When it comes to a president’s ability to competently manage US foreign policy, Canada is a good bellwether. It’s a small, peaceful, English speaking country with cultural values basically identical to America’s — and it’s right next door. The central core of the Canada-US relationship is no less favorable: Canada wants to sell stuff to America – good stuff America generally needs — and all America has to do to show goodwill is buy it.
Since President Obama can’t seem to figure out how to best serve America’s interests in the Middle East or Eastern Europe, it shouldn’t come as any great shock that he can’t seem to figure our how to master the exceedingly simple puzzle of Canada, either.
Bloomberg Businessweek published a fantastic report yesterday documenting the full decay of Canada-US relations under the Obama administration. It’s a breakdown that’s partially the product of a rare ideological mismatch — this is the first time since the Kennedy years that Canada has been governed by a conservative leader while America has a liberal one — though obviously the main sticking point is the future of the proposed Alberta-to-Texas Keystone XL pipeline.
Keystone is an enormous… well, keystone in Prime Minister Harper’s vision for Canada’s future as an economic juggernaut and energy superpower, and by the estimates of the Obama State department, no slouch for America either — “3,900 jobs over its two-year construction period, contributing $3.4 billion in economic growth” according to Bloomberg.
In yet another troubling instance of what I discussed last week, however — namely the eclipse of traditional left-wing economic interests by modern left-wing social justice concerns — the whole issue of whether to approve or not has become entirely hijacked by environmentalist logic, which holds economic growth and the creation of unionized construction jobs to be less important than taking a symbolic stand against the evils of oil.
And let’s be clear: symbolism is what this is all about. Reports from countless independent agencies on both sides of the border have repeatedly found no evidence that the construction of Keystone would pose any sort of environmental risk. Even if it increases America’s petroleum consumption by its most optimistic hopes, the thing will hike US greenhouse gas emissions by less than half of 1%. And even if it’s not built at all, America’s pristine wilderness will still be at risk of a spill, given that Alberta will probably just choose to ship its oil to Texas via railway cars — which studies have found to be considerably more precarious than pipelines.
Yet symbolism matters a lot to a president who has had an increasingly tough time satisfying his liberal base, a base who are the only demographic in America who oppose Keystone. They want a president who will do something ostentatiously green as a way of demonstrating his environmentalist bona fides, and so Obama continues to punt approval of Keystone month after month, year after year, most recently this past Good Friday, when he announced no decision will be made until some vague point after the US midterm elections in November. This will be a full two years after the last politically opportune moment that was once supposed to bring closure: the 2012 presidential election.
Why the President cannot simply have the courage of his convictions and do what he clearly wants — veto the pipeline — is something that continues to baffle the Canadians, who, as you might expect, have seen their hope fade into weariness, and weariness into anger, at continuing to be endlessly strung along in this fashion.
If nothing else, it seems an utterly incomprehensible way to treat an ally, and a major strategic and economic partner.
But when has Obama’s foreign policy ever been guided by any other principle?