Centre for International and Defence Policy

Centre for International and Defence Policy
Centre for International and Defence Policy

“Trump needs NAFTA more than anyone else does... nothing to show for his three years”

David Aiken, Global News
4 December 2019 (link to the complete article)

They were three schoolyard chums — the U.K.’s Boris Johnson, France’s Emmanuel Macron and Canada’s Justin Trudeau — snickering about the schoolyard bully — America’s Donald Trump — confident that none of their yuk-yukking and nudge-nudging would ever make it out of their corner of the playground. And then it did. And only one of those chums got caught: Trudeau.

But the bully’s response was surprisingly charitable. He only called Trudeau “two-faced” before shrugging Trudeau off as “a very nice guy” who was hurt after Trump correctly called him and Canada out for being lightweights when it comes to defence spending.

And as both leaders jetted back to their respective national capitals Wednesday, the chattering classes in Washington and Ottawa got down to figuring out how this would affect a Canada-U.S. relationship that was already a little more than slightly chilled. 

“My view is that President Trump made his mind up about Justin Trudeau at [the 2018 G7 summit in] Charlevoix — ‘very dishonest and weak’ — and now has been confirmed in this impression because Trudeau was nice to Trump face to face and then catty about him with Macron later,” said Christopher Sands, director of the Center for Canadian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced Studies in Washington. “This is not good for their personal relationship, but the machinery of government will continue to handle most issues on the bilateral agenda for now, so there will not be an explicit price for Canada to pay now. But as we have seen with Mitt Romney and others, Trump has a long memory for slights and I expect there will be consequences down the line.”

Indeed, even though the Trudeau-Trump relationship might remain unchanged — for now — it may make things more difficult for those working on Canada’s behalf in Washington. On social media and the cable news networks, Republicans reminded anyone who would listen that, when he’s travelling outside the United States, Trump represents all America and that America’s allies at least ought to have a little respect for the office. That was a point made on Twitter by a Democratic representative — who is no fan of Trump — on Twitter.

In any event, to the extent that one believes that Trump is a strategic thinker when it comes to politics — and that’s obviously a highly debatable point — Trump has bigger problems than catty comments by Trudeau, Macron or Johnson.

For example, Trump needs to get the new NAFTA through Congress, where it’s known as the United States-Canada-Mexico agreement. As he enters his re-election year, Trump needs a foreign policy win.

      “Trump’s got nothing to show for his three years. Trump’s got nothing to show for his three years. Everything he’s touched in global affairs has turned to dust.”

said Kim Richard Nossal, a professor of political studies at Queen’s University and a longtime student of Canada-U.S. relations.

If Trudeau can push the USMCA over the finish line, Trump may more quickly forget the NATO snickers.