Politics

INCOMING, INCOMING!

Why the big surprise over Bush and missile defence?

PAUL WELLS December 13 2004
Politics

INCOMING, INCOMING!

Why the big surprise over Bush and missile defence?

PAUL WELLS December 13 2004

INCOMING, INCOMING!

Why the big surprise over Bush and missile defence?

Politics

PAUL WELLS

IT WAS SUPPOSED TO BE such a low-key and fruitful affair. The usual sources close to Paul Martin told reporters they expected a businesslike meeting with a U.S. president who would be chastened by the Iraq debacle; eager to show a more co-operative face; willing to stare down powerful domestic constituencies in the U.S. on trade disputes over mad cow—and gratifyingly silent on the touchy matter of our participation in missile defence.

There was only one hitch. John Kerry didn’t come to Canada. George W. Bush did.

Bush didn’t waste much time reminding his hosts that if Americans had wanted a president who behaved differently, they had skipped a chance to choose one on Nov. 2. “We

just had a poll in our country,” he said, “where people decided that the foreign policy of the Bush administration ought to stay in place for four more years.”

So a president who believes he has nothing to apologize for met a prime minister who is often apologetic. The results were instructive. Bush offered only vague hope that the border might open soon to Canadian livestock, and even less on softwood lumber (“one of these eternal issues,” a White House official told the

Canadian Press). And then, deliberately and repeatedly, in Ottawa and again in Halifax, he raised the question of Canada’s participation in missile defence.

In retrospect, the only surprise is that anyone was surprised. Bush is not the most unpredictable fellow. He defined his re-election, as he has defined his post-9/11 presidency, as a mission to protect America against further devastating attack. If necessary, he will take the fight to his enemy. He has never been shy about defining “enemy” in broad terms.

As for his friends, well, they are welcome to join Bush or not. “We can have disagreements,” Bush said during one of his periodic charm offensives, sitting next to Jacques Chirac at Evian, France, in June 2003. “But that doesn’t mean we have to be disagreeable.”

But the corollary of that cheerful line is

a point that seems custom-designed to elude Paul Martin’s government: being agreeable is not the same as agreeing. Before Bush’s arrival, official Ottawa floated on a fantasy cloud where the only requests would come from the host and the only concessions from the guest. In this, Martin is as consistent, in his own way, as Bush. Martin has often argued that other people should get past politics. And what will they find when they

get past politics? Ideally they

should find they agree with Paul Martin.

And if Martin does not yet know what he thinks, he prefers that others not ask. Even after Bush’s comments, Canadian officials told reporters there has still been no “ask” on missile defence.

Well, three guesses what the “ask” will be when it comes.

Since the debate over missile defence is already well underway, it is possible to imagine Martin actually leading it. He could hold town hall meetings across Canada. He could task the Commons defence committee to invite expert testimony. He could swear opposition critics into the Privy Council so they could be briefed at the highest levels. He could take the cabinet committee on global affairs to Washington for fact-finding.

Or he could hope nobody asks. So far that strategy isn’t working out too well.