Vive Le Canada

Rice's Ottawa Trip May Turn into Fool's Errand
Date: Friday, October 28 2005
Topic:


Embassy, October 26th, 2005
OPED

By James Travers

Rice's Ottawa Trip May Turn into Fool's Errand

Condoleezza Rice is an intelligent woman apparently on a fool's errand. In Ottawa yesterday at the end of a world tour that has taken her almost everywhere else, the U.S. secretary of state is in the awkward position of seeking help for a superpower increasingly seen as a scofflaw and bully.

Among other things, Rice is effectively asking Canada to ignore muscular U.S. trade and foreign policies long enough to help extricate her boss and buddy George W. Bush from the Iraq quagmire.

That's a particularly hard sell in a capital that understands the risks of playing by Washington rules. While softwood lumber is the most obvious example, this country's problems with the Bush administration extend much farther and are more complex.

They include an unapologetic neighbour's deportation of Maher Arar to Syria, a state notorious for torture, and the disregard of another Canadian's human and legal rights in the Guantanamo Bay military prison. Egregious in themselves, they more broadly signal to the federal government that norms, precedents and conventions no longer provide meaningful protection.


So why is Rice here now and what does she want?

Well, mostly she's here now because she didn't come after Paul Martin's government stopped waffling long enough to opt out of continental missile defence. What she wants is more interesting. Along with lower lumber rhetoric and fewer energy threats, Rice is looking for the diplomatic boost that would come with a more visible Canadian commitment to rebuilding Iraq.

Almost as an aside Monday, Martin linked what Washington wants to what his government needs. Forecasting his meeting with Rice, the Prime Minister said, "We are going to be discussing several issues including softwood and Iraq."

Whoops. Publicly linking a popular Canadian cause to an unpopular U.S. war isn't subtle diplomacy or good politics and it sent a shudder rippling across Official Ottawa.

More is now at stake than lumber, oil or even the next federal election. Cohabitation with the colossus next door becomes more difficult for Canada with each new display of U.S. rogue behaviour.

Martin certainly isn't hiding Canada's growing discomfort. With an approving electorate watching, his government is asking Rice, and ultimately Bush, for a clear sign that the U.S. will again accept the discipline of international institutions, agreements and law.

Nurtured by narrow U.S. domestic political interests, a trade problem has foolishly been allowed to grow into a full-blown, cross-border test of will. Softwood is no longer just about lumber; it's about the fair resolution of differences and, most of all, it's about trust.

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