Monday, January 24, 2005

Canada and the US

Bush Bullying Canada?

By now I suspect most people have read the news reports stating that American President George W. Bush tried to bully Canadian PM Martin into accepting the missile defense shield. I would not be too quick to believe verbatim what has been reported in the press. This is one of those "unnamed" sources. In other words, no one, anywhere, is officially on record that Bush actually said the things he is reported as having said. With this in mind, let me address the key issues raised by the press reporting because it is an issue with domestic implicaations and leave off any discussion of anything President Bush might or might not have said.

The key issue here is the statement that if Canada does not participate, the US might, in the future, stop protecting Canada. This issue is important not because President Bush might have said this but because some Canadians have said this. Some Canadians have argued that Canada should participate more fully and forcefully in American policy toward the middle east (specifically in Iraq) becauase the US is our friend and we need them. We should support our friends, this argument runs, and, even if we don't like what the US government is doing, we should put our qualms on hold because we need the US. By helping out the US when called, we will earn their support and they will help us out when we need it. After all, have not the US always been there for us, Don Cherry asked.

Well, let's flip this issue around a bit. First, sometimes the best way to help a friend is to tell them that they are making a mistake. This is not easy to do, but say your friend wants to rob a beer store. Do you help them or tell them not to? The US government is not robbing a beer store in Iraq, but the principle is the same. A good friend doesn't blindly fall in line. Good friends consider action and sometimes take the tougher road of saying "no, this is a mistake."

Second, Canada has helped out the US over and over and over again. Let's look at Canada's record in international affairs and the delpoyment of military forces. It is pretty impressive: Somalia, Rwanda, Krajina, Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan, the first Gulf War. In other words, the idea that Canada is somehow missing in action is simply empirically wrong. Whether one agrees with it or not, Canada has an impressive record of international military deployment. Canadian missions were not always a success -- Rwanda and Somalia were abject failures -- but some were. Canadian action in the Krajina and Afghanistan as well as the first Gulf War were effective. To this we could add naval deployment in Operation Appolo and the impressive civilian effort during the 9/11 crisis. Canada is not missing in action in terms of international affairs. The Canadian government disagreed with the US government over the Second Gulf War. To the best of my count that is one time there has been a serious disagreement. You could run this number to two if you wanted to count the Cuba issue. Is not an independent country entitled to that?

Three, the US has always been there when we have needed them. Give me an example to illustrate this point. When has the US come to the defense of Canada? When have Canadians called on the US to help out. I can think of examples. Prime Ministers of Canada have called on American leaders to support federalism (and this they have done). The US sent a great deal of aid during the Halifax explosion. The US is a good country, Americans are good people. I'm not slagging the country or the people, but the way some Canadians tell this story, you'd think Canada was forever asking the US for help and the US was dutifully running up to give it. Perhaps this is true, but I can't think of more than a couple of examples myself.

Four, when does it end? Does Canada always have to do what the US wants? If so, why don't we just surrender our independence right now. For those people who say Canada should help the US out when it calls, I ask this question: does this mean always? Do Canadians ever get to make their own decisions about international affairs or do we just send our soldiers when a foreign power asks?

Fifth: the US will not protect Canada any longer. From whom? Seriously, from whom is the US protecting Canada?

This is not a critique of George Bush or the American government. Personally, I doubt he said the things he is reported as saying. This is a critique of what I might call Canadian toadyism. Canada needs to maintain good relations with the US, to be sure, and we should. A good relationship, I'd like to think, helps both Canada and the US, but c'mon guys, let's not turn Canada into Toady-land.
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