Sponsored by the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Hillary Clinton’s March 6 talk understandably focused on energy issues. Feminist themes such as the needs and capacities of women and girls and the prospect of a woman in the Oval Office were largely absent, probably to the disappointment of many women in her audience. Nevertheless, some 2,500 people received her presentation with enthusiasm. Clinton appeared knowledgeable, articulate, quick, intelligent, and dynamic. Highly diplomatic, she remarked on Calgary’s sunshine, famed Stampede, active energy industry, and record of success in staging the 1988 Winter Olympics “without invading anybody.” Apart from energy and Canada/US relations, the most outstanding themes were in the area of foreign policy, with the situation of the Ukraine the most prominent, for obvious reasons.
Having just served as Secretary of State under President Obama, Clinton took a positive view of US leadership. About Israel/Palestine, she retains hope for some kind of two-state solution, and praised the efforts of John Kerry in this area.
She had been personally responsible for implementing initiatives of the US government in such areas as Iran and South Sudan. She attributed the apparently beneficial changes in Iranian policy under President Rohani to cooperative efforts on sanctions under US leadership and remains hopeful for a constructive agreement ending sanctions and ruling out Iranian nuclear weapons development.
Clinton had harsh comments for Vladimir Putin, whom she described as being in quest of a “Greater Russia,” seeking to re-Sovietize the periphery of his country, and “freezing” Russia so as to fail to constructively use its resources and talent. She stated that Putin has re-opened old Soviet military bases across the Arctic, an initiative at odds with a prior resolve of Arctic nations to co-operatively manage the many shifts occurring in the Arctic region. She referred to the “heavy yoke of Russia.”
Clinton described the Ukrainian protesters in Kiev as young and energetic, seeking to live in a “normal” country with laws and opportunities—yet as ultimately inflamed by the repressive efforts of Yanukovych, who was later “caused to flee.”
When Clinton mentioned energy development, it was with enthusiasm, but there were always two added themes: cooperation and environment. No climate change denier, she took the view that (somehow, no specifics) pollution, greenhouse gas emissions, and climate issues had to be addressed by Canada and the United States, working together. Cooperative initiatives on environment had to accompany energy development.
The message to the Calgary industry seemed to be polite enthusiasm (yes, we need your resources and grant that you have accomplished a lot here) along with a restrained warning (no promises on Keystone and the process continues in the US; environment needs attention).
She noted future developments in three key areas: economy, climate change, and diplomacy. Altering circumstances include increasing demand, especially from China; technological developments (fracking) that will yield greatly increased natural gas supplies within the US; and the need for greater sustainability. Clinton alluded to the “resource curse” exemplified in Nigeria: Vast oil resources have pushed that country backward due to the creation of corrupt and rich elites. The Nigerian record on resource development is dismal in comparison to that of Botswana, where profits from diamonds have been efficiently and fairly used for the public good.
Hillary Clinton’s presentation, about twenty-five minutes in length, was followed by a further half hour during which Frank McKenna posed questions to her. A former premier of New Brunswick (1987-1997) and Canadian Ambassador to the United States (2005-2006), McKenna is now Deputy Chair of the TD Bank Group, whose organization “Global Perspectives” sponsored the Clinton talk. His questions were polite and not highly critical
The shift in format served to broaden the discussion and displayed Clinton’s considerable background knowledge and quick articulateness. McKenna asked about two rather sensitive matters: Clinton’s intentions regarding the 2016 election, and the current dysfunction in US politics.
To the former, she responded diplomatically and vaguely that she wanted to make the best contribution she could. To the latter, she replied that the US political scene has always been “rambunctious,” but that the current situation is unprecedented in its difficulties, due to the activities of Republicans who were absolutely unwilling to compromise. They seem to understand themselves as being in an “evidence-free zone,” she said. The effects were baneful; no one should support any candidate announcing himself or herself unwilling to compromise. Legal decisions to the effect that corporations should have freedom of expression, which was interpreted to mean no limits on donations to candidates, caused representatives who should have been working in Washington to leave for home territory from Thursday to Monday, to raise money.
From the perspective of peace? With regard to Russia and the Ukraine, Clinton’s harsh comments and insults will not help the negotiations that the situation will undoubtedly require. Peace advocates would likely find familiar irritants in Clinton’s analysis of world affairs, with its presumptions of US exceptionalism in regard to leadership; deep hypocrisy and selective attention in insistence that international law has to be followed; and lack of critical reflection in the notion that Western countries, especially her own, know how to govern and are in a position to offer their expertise to others.
I saw positives in Clinton’s insistence that diplomacy and co-operation always have to be pursued, that environment is a key topic, and most of all that in negotiating in difficult situations one should “never give up.”
Peace advocates are unlikely to be fans of central US political figures, given the ways in which their role virtually requires support for exceptionalism and US leadership. But when we consider in this context people like Clinton and Obama, we need to remind ourselves of the many ways in which things could be worse. Nightmare prospects include more hawkish Democrats, Republicans in power, or the falling of the US role to China. We can only hope that the rambunctious journey of US politics will not drag us along on any such paths.
Trudy Govier lives in Calgary, where she was active in Projects Ploughshares from 1982 to 2002. Her several books include A Practical Study of Argument (Wadsworth, 7 editions), Social Trust and Human Communities (McGill-Queen’s 1997) and Forgiveness and Revenge (Routledge 2002). She retired in 2012 from the University of Lethbridge, where she taught philosophy.