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March 03, 2003

Taking the Liberals to task

Parrish says what Chrétien thinks

Andrew Coyne writes in the National Post
In the wake of Carolyn Parrish's typically subtle foray into the nuances of bilateral relations ("Damn Americans, I hate those bastards"), everyone said her remarks were intolerable and must be repudiated.

Well, not quite everyone. A clear majority Globe and Mail readers, in an online poll, agreed that Americans are bastards. And while the Prime Minister did not explicitly endorse Ms. Parrish's view of our neighbours, friends and allies, neither did he say anything publicly to contradict it.

But then, has he ever? This is not the first time Ms. Parrish has reminded us of her loathing of the United States, nor is she the only Liberal MP to voice such sentiments -- to say nothing of l'affaire Ducros. Has Mr. Chrétien given one speech decrying the anti-Americanism that infects so many members of his caucus? Has he made even one statement to that effect?

Not long after the Sept. 11 attacks, Tony Blair spoke out against the suggestion that the Americans somehow had it coming. Such comments, he said, betray a "hatred of America that shames those who feel it." Can anyone imagine Mr. Chrétien saying such a thing? No. Instead, he used the anniversary of the attacks to blame them on American arrogance and greed.

After so many similar episodes, the conclusion is inescapable: Liberal anti-Americanism is not a problem for Mr. Chrétien to manage, but rather an outgrowth of his own attitudes and beliefs. As with its counterparts elsewhere, the Liberal "street" is less a spontaneous popular phenomenon than the unofficial voice of the regime. She may put it in cruder terms, but by and large, Ms. Parrish says what Mr. Chrétien thinks.

I don't mean he literally hates Americans. But he plainly regards the United States as a hostile, threatening force, whose influence must be resisted as its power must be restrained. It is a deep, almost instinctive mistrust, typical of many nationalists of his era, at best defensive and at worst paranoid.

It is this lack of proportion, this reflexive opposition, so ready to ascribe ill motives and so quick to cast blame, that marks the difference between legitimate criticism of U.S. policy and what is rightly described as anti-Americanism. And it is this that best explains the stance Mr. Chrétien has taken throughout the Iraq crisis.

It is a stance, more than a policy, as I have argued before -- Mr. Chrétien has taken no position that might be mistaken for a policy. But in all of this cautious throat-clearing, a consistent theme emerges: namely, that the greatest threat to the peace at present is not Iraq, but the United States.

Until the Americans forced the question, Mr. Chrétien had not once expressed alarm at Iraq's flouting of international sanctions and inspections, or the danger posed by its possession or acquisition of weapons of mass destruction. No, strike that: Even after the issue was joined, Mr. Chrétien has said nothing to that effect, beyond a few pro forma declarations that Saddam Hussein must disarm. Indeed, until very recently he was publicly skeptical that Saddam had anything to disarm.

But as to the threat posed by the United States -- of that Mr. Chrétien has been positively seized. To the extent that Canada has had any policy in this whole affair, it has been to envelop the Americans in thick clads of United Nations procedure -- not to contain Iraq, but to contain the United States. Mr. Chrétien supports taking action under UN authority, not because it makes a U.S.-led military campaign more likely to succeed, but because it makes one less likely to occur.

This view of the world has been increasingly evident in Mr. Chrétien's recent public statements. In his Chicago speech last month, he warned that the future of the United Nations depended on "how the United States acts in the days ahead." If the UN collapses, in other words, it's your fault. Not Iraq's, for its continued defiance of 17 UN resolutions. Not France's, for obstructing every attempt to enforce them. The Americans'.

During last week's official visit to Mexico, he was more explicit. "We live in a very different world today," he explained. Because terrorist states now have nuclear weapons? No, because "we have only one superpower." And that means? That the Soviet threat has receded? That U.S. military power has preserved both democracy and the peace? No, it means "the United Nations is more needed than ever."

Then, on Friday Mr. Chrétien professed himself astonished to discover that the Americans intended to remove Saddam from power. Resolution 1441 of the UN had spoken only of disarmament, he said. "If you start changing regimes," he asked, "where do you stop?" Who was next? "I'm all right, I only have 11 months to go, but ..."

There are many possible responses to this outburst: that Res. 1441 had spoken of immediate, full and unconditional disarmament, not partial, delayed and grudging; that the "where do you stop" objection could as well be made to enforced disarmament as to regime change; or that Mr. Chrétien's position would imply that, having fought a war to disarm Saddam, the UN should then prop him back in place.

But I think Mr. Chrétien's little joke says it all. "But ..." what? Who does Mr. Chrétien suggest is next? What conquest does he suspect the Americans of plotting? How deep does his mistrust run?