Reading over a Carleton paper—previously cited here for failing to reference Omar Khadr—on how we might best ingratiate ourselves to the American administration and the most interesting point might be the one that ignores all matters of serious policy.
Obstacles to achieving this agenda are chronic indifference in Washington and wariness or narcissism in Canada. The answer is leadership and mutual respect. Both the current and two former US ambassadors to Canada – David Wilkins, Gordon Giffin, and James Blanchard – noted in their roundtable discussion that mutual respect and personal relations at the top are the sine qua non of good relations. Canadians and Americans have developed a vast network of contacts and informal institutions, nationally and regionally, that work well to solve the many small issues that are a normal part of bilateral life. But the government also needs to find the best way to build the political chemistry at the top that is so essential to moving the relationship forward and providing the momentum to deal with new and difficult issues. It is essential that the prime minister engage the attention of the president at the earliest opportunity and that they meet regularly thereafter to review the relationship and provide the vision and political impetus needed to fuel continued productive relations. Personal relationships matter; in our experience, we have seen examples of both the good and the ugly on this score; we prefer the good.
So much simply depends on how well the President gets along with whoever is Prime Minister for the next four years (be it Stephen Harper, Michael Ignatieff or Lisa Raitt). That probably complicates much of the serious analysis that will be attempted ahead of Mr. Obama’s arrival, but it’s probably a very necessary statement of the obvious.