Saturday, August 20, 2005

The USA is a bully

This will not come as news to most people. But it's interesting to see who's just woken up to the fact: the very people who negotiated the Free Trade Agreement on behalf of the Mulroney government. After the latest softwood-lumber fiasco, with the US thumbing its nose at the ruling of NAFTA's Extraordinary Challenge Committee, which, like every other tribunal of NAFTA and the WTO, has ruled in Canada's favour, Derek Burney has announced, "It's the tactic of the schoolyard bully...." Pat Carney: "I always said they were jackboot negotiators...." Gordon Ritchie: "There is a strong case to be made that when you're dealing with a bully, and the bully punches you, you should punch him back." All this on the front page of The Globe and Mail, the newspaper that has come to its senses seventeen years after it announced, falsely, on the morning after the bitter free-trade election of 1988, that Canadians had endorsed the FTA. (In fact, a majority of voters opted for either the Liberals or the New Democrats, both of whom had strongly opposed the deal.)

Bullies do not understand "Please do the right thing. Please keep your word." But will the Martin government have the guts to punch back? I'm not optimistic. The Liberal Party reneged on its anti-free trade position when Jean Chr├ętien replaced John Turner as leader, and Martin doesn't have the nationalist instincts of Chr├ętien. I'd like to see Canada seriously reduce the energy flow to the US for a few weeks. (How about in January?) Yes, we'd be hurting our own economy, but you either stand up to the bully or you don't. Although most people in the States haven't a clue, the US economy is hugely dependent on raw materials and manufactured goods from Canada. In the longer run, Canada should look to other markets to significantly reduce its dependence on the US. (I hear there's a country called China that's looking for oil.) Ideally, I'd like Canada to withdraw from NAFTA and strike a trade deal with the European Community. All this would take political backbone of a kind I doubt any Canadian government would have.

The US is a superpower whose hegemony is on the wane. I strongly suspect that a century from now historians will mark the 1990s as the apogee of US power. Circa 1989 marked the end of the Soviet empire. What few realized at the time was that it also may well have marked the beginning of the end of the American empire. It was instructive in the lead-up to the Iraq War that the US was unable to bully even some of the smallest countries on the UN Security Council into backing its war plans. With the Soviet bugaboo gone, the incentive to back the US was diminished. Even so, the US continues, with some success, to bully nations economically into promising it an exemption from International Criminal Court proceedings. And make no mistake about it, with its economic power being increasingly challenged in the coming decades, the US will be even more tempted to throw its considerable military weight around. And it will look even less favourably on countries in its backyard--particularly that great source of wealth next door to the north--that want to control their own resources. Standing up to the bully is likely to take even more courage in times to come.

Aug. 24 update: As I was saying, don't hold your breath waiting for Paul Martin and his bourgeois-revisionist running-dog lackeys of US imperialism to punch back.

Aug. 30 update: Now an interim report of the WTO has ruled against Canada. (Was it Sartre who said, "Hell is endless softwood-lumber rulings"?) None of this alters the fact that the US is a rogue state, going its own way regardless of what any tribunal or international body says, demanding that other nations live up to international law and their treaties with the US, but itself flouting international law and and its own treaties at will.

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