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Trudeau should learn from Clinton, Moynihan and Cotler

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Justin Trudeau FILE PHOTO
Justin Trudeau FILE PHOTO

Those seeking a morally centred and reality-based Canadian foreign policy worry about what path Prime Minister Justin Trudeau will follow. Trudeau disdains former prime minister Stephen Harper’s muscular, moralistic foreign policy. But Trudeau shouldn’t lead Canada back to the morally blind days of liberal (and Liberal) “evenhandedness” that so worshipped the United Nations and so feared confronting any international organizations.

Canada’s approach should be anchored in democratic values, intolerant of international evil and tempered by a realistic assessment of Canadian reach. Trudeau’s foreign policy guru, Roland Paris, once denounced “Canada’s decade of diplomatic darkness.” The response should not be a return to Canada’s decade and a half of moral idiocy.

“It’s tempting for Trudeau to be the un-Harper. But beware the mess U.S. President Barack Obama made by trying to be the un-George W. Bush”

It’s tempting for Trudeau to be the un-Harper. But beware the mess U.S. President Barack Obama made by trying to be the un-George W. Bush. In today’s messy, menacing world, overreacting to heavy-handed, overly moralistic overreach with amoral appeasement helps nobody. Obama’s weakness emboldened ISIS, the Iranians, the Syrians, the North Koreans and Vladimir Putin’s Russian hooligans.

Trudeau should learn key foreign policy lessons from three leading liberals: former U.S president Bill Clinton, former U.S. senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan and former Canadian justice minister, Irwin Cotler. Canadian foreign policy should remain moral, muscular, meaningful, and respectful of the good the UN, NGOs and the current international infrastructure can accomplish, while skeptical of the evils too much of the global community tolerates, and even encourages.

Coming into office with little foreign policy experience and a Vietnam-era skepticism about U.S. power and righteousness, Clinton was originally too passive. He didn’t defend U.S. interests effectively in Somalia and Haiti, and he violated core American and international ideals by standing idly by during the Rwandan genocide.

Clinton learned from Rwanda: the international arena abhors a vacuum. When democratic countries, including Canada, but especially the United States, dodge active leadership there, evil can flourish. Clinton became a liberal interventionist after Rwanda, leading aggressively against Saddam Hussein in Iraq and Slobodan Milosevic, the “Butcher of the Balkans,” because no one else would.

Moynihan taught an important lesson as U.S. ambassador to the UN in the mid-1970s. He showed that sometimes, blasting the UN shows respect for it. His passionate fight against the UN and the global community’s appeasement of dictators such as Idi Amin, against their worship of terrorists like PLO leader Yasser Arafat and against their demonization of democratic countries like Israel convinced many that Moynihan hated the UN. The United Nations Association even broke tradition and didn’t make him its honorary chair when he left the UN.

Moynihan scoffed, noting that these fools didn’t realize that he fought so hard against the UN’s emergence as the Third World dictators’ debating society precisely because he believed so deeply in the UN’s great potential. Trudeau must remember that pushing for UN reform can be a compliment, not a mark of contempt.

READ: A Q&A with Justin Trudeau

Ultimately, Trudeau should learn from Cotler how to fight for human rights, uphold Canadian values and embody the quest for democracy worldwide without losing your soul. Cotler is neither a Harperite nor a Chrétienian. Wherever he has seen injustice, be it at a UN anti-Zionism conference in Durban, South Africa, or in President Bashar Assad’s chemical gassing of his fellow Syrians, he’s championed the moral response, the proportionate response, the Canadian response.

Cotler isn’t a sabre-rattler, nor is he a pacifist. He’s taught generations of Canadians the essential lesson that Clinton and Moynihan mastered and Trudeau must now learn: defending Canada, which includes pursuing justice whenever possible, requires a clear moral vision, a realistic appreciation of what can be accomplished and a broad arsenal of tools – some peaceful, other not. Because if the good people are the world are too passive, too relativistic or too silent, the bad guys win.