Brent Cameron is a Senior Advisor with Concierge Strategies, and a local councillor in Ontario, Canada. The second edition of Brent H. Cameron’s book, “The Case for Commonwealth Free Trade: Options for a new globalization” is available on Amazon worldwide – both in paperback and in Kindle e-book formats.
Most of us inhabit a world where there are clear distinctions between right and wrong, win or loss, up or down. From the games we play as children, through all the struggles and travails of our youth and into adulthood, we work hard and play hard. Sometimes we win, and it is a good feeling to be sure. Sometimes we do not, so we take our lumps. We congratulate the other side and attempt to draw some lesson from the experience as a consolation prize.
Ideally, both experiences impart some take away – the feeling that comes from having succeeded, or the introspection that comes from trying to decode what went wrong, and how to do better next time.
But there is a group of people who, while perfectly at ease with the former, are less familiar with the latter. For them, winning has been such a mainstay that not winning becomes a metaphysical improbability. It just does not happen to them, and either because of their unfamiliarity with the phenomenon, the lack of coping skills, or just flat out cognitive dissonance, they reject it out right.
Their attitude can be best summed up in the signature end credit scene for the 2017 Marvel movie “Thor: Ragnarök”. In it, the capricious Grandmaster (played by Jeff Goldblum) is crawling out of the wreckage of a ship and comes face to face with a gathering of the very beings that have overthrown him in a coup. Not missing a beat, he says:
“I just, I gotta say. I’m proud of you all. This revolution has been a huge success. Yay us! Pat, pat on the back. Pat on the back. Come on. No? Me, too. ‘Cause I’ve been a big part of it. Can’t have a revolution without somebody to overthrow! So, ah, you’re welcome. And, uh, it’s a tie.”
The comedy comes from the absurdity of a thoroughly discredited and defeated leader who still thinks the manipulations that kept them in power all those years can still work. And, like my out-of-shape 54- year old self attempting to dress and act like a 20-year old, it comes off as comical, ridiculous, and sad.
CANZUK is, in many ways, a revolution – a revolution in conventional wisdom, a revolution in how we view the world and our relationships. It is about placing the principle of reciprocity at the heart of our associations, a preference of quality over quantity. Despite its rapid rise in the public’s consciousness over the last 5 to 6 years, it has been around a lot longer. By frame of reference, I first became involved in those debates and discussions in 2003, and I know at least a dozen accomplished thinkers who had already been ruminating over the concept for quite some time before I walked in the room.
To have been a proponent of CANZUK / Commonwealth trade in 2004 and 2005 was to be part of a very small and eclectic group of people whose shared passion and commitment were what kept it going. The reaction of the broader world was 98% indifference. Of the remaining 2%, it was equally divided between those who wished you well, but thought it was improbable, and those who thought you should get your tinfoil hat refitted.
On this subject, our gang of happy warriors were like the main characters in the 2015 film “The Big Short” – the contrarians that sensed that the financial world was headed for a major shock, were dismissed and marginalized by the powers-that-be, only to have been vindicated when the subprime crisis collapsed the global economy in 2008.
We did not see multilateralism and globalization as a problem. We saw how they were managed, how they were directed, as the issue. We saw uninspired and anodyne leaders who cut corners for the sake of expediency and personal gain. Thirty years after the collapse of Communism and the “triumph of western liberal democracy” we now hide in our homes, hoarding staple goods and not interacting with humanity without covering our faces. At the same time, the pernicious ideology that we “defeated” in 1990 now stridently bullies its neighbours in Asia and around the world.
We saw that incompetence and mismanagement would undermine the victory earned with the collapse of the Berlin Wall. We knew that compromising on the principles that allowed us to win the Cold War would lead to us squandering the dividend that resulted.
We knew that CANZUK and building a new pole in a multipolar world was not going to miraculously change geopolitics overnight. But we believed that like-minded nations, whose affinities were numerous and whose shared desire to live in a free and prosperous society, could make common cause for their own mutual benefit and stand as an example to the world that something better was possible.
Over time, we turned opponents into allies – and colleagues – but those associations have always been sincere. They were not predicated upon getting in on something to remain relevant. They were people who began to see what we did, and with open minds and open hearts, joined us. I would argue that they have made our ideas better, and we have greatly benefitted from their friendship.
Unfortunately, as the Overton Window on CANZUK has moved and expanded, one sees the emergence of those who, in the parlance of a younger set, would be described as the FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) crowd. Their powers of deduction are so great that it took the western liberal democratic order careening into a ditch before they noticed there was a problem. Now, when the reality of our situation is so painfully obvious, they begrudgingly concede some of the point.
But arrogance, ego, and perceived loss of status are still more important than anything else. They are reminiscent of a politico I once heard described as never wanting to join a political campaign that they were not in charge of. Entry level positions are beneath them, and their sheer force of presence dictated that the party did not start until they entered the room.
Consider the August 19, 2020 article in the online publication unHerd by Aris Roussinos (“Why CANZUK is an absurd fantasy”) which attacked CANZUK in the most predictable and febrile of manners – not based on the feasibility of the concept, but with the same tired bromide deployed for two decades – that it is an Edwardian neo-imperialist fever dream. He cites the writer Ben Judah, who penned a version of this threadbare screed for Foreign Policy magazine on June 30, 2020 (“Facing Trump, Putin, and Xi, London Needs Old Allies for New Ideas”), also embellished with references to sinister right-wing think-tanks fuelled by neo-conservative cash from Washington.
They may receive congratulations from the cliques they travel within, but their intellectual triumphs are simply the same old straw man arguments about CANZUK, injected with a cocktail of anabolic steroids for dramatic effect.
Both say they hate CANZUK. They think it is stupid and unworkable – but they do have a solution that might make it feasible.
Their suggestion? Drop New Zealand.
Yes – apparently CANZUK is a complete waste of time – but if you remove New Zealand from the grouping, it might just work.
It comes as a complete shock to many of us – and likely to millions of Kiwis – that their South Pacific home is such a seething pit, such a den of iniquity, that they are the anchor weighing CANZUK down. Only by extricating us from our antipodean cousins can we find true salvation and a path forward.
Or maybe – just maybe – having not been early adopters of CANZUK, these critics are not content to sign on to a campaign that has already been underway and that would not hail their arrival with all of the pomp and circumstance that they feel befits their stature. Maybe they think that by removing the ‘NZ’ from ‘CANZUK’ they are creating a whole new thing. And, if it is a whole new thing, and they were the first to tout it, then they would naturally receive all the accolades that come from being true innovators and visionaries.
In reality, it is simply a sad attempt to cover over their own banality, to clumsily edit something just to claim they saved the day. It is the geopolitical equivalent of the woman who, having defaced the image of Jesus on a painting in a Spanish church, proceeded to “fix” the painting by repairing the face in a way that makes Christ look like one of Homer Simpson’s co-workers at the Springfield nuclear plant. It is a strange marriage of IR realpolitik with Munchausen’s Syndrome by proxy – break it to fix it and be the hero of your own tale.
CANZUK is by no means perfect. It is an ever-evolving idea that can always use development and refinement. And it matters little if you have been a proponent for 15 years or 15 minutes. It does not even matter if you hated the idea last week but have had a change of heart. We have, at times, been a very small club – but we have never been an exclusive one. Everyone has the opportunity to contribute.
CANZUK is a sincere attempt to introduce something that can buttress liberal democracy and international trade. It is not a vanity project, or a resume builder. It is something to be refined and improved, not dissected, and recombined to provide bragging rights to those fearful of a world where they are no longer relevant. If your ambition is for a better world, please join us, get involved and contribute.
If, on the other hand, your ambition is simply ambition itself, it is probably better that you didn’t.