Saturday, April 01, 2006

Our Relations With The Bush Administration

There seems to be a recurring theme coming from Conservative circles, that being we must repair our relationship with our southern neighbors. Any criticism of Harper's "outreach" to the Bush administration is countered with a criticism of past Liberal governments. What I find particularly distressing is the revisionist history people engage in to incorrectly place the blame for deterioration on our officials.

The problems we have had with the Bush administration are not isolated to Canada. I would argue that the Bush administration represents the most diplomatically bereft regime in America's history. There is no compromise, no search for common ground, merely unilateral action through a narrow black and white view. The American administration has scuttled a litany of international agreements, in turn alienating many in the world community. The American government has such disdain for internationalism that it found it necessary to send a UN ambassador to the the United Nations, that is on record advocating its destruction. Despite the will of the world, the Americans forged ahead with their reckless aggression in Iraq, ignoring compromise initiatives from countries like Canada. Pick an issue, and you will find a complete inability to play well with others.

Within this context, I find it remarkable that Conservatives think Harper's approach will pay dividends. Does anyone believe the softwood controversy is a function of the Liberals "divisive" posture? Most analysts agree, that if the Conservatives do find a solution, they will owe much of the leg work to the past government. Yes, there were tensions with the Bush administration, however it is disingenuous to suggest that the relationship was completely dysfunctional. I would frame the relationship as such, a government trying to find a way to deal with a tone deaf ideologue that lacked the "social skills" required for diplomacy.

Will Harper have better relations with the Bush administration? A resounding yes, simply as a function of Harper's preference for mimicking the American agenda. It is pretty easy to find agreement, when you essentially mirror the other parties view. This reality says nothing about effective leadership, only that we now have a government that is the "ideological twin" of the Bush administration. Canadians have little time for the Bush administration, increasingly Americans hold the same view. Berating our past governments for failure to deal with a belligerent bully is unfair criticism.

Which countries does the Bush administration get along with? Great Britain is America's closest ally at present. Has this "cozy" relationship allowed Blair the opportunity to influence the Bush administration? You will remember the frequent engagements on global warming, with Blair constantly pushing Bush on climate control. What does Tony Blair have to show for his efforts after years of effort- Bush has finally admitted that global warming exists (quite a coup). Nothing concrete, in fact many measures that go backward on the environment. My point, getting close to Bush doesn't guarantee results, in fact it means little in the overall scheme. For those that see a new era in American/Canadian relationships, they in fact see the Americanization of Canadian politics, because the other side will never move from its primitive outlook. The real opportunity for a changed relationship, that articulates the necessary compromises and good will, could possibly come in 2008. Before that time, common ground will be a by-product of simply adopting the American view. Harper seems eager to duplicate the Bush administration, so relations will probably improve.


Scotian said...

This has been one of the CPC mantras that have really irritated me for the last couple of years. The underlying assumption to it is that it is all Canada's fault for things being so bad, it is like they have never heard the old expression it takes two to tango. I think it is in part due to the broad based support within the CPC for Bush and his actions since 9/11/01, and any recognition of the reality of Bushco's diplomatic bungling would undercut the great mission the CPCers support.

I also think it was important to the CPCers to blame the Liberals for any and all failings whether it is accurate/fair or not. Not that this is terribly unusual for an opposition party, in particular the Official Opposition party. However, to have rational discussions about the US-Canada relationship one must acknowledge reality and reality is as you noted, that the Bush Administration has gone out of its way to alienate allies across the globe and not just Canada.

The reality is Bushco demands that its friends do as it wants to prove they are on the side of America, because in Bushco's eyes you are with them or you are with the terrorists. This is the same reasoning that too many within the CPC base appear to agree with and our lack of compliance proves how the Libs and all those that supported their handling of issues like Iraq are more interested in letting terrorists hurt America than letting go of their anti-Americanism. (Clearly this is not my belief but what I have seen from far too many Conservatives online over the years).

For that matter opposition to Bush is not recognized by these Conservatives as being policy based, in no small part I suspect because they do not see what is wrong with the policies Bushco has adopted. So if in their minds there is no real problem with the policies therefore anyone that is claiming they are opposed to Bush on policy grounds is lying to cover their anti-Americanism.

This is a mantra on the right and one of the main reasons why so many of us believe there is an element of American worship within the CPC base. For that matter the CPC and its predecessor party the CA wanted Canada to defer to America at every turn since 9/11/01, including not raising a stink about a Canadian citizen taken off a plane in NY and sent to Syria for "questioning" into his "terrorist" connections. We were supposed to support our neighbour's needs before the rights of one of our own citizens, and our current PM I believe was heading the CA during this and supported this belief.

What does it say about a party and especially its leader that is currently our PM that they place the interests of a foreign government above the obligations owed to one of our citizens. This is one of unfortunately many examples of the CPC being willing to defer/bow to the wishes and desires of the Bush Administration, Harper and Day's letter to the Wall Street Journal apologizing for Canada's refusal to join the Iraq invasion was another example. Particularly when they took it upon themselves to claim that the majority of Canadians wanted to join the Iraq mission, supported the Iraq mission, and wished America success in the Iraq mission despite the reality that the majority of Canadians felt the opposite.

So now we have PM Harper and suddenly all will be well in the world. That the relationship will be better is as you said due to common ideology/beliefs both as conservatives and the belief that liberals are the enemy more than any other. Unfortunately though it also leaves the likelihood of Canada being sold down the river on long term matters by Harper in exchange for some political domestic advantages like softwood lumber resolution (example not one actually to happen because of the Congressional side and this being a midterm election year).

The relationship is where it is because Canadians generally disagreed with Bush the moment he took his eyes of Afghanistan and started his drive to invade Iraq. Then we had Maher Arar be renditioned, tortured and then eventually released without ever being charged by any of the governments involved. As it turned out it was having his lease witnessed by someone on a watch list that got him this lovely experience. Given that immigrants usually get other more experienced immigrants to do things like this to conclude this meant automatically that Arar was a terrorist was a mind-boggling leap of fear driven "reasoning".

The reasons most Canadians do not trust Bush are torture becoming the norm, international agreements like the anti-nuclear proliferation treaty being ignored, Geneva Conventions being promised to apply in Iraq and clearly not happening as well as the abandonment of Geneva for those caught in the "war on terror". Not to mention the belief that some 9/11/01 hijackers came through Canada or had Canadian assistance that some still believe to this day despite it being completely false.

So the idea that Harper will magically improve the relationship between the two countries is nonsense. He may well improve the relations between his government and Bush's, but that is not the same thing, especially when one considers just how opposed to American foreign policy the clear majority in this country is. The more Harper gets close to Bush, especially on foreign policy issues the more he will alienate the Canadian public, so Harper is unlikely to give up much here before he has a majority. On domestic issues we shall see, but since they actually are building on the work of the prior Liberals on that one we might actually see some useful things happen, although I am not holding my breath on that one.

This is a government where the expression trust but verify is modified to distrust and verify everything, at least for me. One of the main concerns I had for a Harper government was how much he would be willing to give up to Bush to have him look like the great healer of the CPC described horrible relationship between the two countries and governments. Which is of course yet another reason for the CPC base and party to want the idea of the Liberals being solely at fault for things, it allows them to argue Canada needed to make the bigger sacrifices AND it makes Harper look that much better that he was able to heal such a massive rift in such short time, thereby showing his leadership and statesmanship qualities to be second to none.

Good post again Steve, I am enjoying reading this blog on a regular basis.

Steve V said...


Thanks for the thoughtful response. You always give me lots to think about.

Mark Dowling said...

I think the problem is thinking that either approach will pay dividends in terms of US policy towards the world - put simply, Bush doesn't give a damn for what any foreigner thinks, nor do the neocons, nor does Scalia on the Court. American foreign policy is just that - American policy, and the more they are criticised the more they dig in. That's a very depressing sentence to write but it sums up a lot of foreign policy even during the Clinton years.

The question then becomes how do you massage the bilateral relationship in such a way that we at least get screwed less. As the Dubai Ports fiasco showed, there are other actors in Washington apart from Bush and we have to plan for the day when Bush is gone. The fact that a Friends of Canada group has emerged in Congress since the last Canadian election is a sign I would like to hope is promising.

When Bush is gone we must have the contacts in Washington and the visibility in their circles of influence to work with a more amenable leader (we can only hope).

We have to remember that Americans partially separate the man from the office, so slamming Bush is seen by even the most reasonable folks down there as slamming America and that will carry over to the next guy (or Hillary).

As a newcomer to Canada during the end of the Chretien era the level of invective aimed south outweighed anything I had seen on a government level in Ireland towards the British even during the height of the Thatcher years, and there's not been open war between the US and Canada for nearly 200 years! The CPC were able to blame the Libs because the Libs did get things wrong. Trudeau got away with baiting them but he had a unique style neither of the past two Liberal PMs could emulate. To me, the engagement style of Harper is another Mulroney suggestion.

If there was a better partnership between Canada and the US on the level of officials, maybe the Arar fiasco would have been prevented in that there would be an agreement that Canadian citizens were not to be touched and that if they were there would be consequences which the Americans would find inconvenient. When you are trying to screw them all day every day they're going to think "well how is it going to be worse in shipping this punter to Syria" especially when we haven't the stones to do something disproportional to scare the daylights out of them like turning off the oil tap, NAFTA be damned.

The British are also getting the message - engage with Bush but fight your corner. Lord Drayton, the Defence Procurement minister, is threatening a pullout from the Joint Strike Fighter if the US doesn't open the technology behind it to the UK, allowing it to be customised to their spec and ensuring they have full control of their equipment. Canada should leverage historical relationships with Australia and Britain to gradually bring the States to understand that they need to work intergovernmentally to achieve their aims, just as Britain and France found out the hard way at Suez.

We can't be a prisoner of hope that the Dems keep winning the presidency but have to be able to work with all comers. Harper's approach, however supine it appears and however inclined to his chums in the business sector it may be, is more likely to improve than disimprove Canada's long term relations than disdain and booing of anthems at hockey arenas. Let's have the US screw us by accident rather than design, because if they try they REALLY could.

Steve V said...


I agree with you on the "baiting" point, that is clearly counter-productive. There is a tendency for politicians to use American bashing as a means to curry favor. There is no doubt that Martin's America bashing this past election was a calculated move, meant to exploit the general mistrust of the Bush administration. However, that sentiment exists in Canada, not as a function of our government, but Canadians own opinions on American policy. People booing at a hockey game is unfortunate, but basically it was a spontaneous protest against the Iraq war- no different than other countries citizens.

I watched Ignatieff's speech earlier this week and was generally impressed. The only exception was Ignatieff's transparent America bashing, as a means to highlight his own Canadian credentials and deflect from the parachute angle. We need to choose our words carefully, for the reasons you point out. However, when policy is not amenable to Canada, we also need to stick to our principles. If you look at the main tensions between our government's, all of the issues are entirely valid so I am not sure how the relationship improves, unless of course you mirror the counter view. This is what worries me about the Harper approach, it promises better relationships, but has yet to articulate how that can be achieved, short of appeasement and uneven compromise. A fine ideal, that doesn't directly relate to reality on the ground, at present anyways.

Thanks for comment.