By Brian Lee Crowley
Halifax Herald and Moncton Times and Transcript

Ottawa has now made its choice, for the moment at least, on where it stands in the conflict with Iraq. And now our domestic divisions must be set aside as we ponder how to deal with the consequences of our leaders’ decisions.

For the record, I think that Canada made the wrong decision, and I feel embarrassed and shamed by the moral cowardice and hypocrisy of our leaders. Others disagree. Let’s leave it there for now.

But whatever our thoughts and feelings about the war against Saddam’s regime, all Canadians continue to share certain national interests which we owe it to ourselves to think about clearly and without self-delusion.

One of those national interests, I would even say the paramount national interest, is maintaining positive and constructive relations with the United States. Now there are all kinds of reasons of self-interest that should push us in that direction, but much more importantly, it is the right thing to do on its own terms.

While we have not supported the Americans on this particular battle, they remain the leading power in the world, a power on whom we have come to rely not only for our economic well-being but also our military security and many other things as well. And we do this, not out of accidents of geography and history, but chiefly because our two countries grow out of such common experiences and values.

America is the most powerful nation in the world in part because it embodies many Western values which Canadians share. They value individual liberty, the rule of law, freedom of speech and religion, free trade, open markets, the self-realization of each individual, democracy, fairness and a whole host of other things in which Canadians don’t merely have a stake. They are the bedrock of our civilization.

We can disagree on how to realize those values, but Canadians slip too easily into the narcissism of small differences — the belief that our identity depends on the gnats of difference between the US and Canada, rather than the elephants of similarity and shared convictions.

No matter how much you may disagree with what the Americans are doing in Iraq, you do yourself, our country and our civilization a disservice if you forget that the vast bulk of Americans are pursuing this course because they honestly believe that it is the correct course to follow to preserve and defend values which Canada itself has many times freely chosen to spill blood over. Agree or disagree, the vast bulk of Americans are now prepared, yet again, to shed their blood and treasure for the freedom and security of strangers, an admirable trait shared by far too few peoples on the face of this planet.

When this dispute is over, we will again want to make common cause with the Americans at other times and in other circumstances, just as we do today in the war on terrorism, in rebuilding Afghanistan and Kosovo and in the defence of North America. They are our friends and allies, not because circumstance forces that relationship on us, but first and foremost because we are very much alike and we believe that that is the right way for us to be.

Very secondarily, but very importantly, it is also true that our self-interest inevitably leads us to want to preserve the very best relationship that we can possibly have with our neighbours. Can there be anyone in Canada who does not know that we live by exporting? That almost one half of everything made by the private sector in Canada is exported? That nearly 90 percent of that is bought by Americans? And that while the US is also dependent on that trade relationship (38 of the states have Canada as their largest international trading partner), it is simply less vital to them than their market is to us?

Canadians are still unable to put themselves in the place of a US psychologically devastated by the mass murder of September 11th. They still do not grasp how security has displaced every other value driving US policy. Nor do they fully grasp the vulnerability of our country and our economy to American decisions aimed, not at punishing us, but at ensuring the safety of Americans in a dangerous world. And given our recent decisions, it is naïve to think that Washington will be in any mood to compromise on its plans to, say, tighten border security in order to eliminate any “collateral damage” that may cause Canada. They won’t refuse to help. They simply won’t even get around to noticing that there’s a problem.

When our deepest values coincide with our most powerful interests, there can be little doubt as to the right course to follow. We must now bend our every effort to repairing our relationship with the US. Much more than our prosperity is at stake.

Brian Lee Crowley is president of the Atlantic Institute for Market Studies, a public policy think tank in Halifax. E-mail: [email protected].