Friday, March 25, 2005

Canada May Be a Close Neighbor, but It Proudly Keeps Its Distance

Canada May Be a Close Neighbor, but It Proudly Keeps Its Distance

Published: March 23, 2005

TORONTO, March 22 -Every Canadian student of foreign policy knows the story, but few Americans remember. In 1965, at the height of the Vietnam War buildup, Prime Minister Lester B. Pearson suggested to a college audience in Philadelphia that the United States stop bombing North Vietnam in the pursuit of a negotiated settlement.

President Lyndon B. Johnson was not amused. When the courtly Canadian leader stopped by for a visit to Camp David, Mr. Johnson grabbed him by the lapels and accused him, in so many words, of soiling his rug.

Emotions are a bit lower now, and President Bush is likely to be a lot more polite on Wednesday when he greets Prime Minister Paul Martin, along with President Vicente Fox of Mexico, at his ranch in Crawford, Tex. But things could be tense nonetheless, with differences over trade and Mr. Bush's planned missile defense system adding to past strains over Iraq.

There is nothing really new about that. With the possible exception of France, no traditional ally has been more consistently at odds with the United States than has Canada.

Canada refused to take part in President Truman's Berlin airlift, withheld full support from President Kennedy during the Cuban missile crisis and retains diplomatic and trade relations with Fidel Castro to this day. Prime Minister Pierre Elliott Trudeau made a distancing from Washington a centerpiece of his foreign policy, going so far as to welcome draft dodgers during the Vietnam War. Ottawa criticized President Ronald Reagan's interventions in Central America and more recently split with the United States by pushing vigorously for the International Court of Justice, an international land-mine treaty and the Kyoto climate control accord.

While the leaders always claim the greatest of fondness for one another, more often than not they have not gotten along very well. When they have, Canadian leaders have sometimes had to pay a political price.

"It's something in our bones, it's part of our DNA," said Lloyd Axworthy, a former foreign minister who is now president of the University of Winnipeg, "though it's not something we necessarily immediately recognize." The distinguished Canadian historian J. L. Granatstein has called anti-Americanism "Canada's state religion." For Robert Fulford, the Canadian literary journalist, widespread "prejudice" against the United States supposedly lends the country "an aura of virtue."

It has been that way since the American Revolution and the War of 1812, when thousands of Loyalists left their homes to go north rather than rebel against the British Crown and then fought off repeated American invasions. Their hardships and efforts to differentiate themselves from the rebellious colonists forged the dominant Canadian identity.

Brian Mulroney was the exceptional prime minister who embraced the United States and negotiated a free trade agreement with Washington. At a meeting in 1985, he and Mr. Reagan hugged and sang "When Irish Eyes Are Smiling." But the coziness of that "Shamrock Summit" did not sit well with many Canadians, with one pundit commenting that "our prime minister invited his boss home for dinner."

Prime Minister Jean Chr├ętien and President Bill Clinton got along, but relations soured when Mr. Bush took power and Mr. Chr├ętien's press secretary called him "a moron" (for which she was eventually fired).

President Bush acknowledged how much Canadians dislike him and his administration during his visit to Ottawa late last year by thanking everyone who waved at his motorcade, particularly those who waved "with all five fingers."

But the laughter did not help relations much. A couple of weeks ago Mr. Martin refused to join Mr. Bush's missile defense system, after defending it only a year ago, because of pressures in his Liberal Party.

His foreign minister said the decision reflected "Canadian values," the usual suggestion from Ottawa that Canada follows a higher moral calling than its American neighbor - a distinction increasingly applauded by American liberals.

"Whether it's nukes or Iraq," said Mr. Axworthy, "we're just not in synch."

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