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Did Obama Lose Canada?

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Derek H. Burney and Fen Osler Hampson seem to think so:

Permitting the construction of the Keystone XL pipeline should have been an easy diplomatic and economic decision for U.S. President Barack Obama. The completed project would have shipped more than 700,000 barrels a day of Albertan oil to refineries in the Gulf Coast, generated tens of thousands of jobs for U.S. workers, and met the needs of refineries in Texas that are desperately seeking oil from Canada, a more reliable supplier than Venezuela or countries in the Middle East. The project posed little risk to the landscape it traversed. But instead of acting on economic logic, the Obama administration caved to environmental activists in November 2011, postponing until 2013 the decision on whether to allow the pipeline.

Obama’s choice marked a triumph of campaign posturing over pragmatism and diplomacy, and it brought U.S.-Canadian relations to their lowest point in decades. It was hardly the first time that the administration has fumbled issues with Ottawa. Although relations have been civil, they have rarely been productive. Whether on trade, the environment, or Canada’s shared contribution in places such as Afghanistan, time and again the United States has jilted its northern neighbor. If the pattern of neglect continues, Ottawa will get less interested in cooperating with Washington. Already, Canada has reacted by turning elsewhere — namely, toward Asia — for more reliable economic partners.

If I am to understand correctly, the Obama jilting will lead to a future in which Canada buys its F-35s from Russia, and builds the Keystone pipeline through China. This is a nice entry in the fun genre of foreign policy articles characterized by the claim that some Country X, utterly dependent upon the United States in security or economic terms, will threaten to take its ball and go play with some other superpower. The most common entries involve Israel (here Caroline Glick explains how Israel should cultivate a client relationship with China), but we also see them from Georgia, Taiwan, Poland, and a few others. The articles are usually (but not always) written by Country X nationals, and aspire to generate positive attention for Country X by trying to create the illusion of domestic discord; in this case, by implying that Mitt Romney might be a better friend to Canada, and that if we’re not careful the Canadians won’t even maintain benevolent neutrality when the Asian People’s Alliance, the Central American Federation, and the Euro-Socialist Pact come for our coal and women.

As a general rule it’s best to ignore this genre, or make it the object of scorn and fun. Patrons need clients, but patrons are rarely dependent upon any specific client; dependency runs the other way, and in the international system it’s exceedingly difficult for clients to recalibrate their entire foreign and economic policy around a different patron.

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