Paul Martin's "Phony War" in Dealing with the United States
At the debate last night, Stephen Harper called Paul Martin on the carpet for "phony war" tactics and damaging commentaries vis-a-vis the United States in the ongoing trade dispute over softwood lumber. As has been the case in recent weeks, I find myself in ready agreement with Harper, and here's why.
It's a "phony war" because all Martin has done is engage in empty rhetoric as opposed to actually talking to the President of the United States in a constructive manner to get things done. Criticizing the president in the media is a popular thing to do in this country, but it's not popular in Washington and it doesn't do anything to reverse the persidently negative trend of the Canada-US relationship in recent years. It is problematic not only for optics and the basic diplomatic reasons involved in international relations, but it also creates a problem because it is a disincentive for the United States to get engaged in the matter. The Bush administration has demonstrated an incredible ability to get results when it has decided on a course of action (shoring up public support for the war in Iraq, initiating the Patriot Act, etc.), what is needed here is Canadian leadership to get the Americans to realize what is taking place in this situation and guide them towards remedying it.
This is exemplary in almost every way of the different priorities between Canada and the United States. The American administration is primarily concerned with security and defense of the American homeland in the wake of September 11, while Canada remains in the mindset of pursuing trade as its most important international interest. When Canada does something that offends American sensitivities in security matters (Iraq, BMD) they will respond by tuning out Canadian invokations to remedy trade irritants. When the Prime Minister follows that up by demanding the Americans get a "global conscience," or a seat at the BMD table anyways, or to resolve the softwood issue, or anything that the administration does not consider to be a priority, it only digs a deeper hole and makes the spiral go downward that much faster. Engagement is critical, not pandering to anti-American reflexes during an election campaign, and until Paul Martin realizes this he will only continue to hurt the Canada-US relationship.