How Trump played Trudeau

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Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland – the Batman and Robin of Canadian foreign policy – just got played.

An authoritarian masquerading as the leader of the so-called “free world” just told them, in effect, to buzz off by imposing hefty tariffs on Canadian aluminium and steel imports.

From the outset of Donald Trump‘s vile, racist, and cruel regime, Trudeau and Freeland calculated that if they only mollified the authoritarian at every disgusting turn rather than scold, let alone confront him, then he would reward them with a diplomatic bauble or two.

Now, anyone with even a passing appreciation of Trump’s defining authoritarian nature knew that this Canadian-made “Maple syrup strategy” was destined to fail miserably.

Predictably, the know-it-all realpolitik types in the media and academia approved of the “cool” and “balanced” approach Trudeau and Freeland adopted to try to get Trump to do them a big favour by not putting big tariffs on all sorts of stuff one of the kindest countries in the world exports to its BFF – America.  

One Canadian columnist heaped praise on Trudeau’s “calm response” and “balancing act”. “There are sound reasons why Trudeau has taken a deliberate, non-confrontational approach … and so far [he has] managed to stay off his [Trump’s] protectionist radar,” the scribe wrote.

Shortly after penning his ode to Trudeau’s “fine line” diplomacy, the columnist was hired as a senior communications adviser for Canada-US relations in the prime minister’s office.  

Not to be outdone in the premature congratulatory department, The New York Times painted Trudeau as a diplomatic Svengali for engineering a never-before-used-end-run around an erratic president by appealing directly to mayors, governors and executives to protect Canada’s trade interests.

“By organizing a grass-roots network of American officials, lawmakers and businesses, Canada is hoping to contain Mr Trump’s protectionist and nationalist impulses,” the NYT correspondent wrote, apparently not realising that Trudeau’s unique bypass-the-president gambit isn’t that unique at all.


In any event, so much for “staving off” and “containing” the authoritarian’s nativist and protectionist impulses.

The corollary to Trudeau et al’s circumventing, while simultaneously playing nicey-nice with an authoritarian, has been, of course, saying and doing nothing that might upset or offend the authoritarian.

When Trump called a crowd of neo-Nazis in Charlottesville “very fine people“, after one of them murdered a young woman, Canada’s two top diplomats remained mute. When Trump called Africa a “sh*****e,” Canada’s two top diplomats remained mute. When Trump threatened to trigger a nuclear holocaust in the Korean Peninsula, Canada’s two top diplomats didn’t remain mute.

Instead, Trudeau told an interviewer: “Donald Trump has demonstrated that he’s a bit of a disruptive force. He does unpredictable things and sometimes they have positive impacts, sometimes they have negative impacts. It’s not my job to opine on, you know, what it is he chooses to do.”

Well, their silence about, and deference to, an authoritarian didn’t pay the dividends Trudeau, Freeland and all those perpetually wrong realpolitik types were anticipating.

To publicly wipe some of the dozen or so eggs Trump smeared on their pretty faces – figuratively speaking – Trudeau and Freeland sprinted onto NBC’s Meet the Press and CNN respectively on Sunday to play the interview equivalent of T-ball.

For his curious and rambling part, Trudeau invoked the invasion of Afghanistan, Normandy in June 1944 and Canada’s long-standing contribution to the US military industrial complex to protest Trump’s “insulting” tariffs on NBC.


Let’s recap: The prime minister of Canada wouldn’t say that Trump calling neo-Nazis “very fine people” is “insulting”. He wouldn’t say that Trump calling Africa a “sh*****e” is “insulting.” Trump calling Canada a “national security risk”, however, to justify tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminium is an “unacceptable” insult too far.

That Trudeau is now upset because an authoritarian didn’t exempt Canada from being “insulted” is indicative of the geopolitical coma he’s been comfortably in.

Over on CNN, Freeland posed what she likely considered a convincing, albeit rhetorical question, to American viewers, including, she hoped no doubt, Trump.

“So, what you are saying to us,” Freeland moaned, “is that we, somehow, represent a national security threat to the United States. And I would just say to all of Canada’s American friends, and there are so many: Seriously?” 

Freeland’s incredulity at what a transparent authoritarian like Trump is prepared to say and do in defence of America’s “national interest” at the expense of anyone else’s “national interest”, is stupefying.

In retaliation, Batman and Robin have slapped commensurate tariffs on a range of US goods and warned that they, and by extension, Canada, aren’t “going to be pushed around“.

On cue, the chest-thumping prompted the realpolitik types to applaud Trudeau’s and Freeland’s belated “get tough” response and to say: Enough is enough.

Enough was enough a long time ago.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.

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