A helping hand in Washington

Paul Martin went to Washington for two days last week. Before leaving, he saw the U.S. President for a 20 minute meeting, followed by a four-question press conference, and photos with wives. The Martins stayed for lunch. The U.S. media ignored the visit. The Canadian prime minister was followed closely throughout his full schedule by the Canadian media.

So did Martin only go to the U.S. capital to show himself to Canadian voters?

Canadians know that conducting relations with the U.S. is a big part of what a national government does. Auditioning for the job of prime minister means passing the gravitas test. Does the candidate exhibit seriousness of purpose in pursuit of Canadian goals when meeting the American president?

Martin failed the test. There was no outcome from the White House meeting, other than to show that George W. Bush knew Martin's name. At the press conference, all four questions went to Bush. The two American questioners asked questions on Iraq; the news was about Bush's reaction to the famous photos showing how Americans were treating their prisoners. (He condemned the action). The two Canadian questioners did not miss the chance to question Bush. Martin's spoken role was to translate Bush into French.

Martin was still able to come up with some bad ideas however. On day one, he trotted out one of his pet projects at a luncheon address on Canadian foreign policy. He wants to see a political G20 of heads of governments to mirror the G20 which is made up of finance ministers. Martin suggested that the new G20 would allow for political leaders to speak freely without set speeches. (The next day allowed for set speeches on the White House lawn, so presumably he does not want to eliminate them altogether).

For Martin, political leadership is needed to bypass bureaucracy, and make real progress on issues such as the WTO (Doha round) trade negotiations, or reconstruction of Iraq. This means bringing world leaders (plus translators) together to sit around a table and talk.In the last two years strong opposition to the Western agenda for world trade and finance has emerged from an important new alliance of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The G20 idea is designed to bring this under control before it can rally the support of most of the world. Putting the four powers of the South into a grouping with the G7 countries would allow the West to work out a divide-and-conquer strategy.

The G20 would include countries such as Mexico, South Korea, Indonesia, Nigeria and the Ukraine, along with the current G8. Getting a chance to arm twist, browbeat, threaten and otherwise attempt to exploit differences among the only countries able to establish an independent program for world development would be a real triumph for U.S. foreign policy. Whatever differences Washington has with old Europe, uniting around corporate globalization is not one of them.

The G20 idea has the support of the influential Institute on International Economics, a true Washington insider group well connected to Ottawa. It pushed the U.S. agenda on free trade with Canada, and the NAFTA. They are happy to see Martin doing some of the lifting on this idea. The Canadian business chieftains who were down sniffing the cherry blossoms along the Potomac the week before Martin like the G20 idea. It fits with the Davos, IMF, way of making the world safe for profitable investment.

So Martin was not just looking to put himself on pre-election display. He was also intent on reminding the U.S. establishment he could carry their ball should they want to call his number.

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