The Musings Of A Rogue Diplomat – OpEd


The articles found in ‘Canada’s Rogue Diplomat’ span two continents but prospective readers may wonder what they all have in common. I harken back to this question which is recurrent amongst some of my students. What is the Syrian conflict all about?

Until I wrote these lines, I did not realize that the answer to that question was the same answer that any reader will look for throughout the chapters of the book.

The theme of the book is ‘freedom’, a concept of which I have but a vague understanding, and this despite my extensive background in Continental philosophy especially Hegel and Nietzsche. ‘The real is rational, and the rational is real’ so the Hegelian maxim goes.

This insipidly simple equation has haunted me throughout my life. It is the stuff out of which is made my rampant idealism for which I am not particularly grateful given its ambiguous legacy. It has provoked many an unreflective behaviour and a fearlessness ‘sans épreuve’. This fearlessness is not courage. It is unconsciousness. Its source is to be found in some dark warrior romanticism that waffles between personalities such as Rambo, Patton, Jacques Parizeau and Albert Camus.

This having been said, there is a cutting edge to these articles. They represent a call for lucidity, a plea for international education and cooperation, not war. I have waged war against the Bashar al-Assad regime in my position as diplomat. I was not neutral and have seen much suffering. Freedom requires choices and action.

Perhaps this is why existentialism seemed so attractive to me as a student. Clémenceau’s famous phrase ‘An anarchist at 20, a conservative at 30’ is at odds with this book. No such epistemological break has occurred to make me regret my former views.

Increasingly, the articles adopt a critical attitude towards our Canadian political class and the media cabale. Like most non-dogmatic socialists, I detest Trump. However, he was right about one thing – the fifth estate is not doing its job.

The example of Chinese interference in our politics is one example but one wonders whether this has been possible because we have a minority government dependent on coalitions. Otherwise, we may never have been able to stop the hemorrhaging. We need to do better and our survival as a free country depends on this.

Numerous articles point to the view that there is a Canadian leadership crisis. When citizens in Quebec have no other option than to vote for the Bloc Québécois since the other leaders are either too feckless or indolent, there is something seriously wrong with our federation.

If it were only ‘two solitudes’, we might make it through another fifty years of scandals, mediocre chatter and partisan banter, Québec bashing, Western alienation and foreign intervention in our elections. Maybe. As Québécois, and for now, Canadians, we must understand that whatever the democratic choice of Albertans or les Québécois français, we will always be stuck together by geography and commerce as different provinces or different political states. Political symbols are important but people are more important.

The book addresses a diplomatic corps in trouble as it loses it pertinence, identity and purpose. Itis adrift. Walter Lippman’s book ‘Drift and Mastery’ is an eloquent reminder of the all too Canadian love affair with a questionable image of themselves. Like Dickens’ ghost of Marley, when informed by Scrooge that they were only good men of business, Marley retorts ‘humanity was our business’. Unfortunately, that moral imperative, what makes us human, is missing in the present diplomatic corps.

There are too many policemen in our missions abroad and too many technicians fixing the unfixable madness we now call progress; that is, ‘modern internet technology’. I am not a Luddite although many will complain that I am. Was Heidegger a Luddite? Was Bergson a Luddite? Freedom and democracy mean more than just elections every four years. The people of Catalonia,Hong Kong and the Syrian youth know this. They taught a foolish old professor of 58 years what freedom is all about. They taught me that diplomats can choose between evil and good. We can and we must.

So-called diplomatic neutrality is a leurre, a convenient luxury for the rich and powerful when it serves their narrow interests. It is not the main objective of the Vienna convention. My time in Paris at the height of triangular relations (Ottawa, Paris and Québec) taught me that ‘people to people’ diplomacy is the best and most effective way for nations to speak truth to each other.  It alone builds trust and confidence. It is the bedrock of any healthy bilateral relationship between nations. It builds shared imagined futures, something an exchange of diplomatic notes can never achieve.

Diplomacy, in this context, is much more than an exchange of official notes, sipping cocktails and making out at diplomatic parties.When brought together, it is my experience that people will find pathways to communicate despite linguistic or cultural differences. Often official messages and silly tweets like the ones used to ignite tiffs with the KSA and others only distort the humanizing messages of hope and dialogue between peoples. Diplomacy must play its role or we will be condemned to repeat the errors of the past. Change is urgently needed and climate change is an appropriate metaphor for the present situation, and not after a ‘Royal’ commission or some other dilatory tactic that the playbook of the British parliamentary system has left us as its questionable legacy.

British and Spanish monarchists like right-wing Israelis will find little comfort in these lines or articles in the book. The Arab-Israeli conflict, Nagorno-Karabakh, Gulenists in Turkey, the death of the journalist Khashoogi, the war in Ukraine are prime examples of what is in our future if we are unable to seize the initiative, enable and empower our embassies and consulates to make as its first priority ‘people to people’ diplomacy. If this helps us avoid one conflict only, it is worth it since the lives of the innocent on both sides will have been spared. The war in Ukraine is a reminder of our inability to grasp this new concept in diplomacy.

Canadian diplomacy from its infancy in the 1930s with Professor Walter Riddell at the League of Nations to the Tehran caper of 1979, assisting Czech dissidents on the eve of the fall of the Berlin wall, the Afghan detainee scandal to my own ‘intolerable’ actions in Turkey and Syria, as Adnan Khan suggests – there is a tradition of non-compliance and resistance in Canadian diplomacy that is hidden and remains hidden to this day. If this book can shed some light on this phenomenon, I will have achieved one of my aims. I do not know why this esprit contestataire exists but the book has the modest pretension of bringing it to the attention of citizens at home and abroad.

Another of the book’s goals is to promote an understanding of how diplomacy can impact and promote the concepts of freedom and democracy– this is the Canada that I thought I knew. Diplomacy, devoid of this identity and purpose, becomes hollow and meaningless, another speech or sermon from this or that committee of the Chinese Communist Party.

Immigration did not change Canadian diplomacy or accelerate its downward spiral. Canadians did this to themselves by their apathy with the assistance of a feckless and ill-willed political class and media friends. The word of Canada has become a laughing stock throughout the world and no amount of domestic political hypocrisy or spin can change that deafening message. 

Our successive defeats at the United Nations Security Council elections for a non-permanent seat stand out as abject failures of diplomacy no matter whether it happened under the Harper or Trudeau government. If this is what means ‘we’re back’ then best return to SleepyHollow and the political bovaryism and Tammany Hall style politics of the canaille.

That lack of leadership and vision is crippling the country but that is where we presently are. The book’s vision, such as it is, stands in the way of further decline. It is a plea for lucidity, intelligence and truth.I chose my side while ourCanadian Embassy and government treated me like the outcast that I am and have always been. The brave young men and women of Syria chose freedom too at the cost of their lives. Death or liberty. They refused to accept living as slaves. Learn from them and heed their lessons since the refusal to accept what is, means that you have already chosen the side of reason, rebellion and hope.

This is the main message of the Arab Spring and the book. The difference between the two, death or liberty, is a contradiction and burden that I will carry to the grave.

In France, as a student, my Chilean friends having fled the brutal Pinochet regime used to say, and I repeat with honour and turpitude for those who struggle for freedom:


Bruce Mabley

Dr. Bruce Mabley is a former Canadian diplomat having served in the Middle East, and is the director of the Mackenzie-Papineau think tank in Montreal.

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