Issues

January–February 2009

Re: “Help Wanted: Leader of the Free World,” by Jennifer Welsh

Re: “Help Wanted: Leader of the Free World” by Jennifer Welsh

Imagining America’s place in the (putative) new world order, circa 2010–2030, is today’s parlour game of choice. Jennifer Welsh is so engaged, with a provocative view of what it means for Canadian policy makers.

Her propositions unfold as follows: America shot herself in the foot, militarily, diplomatically and economically; American hegemony will not likely be restored; and American policy initiatives will be constrained within the parameters of others’ influences (the European Union; the BRIC countries of Brazil, Russia, India and China; the intractable Iran/Palestine/Israel conflict; etc.). Canada’s national interests on the international stage will be best served by moving away from “ring fenced” ask lists, conducted on a bilateral basis with the United States, toward formulating the “ideas and proposals to help the United States (and the West more broadly) adjust to a changing global landscape.”

On the face of it, these propositions are largely and probably true. A supremely powerful conventional military is constrained by non-conventional warfare and the proliferation of nuclear capabilities. Unilateralism is out, and meaningful and numerous alliances, forged among shifting partners to deal with multiple objectives, are in. America’s economic model is broken and its insistence on the merits of a specific liberal, democratic political culture is not enforceable.

So caution is in order. On the one hand, America has been here before and has shown remarkable resilience in adapting and reforming. On the other, no seminal event, such as the collapse of the Berlin Wall, and, with it, the bipolar world, is foreseeable as an aid to its recovery. As well, America’s extraordinary productivity performance, aided in large part by advances in information, communications and technology, can and is being captured by others. (Alas, Canada is not among them.)

Worst of all, America’s coinage is literally being debased. America’s twin deficit problem is extreme, hanging like a sword of Damocles over the dollar’s status as the globe’s sole reserve currency. Underpinning America’s hegemony has been its ability to print money to fund its international objectives and, at home, its consumer appetites. The economy is in disarray and stimulative budgets indicate deficits on the order of US$1.5 trillion per year for up to three years. At the individual level, consumer dissaving borders on hedonism. Welsh quotes the historian Niall Ferguson: “If international investors think the U.S. dollar might not be the currency to hold its value, then this really will be the perfect storm.” Today, the U.S. is dependent on China, Japan and other sovereign nations to fund its multiple pursuits. Gold anyone?

In her challenge for Canadian policy makers, I disagree with Welsh’s specifics, but support her general proposition. To suggest that border management and regulatory cooperation can be managed “among civil servants and officials at the state or provincial level” is patently absurd. The two nations’ geographies, economies and security apparatuses are inextricably intertwined. However, preserving Canada’s legal rights in the Arctic indicates Nordic, not American or Russian, alliances. As well, Canada’s reluctance to engage China and to enhance trade relations with the other BRIC countries is mystifying.

The G8 and the International Monetary Fund, symbols of American historical dominance, will give way to the likes of the G20, with alliances shifting among participants on an issue-by-issue basis. Canada will be well positioned to leverage its influence in these new quarters. Welsh’s challenge should be taken up by Canadian policy makers.

Tom Kierans
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Haiti's Fallible Hero,” by Paul Knox

Re: “Haiti’s Fallible Hero” by Paul Knox

In his review of my book, Damming the Flood: Haiti, Aristide and the Politics of Containment, Paul Knox deals with Haiti’s deposed President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a more even-handed way than most other mainstream commentators, but his presentation of the events that led up to the internationally sponsored coup of 2004 is questionable on a number of counts. The human rights groups and non-governmental organizations that Knox applauds helped create the grotesquely distorted impression that Aristide had become another dictator on the Duvalier model. The foreign powers who forced Aristide from office five years ago did not merely refuse to prevent a bloodbath on the eve of his involuntary resignation—they actively helped to create the prospect of that bloodbath, by supporting a group of ex-army insurgents and undermining the capacity of the Haitian police to resist them. These same powers did not simply fly Aristide into exile (something he could have arranged perfectly well on his own); they incarcerated him in a de facto political prison and colluded in the murder of hundreds of his supporters. More importantly, even before Aristide’s first election back in 1990, the United States, subsequently joined by France and Canada, implemented and then intensified a series of profoundly damaging measures designed to enable this disastrous outcome—measures to disrupt, intimidate and eventually destroy the great popular mobilisation that adopted Aristide as its spokesperson.

Knox clearly has some understanding of these measures, of their purpose and their effects. But rather than confront them directly, he suggests that Haitians should accept the limits imposed by neo-imperial power and learn to manoeuvre more adroitly within them. Instead of risking antagonizing the great powers, Knox says Haitians should make more compromises and build the “broadest possible political consensus.” Such advice ignores at least three things that are obvious to most of the Haitian people I’ve met.

First, it is hard to think of any instance of a democratic system anywhere in the world that provided a clearer indication of broad popular consensus than Haiti from 1990 to 2006, culminating in Fanmi Lavalas’s massive 75 percent share of the vote in the decisive elections of 2000. The general thrust of Knox’s review effectively condones and strengthens the efforts of the small and privileged minority who, threatened by this consensus, set out to confound it. Second, Knox does not acknowledge most of the far-reaching compromises reluctantly made by Aristide himself, both in order to restore democracy after the bloody 1991 coup, and later, in a futile attempt to placate the unpopular but well-connected politicians his party defeated at the polls. Third, responsibility for the measures that have so severely compromised Haitian independence lies with countries such as Canada, the U.S. and France. To blame the victims of our indefensible priorities for failing to “negotiate” around them is simply to add insult to injury.

Peter Hallward
Middlesex University
London, England


Re: “Letting Us Off the Hook,” by Madelaine Drohan

Re: “Letting us off the Hook” by Madelaine Drohan

Madelaine Drohan’s thoughtful review of The Poverty of Corrupt Nations, informed by her familiarity with the world of international finance, further highlights the challenges of global corruption.

Drohan makes the point that in addressing the problem of global corruption, my book may focus more attention on corrupt officials in the developing world than on individuals and organizations in the more advanced economies that actually pay the bribes. Because these are the two hands on the same dollar, if not the opposite sides of the same coin, clearly both problems need to be tackled simultaneously. Countries such as Denmark, New Zealand and Sweden are ranked by Transparency International as the least corrupt countries in the world because they do not offer a receptive environment to would-be bribe payers, and in most cases corrupt offers would be spurned by Danes, New Zealanders and Swedes. The ultimate challenge is to create this culture of doing business honestly in the world’s most corrupt nations—countries such as Haiti, Zimbabwe and Myanmar.

In addition to tougher sanctions and the prosecution of bribe payers that Drohan calls for in countries such as Canada, developed countries can do much more to thwart the laundering of corrupt money. They can also assist more constructively in the repatriation of stolen corrupt assets that have found their way into bank accounts in these countries, and return them to their rightful owners—the citizens of the countries where the corrupt activities occurred. I describe in detail in The Poverty of Corrupt Nations how this is a priority for the Global Organization of Parliamentarians Against Corruption (GOPAC), and an initiative that I lead. Drohan gives an example of how Canada appears to be “let off the hook,” but as R.W. Baker documented in his 2005 book, Capitalism’s Achilles Heel: Dirty Money and How to Renew the Free-Market System, Canada has done a better job than the United States and Europe in “removing the difference between what constitutes money laundering, whether the illegal origin of the proceeds is domestic or international.”

More must still be done to attack the laundering of corrupt funds, which is one of the reasons I wrote this book, as a call to action with specific implementation strategies.

For example, on the question of enhanced transparency and accountability in the reporting of natural resource revenues, GOPAC is currently urging the International Public Sector Accounting Standards Board “to demand more transparency of natural resource revenues in the public accounts of nations and sub-national governments.”

We must fix this problem of corruption, through avenues that Madelaine Drohan, I and countless others are pursuing, not as idealists, but as activists and pragmatists in curbing poverty, ending the destruction of resources and seeing that abuse of power is met with justice.

Honourable Roy Cullen, P.C., C.A.
Victoria, British Columbia


Re: “Rule America?,” by Mark F. Proudman

Re: “Rule America?” by Mark Proudman

It is impossible to reply to all the errors in this review of the American Raj: Liberation or Domination? by Eric Margolis, so a few corrections must suffice. First, Mark Proudman’s claim that Israel’s withdrawal to its 1967 borders would amount to the euthanization of the Jewish state is a view held by Israel’s political far right. Some of Israel’s most respected politicians and thinkers have proposed such a withdrawal.

Additionally, there is nothing “anti-American” about Margolis. He has proudly served in the United States Armed Forces and calls himself an Eisenhower Republican. He criticizes decades of misguided U.S. policy in the Middle East that has led to much of its current violence and suffering.

While the reviewer sneers at Quebecor’s Sun Media chain—Canada’s leader in readership—as “demotic” (i.e., low class), it is noteworthy that Margolis writes for this chain because they have never changed a word of his writing or forced him, as do other major papers, to toe the party line. Margolis’s articles have appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Times of London, the International Herald Tribune and the Gulf Times, among others. Are these the papers the reviewer refers to as tabloids?

Proudman claims India was better off under British imperialism. His neocolonial view would be greeted with deep contempt by Indians. The same holds for his stance that Arabs should yearn for British colonial rule.

Also, Proudman claims oil was not discovered in Kurdistan until 1916. That is incorrect. Oil was known to exist in Kurdistan since biblical times. The Turkish Petroleum Company was formed in 1912 to exploit the oil.

Margolis’s assertion about meeting British technicians in Baghdad in 1990 working on germ weapons wasn’t an exaggeration, or false, as the reviewer—who was probably never in Iraq during that era—asserts. Margolis discovered the British technicians, who were being held hostage with other foreigners. They showed him documents from Britain’s Ministry of Defence and MI6, as well as identification cards, proving they had been seconded by the British government to Iraq, working at the Salman Pak bio-warfare plant. Margolis, who has taught military strategy and covered 14 wars, is not likely to be misled.

Unfortunately, Proudman misses the objective of American Raj, which addresses the tensions and violence between the West and the Muslim world and provides a roadmap for workable peace.

Stephanie Blok
Director of Media Relations for Eric Margolis
Toronto, Ontario


Re: “Rule America?” by Mark Proudman

Not having read Eric Margolis’s American Raj, I’ll leave it to others to respond to Mark Proudman’s rather shrill review.

I feel compelled, however, to comment upon Proudman’s attack on the publisher’s acknowledged funding from the Canada Council and the Ontario Arts Council. What in the name of free expression is Proudman getting at when he writes that the publisher has “some aspirations to intellectual seriousness and national authenticity” and “the taxpayers and the cultural commissars have been shortchanged on both fronts”? Is he proposing litmus tests for each book published before funding support is provided? If so, will he volunteer to serve on an assessment committee? Does he really choose to ignore the implications of this concept? And is it necessary to insult a publisher for producing a book for which the reviewer harbours such disdain?

I expect strong opinions in LRC reviews, although I would hope they are substantially more balanced and less haranguing than Proudman’s. I do not expect a reviewer to extend his or her lashing rebuke onto the publisher’s publishing policy and its acknowledgement of public funding. If he wishes to attack this policy give him space for a feature and, I would hope, permit others to submit an opposing view. As it stands, Proudman’s unbridled rant diminishes the review standards of the LRC.

John Reynolds
Burlington, Ontario


Re: “Rule America?” by Mark Proudman

I don’t take issue with the thrust of Mark Proudman’s “Rule America,” his review of American Raj: Liberation or Domination?, the new book by Eric Margolis, but I do with Proudman’s statement: “The Raj gave India the most honest government that country has ever known, bringing a century of internal peace and rising incomes.” That is an imperialist view of history. The sad reality is that each decade of British rule after the 1857 Mutiny was “scarred,” to use Simon Schama’s word in A History of Britain: At the Edge of the World?, by devastating famine. From 1860 to 1878 alone, over 10 million Indians starved to death. It was a “hideous record of human suffering and destruction [such as] the world has never seen before” said one famous contemporary, Florence Nightingale.

The periodic famines in India continued into the 20th century. When the British finally left India they left a country poor and divided. As Noam Chomsky has observed in Perilous Power: The Middle East and U.S. Foreign Policy: Dialogues on Terror, Democracy, War and Justice, India hasn’t had a famine since the end of Britain’s rule. As for honest government, throughout the 19th century and into the 20th at least 16% of British revenue from India derived from the production of opium for sale, mostly in China. Otherwise, the British systematically destroyed the Indian economy to support their own. As for internal peace, Britons of the time freely admitted that their rule in India was based on the sword. The India Council was a puppet government run by the British and manned mostly by the British, as were India’s law courts. The law dispensed in India was different for Indians than it was for resident “Europeans” and anything but equal.

Only now is India rising from its British past. British traditions and knowledge of the English language give Indians a leg up, but India has paid the price for those assets in blood and suffering for over 200 years.

Robert A. Konduros
Hilborn & Konduros
Cambridge, Ontario


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