Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Some thoughts on the Bush visit

In some ways, it appears nothing substantive got done during Bush's visit to the Great White North. We got no firm answer on opening the US border to Canadian cattle, and Paul Martin was apparently stunned when Bush asked for Canada's help on his pet project of missile defence. As usual, even the protestors accomplished little save for some memorable bombastic posters (more on that in a later post).

And yet the most important task of all was accomplished: beginning the task of mending Canada's relationship with its closest ally. Jean Chretien unnecessarily antagonized the United States, and George Bush especially, in his last years as PM. The antics of Carolyn Parrish didn't help either. And it's no secret that the majority of Canadians disagreed with the decision to invade Iraq. CBC News has been running a series the diverging lifestyles and values of Americans and Canadians. With Bush polling at 15 percent approval up here (not far higher than Osama bin Laden, I'd wager) prior to the US election last month, it appeared our differences could not be starker. But as Bush and Martin took great pains to remind us, we share too much history to be apart for long. We share a border, a democratic heritage, and a world-beating trade relationship. Bush's invocation of Mackenzie King struck just the right chord with me. The analogy was hardly apt; with Iraq as backdrop, it is something of a historical irony that Canada went to two World Wars overseas as the US dragged its heels -- not to mention the very different circumstances in 1939. But the message was clear: we've been through far worse, and we've been there together. From what I saw, the body language between the heads of state was good. I hope Bush and Martin genuinely like each other, or at least respect each other, because otherwise cross-border relations are going to suck unnecessarily. (See Chretien, Jean, above). If I have one gripe about the visit, it was Bush's gratuitious defence of the Iraq invasion during the press conference in Ottawa. Gratuitous because this was the question a reporter asked of him:

In the days after September 11th, thousands of Canadians went to Parliament Hill to demonstrate solidarity with the U.S. -- and, in fact, in cities across the country. Yet, public opinion polls and other evidence suggest that now, today, our peoples are, in fact, diverging; that, in fact, our peoples are drifting apart. Why do you think that is? And do you have any responsibility for it?

And his response (edited slightly for conciseness):

You know, I haven't seen the polls you look at, and we just had a poll in our country where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to be -- stay in place for four more years. And it's a foreign policy that works with our neighbors. Trade between our countries has never been stronger. But it's a foreign policy that also understands that we've got an obligation to defend our security. I made some decisions obviously, that some in Canada didn't agree with, like, for example, when we removed Saddam Hussein and enforcing the demands of the United Nations Security Council. ... No, look, I fully understand there are some in my country -- probably in your country and around the world -- that do not believe that Iraq has the capacity of self-government, that they're willing to sign those people up for tyranny. That's not what I think. And that's not what a lot of Americans think. And they believe that democracy is possible in Iraq. That's a legitimate point to debate. But I'm the kind of fellow who does what I think is right, and will continue to do what I think is right. I'll consult with our friends and neighbors, but if I think it's right to remove Saddam Hussein for the security of the United States, that's the course of action I'll take. And some people don't like that; I understand that. But that's a good thing about a democracy, people can express themselves freely.

So he takes a slam-dunk question, the answer to which is something along the lines of "our peoples and our histories actually are closer than any poll might have you believe", and turns it into, well, what he said. Though Iraq was not even mentioned by the questioner, Bush makes a point of implying that Canadians, among others, believe that Iraqis do not have the capacity for self-government. He tells us, as though we didn't get the memo, that he just won an election. If he wanted to stay on message with the "agree to disagree" tack on Iraq, the message should have been: What's done in Iraq is done, but we hope to maintain our historic friendship with Canada through cooperation on the elections in Iraq and beyond. Instead, seemingly putting on full late-October campaign mode, Bush decided to rake himself over the coals once more in front of the Canadian press (and it was the Canadian press, because the American press corps apparently couldn't have cared less about this visit) by flogging his Iraq policy horse. Still, I got a positive vibe from the visit. I hope I'm not the only one.

Technorati Profile Blogarama