Thursday, March 03, 2005

Actually, it's both

Babble on.

Michael O'Hanlon of the Christian Science Monitor swims against the prevailing current of U.S. media opinion and lays blame for Canada's missle-defence refusal at the feet of President Bush:

Many are viewing this as a slap in the face from Ottawa to Washington, and a change in the position Canada seemed to be taking a year ago. They expect it to poison relations between the two neighbors - ensuring, among other things, that next month's three-way summit with Mexican President Vicente Fox will fail to make progress in broadening NAFTA. It would seem that the knee-jerk liberal Canadians just could not get over their nostalgia for the ABM Treaty, as well as their visceral dislike of missile-defense systems.

This interpretation is badly mistaken. The Bush administration made major diplomatic errors in handling this topic with Canada. It asked for blanket endorsement of an open-ended US missile defense program, rather than for specific help with specific technical challenges and defensive weapons. This was a fundamental mistake, and the US has mostly itself to blame for the resulting fallout.


He's at least partly correct. Even Stephen Harper has said that Canada shouldn't commit to the plan until we know exactly what is being asked of us - now and in the future.

What O'Hanlon fails to realize is that while Bush made undeniable diplomatic mistakes dealing bluntly with the stand-for-nothing, finger-to-the-wind Liberals, many Canadians - especially in the soft Liberal underbelly of Quebec - have profound nostalgia for the ABM treaty, and really do harbour a visceral dislike of missile-defence systems. The two scenarios aren't mutually exclusive.

In fact, one could argue that it's principally because of Canadians' knee-jerk opposition to all things military, American, and Republican that Bush should have soft-pedalled the issue, instead of proceeding in his typical forthright style to challenge PM Dithers publicly.

O'Hanlon goes on to reach just a little beyond his grasp with the following passage:

What Bush administration officials need to remember is that they almost surely could not get blanket endorsement for all of the above missile defense systems even in the US. Congress has provided funding just for deployment of a limited land-based system and for research and development of other possible concepts. It has not bought into a grandiose architecture of the type that many Pentagon planners still envision. Nor is Bush unwise enough to request such an open-ended endorsement from Congress.

Indeed, his budget request for 2006 cuts missile defense, in recognition of the facts that the relevant technologies are proving slow to develop and that other, nonmissile threats seem more pressing. Yet it was at this moment the president asked Canada for something he probably could not get from the Republican-controlled legislature in his own country.


But that's not really a fair comparison, is it? In Canada, Bush seems to be asking for moral support. In the U.S. Congress, he's most definitely asking for money. I can tell you, if he was asking for money in Canada, I'd be lining up with those opposing the plan at this point. Morally, I think defensive military hardware is easy to justify - unless the bad guys attack, it doesn't threaten anyone. But spending gazillions of taxpayer dollars on a system whose efficacy could be charitably described as speculative, to combat a threat that realistically ranks lower than that of a lone jihadi dumping a shoe-box of anthrax-powder into the air-conditioning system at Mall of America requires a leap of faith Canadian politicians would be foolish to make.

The bottom line is that Canada is a high-maintenance diplomatic companion in North America, the Bush administration has no patience for high-maintenance relationships, and as a result, Ottawa's influence in Washington continues to be negligible. Until the Bush administration learns to be less of a bull in the Canadian china-shop, or until the Martinis become vertebrate, that situation is unlikely to change.

Babble off.

8 Comments:

At 9:25 PM, Blogger treehugger said...

Damian,
I enjoyed this post. I think the key phrase you used, and I did in a post as well, is that this was about moral support. We can'st even seem to muster that up and you know exactly what side of the fence I am coming from. We cannot continue to erode our relationship with the US at every chance for short-term political gain without expecting a reprisal, be it economic or otherwise soon. Rightly or wrongly, Canada under Liberal leadership has pursued a policy of soft power in world relations. I find it hard to believe that soft power includes kicking your closest Allie in the nuts at every opportunity.

 
At 3:50 AM, Blogger Sacamano said...

Nice post. It sure would be nice to hear some details - from Martin, from Bush, from anyone.

One thing I don't follow.

If you really believe that:

"spending gazillions of taxpayer dollars on a system whose efficacy could be charitably described as speculative, to combat a threat that realistically ranks lower than that of a lone jihadi dumping a shoe-box of anthrax-powder into the air-conditioning system at Mall of America"then why in the world would you want to give it moral support? Because it is some other taxpayers that are getting screwed not us?

Wouldn't a "moral" position be to oppose the waste of resources (financial, intellectual, etc.), no matter whose they are, in order that they can be used for more pressing needs?

If only Martin, Graham, anyone, would say something along these lines I'd be happy. As it stands, I'm afraid you're correct that "the stand-for-nothing, finger-to-the-wind Liberals . . . have profound nostalgia for the ABM treaty, and really do harbour a visceral dislike of missile-defence systems."

 
At 7:13 AM, Blogger Greg said...

A couple of things B. First, Bush may not have asked us for money, that's true. But once we signed on, Bush's successors would not be bound by his "no cost" promise. Once in, it would be difficult to say no to "requests" for money.

Second, the defencive nature of the project may not look defencive if you are Chinese. It may look like phase one in building a wall, over which the U.S. can lob nukes with impunity. Now I don't buy that, but one could see why they might see it that way.

 
At 9:48 AM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

Jass, I see your point, but I'm not sure the American people would be pleased to have us lecture them on where they should spend their money - their cash, their business. Besides, you can support the idea of BMD without supporting the way the Bush administration is going about building it.

Greg, I think the 'slippery slope' argument is a bit of a red herring. We didn't go to Vietnam or to Iraq the second time around; we traded wheat with the Soviets, and made friends with Castro; we signed the Land Mines Treaty and Kyoto; we've now said no to BMD. I figure we Canadians are pretty damned good at saying no whenever we please. And if a future U.S. administration asked us for money without being able to show a reasonable chance the money would be well-spent, I'd expect us to say no again.

My worry is actually the opposite: that 'no' has become our reflexive response, not a considered one.

And you're right to discount the line of thought that since a good defence can facilitate a good offence, that we should stop defending ourselves. Cops should should stop wearing kevlar because it forces crooks to escalate their bullets to armour-piercing? We should all stop locking our doors at night because it forces crooks to escalate their tactics? That bucket just doesn't hold water.

 
At 12:18 PM, Blogger Sacamano said...

Sorry BB, I still can't follow that line of thinking. I'm with Greg on this.

If you support the project, then support it. If you believe that it is a bad idea, then don't support it. You can't have it both ways.

Giving "moral" support for a bad idea seems crazy. And the distinction between support for BMW in the abstract and support for how the US is going about it is irrelevent since the way they are going about it is precisely what we are being asked to support.

If you think Canada looks like a freeloader now, imagine how it would look to give "moral" support now, and then later refuse to contribute anything if asked.

I can already see the FoxNews headlines.

"Cheap Canada refuses to contribute to BMD partnership"

And what would our rationale be? "Well, we supported BMD with the understanding that we wouldn't have to contribute anything. Now that we are being asked to contribute, we think it is a bad idea."

Conservative blogs would have a field day with any Liberal who took that position.

 
At 12:31 PM, Blogger Babbling Brooks said...

I guess we'll just have to agree to disagree then, Jass.

 
At 2:07 AM, Blogger Bill said...

"spending gazillions of taxpayer dollars on a system whose efficacy could be charitably described as speculative, to combat a threat that realistically ranks lower than that of a lone jihadi dumping a shoe-box of anthrax-powder into the air-conditioning system at Mall of America" then why in the world would you want to give it moral support?Thought for a moment you were talking about Kyoto...

 
At 2:58 AM, Blogger The Crusader said...

Look, you can debate the merits of the Ballistic Missile Defense system and the status of the old ABM Treaty (deceased) all you want here, but the fact of the matter is that Canada has gone from being the third pillar of the Anglosphere to a sort of sad limpwristed Marxist joke.

Hostility to Canada has been growing steadily in the U.S. since before 9/11. If Canada keep jabbing the occasional finger into Uncle Sam's eye, you can kiss NAFTA good bye. Mexico would gladly cut a seperate deal. Canada might be the second largest nation in size in the world, but it is tiny in population terms. Also 90% of your population lives within 50 miles of the U.S. border.

If you think George W. Bush is such an awful character, just wait. There is a decent chance that the next President of the United States won't be Hilary Clinton, but a Republican who is even less "pragmatic" than Bush.

If a center-left nanny-state Laborite like Blair can find it within himself to work with the U.S., then Martin could too. Instead, your Liberal Party idiots are playing to the local peanut gallery.

Wake up and smell the coffee, Canada needs American friendship far more than we need you.

 

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