History's on Canada's side
American hawks scoff at Canada's do-gooder foreign policies
on issues such as war with Iraq. But history has a habit of giving
us the last laugh, says LAWRENCE MARTIN
By LAWRENCE MARTIN
THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Saturday, August 10, 2002
Print Edition, Page A17
To illustrate Canada's naiveté in foreign relations and our feckless do-gooder ways,
Dean Rusk, secretary of state in the Kennedy administration, once told me a story
about Howard Green. Mr. Green was our minister of external affairs back in the days
of the Diefenbaker government. Patrice Lumumba, the notorious Congo leader, came to
Ottawa. He had a meeting with Mr. Green at which he asked that a girl be sent over
to his Chateau Laurier suite.
Not realizing that the African dictator was a fornicator of some renown, the
church-going Mr. Green thought he meant secretarial help. He sent over a typist.
When the unsuspecting stenographer entered Mr. Lumumba's chamber, all hell broke loose.
As Mr. Rusk recalled, it was forever thus in the Diefenbaker days. The Chief was
slow to respond on the Cuban missile crisis. He turned up his nose at Washington's
push to install nuclear warheads on Canadian soil. He and Mr. Green were naive
pacifists who simply didn't understand the tough world out there.
The same thought applied when Lyndon Johnson took Lester Pearson by the shirt collar
at Camp David and admonished him -- "You pissed on my rug!" -- for criticizing the
bombing in Vietnam. And it was there again when Ronald Reagan had to deal with that
"pot-smoking leftist," Pierre Trudeau. Relations went up in smoke over the National
Energy Plan, Star Wars, Mr. Trudeau's international peace mission and Cuba.
In respect to Cuba, then-secretary of state Al Haig had none of the Canadian
leader's romanticism. "Just give me the word," Mr. Haig once told the Gipper, "and
I'll turn that [expletive] island into a parking lot."
Following the flare-ups with these Canadian leaders, a period of sustained calm in
bilateral relations followed. Brian Mulroney harmonized with Mr. Reagan and George
Bush Sr. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had a smooth rapport with Bill (typists
But now, with relations with Ottawa already testy and with Washington preparing for
naked aggression against Iraq, a return to the big-feud era could well be in the making.
As Secretary of State Colin Powell, a voice of reason on the Potomac, dejectedly
reports, the hard-liners have taken control at the White House. History suggests
that when they have the reins, it's bad times for bilateral relations. The
hard-liners deride our puny military, as well they might. They have no time for
moralistic lectures from Mexicans in sweaters, as Canadians are sometimes called.
Ottawa's position opposing an invasion of Iraq is unlikely to change. Mr. Chrétien
has stated that there must be some proof linking Iraq to the Sept. 11 terror before
he will support an all-out war. So far there is no proof, nor is there likely to be.
After the September catastrophe, it looked to many observers as though the two
neighbours might draw closer together. Mr. Chrétien never thought so. "Wait for six
months until the emotions have died down," he told an adviser. "You will see that
not much has changed."
He was correct. There came Washington's softwood lumber duties, crippling
agricultural subsidies and a raft of other disputes. But as tough as some of these
issues may be, there is nothing, as Vietnam demonstrated, that can prompt a big
split in relations like opposing positions on a major war. If Ottawa holds to its
line against an invasion of Iraq, there will likely be a price to be paid. Canada
could be hit with more stiff measures on trade, on security, on any number of fronts.
Debate in Ottawa now centres on this very question. To avoid the possibility of
retribution and economic pain, why not forego the principles and support the
aggression? Such a capitulation is doubtful. While there is no disputing the notion
that it would be nice to be rid of the Saddam Hussein dictatorship in Iraq, Mr.
Chrétien's stand has widespread support. George W. Bush's invasion plan is opposed
by virtually every ally except Britain. It is opposed by the Arab states. It is
opposed, according to recent polls, by no less than half the American population.
The reason is that the President's thinking is based on a series of maybes. Maybe
Iraq is stockpiling bad weapons. Maybe Iraq would be stupid enough to use them.
Maybe an invasion won't cause a major conflagration in the Middle East. Maybe the
leader who replaces Saddam Hussein will be less evil, etc., etc.
The one certainty, the one driving imperative, is that the elimination of Saddam
Hussein is a Bush family obsession, a desperate need on the part of George W. and
his hard-liners to complete the unfinished business of George H. in the war in the
Persian Gulf of 1991.
The hard-liners have a long and contentious history in the United States and Canada
has been wise to oppose them. It wasn't wrong to question Mr. Kennedy over taking
the world to the brink over the placing of missiles in Cuba. It was hardly naive of
Lester Pearson to take a courageous stand against escalated bombing in Vietnam -- he
was vindicated. It was hardly wrong for Mr. Trudeau to launch an idealistic peace
mission to encourage an East-West thaw. The U.S. and Soviet leaders eventually came
together on some of the very terms Mr. Trudeau had set out.
When it comes to naiveté, few leaders are less schooled in world affairs than Mr.
Bush Jr., who, astonishingly, had made all of one trip to Europe before becoming
President. At a time in which his country has unparalleled power and unparalleled
potential to forge a multilateral consensus, he can think only in terms -- not just
on Iraq but on a wide range of fronts -- of his narrow political needs at home. For
him, there is no higher calling than the American interest. It is the stuff of which
small leaders are made.
In such a climate, Canada need not retreat from its traditional path of moderation
and grander ideals. It has withstood big rifts in the relationship in the past.
Rather than sell its soul to hard-liners for fear of retribution, it can withstand
Lawrence Martin, a former Washington and Moscow correspondent, is the author of two
books on Canada-U.S. relations.
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