MR. TRUDEAU GOES TO WASHINGTON
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau is on his way to Washington next week and his trip will either be a huge success or a mountainous failure. First impressions are lasting impressions. Sadly, I am betting on a mountainous failure, but I hope that I am wrong.
The most important, foreign, trade and security relationship Canada has is with the United States. It is not going to change overnight or in the longer term unless we sabotage it ourselves. There is no substitute for it. We cannot cozy-up to Europe and pick up sixty percent of our trade. China and Russia are not good security partners. The Prime Minister could try and restore our favored relationship with the British government and the Crown, but he would have to put Her Majesty’s portrait back up in the Cabinet Room and we know he is not ready for that.
My expectation is that the Prime Minister will go to Washington thinking that he is going there to see President Obama for a state dinner, and to have a soiree, followed by afterhours hospitality on firms and corporations that want to do business with Canada. My fear is that the Prime Minister will go into the meetings thinking that Hillary Clinton should have won, that Trump is incompetent, and that he can lecture him on ‘Canadian values’ and so much else that is wrong with the President’s thinking. If it was a normal run of the mill United States politicians that became President, he might get away with it. But not with President Trump. I can imagine the speaking points drafted by the Prime Minister’s staff and the Privy Council Office and I am here to warn you that they are likely wrong.
President Trump should not be underestimated. He is an extremely successful corporate tycoon, used to making huge decisions, and taking big risks, and he is more often right, than wrong in his judgements. He defeated the elite of the Republican Party including the Bush family in the Party primaries and then defeated Hillary Clinton and the democratic elites in the Presidential election. He defeated Hillary Clinton in large measure because of Barack Obama’s record in ‘middle America’ on almost every issue. It is because of ‘middle America’ and the fact that Trump represented a degree of hope for change that he is elected. Middle America had two terms of Bill Clinton, and two of Obama and their lives did not improve. The three terms of Bushes, father and son, did not bring change either. Obama and Clinton were overwhelmingly rejected, right or wrong by the electorate, both Houses are republican, most State Governors are Republican, in addition to the President. So going to Washington, D.C., hoping for a Hillary recount or the Obama days, is not going to be helpful. Donald Trump relishes in making friends and enemies alike. He does not backdown from a fight even when he is wrong. He is not likely to apologize, or say sorry for anything.
Second the Trump administration has shown that it is interested in ‘hard power,’ and the things associated with it, economic power, political power, and military power. Talking about ‘soft power’ Canada’s role in the world as a peacekeepers and home for refugees, and how our values are difference or better than America’s will make the Australian Prime Minister’s phone call with Trump look like a ‘Sunday school picnic.’ It will be a train wreck of epic proportions that no amount of selfies will restore. There is always a slight political advantage at home in ruffling a few feathers in Washington, but not here, and not now. We have North American Free Trade to think about, we have interests, we have four years of a Trump Presidency, like it or lump it. Trump’s first move in office has been to issue Executive Orders, move on to the next thing in his stacking order, and he has done so at a rapid pace. Trump sent Defense Secretary Mattis to Asia to reaffirm American security policy, reassure allies and to caution China and North Korea. Trump has put Iran on notice so much so that after 14 violations of the United Nations Security Council Resolution on its ballistic missile program, Iran pulled a rocket due to be fired off the launch pad, and launched something much less capable and threatening to avoid a show-down with the Trump Administration. While Trump has said very nice, even naive things, about Russian President Putin, Trump’s officials have done the opposite in classic ‘carrot and stick’ diplomacy.
If Prime Minister Trudeau wants to have a successful trip to Washington, he needs to say four things. One, we want to be a reliable neighbor, ally and trading partner. Two, we will tighten our border security in cooperation with the United States and believe in a ‘fortress North America’ concept. Three, we will increase military spending, and if you need us to take on, or to lead a mission somewhere in the world so that the United States does not have to, we are there for you. Four, we welcome free and fair trade negotiations and it is time to refresh North American Free Trade. These are the four speaking points that will ensure success in Trump’s Oval office. Anything else is fluff, and it will fall on deaf ears at best.