HALIFAX, Nova Scotia -- Sometimes called the "Davos of the security world," the annual Halifax International Security Forum takes place the second weekend of November here in Canada's windswept eastern province.
An exclusive group of 300 attendees--diplomats, military leaders, human rights workers, think tank scholars, university professors, journalists and politicians--come from more than 70 nations.
But this was the first meeting after the passing of the gathering's spiritual leader, the late Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., who led every U.S. congressional delegation to the conference for its first eight years.
Like the late senator, conference organizers spoke bluntly.
"There are conferences in Europe and in Asia that attract everyone from every country as if democracies and dictatorships were equals," said the president of the forum, Peter Van Praagh.
"Halifax International Security Forum is not like that. We are certain when we say that democracies and dictatorships are not equal. That is what makes us different. We say clearly here at Halifax: democracies are better."
In years past, the enemies of democracy and globalism at the conference were obvious: Russia, China, ISIS, and so forth. But new internal ones have emerged: populists and isolationalists.
As far as the conference's tone, McCain was there in spirit. What would John McCain do? "WWJMD?" was the question--to borrow from the "WWJD?" bumper sticker that was popular about a decade ago. The "J" being Jesus for those who don't remember.
Van Praagh said: "It is not enough to condemn populists as if they have arisen out of a vacuum. The challenge is to properly identify those issues that allow populists to thrive and for us to address those issues head on. Only this can push the populists back into the shadows where they belong."
Main topics included China's growing military and political influence, Russian election meddling and the alleged murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
It is not hard to imagine what McCain would have said about Khashoggi's death. WWJMD?
The flagrant murder of Khashoggi was just one of the many indications that the world is trending away from the ideals of Halifax and McCain. The weekend prior to the forum, President Donald Trump angered allies and potentially comforted foes while in France during ceremonies marking the end of World War I. NATO again seemed to be the target of his ire, and he has stated in the past that the United States may not...