Wednesday, March 26, 2003

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DUMB-ASS DIPLOMACY, EH?: Henry Farrell provides a link to this Globe and Mail story about U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci's rebuke of Canada. The first few grafs:

"Washington's ambassador to Canada has delivered the sternest public rebuke by a U.S. representative since the Trudeau era, saying Americans are upset at Canada's refusal to join the war in Iraq and hinting there could be economic fallout.

At a breakfast speech yesterday to the Economic Club of Toronto, U.S. Ambassador Paul Cellucci said 'there is a lot of disappointment in Washington and a lot of people are upset' about Canada's refusal to join the United States in its efforts to depose Iraqi President Saddam Hussein."

Now, to be fair to Cellucci, not until paragraph 20 does the story acknowledge that, "Mr. Cellucci took great pains to preface his admonition with a discussion of the close ties that have marked the relationship between Canada and the United States. On many issues, including the free flow of border traffic, that relationship must remain strong, he said."

However, there's something to the way the reporter frames the piece in these grafs:

"Mr. Cellucci said the relationship between the two countries will endure in the long term, but 'there may be short-term strains here.'

Asked what those strains would be, Mr. Cellucci replied, 'You'll have to wait and see.' But he cryptically added it is his government's position that 'security will trump trade,' implying possible implications for cross-border traffic."

Where to begin? This tactic is stupid on a whole variety of levels. Let's single out the big ones:

1) Don't make empty threats. Let's assume for the moment that Cellucci had a valid point. In diplomacy, never make a public threat -- even a vague one -- unless there's a possibility it could be carried out. There is simply no way in hell that the U.S. government would take any economic retaliation against Canada that violated the NAFTA treaty. The story quotes one Canadian official stating, "Even if we had conscripted 50,000 troops and sent them to fight in Iraq we would not be one bit further ahead on the softwood lumber file... And we would not be one bit further behind either."

Now, Cellucci -- and by extension the U.S. government -- looks inept for making an empty threat.

2) Don't bother criticizing actions beyond the scope of the federal government. After his speech, Cellucci cited specific examples of Canadian anti-Americanism -- the booing of the U.S. national anthem at a Canadiens game in Montreal, A Liberal MP calling Americans "bastards," etc.

Are these actions disturbing? Yes. Should they prompt ambassadorial criticism? No.

First, one can hardly blame the Chrétien government for these displays. Maybe you could argue that the government has been permissive in not criticizing Liberal party officials who make dumb-ass statements, but that's a complaint to register privately, not publicly. Second, defending one's country against these kinds of attacks should never be linked with threats of retaliation, since it defeats the purpose of the criticism. Third, the actions Cellucci cited are so over the top that they have prompted their own backlash. Public reprimands should be saved for more serious challenges to bilateral relations.

3) Don't make the Iraq question a make-or-break one for allies. The Bush administration's "with us or against us" approach is the correct one in dealing with the war on terrorism. But no one who supports the current action against Iraq should be so blind as to believe that there are no valid grounds on which to stake out an opposing point of view. The best diplomacy the Bush administration could conduct for the current situation is to politely agree to disagree with our allies. Stress that on the big issues, we share a common social purpose with our allies, and that disputes like this will hopefully be few and far between. This is how countries stay allies even when they don't always see eye to eye.

Cellucci's speech, combined with other examples of U.S. pressure applied against close allies such as Mexico or Turkey, suggests that the Bush administration is not following this diplomatic approach. They're applying the same "with us or against us" strategy for Iraq as well. Now, whatever the size of our coalition, there are significant countries that disagree with us on Iraq but wish to cooperate with us on other affairs of state. Beyond Canada, I'd include Germany, Russia, China, India, and most of the Western hemisphere on this list. Tactics like Cellucci's speech will backfire with these countries.

Just to be clear -- I have no love for the Chrétien government, and Cellucci is correct to say that a lot of Americans are upset at Canadian displays of anti-Americanism. But our diplomats are making empty threats and copying Donald Rumsfeld's technique of publicly disparaging close allies. This diplomatic injury is entirely self-inflicted.

This kind of aggravation we don't need.

UPDATE: The Globe and Mail's follow-up story makes it clear that the White House vetted Cellucci's speech:

"Despite Liberal government assurances that the Bush administration had accepted the Canadian decision gracefully, U.S. officials say Mr. Bush and his advisers are furious, not only with the decision to stay out of the battle but also with what they say is the anti-American rhetoric that Prime Minister Jean Chrétien has tolerated.

Sources said national security adviser Condoleezza Rice consulted Mr. Cellucci about the message he was to deliver at a breakfast speech on Tuesday in Toronto.

'This came right from the top,' one U.S. official said.

When Mr. Chrétien announced the Canadian position, Liberal ministers had assured the Bush team that, while Canada would not participate in the war, it also would not criticize the U.S. and British effort in Iraq.

However, American officials noted that Mr. Chrétien quickly characterized the war as 'unjustified' and then failed to condemn Natural Resources Minister Herb Dhaliwal, who called Mr. Bush a 'failed statesman.'"

It would have been better if Cellucci had only cited these specific examples, and had omitted the vague and empty threat of retaliation.

posted by Dan on 03.26.03 at 01:57 PM