“Mad Dog” speaks; Canada should listen

It is no secret that I am an admirer of retired US Marine Corps General and former US Secretary of Defense James “Mad Dog” Mattis; in fact, back in April of 2016 I hoped that he would run for president of the USA to spare America from having to choose between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton and, therefore, to spare the world from either of them.

Screen Shot 2019-08-29 at 08.49.46Now I see, in an article in the Military Times, that General Mattis is publishing a new book (due out yesterday and yes, I have it on order) and excerpts were published in an essay in the Wall Street Journal. What concerns General Mattis is what also concerns me: the rise of very illiberal tribalism, especially in Donald Trump’s America.

A couple of sentences caught my eye:

  • Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither,” he said; “Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy“; and
  • At this time, we can see storm clouds gathering. A polemicist’s role is not sufficient for a leader. A leader must display strategic acumen that incorporates respect for those nations that have stood with us when trouble loomed.

The first sentence goes back to the notion of burden-sharing which has also preoccupied me almost since I began this blog which was before Donald J Trump was elected.

Canada, I noted, back then, was amongst the lowest of the low when it came to doing anything like a full and fair share of defending the West against a myriad of strategic challenges. We were, we still are, as former Liberal “Minister of Everything” John Manley put it, back in 2008, very much like the person who wants to “sit at the G8 [as it was then] table and every time the waiter comes with the bill excuse ourselves and go to the washroom.” That has been the essence of Canada’s foreign and defence policies ever since Pierre Trudeau’s government published its White Paper, “A Foreign Policy for Canadians,” in 1970. Resources which had been, until then, and still should have been spent on defence and foreign aid and so on were diverted to ‘entitlements‘ and social programmes and no Canadian prime minister, not Brian Mulroney, not Paul Martin and not even Stephen Harper, could find any way to change that.

I noted, just after the last US election, that “Prime Minister Trudeau and most European presidents and prime ministers will have to face a newly elected US president who wants them to pay for a bigger and bigger slice of their own defence. Real leaders would do well to recognize that the Americans have a valid point … some, probably many of them, including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, may try to pretend that it doesn’t matter; they will be wrong.” Wrong or not, none of Donald Trump’s bluster had any effect on Prime Minister Trudeau or Canadian voters. While, just a few days ago, I said that “I hope that the new Conservative government will announce that it is working on new White Papers for both foreign and defence policy … [and] … I hope the new government will say that it aims to get the two White Papers out ‘on the street,’ for comment, both nationally and internationally, in late 2020 … [and] … I am 100% certain, call up a requirement for bigger and better ~ better funded, better paid, better managed, better organized, better trained and better equipped ~ armed forces. Canada will need both, a principled and practical foreign policy and bigger and better naval, land and air forces to play that “role of pride and influence” that Louis St Laurent, John Diefenbaker, Mike PearsonBrian Mulroney Paul Martin and Stephen Harper all wanted Canada to play in the world and that I believe I hope most Canadians still want us to play,” I understand that my hopes are likely to be dashed when they come face-to-face with Canadian political reality.

The modern, HUGELY successful, global, liberal-democratic, rules-based ‘world order‘ was conceived by allies, created by allies and defended by allies while it took hold. Now it is under attack by autocrats … including the current US president.

A European Army is not an answer. Europe, with or without Britain, is unable to come together on almost any issue; a comprehensive, coherent European foreign policy that would direct a European defence force is impossible. Canada can not go it alone and a CANZUK  military force is equally improbable. NATO works, but it is too large, in my opinion, and too formal to be really effective. There is, perhaps, in the “five eyes” countries ~ ranging from the mighty USA down to tiny New Zealand ~ a global alliance arrangement that might serve as a better coordinator for global peace and security than do either NATO or the United Nations Security Council. The Australia-Canada-New Zealand-United Kingdom-United States (AUSCANZUKUS) arrangements, which cover a wide range of issues and forces, already drive e.g. NATO interoperability ~ because small organizations are more nimble than large ones ~ and would probably be superior to the UN’s Department of Peacekeeping Operations in organizing and managing robust peacemaking and peacekeeping missions.

The answer is for allies, including Canada, to recognize that there are, still, serious threats to global peace and security out there, largely unchanged since early 2016, and spending 1%± on GDP and then hoping that the American people will defend us is living in a fool’s paradise.

General Mattis is right: “Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither.” But allies cannot be taken for granted; alliances must be strong and vibrant; each ally must do a full and fair share. Canada depends on its allies but it disregards its own security imperatives, hoping, as John Manley said, that whenever the bill is presented we can excuse ourselves and go hide in the washroom. By doing that, as Canada has been doing since the end of the 1960s, when Pierre Trudeau tried to pull Canada out of NATO, but, faced with a major cabinet revolt settled for cutting Canada’s NATO military in Germany commitment in half, Canada signals to its allies that it cannot be trusted to do a fair, much less a full and fair share of defending the West. Canada is not alone in that; only a few NATO allies maintain their military forces at anything like a reasonable and acceptable standard. Too many allies count on the Americans to do it for us. In 2016, at the polls, tens of millions of Americans told us all, Canadians and the Dutch and Germans and everyone else, that they, the USA, were tired of being disregarded or of being treated as patsies. The Americans voted for a candidate who demanded that allies share the burdens. When, in 2018, President Donald Trump thought he had gotten his message ~ America’s message ~ through Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau proved him wrong by saying that Canada was spending enough on defence.

A couple of days ago one of my interlocutors, responding to my post about the CF-18 replacement problems, said, and I agree, fully, that “I believe that the real dilemma is whether Canada wishes to continue as the ‘middle power’, when it comes to the military, that we perceive ourselves to be. A true middle power will have at least a token capability in all critical areas of military operations. Increasingly Canada is having less influence in world military affairs. Although we believe Canada to be a serious military contributor, our allies are less convinced.

We need a national government that will stand with thoughtful, principled American leaders like James Mattis. Justin Trudeau does not stand with General Mattis; Justin Trudeau’s Canada is an international freeloader, relying upon Donald Trump to defend our vital interests in the world and even our sovereignty here at home. That brings me to another of those sentences that caught my eye: Justin Trudeau, just like Donald J Trump, is a polemicist, he is not a real leader. As James Mattis says “A leader must display strategic acumen;” none of that is evident in Justin Trudeau, nor in his cabinet, nor in his PMO. In October Canadians need to elect a real leader and send Justin Trudeau to the opposition back-benches where he always belonged.


Published by Ted Campbell

Old, retired Canadian soldier, Conservative ~ socially moderate, but a fiscal hawk. A husband, father and grandfather. Published material is posted under the "Fair Dealing" provisions (§29) of the Copyright Act for the purposes of research, private study and education.

One thought on ““Mad Dog” speaks; Canada should listen

  1. “Nations with allies thrive, and those without them wither,” he said; “Alone, America cannot protect our people and our economy“;

    I think it is easy to agree with those sentiments. The judgement question is: when is an ally an ally? At what point does an ally move, while nominally declaring itself in alliance, from reliable supporter to active competitor?

    The institution may continue to exist while its direction reverses.

    I agree with the position that America is being isolated. I question whether or not that is entirely America’s fault. It hasn’t been getting much support, as you note, from its putative allies. In common parlance, is the squeeze worth the juice?

    Brexit and Trump are often conflated. Here is another set of parallels:

    Is it wrong to prepare for no deal while seeking a deal?
    Is it wrong to prepare for isolation while seeking alliance?
    Is it wrong to prepare for the worst while hoping for the best?
    Is it wrong to remind partners and allies of the value of the partnerships and alliances?

    Sometimes words are not enough. Sometimes a tug on the reins or a twitch of the whip are more effective.

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