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03/03/2005 Archived Entry: "Canadian Soveriegnty, Eh?"
Condi Rice has announced the delay of a planned trip to Canada. The official reason: because of scheduling conflicts; unofficially (and through sources that leak like sieves), Bush is pissed off because Canada refuses to go along with his beloved missile shield defense program that involved -- and, by logical necessity, must involve -- an American presence in Canadian air space. As the title of an Associated Press article declares, "Rice delays Canada trip as relations turn chilly." Up here, the relations have turned hot.
Background may be helpful. The Canadian public is overwhelmingly critical of the War in Iraq and of the Bush administration in general. Bush's missile defense shield program was particularly unpopular, largely because Canadians did not believe assurances that it would never be used offensively and they did believe it was being rammed through the Canadian Parliament by Bush and by Prime Minister Martin aka Bush's poodle. (For earlier commentary on the missile shield situation and Canada's reaction, click here and here.) Martin encountered such staunch political pressure, including rebellion from the backbenchers in his own Liberal Party, that he prudently condemned the program and, so, ensured its demise in Parliament.
But the issue will not die. Paul Celucci -- who may be the stupidest U.S. Ambassador on the surface of the earth but, frighteningly, may also be merely typical [my opinion at the end of this post] -- was the one who got Martin into such hot water in the first place. Months ago, Celluci stated -- and to the press no less, "We've been told that it [the missile defense shield program] will be dealt with over the next couple of months," thus clearly implying that the States had struck a deal with Martin. Celluci even provided a timeline. Canada would join the U.S. ballistic-missile defense system for North America by the end of March. That made Canada seem like a satellite state of the US. Of course, that classification may be justified but Canadians don't like to be reminded of it in such a heavy-handed manner. We like to bought dinner and flowers before we're screwed. Otherwise, it is presumptuous.
Then, after Martin's announcement, Celluci did it again! In response to being turned down, he stated that Washington would simply deploy its anti-missile system over Canadian airspace anyway, and seemed puzzled that Canada would "in effect, give up its sovereignty." To quote Celluci directly: "We [the US] will deploy. We will defend North America. We simply cannot understand why Canada would in effect give up its sovereignty - its seat at the table - to decide what to do about a missile that might be coming towards Canada. I personally don't think it's in Canada's sovereign interest to be outside of the room when a decision is made about a missile that might be incoming towards Canada."
As one Canadian editorialist stated, No doubt the Soviets felt similar puzzlement as they rolled into Czechoslovakia in 1968. What's with these crazy Czechs? Don't they get it? All they have to do is co-operate with Moscow and they can retain their "sovereignty."
The Bush administration has asked Martin to reconsider, saying that Bush would probably bring up the matter with Martin when the two of them meet with Mexican President Vicente Fox in March to discuss the future of the North American free trade agreement (NAFTA). But Celluci's comments -- again made to the press -- mean that such a reversal of policy on Martin's part is politically impossible. He would be seen to be ceding to the States precisely what Celluci highlighted: Canadian sovereignty. No backroom deal is now possible and Celluci is being identified in press stories as the "outgoing Ambassador to Canada." My personal opinion: Celluci -- idiot that he undoubtedly is -- was probably just spouting the straight Bush-line on Canadian compliance and is now being scapegoated. I conclude this because Celluci made so many similar statements without (apparently) being sanctioned or reigned in by the Bush administration that I think he was always intended to play "bad cop." He was a shrill shill who served the purpose of leaving them a fallback strategy of having Bush apply more covert pressure. But, as in so many of Bush's dealings with us ignorant and ultimately unimportant foreigners, the effort at diplomacy achieved the opposite of what was intended.
Martin, who wants to survive, is taking the only stance a PM leading a minority government can take: namely, the United States must get permission before firing on any incoming missiles over Canada. He stated last Friday, "This is our airspace, we're a sovereign nation and you don't intrude on a sovereign nation's airspace without seeking permission." On the other hand, Martin also acknowledged that Americans would ultimately determine whether to shoot down an incoming missile. "I don't think that anybody else expected that there would be any other finger on the button other than an American," he said. Exactly how he reconciles those two statements will be fascinating to watch.