. The days of the idealized Pearsonian blue beret have long passed.

Even when one considers the current situation in Afghanistan and the often-idealized alternative mission in the Sudan, one encounters serious shortages of realistic thinking on the part of such ideologues. Once again, from Ignatieff:

"The problems in Darfur, however, are extremely serious. Sometimes people can say that "if I can just go there. Why Afghanistan? Why not Darfur?". The only thing to bear in mind when you say that is just think about what a deployment of Canadians in Darfur would look like.

It's 55 degrees centigrade. There's no cover anywhere. Do you think the Janjaweed are going to get off their camels and walk up when they see a Canadian flag and shake our hand? No. It's a combat mission.
But there's a reason why McQuaig and her contemporaries prefer peacekeeping missions such as the one they imagine in Darfur to the less pleasant business of conducting warfare -- peacekeeping comes with virtually no political price for them. Unless peacekeepers are killed in a Mogadishu-style ambush, peacekeeping is considered to be a politically nonthreatening activity -- generally considered to be a noble cause.

Warfare, on the other hand, is seen quite differently, even when the cause being fought for is in line with Canadian interests and values. Even when a withdrawal from the theatre of conflict would result in the ascension of a regime -- such as the Taliban -- so antithetical to Canadian values.

Even when the potential triumph or defeat of Canadian values -- so often claimed by individuals such as McQuaig as their values -- is at stake, these are people who are unwilling to pay a political price for them.

Sadly, sometimes even those Canadians who claim to support missions such as that in Afghanistan are unwilling to pay a political price for it. Little else remains to be said about Stephen Harper's recent decision to end the mission altogether in 2011, whether the mission is accomplished or not.

Sometimes leadership on the global stage carries a tremendous personal cost. As previously mentioned, Dallaire himself has paid that personal cost in spades -- and paid not only his own share, but that of an entire country.

It's only natural, however, that many people would be reluctant to pay the human cost of global leadership. No one enjoys the prospect of sending troops overseas to die. When they are sent, every prayer is uttered that they'll return home safely.

But even as those who would end up paying that human cost with their lives or health continue to support their mission despite the loss of their comrades, it serves a reminder: our service men and women volunteer knowing that the price of global leadership may be their lives.

This does nothing to undermine the responsibility of political leaders to ensure that the lives of our service men and women are risked only when necessary. But it should also remind them that such risks are truly inevitable, regardless of the anxiety that accompanies making decisions that may very well turn out to be matters of life and death.

Dallaire understands this. The current road of global leadership is not an easy one to traverse. "We are in a new era and it's not necessarily the easiest era," Dallaire said. "If you are a leader, part of your job is to anticipate the future. We are in a time of revolutions and not in an era of change."

The challenge for Canadians will be to decide whether they want their leaders to lead, or to settle for "leaders" who promote themselves more as public managers.

If Canadians want to lead on the global stage, we'll need to understand that such leadership has to start at home. And it has to begin with both leaders and citizens who are willing to pay that price.

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