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Foreground: Russia has invaded Ukraine, all of it, as naked an aggression as the world has seen since 1939.
The US has for weeks been predicting Russia intended to invade. This unilateral aggression of choice has prompted almost universal condemnation, and severe sanctions against Russia.
Putin seems confident Russia can withstand economic sanctions because of its low debt and very ample reserves ($620 billion), the strong price of oil and gas, his presumption China will substitute its economic support (not certain), and proven Russian resilience. But Russia’s certain international isolation as a pariah state will be very uncomfortable. Domestic political support for war and its consequences are low. Vladimir Putin’s justification on grounds of Russian grievances, past and present, will possibly play much less well than the dictator in his bubble believes.
How did it come to this, a flagrant violation of international law, thorough disruption of international behavioural norms, and of European peace that have governed affairs for three quarters of a century? What do we need to understand about Russia? Where to begin?
Background.“Tout comprendre, c’est tout pardonner” (To understand all is to forgive all). This classic French aphorism, lifted by both Tolstoy in War and Peace and Evelyn Waugh in Brideshead Revisited, is a romantic notion. Understanding what makes others tick, especially adversaries, is vital. But in diplomacy, forgiveness is irrelevant. Diplomacy seeks livable, workable, outcomes from clashes of interests, values, and even memory, requiring give and take.
Sadly, for this, diplomacy has succumbed to sheer force, for now.
Understanding where the antagonist, Russia, is coming from is buried in traumas of its murderous 20th century history. Putin cherishes distant 10th century ties, when Vladimir the Great adopted Christianity for the Kievan Rus, foretelling the spread of Eastern Orthodoxy into greater Russia. He implies this suggests Ukraine/Russian issues are “family” matters. But Tolstoy also reminded us each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way (and some can break up violently).
Start instead with the Bolshevik Revolution in 1917, which enveloped everybody across the Russian Empire in shared traumatic unhappiness from violent Soviet police-state Communism.
PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, can affect whole societies. Soviet trauma was suppressed by the immediate need to resist Hitler’s murderous invasion and by pride in postwar industrial and scientific accomplishments. But Stalinist persecution of Ukrainian kulaks (wealthy farmers), state-created starvation, gulags, and mass purges left cumulative psychological scarring.
Mikhail Gorbachev’s transformative programs of glasnost (openness) and perestroika (reconstruction) in the mid-1980s, to undo the police state and to open up society and the economy, were seen in the US as acceptance of dysfunctional inability to compete in the arms race and the international economy.
The USSR economy could have staggered on several more years. Gorbachev’s principal motive was a moral judgment that transformation of Soviet society needed prior relief of the legacy of state crime. In advocating for openness and truth, he isolated Eastern European puppet regimes, enabling mass dissent that exploded in November, 1989, with the breach of the Berlin Wall. The tumble of Communist regimes eviscerated the Warsaw Pact of meaning. At the Open Skies meeting in Ottawa in January, 1990, West Germany and East Germany, (GDR), agreed with the Second World War’s occupying powers, the USSR, the US, France and the UK (“two plus four”) to negotiate Germany’s reunification. It was the beginning of the end of the Cold War.
at the post-Gulf War G7 London Summit, Gorbachev’s guest appearance on the veranda of Lancaster House drew officials lunching in the garden below spontaneously to their feet to applaud the man most of them credited with ending the Cold War.
NATO ministers next met June 7th, 1990, under Margaret Thatcher’s chairmanship at Turnberry Golf Course in Scotland (now owned by Donald Trump). German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher agreed to propose a “Message from Turnberry” to “seize the historic opportunities resulting from the profound changes.... to help build a new peaceful order in Europe.” German Political Director Dieter Kastrup asked his Canadian counterpart, me, to shape the English. Together, with External Affairs Minister Joe Clark’s encouragement, we crafted NATO’s short message, “to extend to the Soviet Union and to all other European countries the hand of friendship and cooperation.” Headlines the next morning signaled the actual end of the Cold War. The euphoria wouldn’t last
Germany’s reunification needed prior withdrawal of 400,000 Soviet troops. Chancellor Helmut Kohl offered Moscow massive financial compensation. At a Bush-Gorbachev summit in early September 1990 in Helsinki, Secretary of State James Baker (presented as “my lawyer,” by George H.W. Bush) assured Gorbachev that as USSR forces pulled out of East Germany, NATO forces would not move “one inch” to the East. Baker says he meant “into East Germany.” Gorbachev regrets his that his acquiescence implies he had accepted NATO expansion.
Having myself asked both Baker and Gorbachev in their retirements, I concluded the question was lost in translation at the buoyantly cordial Helsinki summit where, as Baker told NATO the next day, Gorbachev endorsed a UN-sponsored international force to reverse Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait a month earlier. Discussion intensified over Europe’s security architecture in light of momentous changes.Some leaders – Germany’s Genscher, Czech leader Václav Havel – questioned the need for both NATO and the Warsaw Pact.
In November 1990, a grandiose Europe-North American Paris summit described as the Cold War peace conference launched Gorbachev’s concept of a European common home, from “Vancouver to Vladivostok.” It created the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). In June, 1991, at the post-Gulf War G7 London Summit, Gorbachev’s guest appearance on the veranda of Lancaster House drew officials lunching in the garden below spontaneously to their feet to applaud the man most of them credited with ending the Cold War.
But the summer’s confidence waned as unprecedented transformation challenges arose. In Warsaw, Budapest and Prague, newly empowered political dissidents with scant experience of running anything, much less governments, found that opposition to prior Communist regimes didn’t extend to unity on what to do next. These Western European societies shut in by the Iron Curtain, yearning to re-join Europe, now grasped that satisfying entry requirements of the European Community would be a long and hard road. Havel reversed his inclination to dissolve both alliances, seeing that NATO’s brand offered precious Western identity credentials.
Russian attention was inward. Gorbachev had undertaken emancipation from state Communism without a lucid “Plan B” to transform the economy. No one knew how, least of all Western advisers whose “shock therapy” had triggered economic and social free-fall. An August coup by bitter Communist throwbacks failed, but Gorbachev’s popularity tanked. Rival reformist president of the Russian Republic Boris Yeltsin failed to push him out, so Yeltsin broke up the USSR.
That decision was made December 8th, 1991, at a Belarussian hunting lodge by Yeltsin and Leonid Kravchuk, party boss of Ukraine. On December 20, at the inaugural meeting of the North Atlantic Cooperation Council – the 16 NATO and nine members of the Warsaw Pact – at which I was present in Brussels, the Soviet ambassador, called repeatedly to the phone from Moscow, relayed his instruction to remove the USSR’s nameplate from the table. We adjourned, believing that NATO’s intrinsic vocation as an alliance organized in hostile opposition to Moscow was over. (It would return.)
Putin manufactured this crisis to protect that line with an unobtainable formal agreement NATO will not expand, though he knows that in reality Ukraine is not joining NATO. He wishes to reclaim for Russia great power influence, and greater Russia/NATO security parity.
For 20 years, NATO explored a wider role (summarized in the post-Cold War catchphrase “out of area or out of business”), undertaking airstrikes in 1999 to end Slobodan Milosevic’s ethnic cleansing siege of Kosovo. After the attacks of 9/11, Canada moved that NATO for the first time activate Article 5 of its Charter to intervene collectively in response to an attack on an alliance member, launching its long and painful engagement in Afghanistan. In 2011, NATO bombed Moammar Ghaddaffi’s army in Libya as it advanced on Benghazi.
Meanwhile, the USSR’s 290 million citizens broke into 15 separate countries, surprisingly peacefully. Twenty million ethnic Russians opted to stay in non-Russian new republics. Concern for Russian minorities in Ukraine, Kazakhstan, the Baltics, Moldova, and Georgia would preoccupy Moscow for years. To fill the national identity space vacated by Communism, leaders of new republics often drew from established hostility to the USSR, which they easily conflated with the Russian Republic. Russians, who had decisively pushed breaking up the USSR and who had suffered more from the Communist oppression than anyone, resented it.
But they remained engulfed by institutional collapse at home. The Russian Navy’s commander told me when I was serving as Canadian Ambassador to Moscow that he was an out-placement manager. We saw rotting hulks of nuclear-powered ships in Vladivostok. Yeltsin begged for material western assistance. US President Bill Clinton understood the potential costs of letting “ol’ Boris” down but couldn’t move Congress to do much to support Russia. By 1998, amid chaos and corruption, Russian democratic reformers fell decisively out of favour. Meanwhile, in 1999 NATO admitted new members, Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland.
The post-Yeltsin battle began. His family turned to Vladimir Putin, reputedly a reliable go-to apparatchik who quietly got things done. He replaced Yeltsin on Jan 1, 2000. His first official foreign visitor was NATO’s Secretary general, George Robertson. Putin successfully redressed economic disarray and stabilized politics to public acclaim, telling Russians that what they needed was not another revolution, but a “Great Russia.”
But his growing subtraction from recently-gained democratic space increased opposition from professional and middle classes, chafing at their imposed “political infancy.” Putin played the popular nationalist card, exploiting what former UK Foreign Minister David Miliband describes as a legacy of Russian humiliation at being treated as the Cold War’s “losers,” to earn applause for standing up to the West. Western dismissal of Russian positions that NATO’s expansion up to Russia’s borders violates 1990s understandings as “outlandish” fuelled the resentment.
Putin wanted Ukraine to fail. A successful democratic Ukraine could be mortally contagious to his corrupt autocracy. He is a cynical and highly competitive man who sees democracy idealists as hypocritical, phony US stooges.
Still, most Russians were sufficiently objective to understand that Czechoslovaks, Hungarians, and Poles deserved to re-join interrupted European legacies. Most conceded, too, that the shameful 1940 annexation of the Baltic states into the USSR via a deal with Nazi Germany deserved remedy. The entry of Romania, Bulgaria Slovenia, Slovakia, etc., was sullenly digested.
But it was always clear that NATO’s inclusion of Ukraine or Georgia would cross a red line. Putin manufactured this crisis to protect that line with an unobtainable formal agreement NATO will not expand, though he knows that in reality Ukraine is not joining NATO. He wishes to reclaim for Russia great power influence, and greater Russia/NATO security parity. He believes the “Minsk accords” that meant to stabilize conflict with the rebels of Donetsk and Lugansk and award more autonomy to the Russian-speaking Donbas are hopelessly stalled. He chose aggression against Ukraine for daring to exist.
Putin wanted Ukraine to fail. A successful democratic Ukraine could be mortally contagious to his corrupt autocracy. He is a cynical and highly competitive man who sees democracy idealists as hypocritical, phony US stooges. He prefers believing that a Ukraine subordinate to Putin retain operational features just like Russia’s, where corrupt oligarchs call the shots.
His choice of invading Ukraine, inviting death and destruction, and real costs to his own country, raise issues of the Russian leader’s grasp of reality and certainly of morality.
Does he represent Russian opinion? The surprise 2014 annexation of Russian-speaking Crimea was popular in Russia but almost destroyed relations with the West. By contrast, military incursion and occupation in Ukraine would find little public support (only 17 percent according to a Levada poll wish the two countries to re-unite). It would isolate Russia for years, whatever Putin’s closer but still wary autocratic fraternity with Xi Jinping.
NATO had been ready to address Russian security concerns — on intermediate nuclear weapons, military infrastructure placement, and the bigger picture, before Russia invaded its neighbour. Now, there will be no Summits for Putin with world leaders, probably ever again.
Relations will now enter a nuclear winter of mutual opposition between Putin and the US, the West and even democracy.
We are dealing with the aftermath of momentous events three decades ago. We lazily believed then we were living the “end of history”, heralding universal coalescence around a Western democratic and market-based model. We couldn’t know it would almost crash in the financial collapse of 2008 or that an increasingly autocratic Putin would radicalize his hostile behaviour, which in its sociopathic impulses reminds us of the inter-generational effects of PTSD on a vulnerable person, such as Putin.
His distortion of truth and lethal threat to lives for the sake of a demonic dream of repossessing a dispossessed past have, as Masha Gessen writes today in the New Yorker, made it impossible for decent people in Moscow and Kiev. “to live and to breathe.” It must be ghastly for them.
Life may now become ghastly for many more Russians who shrugged their shoulders at Putin’s absurd excesses while enjoying new wealth and travel, now about to be curtailed. He is their disgrace, their madman – no other way to put it.
Nonetheless, we need to understand the past and present to meet author F. Scott Fitzgerald’s functional test of a first-rate intelligence — when things seem hopeless, to determine to make them otherwise.
This article first appeared in Policy Magazine.
Friends and foes look with varying degrees of baffled concern or schadenfreude at what is going on in and with America, asking themselves and each other what the uncertainties mean going forward, including for international cooperation on crucial global issues.
September 25, 2021
The suddenness with which the thousand-day drama of Meng and the Two Michaels concluded was truly a surprise. There were no leaks, no prim granting of anonymity by the Globe and Mail to spinners and speculators. Most astonishing was that the status of these negotiations was kept secret even from the media in leak-addicted Washington and New York, where the legal proceedings against Huawei executive Meng Wanzhou were located.
Canadians have long spent parts of their lives in the United States without actually living there. Montrealers’ ocean beaches are in Maine; we ski in Vermont, swim in Lake Champlain, and shop in Plattsburgh, easy alternatives to the Laurentians, Eastern Townships, and the local mall.
In the wake of the remarkable bilateral between US President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Geneva on June 16th, hereby some background for context.
Ravaged by the COVID-19 pandemic, the world welcomed the end of the annus horribilis of 2020. In Britain, it also meant a game-ending whistle on the Brexit process. But a staggering economy and a grim daily death toll muted celebration by English nationalists.
Brexit was always an emotional exercise about identity over economics, energized through scapegoating the European Union for difficulties that the United Kingdom had a major hand in—the shambles of the Iraq war, the continental migrant crisis, an EU expansion too far and fast, the Great Recession, globalization.
The 1917 Russian Revolution occurred when pent-up pressures of rapid economic and social change were suppressed by an absolutist monarchy living in a reform-resisting bubble. Russia’s needless entry into a destructive war among European powers accelerated public disaffection. A social democratic parliamentary democracy fell to violent upheaval by a militant radical minority who won because they alone were organized with clear aims. As institutions collapsed, exhausted people empowered the Bolsheviks because they hoped for order and stability, however harsh.
U.S. President-elect Joe Biden spoke prior to the holiday at the Queen Theater on Tuesday in Wilmington, Delaware. A majority of other countries are looking forward to Biden’s inauguration in January.
Donald Trump’s exit from the White House wins our disrupted and divided world another chance to get its collective act together to meet existential global challenges.
Only 20 years ago, Canadian diplomacy was at the front end of the post-Cold War effort to design and anchor new inclusive norms for international governance. Do we still have the stuff, the will and ability, to be a key player again?
We have a stake in successful international co-operative outcomes. It needs robust outreach diplomacy. Canada can’t just fall into line behind Joe Biden’s more congenial U.S. leadership and hope for the best.
The world has vastly changed in 20 years. Optimistic assumptions were crushed by events whose residue still disrupts. The jihadist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, recast global priorities, fed enduring terrorism, and prompted the long Afghan war and the disastrous and divisive U.S./U.K. invasion of Iraq that spewed refugees into Europe. Borders stiffened and populist nationalism gained traction, bolstered by ubiquitous social networks that polarized publics. With the encouragement of Russia, nativist populists vilified globalization and liberal democracy. Meanwhile, China continued its remarkable and inexorable rise in economic stature, shifting the global balance of power, with an increasingly nationalist posture.
Barack Obama’s election in 2008 had lifted hopes of a reprise of constructive internationalism. But the financial cataclysm he inherited laid bare an unfair system that privileged capital over ordinary people’s welfare.
The world’s mood trended to pessimism and identity-based nationalism, including in the U.K. The U.S. elected as president a disruptive nationalist who wrought carnage on international co-operation and institutions. Pledging to “no longer surrender the country to the false song of globalism,” Trump tore up foundational agreements in the name of “America first,” upending 75 years of U.S. international leadership.
Just how scorched he left the institutional landscape was clear when the increasingly deadlocked G20 met virtually on Nov. 21, under the inauspicious rotating chairmanship of Trump ally Saudi Arabia. Trump mocked hopes of concrete progress on the agenda, trashing the notion of global warming and skipping the critical session on the global pandemic to play golf.
Most countries now impatiently endure an overlong and dysfunctional U.S. transition, anticipating the remedial succession of Joe Biden, a welcome multilateralist.
But expectation of restoration comes with a hedge. Germany, as an important example, had since the war viewed the U.S. as its key ally, protector, and democratic mentor before Trump turned the privileged relationship into what Germans came to call the U.S. “catastrophe.” The U.S. reputation for can-do competence plummeted as the world witnessed with a “mixture of concern, disbelief, and schadenfreude ” a “leaderless America slip into a deep pandemic winter.”
Chancellor Angela Merkel’s observation that “the times we could rely on the U.S. are somewhat over” won’t now be archived just because of a close election. Trump leaves behind a polarized U.S. which could reverse direction again.
Even though the incoming Biden team is reassuringly experienced, positive, and outward-looking, it will face an obstinate partisan opposition, the overwhelming domestic priority to manage the pandemic and economic recovery, and the many unexpected things that land on the president’s desk. U.S. allies share German worries about the extent to which the new administration will have much room for range and transformative ambitions in foreign affairs. So, others need to maintain creative momentum to reform and reinforce international co-operation. Will Canada be in the front rank?
Princeton University international relations theorist John Ikenberry observes that “the world order has (so far) endured because it is in everybody’s interest.” But that general interest has to be translated into common purpose, and it doesn’t come easily.
Two decades ago, as the dean of G8 finance ministers, Paul Martin argued convincingly that the world needed a more inclusive forum to negotiate trade-offs on critical global challenges. It became the G20. But it isn’t working. Notions that a democratic G7 enlarged to include India, South Korea, and Australia would provide a more inclusive but effective forum than either the G7 or the G20 begs how to engage China. The increasingly fractious rivalry between China and the U.S. for economic primacy is apt to define our age.
A rare U.S. bipartisan consensus concludes that China has gamed international trade rules, bullies neighbours, and represses human rights in Xinjiang and Hong Kong. Canada, other democracies, and China’s neighbours agree. Incoming U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken knows the resolution of key global issues needs agreement between the U.S. and China.
He has previewed the bilateral relationship as a composite of components that are adversarial, competitive, and also, where possible, cooperative, recognizing that on global warming and the pandemic, China is an essential factor. The U.S. will resist calls to “de-couple” western economies from China’s and won’t endorse an allied Cold War “containment” strategy.
But the Biden administration will move warily and firmly. Other countries need to engage China on multilateral issues. Canada needs a realistic and open-eyed approach only possible after resolution of our debilitating hostage dispute.
Of course, our main bilateral priority is our critical relationship with the U.S. Canada has, in the Biden administration, a partner on whom we can count for civil discussion and negotiation based on shared facts and evidence. But it will be no pleasure cruise: U.S. political themes are inward and protection-ish. We need to remain in campaign communications mode toward all levels of the U.S., to temper impulses to “buy American,” and to lift the U.S. view of the benefits of the North American partnership.
Other regions are organizing. Asian countries including China, Japan and Australia, representing one-third of global GDP have created the tariff-cutting “Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership.” Canada must succeed in Asia. Looking ahead, our Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement with the EU could become the template for a comprehensive North Atlantic economic partnership between the European Union and North America as an expansion of NAFTA.
Canada needs to work every day abroad to strengthen opportunities from a diversity of partnerships, including to build support for global multilateral reform. Twenty years ago, Foreign Minister Lloyd Axworthy was the leading protagonist for “human security,” a paradigm placing people at the centre of new norms of international behaviour and accountability.
With like-minded middle-rank states and international NGOs we formed the Human Security Network to design and promote landmark initiatives to end the use of anti-personnel land mines, and to establish both a Responsibility to Protect to prevent tragedies such as Rwanda and Srebrenica, and an International Criminal Court to apply principles of universal justice.
Today the United Nations system is bogged down by the fragmentations of our world. We badly need like-minded solidarity groups to galvanize institutional reform and positive outcomes for such essential UN activities as peacekeeping, humanitarian aid, poverty, migration, and public health, including immediately the COMAX coalition of more than 100 countries to assure equitable affordable COVID-19 vaccine distribution, in which Canada should be a protagonist.
The enduring trans-national challenge of moderating global warming will be eased by U.S. re-entry to the Paris climate accord, and by President-elect Biden’s commitment to carbon net-zero targets by 2050. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s initiative to upgrade Canadian carbon abatement re-positions Canada to contribute more to the international effort.
Ottawa has been working with like-minded internationalist countries to try to unlock some other key multilateral issues. On trade, the Ottawa Group initiative of middle-power countries to revive and reform the World Trade Organization is making progress.
But it will need a wider buy-in from the great powers. More broadly, then-Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland encouraged the formation of the Multilateral Alliance group that brings together Canadian, German, French and other partners seeking ways to re-build trust and purpose in multilateral fora. One exemplary success stands out as a model of international governance — the Arctic Council, an innovative, bottom-up consensus-based organization of the eight circumpolar states and Indigenous peoples that guides the sustainable development and shared custody of the world’s High North in line with the UN’s international legal norms.
Biden has pledged to convene a summit of democracies to address democracy’s global recession and to restore a better example. It should reaffirm that universal human rights are democracy’s building blocks and our commitment to have the backs of human rights defenders everywhere, consistently.
As to our creative policy capacity, the perception in the foreign affairs community is that it atrophied under recent top-down governments centralized in PMOs and leaders with narrower international aims, focused on signaling our virtues, absorbed by electoral politics.
But crisis response has been excellent, notably in procuring PPE, and evacuating Canadians during the pandemic. Work to save NAFTA and craft the ground-breaking CETA with the EU was outstanding.
We need to revive the creative capacities of the Foreign Service and re-energize our international public diplomacy. The world also sees “the other North America” through interacting with multitudes of Canadian scientists, entrepreneurs, scholars and students, artists, humanitarian workers, military, firefighters, and innumerable family ties. Including public consultation in the policy process is essential.
The pandemic makes it emphatically clear we are all in the same global boat. But it needs fixing to stay afloat. Canadians are globalists. That repair work is rightfully our brand.
Article appeared in The Victoria Times Colonist
In his memoir, Collateral Damage: Britain, America and Europe in the Age of Trump, ex-British Ambassador to the United States Kim Darroch ruefully notes that on 28 February, 2020, the TV quiz show Jeopardy! asked contestants, “Sir Kim Darroch resigned from his post in 2019 after the leak of some comments of his about the US Administration — which post was it?”
No one knew. As Darroch put it, his 15 minutes were obviously over.
When the leaks were published by the scandal-craving Mail on Sunday, they made headlines around the world, precisely because they told the truth about the Trump experience we were all suffering.
There was little in the other leaked factual dispatch cables sent in prior months from the Embassy that had not been amply reported in the media about Trump’s antics and the shambolic performance of his rapidly rotating personnel.
But there was one personal letter from the ambassador, addressed to relatively few need-to-know readers in Whitehall dating back to 2017, reporting on what Darroch saw would lie ahead: “We don’t really believe this administration is going to behave substantially more normal; less dysfunctional; less unpredictable; less faction riven; less dramatically clumsy and inept.”
Were truer words ever written?
This was the “money text.” It was the one that the unknown leaker had hoarded. Motive? The intention was presumably lodged somewhere in the toxic culture of ambition and conspiracy surrounding Brexit, perhaps to undermine Darroch, whom obsessive Brexiteers would have seen as a disloyalty candidate. He had been twice on postings in Brussels, most recently as the UK’s permanent representative to the EU. He had been Prime Minister Tony Blair’s top EU advisor and Prime Minister David Cameron’s national security advisor. But for the manic anti-EU devotees of Brexit he “was not one of us.”
And he wasn’t. Darroch went as ambassador to Washington in January 2016, and presented his credentials to Brexit-skeptic President Barack Obama. A year later, he was attending the inauguration of Brexit enthusiast and booster Donald Trump. So it goes for Ambassadors. As Darroch puts it, “Personal views have no place in the professional part of a diplomat’s existence.” It says more about Trump than it does about Darroch’s professionalism that the disruptive president’s behaviour makes it impossible to write an accurate, empirical account of his actions without seeming to denigrate.
Darroch followed Trump’s campaign as he has since with dispassionate attention to the underlying issues of immigration, inequality, and identity that Trump’s candidacy was surfing on his way to power. “The further down the educational attainment ladder one looked the greater was this ‘white flight’ from the Democrats to the Republicans.” This comes not from the pen of an elitist snob but from that of an acute professional analyst.
US friends sometimes caution me that “Trump isn’t the cause of all this; he’s a symptom.” Sure, but the fact is that he has exploited grievances and divisions and has exacerbated antipathies, while disrupting the world order so that, as Darroch describes it, “multilateralism has never been weaker or more disparaged.”
Darroch recognized then as he does now that Trump’s genius in channeling victimization and a sense of exclusion is a political fact of great consequence and few recent precedents in shared democratic history. But an underlying theme of the book is that it has a companion piece in the forces that underlie Brexit.
The parallel surges of nativist populism represented by Trump and Brexit occurred almost simultaneously. Of course, what was going on in the UK (apart from the fortunes of his various golf resorts), was of little real concern to Trump.
Darroch isn’t the critic and all-out opponent of Brexit the malicious leaker probably believed. But he presents an acutely balanced view of the dangers of national exceptionalism that corrode the identities of both the UK and the US. To him, and I emphatically agree, the UK “Never reconciled ourselves to the primary obligation of (EU) membership — pooling of sovereignty.” The British believed the EEC and then the EU was just about markets and trade and never got that that it was really over “ever-closer union among the people of Europe” who had suffered from the Second World War in ways the UK hadn’t.
I share his regret that the accelerated and too-inclusive opening of the EU to 10 new applicants in 2004, eight from Central Europe plus Cyprus and Malta, was a bridge of change too far and too early, especially on the freedom of movement that would make immigration the cause célèbre of Brexit. The Brussels-centric enthusiasm and inwardness were always awkward for outsiders. As Darroch puts it, EU insiders didn’t get UK inside politics any better than vice-versa.
Of course, much of his memoir is about his three years in the US. He was rare in having had no prior US experience to speak of and there is a warm and lively sense of discovery as he visits shrines of his beloved rock-and-roll idols, and the vast and unrivalled natural landscape of the West. (But thank God he spears Vegas as the cheap fraud of desolate and tawdry materialism that it is.)
Being UK ambassador to Washington must be a neurotic ride, constantly striving for acknowledgement and evidence (rarely forthcoming) that the bilateral relationship is indeed “special.” Darroch details how PM Theresa May’s rush to be the first to visit president-elect Trump became the pinnacle of UK geopolitical ambition. I don’t know if he meant it to strike the reader as comic and sort of sad, but it does.
The moment of the leak, of Trump’s intemperate and essentially cruel Twitter dismissal of the Ambassador’s further standing in town, is brilliantly presented. Those of us who have been caught inadvertently in the unstoppable media herd mentality when the taste of blood rushes to its brain, will admire Darroch’s cool and dispassionate account of his downfall. After reading of Boris Johnson’s handling of it at his end, you’ll want to get up to wash your hands.
Kim Darroch is an interesting man. He’s not an entitled, Oxbridge elitist. He studied zoology at the excellent university of Durham, where he met his wife, a teacher, who clearly helped him stay grounded, and offered obvious comfort from a briefly noted, but to the reader, startling childhood experience of maternal desertion.
From the perspective of this long-time diplomat, Darroch rose to the top of British diplomacy by being the sort of unaffected blunt talker and straight-shooter with solid judgment — who factored-in the other guy’s point of view while defending one’s own — that any successful Canadian PM (I think of Mulroney and Chretien) would have viewed as essential to his/her own success.
He’s modest — in his telling, he had his “fifteen minutes.” Not at all. He’s written an important book of insight — by an unabashed globalist who wishes to hasten this “moment for visionary leadership of ambition and imagination, of the kind that rebuilt the world after the Second World War.” Having quit diplomacy, I’ll bet he’s glad to be out of it, but saddened by the politicization of the public service, and by much else.
Contributing Writer Jeremy Kinsman is a former Canadian Ambassador to Russia, former Ambassador to the European Union, former High Commissioner to the U.K. and former Minister for Political Affairs at the Canadian Embassy in Washington. He is a Distinguished Fellow with the Canadian International Council.
This article first appeared here
As the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic cuts a traumatic swath through various national timetables and trajectories, it wraps the crowded globe in a shared fearful narrative that will likely alter the way we all live.
March 26, 2020
The M.V. Coho arrives in Victoria’s Inner Harbour on its afternoon run from Port Angeles, Washington, 20 miles across the Juan de Fuca Strait, delivering, among others, the last snowbirds from the California desert and Arizona. Service on the Canada-U.S. ferry line will stop on Monday, March 30, joining flights and boat service to Seattle.
Over sixty years, the Coho carried millions of vacationers twice a day, four times in summer, past generally welcoming border controls. Those controls were tightened after December 1999, when Algerian terrorist and refugee Ahmed Rassam, who was on his way to California to blow up LAX as a millennium New Year’s Eve surprise, was asked to open his trunk on the Port Angeles side.
After the end of the Second World War in 1945 and following the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Canada played an important middle power role in the post-war and post-Cold War spread of democratic values and free market economies. But that’s not the shape or direction of today’s emerging world of turbulence. What is Canada’s role in this new world of turmoil?
Seeing Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland on December 10, holding up the just-signed NAFTA II agreement in Mexico City on live television alongside President Manuel López Obrador, towered over by U.S. and Mexican negotiators, was a reminder of how very far she has come.
Watching the public hearings on the impeachment of Donald Trump is worrying on many levels, but for a career diplomat, it’s sickening.
As a long-time Canadian Foreign Service officer and former ambassador to Russia, the European Union and the United Kingdom, among other postings, I feel gutted over the excruciating position that U.S. diplomats on duty in Kiev and Washington were put in during the Trump shakedown of Ukraine. The not-only politicized but corrupt back-channels, the previously unthinkable judgment calls, the conversations you wish you’d never heard much less been a part of: short of avoidable loss of life, the Trump doctrine on foreign affairs is pretty much a diplomat’s worst nightmare.
Brexit: A synonym for political chaos and confusion. To ardent advocates in a divided and embittered Britain, it represents a noble and historic national cause. Opponents fear it will reduce the United Kingdom’s stature, prosperity, and even size, tempting Scotland and Northern Ireland to defect from what they see as English nativism. Polls indicate most in Britain regret the way the 2016 referendum amounted to a careless leap in the dark, a simplistic binary choice then Prime Minister David Cameron presumably didn’t think he would lose and hardly tried to win.
Foreign policy rarely figures as a driving issue in Canadian elections. But in 2019, Canada’s place in the world and international stability itself are severely challenged, in large part because of the disruptive actions of the world’s most powerful country—and historically our most important ally—next door. However, don’t expect leaders to prioritize foreign policy in the campaign. (At this writing, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has not yet accepted an invitation for the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy debate scheduled for Oct. 1).
In Delray Beach, Florida, meeting one more snowbird holds little mystery. But for a local’s first-time encounter in Ulan Bator or Timbuktu, a Canadian can seem exotic. In London or Berlin, Shanghai or Santiago, people think they know us from hearsay but their impressions can be distorted.n the autumn of 2000, before 9/11 changed our world, when England was still basking in apparent prosperity and self-satisfaction, I opened London’s Sunday Times. Headlining the Arts section was an interview with Margaret Atwood, short-listed for the Booker Prize for the year’s best novel in English. The journalist declared he had just met that “rarest” of species—“an interesting Canadian.”
Prologue: April 2, 2019, email from editor to writer on contribution to next issue: “You might want to take a bite out of Brexit— after the next big cliff-edge, hair-on-fire deadline.......”
Writer to editor: “Sure. The LAST piece on Brexit. Unless it’s not. It could go on. For ever and ever.”
BY: JEREMY KINSMAN
There is one modest relief in spending time in the UK these fateful days of political confusion and chaos over Brexit: hardly anyone ever mentions US President Donald Trump. Few welcome his ignorant intrusions into the British debate behind the cause of Brexit.
Many times in the past two years, people have told me they’ve never seen Donald Trump laugh.
So, what would it take?
A sure bet would be if — after the mid-term elections that bore very ominous tidings for President Trump’s hopes for re-election in 2020, because women voters chose Democrats for House races by a staggering 59% to 40% — new insurgent Democratic members of Congress, seeking generational and ideological change, rebelled against Nancy Pelosi’s re-election as Speaker of the House of Representatives when Democrats take the majority in January.