History was made as George W. Bush introduced a foreign policy that will assuredly echo for generations to come. But like throughout his first term, the President met harsh criticism. His inaugural speech, which set America’s bold new role in the world, was ridiculed as everything from impractical to insane. Granted, Bush petitioned for “the expansion of freedom in all the world” in his speech, a very lofty goal indeed. The President also declared “All who live in tyranny and hopelessness can know the United States will not ignore your oppression or excuse your oppressors” But could this simply be idealistic rhetoric?
Those very doubts were addressed by the President later in his speech. Bush asserted, “Some I know have questioned the global appeal of liberty, though this time in history-four decades defined by the swiftest advance of freedom ever seen-is an odd time for doubt.” But wait, maybe if the speech wasn’t overly idealistic and impractical, then the flaw could be a dreaded continuation of unilateralism. Bush has been rebuked for damaging friendships with such countries as Canada, Germany, and France. But on his first foreign trip after being re-elected, he could improve those relations, become less of a unilateraleralist, and put action behind his inaugural address, all the while pleasing his critics.
Wrong. As Bush visited Canada to reconcile problems, the media faulted him, even as he did as they advised. He showed an openness for multilateralism, but what played out was proof that national self-interest trumps multilateralism. Nevertheless, his critics still found something to gripe about, despite the fact that he had at least tried it their way and showed that his speech wasn’t just empty rhetoric.
The Washington Post explained the supposed mistake of the President. Peter Baker reported that “Bush leaned across a table in a private meeting and lectured Prime Minister Paul Martin about opposing the U.S. missile defense system.” Canadian news described the discussion as “stunning” and “arm-twisting” but the lecture was simply this remark from Bush: “I’m not taking this position, but some future president is going to say, ‘Why are we paying to defend Canada?'”
The President’s comment was extremely valid, which could be why the Post didn’t include what that comment actually was, but instead only criticized it as rude. But the following information reported by The Globe and Mail is far from impolite: “That Washington is ‘paying to defend Canada’ is a simple fact. Because Canada sheltered under the U.S. nuclear umbrella throughout the Cold War, we (Canada) did not have to build a deterrent of our own. Because the United States has aircraft carriers and nuclear submarines patrolling the waters of North America, we can afford to get by with a minimal navy. Because Washington defends the skies over this continent, we can save billions on missiles and jet planes. In fact, it is because of all this that Ottawa can afford the expensive social programs that many Canadians believe are the mark of our superiority over the United States. Washington subsidizes not just our defense but our way of life.”
So in reality, the eye-opener isn’t Bush’s supposed arm-twisting lecture, but the rather minimal contribution being asked of Canada. A member of Canada’s Liberal Party and proponent of missile defense agreed, “it doesn’t make much of a difference whether Canada gives its blessing to the project, which will install missile interceptors in Alaska and California.” This information strongly suggests that the effort is essentially symbolic of a partnership between the Bush administration and other nations, which is exactly one of the biggest complaints the media has against Bush. Yet look at the reaction when he attempted greater multilateralism, at a purely symbolic level no less!
The reaction of the press proved that multilateralism isn’t necessarily the issue as much as it is another basis on which to attack Bush. When their terms were in fact met, they had to resort to another complaint. This time their complaint was voiced through an Ontario MP, who clamored, “They should mind their own damned business.” But minding their own business is exactly what Bush warned may happen to Canada, which ignited the whole complaint in the first place! So the press basically left the President with two options; he can mind his own business and be ridiculed once again as a unilateralist, or he can continue to leave the media “stunned” and Canadians “furious,” as reports stated, through his rude and arm-twisting efforts at multilateralism.
In this trap of self-contradictions, the media have displayed their true colors, not as unilateralist or multilateralists, but as harsh critics of the President, and for no logical or conviction-driven reasons. And as far Canada goes, defending them through the missile shield is in America’s best interest but Canada gets tremendous benefits from the defenses America provides. And Bush giving sound advice about sustaining Canada’s defense is anything but shocking, bullish, and rude.