Charm offensive or “end run?”

220px-Robert_E._Lighthizer_official_portraitA couple of days ago I said, “perhaps, Robert Lighthizer, who is not an idiot, even when he has to make idiotic arguments, is in charge of President Trump’s trade strategy.” If that is the case, if there is a plan ~ and I believe that any plan is well beyond the wit of Donald J Trump ~ then it may be bad news for Canada if an article by Tom Blackwell in the National Post, which has been receiving a lot of attention on social media, is accurate.

Mr Blackwell, citing several unnamed sources in Washington, says, regarding the ongoing US NAFTA talks with Mexico, that “the U.S. side, fuelled in part by Lighthizer’s dislike of Freeland, has decided to not even let Canada back into the process until it makes some kind of substantive concession.” Why would Robert Lighthizer dislike Canadian Global Affairs Minister Freeland? It appears to go back to the Canadian “charm offensive” at the beginning of 2017; according to Tom Blackwell: “The source who cited the American expectation that Canada offer some kind of significant offer to get talks going again, said the situation is not helped by Lighthizer’s apparent enmity for Freeland … [which] … ironically stems from the much-touted Canadian charm offensive, which saw various politicians meet with members of Congress, who have in turn frequently criticized Trump’s approach to trade … [but] … “In his mind, she went around his back all over Capitol Hill,” said the person. “Their whole charm offensive, which I think was a good idea, Lighthizer views as an end-run.”

The CBC says that, during 2017, “key members of the prime minister’s inner circle meeting with hundreds of American politicians.” That is, broadly and generally, a good idea so long as one remembers the Vandenberg Rule which says that in matters of foreign policy ~ which includes trade, of course ~ “politics stops at the water’s edge.” What Senator Vandenberg meant, and I think it still applies, is that no matter how much American politicians might do partisan battle with one another in their legislatures, when it comes to US interests in the world, even the most vehement opposition will stand shoulder to shoulder with the administration.

If those “key members of the prime minister’s inner circle” were, indeed, trying to drive political wedges into the cracks in the American body politic, rather than just trying to highlight the integrated nature of the North American economy, then I, for one 220px-Chrystia_Freeland_in_Ukraine_-_2017_(cropped)can understand why Mr Lighthizer might see it as an attempted  “end run.” If he does then Minister Freeland has, massively, screwed up the implementation of a generally sound strategy … all in the name of virtue signalling to promote Justin Trudeau’s re-election.

I am sure that Minister Freeland understands the centrality of NAFTA to Canada’s immediate future … I’m just not sue that her boss does.

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