A recent poll of Canadian attitudes towards American foreign policy finally illustrates that when it comes to the war on terrorism Canada does not in fact stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States as Prime Minister Jean Chrétien once pledged.
Although nearly half of respondents believed that as the world’s sole superpower the United States had a responsibility to ensure global security, nearly seven in ten agreed with the statement that America was “starting to act like a bully with the rest of the world.” Further, the poll found Canadians lukewarm about the prospect of a war against Iraq.
The poll, said experts like Michael Sullivan of Strategic Counsel, showed that while Canadians shared many of the same priorities as Americans, such as combating terrorism, they didn’t necessarily share many of the same values.
“As Canadians, we take pride in our role as peacemaking and peacekeeping. I think that that is part of our personality. We take pride in medicare, we take pride in our peacekeeping role. And when we look at the U.S., we don’t see those kind of values necessarily reflected,” said Sullivan.
Canadians pride themselves as being members of the world’s only “moral superpower,” one that exercises a “soft power” when it came to world affairs. Why employ soldiers where endless conferences might do the trick? It’s an attitude which has sparked an arrogance no less pronounced then the one Americans are accused of possessing. Unfortunately, unlike America’s alleged arrogance, ours is based on little more than wishful thinking.
Ashbrook Center analyst Robert Alt recently remarked that Canada played the role of the United States’ little brother, the “kid who would get beat up by every passing punk, but for the fact that his brother is the biggest kid on the block. No one really respects the little brother, because they know that there is no merit in this accident of birth.” Without the United States, he wrote, Canada would be little more than a third world country with a thriving hockey league.
They’re the kind of comments that get the backs up of Canadians, but unfortunately they’re not far from the truth. Thanks to the bulwark of America, Canada is essentially isolated from having to make the tough decisions that America’s leaders have been forced to make every day since September 11, 2001. When it comes to the war over values and morality, it is Canada that is losing each battle.
That was best illustrated by the prime minister’s comments this past September during an interview in which he suggested that the blame for September 11 rested in part on the United States due to global economic disparity. Before that, Chrétien refused to commit soldiers to the war against the Taliban for months until it was clear that the United States and Britain didn’t particularly care if Canadians were involved. Only when the request came reluctantly did the Canadian government commit our forces to the war.
As for our reputation as peacekeepers? It is the United States which commits the bulk of soldiers for United Nations missions. Currently over 200,000 American soldiers are stationed around the world, a force more than twice as large as the entire Canadian Armed Forces. And before the peacekeepers move in, it tends to be American soldiers who, in Alt’s words, have the “nasty habit of doing the heavy lifting of actually creating the conditions for peace, leaving it to those nations like Canada whose moral indignation at the unpleasantness of international conflict prevents them from displaying the moral resolve necessary to make difficult choices.”
We may be proud of values like medicare and peacekeeping, but it may be more telling that al-Qaeda attacked the United States and not Canada. It is because the United States represents the values of the West to the world, values which men like Osama bin Laden find to be so threatening. Occasionally nations must flex their muscle in order to defend those values. That means while American soldiers are fighting across the planet to defend the ideals that Canadians once held dear, our leaders will be at yet another international conference enjoying the crème brûlée and decrying the bully to the south of us. How lucky we are to have a neighbor that gives us that opportunity.