What are we doing in a trade war with Canada? Why have we inducted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau into some new axis of evil? And why is President Donald Trump picking on Trudeau and Canada? “If we don’t make a fair deal for the U.S. after decades of abuse, Canada will be out,” Trump tweeted on Sept. 1 after talks to update the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada faltered.
Trump frequently goes rogue when it comes to his social media tweets, but the behavior of the United States, through the president’s negotiating team, seems more in line with confrontation with a rival, rather than efforts to work things out with a close friend. That’s particularly troubling, because in a world where hostility to the United States has ebbed and flowed — and never gone away — Canada has always been our friendly neighbor to the north.
The fact that Trump is demonizing and baiting this country’s second largest trading partner (just behind China) means that a lot more is at stake than Canadian import duties on dairy. Indeed, by declaring that any agreement will be totally on our terms, Trump threatens to rupture relations with a fellow democracy and an ally on the other side of this country’s longest international border.
Canada is a vital partner in NORAD, the 60-year agency with a mandate to monitor and defend North American airspace, which is the cornerstone of the Canada-U.S. defense relationship. After the 9/11 terror attacks, in which 24 Canadians were among the dead, Canada joined with the rest of NATO in invoking Article 5, which states that an attack on one member is an attack on the whole alliance. Canada immediately joined the War on Terror.
In 1979, when Iranian revolutionaries took scores of Americans hostage, Canadian Ambassador Ken Taylor hid six Americans and spirited them home to the United States. Upon Taylor’s death in 2015, the State Department declared that “Ambassador Taylor’s courageous actions exemplify the enduring nature of the special relationship between the United States and Canada.”
Quite apart from the importance of our historic alliances, the bullying and strong arming of Canada makes absolutely no sense. Not economically. Not geo-strategically. And while we don’t believe the dire, worst-case predictions of what will come from this Trump-generated crisis — various commentators are now anticipating retaliatory tariffs, restrictions on movement and a complete rupture in the U.S.-Canada alliance — there will be a cost. And it will be a cost we don’t need. But, even if this was just about trade, experience has shown that trade wars, in the long run, never help the American consumer.
Let’s take a breath, and pause. And let’s not rupture our longstanding, good relations with our friends in Canada. JN