Over 7000 mostly business people packed themselves into GM Place for the Power Within Conference. Seats were at a premium most likely due to the presence of Bill Clinton and Lance Armstrong. Clinton looking older and sounding a little hoarse still retains that charisma, which is part good ole boy from Arkansas, part seasoned politician. His speech perhaps reflected that personal dichotomy as he veered between urging us to reflect on the goodwill engendered by US efforts to help earthquake ravaged Pakistan and the massive relief effort undertaken by the world in the aftermath of the Tsunami to supporting democracy in Iraq and UN participation in Afghanistan.
In my opinion contradicting his above statement was his personal view that Iraq should not have been attacked until the UN inspectors had finished their investigations but since the invasion is now a fait accompli the real issue is democracy in Iraq. I still have a hard time understanding how democracy can be imposed on political entities from the outside and by force. The issue here is that a 45-minute speech can only go so far in addressing the real issues behind geo-politics and can perhaps have negative consequences as these issues get reduced in complexity in listener’s minds. (Clinton himself earlier maintained that headlines should be analysed along with trendlines and we should be asking ourselves if the story is true and part of a trend)
He went onto thank Canada (cue one of a few crowd-pleasing mentions of host country) for participation in Afghanistan. (Something our present PM (belly to attention) seems to also be fairly gung-ho about).
Clinton then launched into an indictment of the Taliban regime, talked about Al Qaeda maintaining that if the UN left Afghanistan then the doors would be open for the Taliban to return from Pakistan and enable Al Qaeda to re-establish itself. Again no real analysis here of what gave rise to such a repressive religious/political movement, what role the superpowers America and Russia played in Afghanistan during the Cold War, what role Pakistan still has to play or India for that matter.
9/11 is still foremost in most American minds. It’s the lightning rod against which everything is measured in the US these days. The US has always been exceptionally good at mythologizing it’s past and Clinton was no different.
The bombing of the World Trade Centre allowed him to introduce his main thesis or core thrust of his speech (not before a somewhat hesitant rambling explanation of how The Airplanes became giant chemical weapons which created the fireball which melted the steel structural supports of the WTC).
Clinton’s main thesis seems to revolve around the difference between Interdependence and Integration.
Canada and the US are an example of Interdependence where we’re locked in a marriage without a chance of divorce and all things considered we’re doing quite well even though we have our occasional differences such as Softwood lumber (Would someone try to reach a conclusion on this already, I for one am tired of hearing about it).
Integration on the other hand is a process where we acknowledge the diversity of populations in US and Canada and the rest of the world and attempt to move towards integrated communities with
1. Fair opportunities
2. Shared responsibilities
3. Common values
The question Bill (by now I’m on first name terms with him you’ll notice) thinks we all should be able to answer is “What is main characteristic of the 21st century?”
Answer: We need to save lives, solve problems and create a clear framework to understand the 21st century.
How do we move towards integration?
1.Fight terrorism with security policy (Again no mention of geo-political decisions which often may give rise to terrorism and indeed fuel the fire so to speak)
2.Identify security issues
3.Climate change (Here he went into a lengthy expose about how rising sea levels affect national security and a pat on the back for himself for saving Trees in US National Forests from being cut while his successor is trying to reverse that decision)
4.Health and Viruses (Clinton’s Aids Foundation sells cheapest drugs available)
5.Create clean energy
6.Have to make a deal i.e. More partners less enemies (e.g. helping Indonesia post Tsunami)
7.Keep making things better at home
8.Develop common values (Diversity good but common values should be pre-eminent)
A brief allusion to the Jordanian hotel bombings while noting that the attacks had killed many Muslims led Bill to claim that the central heresy of any religion is to maintain that your way is the only true way. (Far religious right are you listening?)
Humility is the order of the day.
so I’ll conclude by saying that I found the speech mostly unsatisfying. It skirted the real issues while maintaining that we should be focused on the real issues. It focused on helping people in need in certain situations (Indonesia and Pakistan) and at the same time supporting invasion of Iraq (with reservations) and Afghanistan. Sorta the Velvet Glove approach. I’m not sure you can really have it both ways but then Bill always did like to have his cake and eat it.