I hope I can be forgiven the play on words, at Robert Browning’s expense, in the title, but a young officer in Singapore, Major Choy Yong Cong, who recently graduated with top honours as a Distinguished Graduate at the US Marine Corps Command and Staff College, gave a thoughtful and insightful talk to prospective soldiers and their parents in Singapore. The whole thing, “Worthwhile Endeavour, Meaningful Journey, Wonderful People,” is well worth a read.
But I want to highlight some of Major Choy’s thoughts that are also relevant to Canada.
He tells the young people that they are defending their “way of life” and he asks, “Does it matter if we are … the 51st state of America?” Yes, he concludes, it does, because the “way of life” is more than places and social customs, it is, he says, “where my mum could say, I may not be able to fulfil my dreams, but if I sacrifice enough, maybe my children can. It is where someone like me, from a poor background with no connections and no money, can still do well through ability and hard work. It is where you meet teachers, officers, and leaders with a heart of gold, who care for their people more than they care about themselves. This is our way of life – this is what we defend.” Those, readers, are good Conservative values. That’s what I want the CPC to offer Canadians: opportunities and the promise that, if they are self reliant and work hard then their children will have an even better life than they, Canadian voters, have now.
On power and strategy he says, “It is the nature of international politics seen at close range – big countries do not have to do anything and others still have to take them seriously, yet small countries like us have to punch above our weight just to stay relevant. This is the unfair reality of our world.” That’s another of those inconvenient “home truths:” we really do need to punch above our weight, again and again and again … half measures will cause us to be left out of the councils of the mighty and when we are excluded from one table then how long is it until the great powers ask if we belong at the others? The Liberal government, which has decided that no policy is the right policy on Da’esh/ISIs, is taking big risks with our future in the G20, the G7 and so on … even with that UNSC seat about which our sadly blinkered foreign service obsesses at the expense of real, strategic issues.
Major Choy goes further: “But even as we stay relevant, small countries like us cannot depend on others for our own defence … [there are] two simple but essential points … we must always strive hard to stay relevant, yet we must have the ability to defend ourselves, and never be reliant on the good faith of foreign powers.” Now Canada is, as I have explained, uniquely blessed by being next door to the USA and we can, and do, in fact rely upon the USA for some of our defence. But we also have to “defend ourselves against help:” we must do enough so that the USA never feels the need to violate our sovereignty in order to meet its own, legitimate, security needs. In my opinion we are, in 2016, perilously close to the point where the USA might not believe that we can do our full and fair share … 1% is not enough! We, Conservatives, must take a full share of the blame for this situation. It is true that the ‘decades of darkness’ began under Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau, but they continued under Prime Minister Mulroney and Prime Minister Chrétien, and beginning in 2012, it seems to me, Prime Minister Harper chose to more or less ignore defence while he focused everything on the balanced budget promise.
He also offers us some advice for the next campaign: “As a leader, achieving the mission is important. But that is not all. It is not about reaching the finishing line first. It is about bringing everyone to the finishing line. That is what a leader does.” What he is really saying is that “achieving the mission” is, for the CPC, winning back government and to do that we must, once again, be a true “big tent” party and understand and meet the needs of (almost) all Canadians and promise to govern in the best interests of (almost) all Canadians.
Choy Yong Cong closed on a stirring, but important note: “Defence is a serious business .. It is the umbrella in which all other beautiful things in society – our dreams, our aspirations, our love for others – can happen.” I want the Conservative Party of Canada to take that to heart. Without an adequate defence, that is grounded in a coherent, sensible grand strategy, all our hopes and dreams, even the “sunny ways,” will be at real risk, under a leaky umbrella.