Thursday, February 05, 2009

Obama's "Don't Blink" Visit

Is it just me, or is Obama's visit being pared down to the point of poor optics? First, no appearance in Parliament, then no meeting with the GG, now we hear word of a 3 hour visit, that won't even get Obama off the runway in Ottawa:
The official Canadian visit by U.S. President Barack Obama is turning into a presidential pit stop.

The working assumption in the Prime Minister's Office is that Obama won't leave the vicinity of the Ottawa airport when he makes his first foreign trip two weeks from now.

The Obama visit, which is mainly to meet with Prime Minister Stephen Harper but includes a courtesy chat with Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff, is expected to take roughly five hours from landing to the president's return to Washington.

Technically, Canada can still take solace in the "first foreign visit" label, but really this visit hardly denotes any level of seriousness or priority. Low profile, to the point of second rate, the fact Obama will be back in Washington a mere five hours after leaving, really doesn't speak to the "special relationship", with you biggest trading partner, in the midst of serious bilateral issues.

Given all the initial hoopla, the forever diminishing itinerary is starting to look like your spouse's work Christmas party. You're obligated to go, but you can't wait for it to be over, and you're forever thinking of ways to deke out early.


Jesse said...

If all he does to Harper for trying to cost him the nomination is not really show up that much, then the Cons get off easy, and Obama is (for about the millionth time) a better man than I.

Anonymous said...

Why would Obama meet with the GG? I can't recall any American President doing that. Bush had many visits to Canada that were very similar to this one. Just because some Canadians want to go out and worship him like he is the Pope makes me sick. Do this for your own Prime Minister, not an American President no matter who he is!

Anonymous said...

To Anonymous: If it were a state visit, it would be organised by the GG's office and the President would meet the GG, since she is our head of state. This is not a state visit, but a working visit, and so there is no such protocol taking place. Past presidents have met the GG if they were here on state, or official visits, but not for more informal visits.

Anonymous said...

On the bright side, this will save Ottawa money for setting up downtown security.
On the bad side, it doesn't send a warm message to Canadian people who support Obama.

sjw said...

Obama's whirlwind visit with Harper is not unlike a dash through a Tim Horton's drive-thru for one of their shitty cups of coffee. Quick and relatively painless, but you've got ass breath for the rest of the day.

RuralSandi said...

Well, as i understand it, Ignatieff is close friends with Obama advisors, knows Obama and their chat could simply ba a social visit - they can talk anytime.

Layton must be really feeling left out.

Anon: If we had a prime minister to get excited about - maybe people would. Hard to respect and/or admire Harper - the man who doesn't mean what he says and doesn't say what he means.

Mark Dowling said...

The optics of this trip are worse for Obama, not Harper (don't start, I'm not a CPC shill). The McCain Amendment to remove Buy America went down 69-31 so life has just become very awkward for the President. Were he to stay longer, he would eventually bump into someone - maybe not even a Tory! - who would ask him wtf he intends to do about his most important trade relationship by size.

God almighty, the willingness of Canadians to bow down and tug the forelock for Obama is getting very old. He is a foreign leader - a very intelligent, capable guy who is an inspiration for many but he doesn't represent Canadian voters, he represents American ones.

"If all he does to Harper for trying to cost him the nomination is not really show up that much"

I've never understood this point. Obama said one thing in public and one of his principal advisors told the Government of Canada through its consular officials "nah, he's just kidding around".

When Brodie mentioned this in the lockup, he got the candidate wrong (he said it was Clinton's team who said that) but I think it was ENTIRELY in the public interest for American voters to know if one of their candidates was telling lies during an election campaign. As an issue it beats the hell out of a flag pin. Obama SHOULD have paid a price for either being duplicitious with the voters or with America's nearest neighbour culturally, economically and militarily and we should stop bloody well apologising and move on.

Anonymous said...

That's a nice revisionist view of history, Mark. Even the Harper administration eventually admitted they totally misconstrued the conversations of lower-level staffers with regards to NAFTA. There was no great deceit in the matter, unless if was the infamously leaked CANADIAN staff memo that conveniently created a political whirlwind in the US just days before the Ohio primary.

You are truly fooling yourself if you think a 5-hour visit to Canada will hurt Obama's reputation in the US. Though I don't agree with the approach, the reality is Obama could get kudos in key regions of the US if he wrapped himself in the flag and played up support for "red, white, and blue industries." Fortunately, he hasn't thus far succumbed to that recent staple of US political theatrics.

As far as the visit, I think the message is pretty clear. Obama to Harper: "I wont' be going out of my way to give you props, Stephen, I have my own country to worry about. And, no, I'm not going to take a softer view on the oil sands. But I am here so as to not send a more overt message. So smile, shake hands, say a few words. Gotta run, nice airport. Ciao." Then, as he and his staff ride back to the plane, he tells Michael they can talk more when he and the other adults are back in charge." Metaphorical, of course, but I think that's a pretty good snapshot of the visit.

I expect the Canadian government to protect their interests, and I expect the US government to do the same. We are separate nations, not best friends, no matter what history we share.

Harper interjected himself right in the middle of the US campaign at a critical juncture. People can spin it anyway they want, but that's the truth. Why the hell would Obama go out of his way to allow Harper to bask by his side for a day or two?

Steve V said...


I wonder if part of the low key approach here is in reaction to Ohio.

Anonymous said...

I actually expect it is only part of the story, but I do think it is part of it.

I think some of it could be not wanting to schedule too long a visit scheduled when there exists a very real possibility that the stimulus package gets held up and has not yet passed. It wouldn't look good for Obama to be in Ottawa for two days after the first real deadline of his Presidency while the stimulus package languishes. Being in Canada just wouldn't be the best use of his time right now.

I would go as far as to say the reason the visit is on the schedule at all is because it is Obama's way of patching things up (somewhat ; ). It sounds like an Obama move.