If revenge is indeed a dish that's best served cold, the President of Cool just served up a four-star pièce de résistance for Stephen Harper.
Tuesday's announcement of Obama's planned veto of the proposed Keystone XL pipeline should not have been surprising, yet when the blow came it carried a shocking intensity.
And how did things go so badly that Canada doesn't have the heft or goodwill in Washington to add a single pipeline to a nation benoodled with them? The answer lies in the delusional hubris of Stephen Harper.
No close watcher of the president should be surprised. In myriad ways, the prime minister's personal ambition shredded our nation's single most important relationship and drew us into the toxic swamp of Washington's poisonous politics.
It's been going on for years.
In early 2008, during the heat of the U.S. primary season, the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) leaked a highly confidential communication by the Obama campaign to the benefit of the Republican Party. While no culprit was ever found, speculation fell on the Canadian embassy in Washington, and the 27-year-old son of a Republican congressman who'd been installed there at the behest of the PMO and Stockwell Day.
Unfortunately for Harper, the young candidate Obama overcame the Republican trap laid for him, displaying a masterful command of politics and the art of rope-a-dope. Wiser heads might have been chastened by that experience, and taken heed of the new president's admonition that "elections have consequences," and wiser heads might have considered the damage done to Canada when our PMO's confidentiality isn't trusted.
But wiser heads would not have been so intoxicated by a vision of Canada as a 21st-century energy superpower.
Harper's unbending ambition set him on collision course with a president intent to act on climate change. For anyone watching closely, all the signals were there that Obama would turn to the environment as a major pillar of his legacy.
So it was a foolish miscalculation for Harper to turn Canada and the oilsands into an international symbol of climate obstinacy. But that's a fight he picked. Not content to simply promote the Canadian energy industry and accommodate international pressure for action on the climate, Harper raised the stakes by muzzling scientists and launching an an all-out vendetta on prominent conservation groups.
And while the PM maintained a rigid stance on climate change policy abroad, his proxies at home unleashed a campaign to single out and vilify some of America's and the world's most illustrious scientific research foundations, governed by people like Bush's White House director of science and technology policy, the provost of Harvard, Stanford dean of law and the like.
There probably isn't a more effective way to become an international pariah than the path chosen by Stephen Harper.
But that's only part of the story. In the autumn of 2012, with America in full campaign mode, it was Benjamin Netanyahu's turn to "blatantly interfere" in the election on behalf of Republican candidate Mitt Romney's financier Sheldon Adelson, which he did by single-handedly making war with Iran an election issue.
The U.S. Republicans are certainly refining their game of luring foreign allies into meddling in American elections against their own interests. The 2012 Netanyahu war maneuver was a major step up on the 2008 Harper PMO leak.
In September 2013, Harper travelled to New York to pointedly skip (again) the opening session of the UN General Assembly, but make a high-profile appearance to lecture Obama in his backyard that Canada "would not take no for an answer" on Keystone. What does that even mean?
Yet just months later, in early January 2014, Secretary of State John Kerry was in Israel on a delicate mission to restart talks with the Palestinians. Because the State Department also has management of the Keystone file, John Kerry was important to Canada. But no sooner had Kerry left Israel than Netanyahu caused an uproar by unilaterally approving annexation of another settlement block in Palestinian lands.
By sheer coincidence, Harper arrived on Kerry's heels to serenade Netanyahu with a Beatles song, pick up an honorary degree, and rise in the Knesset to equate criticism of Israel's policies with anti-Semitism.
Translation: the White House can stuff it.
It's nothing short of bizarre that Harper publicly dissed the U.S. cabinet minister in charge of the Keystone file at the same time he's hounding the U.S. for a favourable outcome. That's not diplomacy – it's not even manners. And something's very unsettling about both leaders' connections with the Republican party and their peculiar tag-team with each other. If Barack Obama views Harper with suspicion, it's for good reason.
All this drama made a shambles of Canada's primary international relationship, which will always be with the White House.
Yet when Obama's new ambassador to Ottawa, Bruce Heyman, was "welcomed" at his first major public appearance, he was bluntly confronted over Keystone. Meanwhile, Harper blanketed Washington with a $24-million ad campaign to persuade Americans that we deserve the Keystone pipeline because we're such good allies, while giving speeches about the craziness of acting on climate change.
In reality, Canadian interests, our industry, and our environment would all be so much further ahead today had Harper adopted a responsible approach to climate change and a coherent strategy to win support from the White House.
That $24 million was all for naught. There was really only one man on the planet that Stephen Harper ever had to persuade to vote yes on Keystone. But pride goeth before destruction, as they say.
Image Credit: U.S. Embassy
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