Washington

No more touchy-feely

Andrew Phillips January 29 2001
Washington

No more touchy-feely

Andrew Phillips January 29 2001

No more touchy-feely

Washington

Andrew Phillips

Raymond Chrétien, nephew of the Prime Minister, former ambassador to Washington and “Great Canadian” (as proclaimed by this very magazine only last July), was never shy about who ran Canada's relations with the United States on his watch. He did. By his account, the man who was foreign affairs minister during most of his tenure in Washington, Lloyd Axworthy, didn’t have a big role in managing Canada’s most important foreign relationship. “Frankly, Axworthy doesn’t have anything to do with it,” he told me shortly before he left last fall for his new post in Paris.

That might have worked for Chrétien, with his uniquely personal pipeline to the top in Ottawa. But now there’s a new man in charge at Canada’s imposing embassy on Pennsylvania Avenue (career diplomat Michael Kergin) and a new foreign minister in Ottawa (John Manley). Right off the bat, Manley made it clear that the United States is his top priority. Axworthy’s “human security” agenda—causes like an international ban on land mines and the creation of an international criminal court—will evidendy take a back seat. In their place will be the less glamorous work of tending to what he called this “transcendentally important relationship for us” (that would be the $ 1 billion worth of trade that crosses the Canada-U.S. border every day).

Manley gets a chance to check it out for himself this week when he comes to Washington for a sit-down with George W. Bush’s new secretary of state, the former general and current American national icon Colin Powell. It should be a good fit. If Manley is distancing himself from Axworthy’s touchy-feely “soft power” thinking, the new administration is doing something quite similar.

The roster of Bush’s foreign policy team reads like a reunion of old pals from his father’s administration: Powell; Dick Cheney; Condoleezza Rice, his choice as national security adviser; and Robert Zoellick, his nominee as trade representative. Add to that a veteran of the Ford administration, designated defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld. All have made it abundandy clear that they have little use for what they see as the fuzzy idealism of U.S. policy as practised by Bill Clinton and Madeleine Albright. Rice has written (in the journal Foreign Affairs) that Clinton’s foreign policy emphasized vague “values” rather than concrete U.S. “interests.” Doing good in

the world is fine, she says, but it should be only a “second-order effect” of looking out for No. 1. Translation: don’t expect the United States to intervene in any new Bosnias or Kosovos any time soon.

That’s no surprise, and no problem for Canada. The larger concern that Manley might usefully explore with Powell this week is the new administration’s evident reluctance to put much trust in traditional U.S. allies or multinational organizations. Critics sometimes accuse Republicans of being “isolationist,” but that misses the point. The United States, no matter who leads it, has too many interests in too many places to ever withdraw from the world. The question is whether it will act alone (unilaterally) or in cooperation with its friends (multilaterally).

The test case for the Bush administration will be its most controversial foreign policy goal—national missile defence, or “Star Wars II” to its critics. The idea is to construct a shield against incoming missiles— something critics say will be ruinously expensive ($90 billion over 15 years), probably won’t work, and threatens relations with Russia and China, not to mention skepti^ cal U.S. allies. Jean Chrétien even deis nounced the idea while standing beside I Russian President Vladimir Putin in OtS tawa last month, to the distinct displeasure of the Americans. But NMD, as the idea is known, is an article of faith among Republicans, and Bush insists that he’s strongly for it.

The confusion comes when you try to figure out exacdy what Bush intends to do about it. Rumsfeld made it clear that he wants to go full speed ahead with NMD, even if that risks upsetting the nuclear balance. Powell, though, took a much more nuanced view when senators questioned him (very politely) about his new job. Missile defence, if necessary, he seemed to be saying, but not necessarily missile defence. Allies would be consulted; opponents would be conciliated. And the United States, he said, “will not withdraw into a fortress of protectionism or island of isolationism.”

The bottom line: even as they settle into their new offices, Bush’s new team is already struggling over which direction to take. Canada should hope that Powell gets the upper hand— and resist the temptation to tweak the Americans too obviously or too publicly.