Bush Wants Rice
So much seems to have happened over the past four weeks or so, and yet somehow none of it signals that the dynamic of international politics is in any danger of changing.
Earlier this month, President George Bush won reelection, an outcome that likely stunned a few Ottawa insiders. Within days of learning he would serve his second term, President Bush found himself at the helm of a coalition offensive in the city of Fallujah, the largest action in Iraq since the war started last year. In the past few weeks, however, events in that country have dropped off the media map. It’s unlikely this signals affairs have somehow grown dull or manageable.
No sooner had Bush won than our officials extended an invitation to the US leader to come to Canada, a trip he failed to make during his first term, or so we had thought. Evidently Bush accepted, was more than eager to see what life is like in this country, and implied we should prepare for his imminent arrival. When that message was sent, I somehow doubt many in Ottawa understood. Indeed the President would visit, but surely not before, say, summer of next year, and certainly not before the inauguration in January. But on 16 November 2004 we learned Bush would be coming 30 November, of this year, and staying through the next day.
So much is already on the November agenda. Only now is Prime Minister Paul Martin wrapping up his ten-day trip to South America and Africa, which included the APEC summit in Santiago, Chile. While in Africa Martin, on 26 November, made his case for steeling the United Nations with a mission that would include allowing the organization to go well past its mandate of involving itself in conflicts between states, to include the imperative of becoming active in controversies that erupt within countries. Then there are the international crises, so difficult to plan for and cope with whatever the circumstances. The human tragedy in Sudan goes on. At the moment, some argue Ukraine is at a turning point, and a peaceful resolution to a presidential election result in dispute, pitting a pro-Western candidate and a pro-Moscow politician, appears less and less likely. And back on 11 November 2004 Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat died, complicating a fragmented political environment in the Middle East.
Then there were the developments on the domestic front. First, and perhaps a positive for many, renegade Liberal Member of Parliament Carolyn Parrish is now free to build her own political party. On 18 November the Prime Minister threw her out of caucus. Parrish had continued to make statements some insisted were anti-American, and the week she was tossed from Liberal ranks she even made an appearance on the satirical television show This Hour Has 22 Minutes
, crushing a Bush doll underfoot. Yet none of this, say Liberals, forced Martin’s hand. While Parrish’s anti-Americanism did not make her the PM’s ally, she was sent packing only after she attacked her leader and colleagues, saying that she would not lose sleep if they were to lose the next election. For some reason, some members of the Conservative Party found this objectionable, arguing Parrish ought to have been shown the door earlier, and stressing it took a direct attack against members of her party to prompt action. What remains unclear is whether or not Parrish is forced to take up residence in the political wilderness forever, or merely for a very long time. In either case, it is now unlikely that she can work at bringing together disaffected fellow MPs, and even harder to image that she can be an extra-parliamentary organizer or worker for interests that may have objections to the direction of Canadian foreign policy.
And then we have what may be going on within the Conservative Party itself. So far not explored by the media, and in fact perhaps a story, if at all, only in the earliest stages, we just might be witnessing rifts within Tory ranks. Back on 10 November former Prime Minister and Tory Brian Mulroney was dusted off and presented as the elder statesman, speaking to the press about the state of global affairs. He remarked that it might be time for members of the world community to set aside their grievances and let old wounds heal, while seeking to cooperate with US aims and projects throughout the world. In addition, he mentioned that American authorities could be more sensitive, and learn to be more receptive to others’ interests, perhaps not rushing to unilateral solutions in all cases. It struck me that Mulroney’s remarks reflected so well what is likely the conventional belief within the inner ranks of the Liberal elite. And in an unrelated development, during the past few weeks current Tory foreign affairs critic Stockwell Day has had to defend an internal memo in which he explains why he failed to send condolences to those grieving the loss of Yasser Arafat. In short, Day suggested he abhorred Arafat’s politics, but reportedly circulated his internal email with an attachment that included an article by neoconservative David Frum. Frum is among the main architects of Bush’s neocon agenda. At least some members of the Canadian media noted both the attachment, and a sentence in Frum’s piece that hinted that Arafat might have passed away because of complications arising from AIDS. Immediately there was suggestion that Day’s agenda was somehow linked to AIDS. Day rebutted the accusations, and stressed that the bulk of Frum’s commentary dealt with Arafat’s politics. What few picked up on was any possible linkage between Day and any sympathies for the political philosophies of the neocons. If the Tory foreign affairs critic cited Frum owing to some conviction that the neocon political philosophy has more than passing merit, it may be asked how many Tory caucus members share such views. Can neocons and loyalists of a Mulroney Tory legacy co-exist without any tensions?
But back to Bush. Most of us are now familiar with certain aspects of his governing style. There’s unilateralism. Then we have Canadian officials worried about laissez faire, believing the Bush visit may represent some breakthrough on bilateral trade issues, and perhaps some are hoping for a concrete announcement on softwood lumber or beef. Undoubtedly border security will be addressed, as security has come to be one of the defining issues of the US administration. Yet I am somewhat unable to explain why there are two features of the Bush style that evade commentators in this country. In fact, both Bush presidents have displayed an ability to throw off observers by invoking some surprise, or last minute, initiative. Then there’s the calculated selection of seemingly weak personalities for key government posts. Back in 1988, when George Bush Senior ran, there were rumours in advance of the Republican National Convention that a Bush running mate would be an official from Indiana, and immediately there was speculation that Senator Richard Lugar, a foreign affairs specialist, would be selected to run for Vice President. Seemingly out of nowhere Bush Senior went with Dan Quayle. The current Bush needs a new Secretary of State, and current national security advisor Condoleezza Rice may not have to worry about sending an application for the commissioner’s posting at the NFL for at least another four years. Bush wants Rice. Bush also wants to visit Ottawa, but not to speak before Parliament. Instead, Bush wants to travel to Halifax to thank the people of the Maritimes for the help they offered American travelers during the 9/11 crisis. Canadian officials just might learn much by coming to understand what President Bush wants.
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