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Opinion: Bill Walton, Reflections from a Jamaican beach

Our foreign policy explained – over a Mojito

Barlow Smith, an accredited freelance reporter on a gig for the Associated Press in Jamaica, was sitting at a beach cabana, sipping a Dark & Stormy, while the stranger – a beach walker – sat two stools away. Barlow had filed his story for the day – how the Prime Minister of Canada was stranded for the second time in a few months by a breakdown of his private aircraft. The stranger who was a tall and fit-looking fellow, had ordered a Mojito. He looked familiar to Barlow but dressed in beach sandals (with colourful socks), ragged shorts, a Hawaiian-style shirt, sunglasses, and a straw hat, Barlow could not place him.

Good morning, Barlow said, another beautiful day.

Bon jour, the stranger replied, and Barlow said, buenos dias, using the man’s native tongue. I am Barlow – a reporter for AP. JT, the stranger said, I’m here on company business – waiting for my personal jet this afternoon. What field are you in, Barlow asked. International affairs. Wow, busy times for you then. What country is your client? Canada. And Barlow, realizing his mistake with the language apologized for mixing up Spanish and French.

Not a problem, JT said, sipping his Mojito, it happens all the time in Ottawa.

So, this thing in Israel and Palestine – are you consulting on that, JT? Yes, we have been asking for a general cease-fire but without luck. It may come down to the United Nations going in there and doing the old peace-keeping thing. But, will the UN support sending in troops? I mean, how many soldiers would your client commit? We already have some JTF2 in the country and I -we- have three regiments on standby. That’s great – how soon can your client get them into Gaza? Well, you have to understand that we are far away from the conflict zone. I estimate that it would take us about 40 days to move soldiers and equipment once we get permission to land somewhere. So far, no country nearby wants foreigners landing there. Iran, you know.

Okay, that seems like a long time. I know, JT said, but we have limited resources. I - we – have committed the navy to the Red Sea pirate thing so that takes our sea transport out of the picture. We have only one supply ship – rented - and I’m not certain if it is on the East Coast or the West Coast. I’m sure that if we had a couple of our new frigates ready, we could handle this whole thing ourselves. They are that good? Barlow asked. JT ordered another Mojito. That’s what they tell me, but you know sailors. . .

Yeah, Barlow agreed. I thought they could just use fighter jets to catch those pirates. Does your client have any fighters available? Uh, yes, but we are committed to the NATO thing in the Baltic. I think we have most of our squadrons tied up in Estonia or is it Latvia? What does your client fly? They have about 20 F-18s but they are getting a little old and we have ordered new ones – F-36s or F-37s I think. And I talked the Air Force guys – and ladies – into buying a couple of pilotless drones. That wasn’t easy since they like to get out there and fly around, even in those old red and white jets.

Didn’t I hear that your client was having problems meeting their obligations under NATO? Financial problems? Well, yes, but there are mitigating circumstances. Barlow signalled to the Jamaican bar fellow for another round. Explain it to me, JT, the American said.

Well, JT said, it’s like this. NATO says we should be setting aside 2% of our budget for defence spending to meet our NATO obligations. But we are a big country – almost 5,000 miles in American – from coast to coast, whereas in a place like Belgium, you could ride across it in a golf cart. If we spread that 2% out over 8,000 kilometres, it looks like not much per kilometre, whereas if they do that in Belgium or Britain, it looks like a lot more money. Even if you do it per capita, our – my client – only has a small population and 2% looks like a lot. Besides, the army wants better guns, the navy wants ships that have cannons, and the air force always wants new planes, and we have to cover our health plan and we had to add a dental plan to that because of the NDP plus the free drugs and improve the vision plan and then the wages of nurses and soon the doctors will want more and we need more hospital beds and houses for the low-income people who used to be middle class and the price of groceries keeps going up and nobody likes my carbon tax. JT took a sip and continued:

That 2% figure does not tell the whole story either. Our 2% is bigger, because when we go, we go big: We didn’t send 2% of our air force to Latvia – we sent 70% of our serviceable F-18s. Does the US ever send 70% of their airplanes? In Afghanistan we sent 80% of our Leopard tanks – did the US or Britain send 80% of their tanks? We sent half of our frigates to the Taiwan Straight – how many boats did the US send? 50%? Barlow said ‘ships’ under his breath, but JT did have a point.

Barlow recognized the two people walking down the beach towards them as RCMP officers. Although they were wearing tan shorts and red beach dress shirts, their tall horsey boots and the Stetson sun hats gave them away. The male officer suggested to JT that their aircraft was arriving shortly and yes, he could get a Mojito to go; the female officer told Barlow to forget everything JT had said and that she would return his secret recording device the AP man was using as soon as they had wiped it clean. FedEx, no charge.

Uh, Sergeant, JT said, could you cover my tab? They took away my credit card. Not to worry, sir, they gave it to me. The Mountie gave the barkeeper a handful of toonies as a 20% tip, saluted, and headed up the beach, playfully kicking sand as she went.

Bill Walton

About the Author: Bill Walton

Retired from City of North Bay in 2000. Writer, poet, columnist
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