When I started writing this column twenty-five years ago, Canada and Iran were two major issues in U.S. foreign policy. Iranian revolutionaries had just seized fifty-two of our embassy personnel in Tehran and held them hostage with the approval of a new Islamic regime that had overthrown the pro-American Shah. In Canada, the separatist provincial government in Quebec threatened to declare Quebec an independent country, a move that could have presented the United States with a serious problem in organizing the defense of North America.
Despite dramatic changes in world politics during the past quarter century, both countries continue to present important issues for U.S. foreign policy.
Although Quebec's potential separation from Canada has declined as an issue, the growth of anti-Americanism north of the border presents a real problem for American and Canadian leaders. This was highlighted by a photo that appeared on the Washington Post's front page on December 1 showing a group of protestors in Vancouver toppling a statue of George Bush, with a caption saying they were "mimicking the toppling of Saddam Hussein's statue during the Iraq war." The protesters objected to the president's two-day visit to Canada in which he sought to mend fences with a neighbor and ally that refused to support his policies in Iraq.
The Post ran another article on November 28 titled "Before You Flee to Canada, Can We Talk?" Nora Jacobson, an American living in Toronto, recounted her life there: "As attractive as living here may be in theory, the reality is something else. For me it's been one of almost daily confrontation with a powerful anti-Americanism that pervades many aspects of life."
Most Americans are unaware of the growth of anti-Americanism in Canada in recent years. A large part of it results from Canadians' dislike of George Bush's style of leadership and his hard-line policies on a range of issues, from global warming and the international criminal court to his decision to attack Iraq without United Nations approval.
Another part of the animosity toward the United States is the bad personal relationship that existed between Bush and Canada's recently-retired prime minister, Jean Chretien. His opposition to U.S. hegemonic policies reflected the sentiments of his mentor, Pierre Trudeau, who dominated Canadian politics during the 1970s and early1980s.
Relations improved after 1985 when a conservative prime minister, Brian Mulroney, came to power and worked with Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush to forge a Canada-US free trade agreement that later was expanded into the North America Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). The current prime minister, Paul Martin, seems determined to improve relations with Washington.
During President Bush's recent visits to Ottawa and to Halifax, Nova Scotia, he improved his image among many Canadians. The Toronto Star wrote editorially on December 2 that "President George W. Bush charmed Canadians yesterday with his kind words for the people in Atlantic Canada.At the same time, his whirlwind trip to Ottawa and Halifax has set relations back on a healthier track."
Still, serious economic and security problems face the two governments, to say nothing of Canada's reluctance to provide any military help in Iraq. Our northern neighbor benefits enormously from its free trade agreement with the United States and now exports 80 percent of its products to the U.S. market. It has amassed a large trade surplus which benefits Canada's economy but contributes to a serious and growing U.S. world trade deficit. Canada spends a small amount on defense and a huge amount on its national health insurance program. In effect, Canada is the beneficiary of a "free ride" on defense because of large U.S. expenditures.
A second issue that held the attention of U.S. policymakers in 1979-80 was Iran.
Washington broke diplomatic relations with Tehran when the hostages were seized and they remain frozen. After the Americans were released fourteen months later, Iran's government continued a defiant posture toward the United States and supported terrorism against neighboring states, including Israel. Even though encouraging signs of democratic reform emerged in Tehran several years ago, the country's radical clerics clamped down this year on all opposition groups, including members of parliament. The regime's anti-U.S. activities and its drive to build nuclear weapons caused President Bush in 2002 to brand Iran as one of the "axis of evil" regimes.
Iran has been accused by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) of seeking to produce nuclear-grade uranium that can be used in building nuclear weapons for use with medium-range missiles. This would intimidate Iran's neighbors and threaten Israel. And it would be a dangerous threat to U.S. interests in the Persian Gulf, not least the flow of oil to world markets at reasonable prices. Although members of the European Union are negotiating with Iran to abandon its quest for nuclear weapons, it has agreed only to suspend the program.
The Bush administration must decide soon whether to accept the Europeans' choice to continue negotiations with Iran, or press for stronger action, including economic sanctions. With the Pentagon fully engaged in quelling a large insurgency in Iraq, military pressure on Iran does not appear to be an option at present. Yet, the prospect of Revolutionary Iran becoming a nuclear power and threatening U.S. interests in the Middle East is a more worrisome problem than Iran was twenty-five years ago when the hostages were seized.
File last modified on Sunday, 18-DEC-2004 08:00 PM EST