View Full Version : Democracy fells yet another anti-American government.

01-29-06, 09:48 AM
An Act of Hygiene
Democracy fells yet another anti-American government.

Sunday, January 29, 2006 12:01 a.m. EST

QUEBEC--Remember the conventional wisdom of 2004? Back then, you'll recall, it was the many members of George Bush's "unilateral" coalition who were supposed to be in trouble, not least the three doughty warriors of the Anglosphere--the president, Tony Blair and John Howard--who would all be paying a terrible electoral price for lying their way into war in Iraq. The Democrats' position was that Mr. Bush's rinky-dink nickel-and-dime allies didn't count: The president has "alienated almost everyone," said Jimmy Carter, "and now we have just a handful of little tiny countries supposedly helping us in Iraq." (That would be Britain, Australia, Poland, Japan . . .) Instead of those nobodies, John Kerry pledged that, under his leadership, "America will rejoin the community of nations"--by which he meant Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, the Belgian guy . . .

Two years on, Messrs. Bush, Blair, Howard and Koizumi are all re-elected, while Mr. Chirac is the lamest of lame ducks, and his ingrate citizenry has tossed out his big legacy, the European Constitution; Mr. Schroeder's government was defeated and he's now shilling for Russia's state-owned Gazprom ("It's all about Gaz!"); and the latest member of the coalition of the unwilling to hit the skids is Canada's Liberal Party, which fell from office on Monday. John Kerry may have wanted to "rejoin the community of nations." Instead, "the community of nations" has joined John Kerry, windsurfing off Nantucket in electric-yellow buttock-hugging Lycra, or whatever he's doing these days.

It would be a stretch to argue that Mr. Chirac, Mr. Schroeder and now Paul Martin in Ottawa ran into trouble because of their anti-Americanism. Au contraire, cheap demonization of the Great Satan is almost as popular in the streets of Toronto as in the streets of Islamabad. But these days anti-Americanism is the first refuge of the scoundrel, and it's usually a reliable indicator that you're not up to the challenges of the modern world or of your own country. In the final two weeks of the Canadian election, Mr. Martin's Liberals unleashed a barrage of anti-Conservative attack ads whose ferocity was matched only by their stupidity: They warned that Stephen Harper, the Conservatives' leader, would be "George Bush's new best friend"! They dug up damaging quotes from a shocking 1997 speech in which he'd praised America as "a light and inspiration"! Another week and they'd have had pictures from that summer in the late '80s he spent as Dick Cheney's pool boy.

Mr. Harper, the incoming prime minister, will not be "George Bush's new best friend"--that's a more competitive field than John Kerry and Jimmy Carter think. But at the very least a Harper government won't rely on reflexive anti-Americanism as the defining element of Canadian identity. No cheery right-wingers south of the border should exaggerate what happened on Monday. It was an act of political hygiene: The Liberal Party was mired in a swamp of scandals, the most surreal of which was a racket to shore up the antiseparatist cause in Quebec by handing out millions of free Canadian flags, a project which so overburdened the domestic flag industry the project had to be outsourced to overseas companies, who at a cost of $45 each sent back a gazillion flags that can't fly. That's to say, they had no eyelets, no sleeve, no halyard line for your rope and toggle and whatnot. You have to lean a ladder up against the pole and nail it into position, which on a January morning at Lac St-Jean hardly seems likely to endear nationalist Quebecers to the virtues of the Canadian state. Millions of dollars were transferred to "advertising agencies" and "consultancies" run by the party's pals and in return they came up with a quintessentially Liberal wheeze: Even if you wanted to salute it, you can't run it up the flagpole. As a forlorn emblem of Trudeaupian nationalism, that's hard to beat.

And yet and yet . . . in throwing the bums out, Canadian voters declined to subject them to full-scale humiliation. Even with viable alternatives for all tastes--conservative, socialist and Quebec separatist--it seems one can never underestimate the appeal of a party of floundering discredited kleptocrat incompetents led by a vindictive empty suit who fought one of the most inept campaigns in modern political history. They clung on to over 100 seats and the votes of Canada's three biggest cities. Truly, the Liberals are one of the most amazingly resilient parties this side of Kim Jong-Il's.

Stephen Harper has to live with that political reality, but, as he's done with his party, he'll move the country incrementally. On the environment, his views are compatible with Mr. Bush, John Howard and now Tony Blair: That's to say, if "climate change" is a problem, Kyoto's not the answer to it. On missile defense, the Conservatives will string along with Washington because it's the easy option and we'll be covered by it anyway: Even Canadians aren't prepared to argue that if there's something headed toward Winnipeg or Montreal, we'd rather the Americans minded their own bloody business and didn't tell us about it. But it's a good gauge of the deterioration in U.S.-Canadian relations that a quintessential piece of postmodern, humbug multilateralism--an issue that required Canada to be minimally supportive without being helpful, at no political cost and in return for some lucrative contracts for northern defense contractors--was whooped up by the Liberals into a big scare about Washington's plans for the "weaponization of space." On missile defense, Mr. Harper will be more down to earth in every sense.

But will there be Canadian troops in Iraq or wherever's next? No, not in any meaningful sense. The sad fact is, even if we'd wanted to liberate Baghdad, we have an emaciated military worn to the bone. But it goes beyond the lack of equipment and lack of transport that now afflict what was, 60 years ago, the world's fourth largest military. In April 2002, the Pentagon wished to confer the Bronze Star on five snipers from the Princess Patricia's Canadian Light Infantry in Afghanistan for their service in . . . killing the enemy. Ottawa put the request on hold, relenting grudgingly only after the matter was made public. It seems the Canadian government's main objection was a reluctance to let it be known that our military still, er, shoots people, and extremely accurately. The backs of our five-dollar bills celebrate the armed forces, but they're all unarmed--peacekeepers, elderly veterans, etc.

Like much of the European Union, we're so heavily invested in the idea that we've found a kinder, gentler way we can scarcely bear to contemplate the reality. At the Washington state/British Columbia border last week, two guys on the lam were hightailing it through Blaine heading for the 49th parallel with the cops in hot pursuit. Alerted to what was coming their way, Canada's (unarmed) border guards walked off the job. For a country whose national anthem lyrics are mostly endless reprises of the line "we stand on guard for thee," we could at least stand on guard. A few years back, I was chatting with a border guard at the Derby Line, Vt./Rock Island, Quebec, crossing. A beat-up sedan came hurtling northward and we jumped out of the way. She sounded a klaxon. By then the driver was halfway up the Trans-Quebecoise autoroute and, if he ever heard her stern warning, he declined to brake and reverse back to the post to show his papers. "Oh, well," she said to me, "it's probably nothing."

Canadians have been reluctant in the last four years to accept that we no longer live in an "it's probably nothing" world. Many Continentals feel the same way. Unlike his hollow predecessor, Stephen Harper is a thoughtful man who understands the gulf between self-mythologizing and the harder realities. You can't change a free country unless you persuade free people to change their minds, and he will at least start that tough job. He doesn't have to be George Bush's best friend, and he may even be more effective at opposing him on trade and agriculture disputes. But he could try being Tony Blair's and John Howard's best friend and reconnecting us with other traditional pals from whom Canada's become increasingly estranged. He could honor our small but brave contribution to Afghanistan by flying out and meeting them on the ground.

But even if he does nothing else, he'll bring to an end a decade of self-defeating sneering. The ayatollahs at least flatter America as a seducer--the Great Satan--which is a more accurate and sophisticated construct than deriding her as the Great Moron. The difference between sniping at the Taliban and sniping at Washington is that in the latter case we're firing blanks.

Mr. Steyn is a columnist for Canada's Western Standard and Maclean's magazine, as well as for National Review and the Atlantic Monthly.