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Friday, April 18, 2003

A Canadian Citizen Criticizes US Foreign Policy toward Canada and Especially in Latin America: The Buggy Prof Replies

Ron N, who lives in Vancouver, B.C., has sent us a criticism of US policy toward Canada recently, then several more criticisms of US policies in general in Latin America. The buggy prof thanks Ron for his thoughtful comments, which are reproduced here, followed by our bugged-out reply.

First Ron N:

Many of us here are upset at Bush's consistent rudeness toward Canada, not least his cancelling the planned state visit (too busy) and inviting Australia's PM to the Ranch instead. We feel (as do many Americans, I 'm told) that as a sovereign country, we have every right to take a principled stand that differs from yours and not expect punishment in return. Your Ambassador Salucci expressed poorly veiled threats re future relations regarding trade. This sort of open coercion and unrepentant disregard and bullying of any country not toeing the line has done enormous damage to your (America's) image in the world. There's even some (not so serious) talk of inviting Schroeder and Chirac for dinner - and serious talk of strengthening our European trade relations. All this to leverage American power and influence. Is it worth it? There must be many more sophisticated means of exerting US influence abroad.

So much for Canada. It's really US policies in Latin America that I find most objectionable. In saying this, I have had first-hand experience of U.S. foreign policies in the Third World when I was teaching in Latin America.

In one obvious case, back in September 1973, the democratically elected government of Salvador Allende was overthrown in a CIA-sponsored coup by a truly vicious dictator, the General Pinochet, and thousands (some say 30,000 but I would guess closer it was to 10,000) of innocent civilians were arrested, tortured, and murdered (or "disappeared"). I had students who met that fate along with anyone else rumoured to have supported Allende. This crime against humanity was instigated and supported by the CIA and State Department: in fact, it is admitted and common knowledge. To view the operation from inside it is worth reading the somewhat over-the-top but factual assessment by Hitchens of the coup as seen by Kissinger. The book is "The Trial of Henry Kissinger" by the highly regarded author Christopher Hitchens, who sets out the crimes of Kissinger (in breaking accepted international laws and conventions) in all their glory. Richard Perle, the neo-conservative adviser to the Bush administer, is the premier student of Kissinger - "and the beat goes on".

More recently, in Latin America, we can look at the CIA-designed coup deposing the democratically elected President Chavez of Venezuela by some incredibly callous machinations of the country's television media. This coup is completely exposed by a marvellous award-winning recent documentary on the events of the last year. Just when the truth of the matter is displayed unambiguously for all to see the documentary switches to Ari Fleicher stating clearly and loudly at a press conference the precise opposite; a blatant lie which is indicative of the administrations's attitude toward a free society and protecting the "Fifth Estate". The documentary, I add, was shown on the Canadian Broadcasting Corp. last night on a program called "The Passionate Eye". Google Chavez/Venezuela to get the story or I can send you the taped show.


The Buggy Prof Replies

Ron, that's a thoughtful set of comments you've sent, and even if they turn out to be exaggerated or wrong, at least there's no doubt about the strong feelings you have that prompted you to send them.


Background Comments

Historically, ever since the start of the 20th century, US-Canadian relations have been unusually amicable and led to a strong alliance in WWI, then WWII, and then ever since 1949 in NATO. At the same time, even before the US-Canadian free trade agreement of the late 1980s --- expanded to NAFTA in 1994 when Mexico joined --- Canadian trade and mutual investments with the US have been mounting across a 3400 mile border that has no fortresses or any military deployments on either side. In concrete terms, 85% of Canadian exports go to the US, and wholly a third of Canada's GDP --- which has made it one of the five richest countries in the world --- is dependent on that trade.

True, off and on, Canadian nationalism --- which has never rested on a powerful national identity that has matched the US's, in part because of the French and English-speaking divide, but also the Canadian heritage of nurturing separate multicultural communities (reinforced by European and Asian and Middle East immigration since the 1950s) --- has developed in opposition to the giant country to the south. That's only natural. For one thing, the US population is nearly 10 times that of Canada, as is our GDP, and the US has expanded globally as a great power --- the only one on the world scene for 13 years now --- even as Canadians have

  • flirted with isolationism,

  • struggled with the threat of Quebec secession (which came within a hair's width of succeeding in the early 1990s' Quebec vote),

  • coped with the possibility of the western provinces (and those in the maritime region of the Atlantic) loosening their ties to a distant federal government,

  • struggled with the globalizing pressures, reinforced by NAFTA, to make their economy more competitive on the world scene --- always a painful process, with those hurt in uncompetitive or bankrupt firms naturally blaming the US for the outcome,

  • and had to deal with the existence of a government, Jean Chretien, whose Liberal party under his leadership as Prime Minister has won three general elections without ever coming close to a 50.1% electoral victory. In particular, the liberal vote has never exceeded 42% of the turnout, and even then the percent looks inflated because only about 61% of Canadians now vote in federal elections. In other words, with 24% of the overall potential voting public, the Canadian -past-the-post electoral system has given the Liberal party full control of the federal executive and parliament.


    One of the direct upshots?

    The nature of politics in Canada has engendered even more than in the US a strong growth of cynicism and disaffection with political life there. According to one good study put out by a Canadian activist group ( 2001)

  • 86% of the Canadian population believe that politicians lie to get elected
  • 13% of the Canadian population has respect or confidence in political parties
  • 87% of the Canadian population thinks the government should place more emphasis on consulting citizens
  • 28% of the Canadian population thought that average citizens had influence with government (Ekos Research)
  • 79% of the Canadian population thought that average citizens should have influence with government (Ekos Research)

  • In the process, as a result of all this, the majority Canadian media and populist activists and politicians have had little trouble whipping up anti-American sentiments . . . something hardly new in Canadian life --- opposition to the US and its economic and cultural impact one of the few unifying influences in Canadian identity --- but that reached a crescendo this last few months as a result of the Chretien government's active criticism of the Bush policies toward Iraq. And this active criticism, note, included several Ministers and members of the Liberal Party in Parliament badmouthing the President himself.

    Aggravating this tendency has been the big ideological divide between the Liberal Party and the Bush Republican Party. The various opposition groups in Parliament, leaving aside the Quebec Bloc party, are a hodgepodge of middle-of-the-road and moderately conservative parties, several in number. The result? Just as in the EU, the division between the left and right pitted Gaullist France, Green-Social Democratic Germany, and the Belgium coalition government against the moderate Labour government of Tony Blair and the Conservative governments in power in Italy, Spain, Denmark, and Holland . . . so Chretien and his ministers happen to dislike Bush's policies at home and abroad, and for similar reasons. Nothing surprising there. As for the Canadian media, it's generally --- along with the CBC (the equivalent of the BBC) --- notorious from an American viewpoint of being filled with what we'd call politically correct types. There are some exceptions, as there are in London, but not many.

    And yet . . .


    And Yet Most Canadians Backtrack

    In particular, Ron, the news must have reached you by now that on April 7th, just 11 days ago, a poll carried out by the National Post/Globe News showed that 72% of Canadians now said that Canada should have supported the US decision to go to war from the tart, and 56% supported the US-UK decision to go to war without a second UN Security Council resolution.. More interestingly, polls going back even into February showed that the majority of English-speaking Canadians --- who are about 70% of Canada's 31 million population --- always supported the US position as opposed to a very large majority (roughly 70%) of all French-speaking Candians opposing it. What's more, 51% of Canadians polled actually wanted to lend material support the US-UK pursuit of the war.

    Nor is that all.

    The same day, the Liberal Foreign Minister backed a resolution in the Federal Parliament that reaffirmed that for Canada the US is "our best friend." In particular, he said, "They are our best friends. They are our allies. We work with them on a million issues. On one issue of perhaps a million we have had a difference of opinion." Chretien himself was more reticent for a while, but has more recently moved that way too as public opinion has shifted and the worries increase of a US backlash to buying Canadian goods. (The Buggy Prof wishes he could give the exact links to these survey results and public pronouncements, which he found with a Yahoo search, but the links there --- to the National Post above all several times --- did not, alas, provide any exact web address. Still, you can get the barebones list of the overall Yahoo links here

    Who knows, Ron? Maybe one day, you yourself will swing around to the large majority of English-speaking Canadians --- I gather that's your native language --- and join your Foreign Secretary in seeing the US as Canada's "best friend."


    Bush Cancels Trip to Canada

    Despite this, President Bush cancelled his May 5th trip to Canada . . . not, let's face it, Ron, the most brutal tactic in the long annals of power poliltics, wouldn't you agree?

    Interestingly, though you note the cancellation, you don't fill in the background. It occurred only after the Canadian government refused an explict US request that it use the Canadian navy serving with NATO in the Persian Gulf to prevent any Iraqi war-criminals from fleeing by sea. Now why would the Canadian government --- whose foreign minister had just got through backing a motion in Parliament that he himself described as reaffirming the US as Canada's best friend --- cozy up to Iraqi fascist war-criminals on the run, especially since Canadian ships happen to be in the region? Small wonder that the US ambassador to Canada described the Canadian behavior as "incomprehensible."

    That decision, I add, was not only incomprehensible, it incensed lots of Americans along with our ambassador and our president. (No, I haven't seen any poll data on the public's attitudes: this is an inference of mine from listening to TV and radio and reading the press.) Was the President's decision rude as you say? Well, rudeness consists, I think, of the top aide of Prime Minister Chretien and apparently some Liberal Ministers --- nobody here cares what Liberal MPs themselves say or do --- calling the president a moron or likening his policies to a dictator . . . though, to be frank, nothing I can recall came out of Ottawa to equal one or two of Schroeder's Ministers in Germany comparing Bush to Hitler.

    And again, mainly for not just your benefit but US readers, it's worth noting that Canada has lots of dissenting views from yours . . . in fact, it appears, the large majority of English-speaking citizens there. Regarding Bush's cancellation, Canada's most prominent conservative newspaper, The National Post, observed earlier this week in an editorial that

    We don't blame Mr. Bush for bailing out on us. Why on earth would he want to visit a country whose governing party regularly subjects him to demeaning epithets -- "moron" being only the most vulgar example? By some accounts, the last straw was the disclosure that our naval officers in the Gulf have been instructed not to turn over wanted Iraqis who fall into Canadian hands. Whether that's true or not, Mr. Bush presumably feels he has little to discuss with Mr. Chrétien. The U.S. President is busy protecting the Western world from terrorism, weapons of mass destruction and rogue power. Mr. Chrétien's refusal to support the war in Iraq shows he has little interest in this vital project. Rather than listen to the PM's bromides about multilateralism, Mr. Bush instead made plans to meet a kindred spirit.


    As for vague threats about trade sanctions, Canadians may have reason to worry about an economic boycott in this country, what with the crucial nature of the US market for Canadian exports; but if so --- mainly because individual American consumers are fed up with the gripes that the Canadian media and certain politicians have engaged in. By contrast, it's hard to see what Congress could do, given NAFTA's obligations. American Congressmen and the administration --- for that matter lots of ordinary Americans --- are much more bothered by the laxity that surrounded Canadian customs, what with the number of Islamofascist terrorists who have tried over the years to cross the border into the US. The laxity, note, isn't an American fantasy; Canadian intelligence openly criticized it too . . . as well as the indifference Ottawa has shown to the possibility of terrorists settling in Canada itself.

    That said, Canadian policing of the border has improved of late, not least thanks to US pressures. And now that the Liberal Foreign Minister and Chretien himself (maybe reluctantly in his case) have reaffirmed Canada's traditional views of the US as an unusually friendly country and ally, my hope is that the Canadian responses will again augur happily for cordial US-Canadian relations.


    Five Sidebar Tag-Ons

    [1] It's not only Canada's leaders who have decided to cozy up to the US again. Guess which country's dominant political party has recently publicly stated that the country involved is the "best ally" of the US? Believe it or not, its Chirac UMP, and that country is France. Apparently, even Gaullists have decided it's not a good idea to have a government go out of its way to offend a traditional ally that also happens to be an uncommonly powerful one . . . especially when French companies might not be able to line up at the trough for Iraqi contracts.


    [2] Something else, closely related. As it happens, it's not just Chirac and the French who are backtracking rapidly, especially now that Iraqi contracts are looming on the horizon, and --- no less worrying for Paris --- now that Paris also recently discovered that the German government was an unreliable ally in balancing with France and Russia against the US. No surprise here, though, for the visitors to our site. For months, the buggy prof had been predicting a German somersault for months . . . exactly what's just happened this weekend.

    In particular, Gerhard Schroeder has just told Der Spiegel, the fount of German politically correct shibboleths, that he "deeply regrets there were exaggerated comments [a clumsy wiggle-room reference to his own mouthings] --- also from cabinet members of my previous government" --- in criticizing Bush's foreign policy, particularly over Iraq. The background here? Well, visiting Washington last May, Schroeder personally told Bush that he wouldn't bring up the issue of Iraq until after the German elections in September. No go. His word wasn't his bond. As the election loomed ever closer, Schroeder found that there was only one way to come from a sure-fire loss to his Christian Democratic opponent: doing exactly what he had promised Bush he wouldn't, specifically beating the tom-tom of anti-American popular sentiment in Germany, which included pounding out repeated messages about Bush's recklessness over Iraq. One of his Cabinet Ministers publicly compared Bush to Hitler before Schroeder criticized her, though only after he had first denied she had ever made the comparison. Schroeder himself nonetheless went on indulging in stinging criticisms of US policy, to the point, note, that his government's position and statements began to worry lots of savvy Germans. Not just members of the Christian Democratic Party leadership either, mind you; or even some leading German newspapers and foreign policy specialists --- rather, some senior members of Schroeder's own Social Democratic Party. Nor was that all. The Green Party Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, became so upset at the outlandish statements of Schroeder and his rigidity over Iraq that he was reported in the German media in January as storming out of Cabinet meetings, fuming.

    Now, it turns out -- as with the Canadian government and the French government -- Schroeder is actively seeking to repair relations with the Bush administration. And unlike Chirac, Schroeder didn't wait until Baghdad was taken by the US-UK coalition before he said that it's always "good" that a brutal dictator is toppled. He began saying it . . . well, a couple of days earlier.


    [3] Back to Canada, your country Ron. Many Canadians --- most according to recent polls as we've noted --- don't agree with your government's views (shared by you apparently) regarding US foreign policy. Here, for instance, is a letter sent to the National Post by a former retired Canadian admiral. It's worth pondering Ron, by you and others who share your outlook:

    Our federal government has a near-perfect record of ratting on our allies.Its current lack of support for our neighbour and ally in Iraq is disgraceful. But this behaviour is not an aberration. We have a long and blemished record.

    In 1945, when the Germans had been defeated but Japan had not, the government gave those serving in the Armed Forces the right to opt out of serving overseas. We had a new cruiser, with 800 men on board, operating with the U.S. and British fleets fighting the Japanese. Most of the crew chose not to serve and the ship returned to Canada while the fighting continued. Had the governments of United States, Britain and Australia behaved in this manner, we would have lost the war.

    In 1962, the Soviets placed nuclear ballistic missiles into Cuba and the U.S. government threatened war if the missiles were not removed. Canada again ratted. That time it was the Conservatives. John Diefenbaker refused to order our Navy and Air Force to support the Americans, even though Soviet nuclear-armed submarines were lying off our coast.

    In the years 1966-70, the Liberals reorganized the Armed Forces in a manner that destroyed morale, with funding cuts rendering them virtually useless. This was done when our NATO allies were in a life-and-death struggle with the Soviets. Canada let our side down. Canadian governments have disgraced us. How can we be proud of our country when political expediency takes precedent over honourable conduct?

    Robert Welland, rear admiral (ret'd), Surrey, B.C.

    Agreed: Admiral Welland might have some personal reasons for the disgust he vents in his letter. All the same, from what I can tell as an outside observer of the Canadian scene --- which I don't follow in detail --- it reflects part of the ongoing debate that a democratic society like yours is engaged in, not least about its foreign policies and its political life . . . remember, the vast majority of Canadians are disgusted with the drift of politics there, where a Chretien-led party with less than 25% of the eligible voters can dominate both the executive and legislature in three elections now. No democratic country's political system is perfect, not any in the EU, certainly not the US's --- and obviously not Canada's. But it might be worth while for a reflective Canadian like yourself to spend a little more time dealing with your own country's problems, rather than engage so much in what seem to be well-pocketed grievances about US behavior.


    [4] "No blood for oil!" Remember the slogan vented by the radical left here and in your country about Iraq . . . including parts of your Liberal establishment in Canada, and your pc-dominated media? Well, maybe --- just maybe --- it was accurate to an extent. About your government's official policy on Iraq, not ours.

    How so?

    Well, it so happens that your Prime Minister, Jean Chretien, has a daughter married to the son of the French Canadian oil tycoon and mega-billionaire, Paul Desmarais, a marriage that has produced the same grand-children for Chretien and Desmarais. It also happens that the fifth largest oil company in the world, the French TotalFinaElf --- which has rolled up tens of billions of dollars worth of exclusive contracts with Saddamite Iraq that are not in jeopardy (for obvious reasons) --- has among its shareholders Paul Desmarais, in fact its single largest shareholder in the world. More, Paul Desmarais Jr. --- the brother of Chretien's son-in-law --- sits on Total's Board of Directors.

    Hmmm. Makes you wonder, no?


    [5] Finally, Ron, kindly indulge me in a little speculation, nothing more.

    Recall the above data that reflect the disgust of the overwhelming number of Canadians with their politicians. In particular, 86% believe that politicians lie to get elected. In such circumstances --- the sleaze surrounding Chretien's lucrative family stakes in courting Saddam Hussein, to the point of not wanting Canadian ships to help stop fleeing Iraqi totalitarian war-criminals --- one can't help wondering whether some Canadian leaders might not find it useful to resort to the traditional turnip-ghost whipping-boy of Canadian nationalism, the US, as a diversion. Such tactics have a different name. We call them demagogy. Maybe, who knows, some investigative journalists in your country --- not all of whom, fortunately, are pc-ridden anti-Americans or Chretien admirers --- might find the time in the future to investigate all of this in greater detail.


    To clarify the latter point or two, indulge me further, please, by letting me cite a thoughtful editorial in another one of your prominent papers, The Toronto Star about all this. It notes that Canadians have in general been unwilling to come to terms with all sorts of new realities, global, regional, and national, that have overtaken your country in the last decade or so, even as most Canadians nonetheless recognize at an unspoken level how much things have changed . . . and not always in ways they like. In particular,

    ". . . Canada and the U.S will have to find a new equilibrium. Long before the U.S. decided to invade Iraq or terrorists attacked the World Trade Center, thoughtful commentators were urging Canadians to face a whole bundle of new realities:

  • The North American economy had become so integrated in the '90s that any disruption in Canada-U.S. relations would put hundreds of thousands of jobs and millions of dollars' worth of business at risk.

  • Political power in the U.S. had shifted from the eastern seaboard to the fast-growing south. That meant politicians who were familiar with — and sympathetic to — Canada were losing influence in Washington.

  • The U.S. had acquired such unrivalled dominance that it could afford to ignore international forums and spurn global treaties. That stripped middle powers such as Canada of their traditional role in world affairs.

  • Globalization and technology had made old concepts of sovereignty obsolete. Canada could no longer assert its independence by erecting trade barriers, screening foreign investment, regulating the airwaves or launching deficit-financed social programs.

  • In June of 2001, David Zussman, one of the most respected policy analysts in the land, called for a no-holds-barred debate on Canada's future.

    "These discussions need to include frank talk among ourselves about economics and social values, about how to trade and what kind of a safety net we want, about border facilitation and how important it is to us to define our own immigrant policy," the former management professor and prime ministerial adviser told a Calgary audience. "I recognize, of course, that to many Canadians some of these questions might seem a bit threatening, that even thinking about them might seem unpatriotic. But as I see it, this is a discussion we cannot avoid."

    But Canada did manage to avoid the discussion."


    You'd hope --- any citizen in any democratic country would no doubt --- that your government might take the lead in pressing such a national discussion. Not Chretien though. As The Toronto Star observed here,

    "It was partly because Prime Minister Jean Chrétien had no interest in launching a divisive national self-examination; partly because many citizens had no interest in participating in such an exercise; and partly because Zussman's appeal for a reasoned dialogue was overshadowed by U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci's call for a North American security perimeter."

    An American observer, it goes without saying, isn't really concerned with whether your leaders, running the executive and legislature both with less than 25% of the overall qualified electorate's vote, decides to initiate such a self-examination or not. Chretien isn't himself noted, after all, for his thoughtful demeanor or even, according to his Canadian critics, much in the way of political statesmanship. All an American observer can note by way of conclusion here is two things:

  • Willy-nilly, the excesses of your government's behavior over US policy toward Saddamite Iraq have begun to force even the pc-dominated media in your country to reflect on its leaders comportment and the virulence in certain political and non-political circles of the raucous anti-Americanism of last few months.

  • And most likely, witness the current debate within the Liberal government going on right this moment to send some Canadian troops finally to Iraq to join the UK, the US, and Australia (plus Polish and Czech troops and several thousand Italian policemen scheduled to be sent by Rome), American-Canadian amity will survive in good stead the recent tussles . . . though it may require before being fully reconsolidated that Chretien live up to his commitment and not run for a fourth re-election in 2004.



    To be Continued this evening

    Replies: 1 Comment


    Posted by tester @ 07/14/2003 12:46 AM PST