ANALYSIS/OPINION:

MASTER OF PERSUASION: BRIAN MULRONEY‘S GLOBAL LEGACY

By Fen Osler Hampson

Signal/McClelland & Stewart, $35, 288 pages

Many Canadian conservatives have praised former Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s strong leadership on the world stage. Indeed, this traditional middle power had a (regrettably short-lived) period of political influence and punched above its weight.

Yet we shouldn’t forget the equally important role of another former Conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, in global affairs. Fen Osler Hampson’s book, “Master of Persuasion: Brian Mulroney’s Global Legacy,” is an illuminating examination of a time when Canada stepped out of the political shadows and found its own unique voice.

Mr. Hampson, the chancellor’s professor at Carleton University and director of the Global Security and Politics Program at the Centre for International Governance Innovation, has written several books on Canadian and international foreign policy.

In his view, Mr. Mulroney “promoted Canada’s values and national interests with a degree of passion, energy, intensity, discipline and laser-like focus.” He developed strong political and economic ties with the United States, Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. “Mulroney understood better than most that relationships matter,” the author writes, and “they can be used to advance Canada’s interests when used purposely and productively.”

This was especially true in the United States.

Mr. Mulroney worked hard to cultivate successful working and personal relationships with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush, and “supplemented assiduously with systematic meetings and discussions with congressional leaders from both sides of the aisle.” Mr. Mulroney was especially close with Mr. Reagan, and both men gained a deep respect and admiration of one another.

He also “reversed the tradition of his party” and moved ahead with free trade, believing “a constructive, ‘open for business’ approach to the U.S. would improve Canada’s prospects for economic growth.” It was a wise strategy, because the Canada-U.S. Free Trade Agreement — and later, the North American Free Trade Agreement — proved Canada “could compete on a level playing field” and helped redress “historical anxieties about identity, ability, and sovereignty.”

Mr. Mulroney played a significant role in helping end apartheid in South Africa. Inspired by former Prime Minister John Diefenbaker, who championed the rights of black South Africans in spite of opposition from fellow commonwealth countries, his “own anti-apartheid sentiments were heartfelt and genuine.”

Mr. Mulroney worked hard to ensure Nelson Mandela’s release from prison, earning praise for an impassioned speech at the U.N. General Assembly and “locking horns” with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. Mr. Hampson correctly notes South Africa’s black community and leaders “went out of their way to acknowledge Mulroney’s and Canada’s role in bringing an end to apartheid.” Mr. Mandela greatly appreciated his efforts, too.

Canada became a significant player in international events during Mr. Mulroney’s time as prime minister from 1984-1993.

For instance, Mr. Mulroney worked with Secretary of State for External Affairs Joe Clark (an old political rival and former prime minister) to “drum up international support for Ethiopia.” World leaders like Mr. Reagan and Mrs. Thatcher “wanted to have nothing to do with Ethiopia’s Marxist government, notwithstanding the dire circumstances,” but the two Canadians “believed that humanitarian concerns should trump Cold War ideological rivalries” — and ultimately won them over.

The Asia-Pacific region became a separate component of Canada’s foreign and economic policy outreach, especially in China and Japan. Mr. Hampson points out that Mr. Mulroney “chose to emphasize his strong suit, interpersonal skills, to maximum effect with his counterparts in each capital.”

Mr. Mulroney’s interest in the two cultures, and his desire to “seek advantage for Canadian interests — primarily but not exclusively economic — was the rudder for his approach.” While Canada didn’t become a “genuine Pacific power” under Mr. Mulroney, he was able to enhance political ties and investment opportunities that continue to grow today.

As well, Mr. Mulroney “was one of the few leaders to actively engage [Soviet leader Mikhail] Gorbachev at the G7 table.” He balanced his personal desire to see an end to the Cold War with the need to maintain a strategic alliance with Canada’s economic partners. Nevertheless, he played a “tangential role” in bringing Mr. Bush and Mr. Gorbachev on the same page and continued that important work when Boris Yeltsin established control after the 1991 coup.

According to Bill Clinton’s chief of staff, Mack McLarty, “without Prime Minister Mulroney’s fine and skilled experienced hand I do not believe we would have reached that initial rapport.”

Mr. Mulroney’s intelligent, strategic, compassionate and transformative leadership is on full display in “Master of Persuasion.” It also proves without a shadow of a doubt that, as former U.S. Secretary of State James Baker writes in the book’s foreword, under Mr. Mulroney’s leadership, “Canada punched well above its weight on the world stage,” too.

• Michael Taube is a frequent contributor to The Washington Times.

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