February 8, 2005


Whither the Canadian dream? (PAUL SCHNEIDEREIT, February 8, 2005, The Halifax Herald)

In his recent book, The Iraq War, respected British military historian John Keegan refers to the intellectual underpinning of much of the anti-war movement as "Olympian." Olympians, says Keegan, are essentially supranationalists; they believe that international bodies like the United Nations, and the European Union - and the treaties, rules and regulations that flow like a river from them - can resolve all issues without the need to resort to force. Against this viewpoint, the neo-conservatives counter with a sometimes jarring combination of realism and moral idealism that holds that in order to obtain desirable outcomes, military force is sometimes required.

Keegan, while not fully endorsing the neo-cons, clearly believes the Olympian outlook is utopian. Hobbes, he notes, pointed out that covenants without swords are just so many words.

During the Iraq crisis, the Canadian government - and a majority of Canadians - seemed to embrace the Olympian outlook, insisting that any solution must come with the UN's approval. This point of view made perfect sense in a nation that had, led by government and acquiesced to by its citizenry, long since begun its devolution from the need - or even the appetite - for the tools of hard power.

The problem is that when a country doesn't take its muscle as seriously as its mouth, however morally gifted we may believe its utterances to be, an increasing number of other nations stop seeing the need to listen intently, if at all. Speak softly but carry a big stick, former U.S. president Theodore Roosevelt famously said. Never mind a stick of any size; Canada's now down to a twig. The result, as Morden pointed out, has been a decline in real influence. And that has had real consequences.

The other problem with the Olympian outlook is that it presupposes all parties are going to be rational about things, that solutions are achievable through negotiation and concession. But as the terrorists have made abundantly clear, they are uninterested in dealing with those whom they consider infidels. Americans, as Morden said, are deadly serious about security, and for good reason - nearly three thousand people lost their lives on 9/11. Sept. 11 was not a negotiating position; it was a declaration of a war, one that had, for one side anyway, been ongoing for some time. In that context, Canada's utopian naptime should be over.

Who knew there was even such a thing as the Canadian Dream?

Posted by Orrin Judd at February 8, 2005 10:53 AM

The reason other governments (leaving Tony Blair to one side for a moment) wanted us to go to the United Nations wasn't because they thought the Olympian UN would be able to resolve everything without a fight (they left that delusion to their friends in the street), but because they knew that the UN would say "no" and they thought that we might pay attention.

Blair's insistence that we go to the UN is more puzzling. Maybe it was simply political cover to show his left that he had done as much as he could to get international approval, but I'm afraid to say that it might have been misplaced idealism.

Posted by: David Cohen at February 8, 2005 11:45 AM

End the farce. End Canada.

Posted by: Robert Schwartz at February 8, 2005 12:37 PM

The Canadian Dream:

Watch Americans fight and die in the War against Terrorism while we sit around drinking beer and eating doughnuts, and criticize them for their stupidity, their barbarism, their imperialism, their bellicosity, etc.

It doesn't get better than sitting around the igloo smoking Cuban cigars while complaining about how the Americans support vicious dictators and violate human rights all over the world.

Posted by: Bart at February 8, 2005 12:42 PM

The "Canadian Dream" has currently shrunk to "end the hockey lockout".

But in some ways, wasn't Canada the first "transnational" country, formed when Britian welded the disparate provinces of the Maritimes, Quebec, Upper Canada and British Columbia into one nation? Unlike their southern neighbors, who had opposition to George III to initially unite them, what did Canadians have besides a desire for "peace, order and good government"?

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 8, 2005 12:54 PM

Hey, a little compassion, fellas.
* It's not every country that altruistically allows its neighbor to feel so inferior. (Remember: Canada is doing this for our--repeat, our--own good. We should be grateful.)
* Moreover, with the NHL on strike, how else can Canadians entertain themselves?
* Besides, with their health care system about to implode, they should be given a bit of freedom to mock. That is, while they can.
* Not to mention that Peter B.---along with a handful of other stalwarts---is doing his damnedest, thankless job that it is, to spread truth and light. This takes time (noting that the recent elections are encouraging).
* Not to mention that if Canada disappears, there will be no neighbor left to feel righteously indignant about. (Sorry, Mexico just doesn't cut it.)

Realistically, we should probably just annex Greenland, and then we'll have 'er surrounded. Sort of. And thank the powers that be that Canada is our neighbor.

Posted by: Barry Meislin at February 8, 2005 1:03 PM

Canada jokes aside, it remains that in the realm of geopolitics, military power talks, and bulls**t walks.

Posted by: Lou Gots at February 8, 2005 1:31 PM



Posted by: Peter B at February 8, 2005 1:45 PM

Whattaya mean "if" Canada disappears? It just did:

Coors, Molson close deal

Posted by: joe shropshire at February 8, 2005 2:03 PM


Not sure about that, at least not for Canada, NZ and a few others. Like it or not, the UN plays such a gigantic role in the national myths of smaller countries that they and many of their politicians and citizens are quite capable of actually wanting to fight, of thinking it is the right thing to do, but declining to do so without UN sanction. If the resolution had've passed, I'm pretty sure we would have been there. I also believe we would have been there if there had been no resolution, which makes your point about both Blair and the UN more important.

Don't forget as well that when Canada and lots of others went to Gulf War I, Bosnia and Afghanistan, everybody knew full well that they were not make-or-break contributions. The strange thing about Iraq was that relations plummeted over a military contribution nobody pretended would make much of a difference. It was all politics and almost all driven by multilateral abstractions. You've had lots of wars without us and we've had a couple without you and everybody survived. I really hope the U.S. never takes a case like that to the UN again and that it makes Canada sink or swim bilaterally.

Posted by: Peter B at February 8, 2005 2:17 PM

"You" — as in us "Yanks"? In other words, without the US, you'd have another South America in the 1820s, with the various provinces all squabbling over who gets what's left behind as the mother country packs up and goes home? (Considering the recent Newfoundland dispute, that's still ongoing.) Which province would play the part of Paraguay in the War of the Triple Alliance?

That just reinforces my contention that Canada is the first transnational country, one whose existence is dependent on outside forces. (And that's not a bad thing in itself, as Canada up to around 1960 shows.)

As for Coors: Watered down Molson's. Yummy.

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 8, 2005 2:24 PM


Didn't it ever strike you as less than coincidental that modern Canada was created in 1867? Just imagine how it felt to face a huge army of hardbitten, surly Barts, Roberts and Orrins who had no more rebels or Mexicans to beat up. Scary!

Molson's is a big loss, but I'd watch your backsides or we'll be grabbing Miller from you when you're not looking. We always did have better taste in beer.

Posted by: Peter B at February 8, 2005 2:35 PM

So Kofi=Zeus?

I don't know if they're Olmpians, but they are special.

Posted by: Noel at February 8, 2005 2:43 PM

You forgot Newfoundland as being part of Canadian trans-nationalism.

Posted by: Webb at February 8, 2005 10:21 PM

Newfoundland is an example of Candian Imperiialsm (I know, that's an oxymoron), seeing how it wasn't absorbed until 1949. If they had an army, I would suspect that the dispute with Denmark over Hans Island was just a pretext for the annexation of Greenland. By which time it might be too late to fortify the border in Alaska...

Posted by: Raoul Ortega at February 9, 2005 1:22 PM