Sunday, March 11, 2012

Listening to "oracles" from south of the border

Listening to Henry Kissinger, on GPS with Fareed Zakaria, this morning, is like sitting in on a seminar in one of Dr. Kissinger's classes in International Relations. He has "met" with Vladimir Putin about 20 times, says he is definitely not "anti-western" but is very resentful that often the west seems to support his political opponents in an attempt to drive him from power. Dr. Kissinger also expressed the view that Putin could be a useful ally on specific issues, although he did not enumerate those files. The former Director of National Security and Secretary of State, in the Nixon administrations also thinks there are serious issues with the question of Iran, for the U.S.
Kissinger disregards the intelligence (I.A.E.A.) that says it is uncertain about whether Iran is proceeding to a nuclear weapon, and recommends that we take that as a given (that Iran is indeed proceeding to develop a nuclear weapon. He believes that Iran is concerned about its own security, being currently quite alien to the world community, and that, should it make a commitment, demonstrably verifiable, that their pursuit of nuclear weapons has ended, then the U.S. should be prepared to offer protection of Iranian security, and help with its re-entry into the community of nations, providing Iran, herself, is committed to such a re-entry.
While there is a lifetime of experience within this man's mind/body/spirit, including a doctoral thesis on the German Metternich, the opening of U.S. relations with China, and continual opportunities to provide counsel for corporations and for governments around the world, under the umbrella of his private consulting firm, Dr. Kissinger's voice, manner and "persona" so dominate even the largest television screen as to make it somewhat difficult to parse  the content from the messenger.
And the messenger is like a contemporary "oracle" whether the archetype is deliberately designed by its author or merely the result of birth, breeding and both education and experience. The gods have spoken to the world in many voices, many of those voices enshrined in the books of mythology that have be the legacies of civilizations whose shoulders we are honoured to walk upon.
Greek myths are only one of those civilizations.
And whether we consider an oracle today in the same way that Greeks would have looked to Zeus and the gallery of characters created by their literary imaginations to help explain the mysteries of their world (how and why corn grows, the existence of the narcissus flower, the punishment for robbing fire from the gods....)is unlikely. However, that we still have a few oracles, at least in foreign policy, is a testament both to their "above-partisanship" lens on the world, and to their continuing scholarship.
Zbigniew Brzezinski, former Director of National Security in the Carter administration is another voice that speaks with a kind of oracular quality, not only because of his experience and education but also because of his persona and language.
There is both a precision and a carefulness about the language of diplomats, demonstrated by both Kissinger and Brzezinski, that brings one toward the television screen whenever they are present. There is also a wealth of experience not as tainted with internal political, and personal attacks, even though both may well have endured the attacks of their political opposites while they held public office. Currently, they both serve as the voices of "wisdom" and of a longer perspective than the daily 24-7 news cycle demands; they also retain their intellectual powers, enriched as they are by their reflection and their opening themselves to public questioning. There is also an absence of tainting by any specific "corporate" and "for profit" pitching, because to my knowledge, neither of these gentlemen have ever submitted to the temptation to "sell" anything other than their best "guestimates" of the relative merits of the current administration's foreign policy, or of some other foreign policy from a previous administration.
One wonders if domestic politics could or would ever rise to the level of the kind of language and debate that attends the public presentations of both of these men, and, we might also add two names of females who were both Secretaries of State in respective Republican and Democratic administrations, Condolessa Rice and Madeline Albright, both of whom, whenever they take to the public stage, also present stability, clarity, caution and wisdom in their offerings.
Perhaps it is the length and breadth of the presence of both Kissinger and Brzezinski that provides decades of public appearances and mature counsel that helps to bring them to memory, when compared with the shorter time out of office of both Rice and Albright.
While this hymn to former Secretaries of State is unabashed and unapologetic, it also points to a deficit in the Canadian canon of political leaders from the international stage. We simply have few, if any, who could or would be compared with these four former Secretaries of State from the U.S.
First, Canadians pay little attention, historically, to the events of the rest of the world, focused neurotically and parochially as we are, on the next tax hike, or the next abuse of taxpayers' money by the latest government. We have had more Ministers of Foreign Affairs in the last twenty or thirty years than "carter has liver-pills"...and none of them has earned a place in the memory of most Canadians, from any political party.
Pierre Trudeau, as Prime Minister, virtually managed the foreign affairs files, and deputized his successive 'ministers' to deliver his messages to various capitals, as need be. So, in a sense, he was Canada's most memorable "Secretary of State" in recent memory. Brian Mulroney, borrowing a page from Trudeau, also played the role of "Minister of Foreign Affairs, as does the current Prime Minister, Harper, although he has let John Baird, the current office-holder visit foreign capitals, with predictable messages delivered to him directly from the PMO.
Naturally, Canadians have not played the kind of significant role in international relations that has been the responsibility of the U.S. but our vacuum of public interest in things international is not a breeding ground for our own outstanding potential on this file, in the future.
Additionally, Canada has a unique, medium, and substantive history from which to draw lesson for the resolution of foreign conflicts, an issue that will play an increasingly important part in the world's board rooms, both political and corporate, in the near and medium, not to mention long-term future.
And we need to develop more public consciousness of international complexities, their actors and their cultures, in order both to comprehend, but also to plan, for our own developing identity, among the world's nations.
Models to the south would serve us well, both in their expertise and in their outstanding public contributions...One wonders how many Canadians take as their life-models, one of the former Secretaries of State; we know that Sidney Crosby and Jean Belliveau are two life-models for many Canadian youth. 

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