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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 October 2018

O Canada! Trump's stinging attacks on its friendly neighbour point to one thing: old friendships mean nothing

The breakdown in the relationship with America should be seen as deeply worrying by virtually all of the US’s allies everywhere else

US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada. Evan Vucci / AP
US President Donald Trump and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau at the G7 summit in Charlevoix, Canada. Evan Vucci / AP

You can admit it: you don’t think about Canada a lot. Even though it is home to the world’s 10th largest economy, it is kind of a stealth country. Being boring is its secret weapon.

Despite its importance, Canada manages to stay below the radar, skirt past controversy. You won’t read about a BDS movement targeting Canada. You won’t hear speeches denouncing Canada at the United Nations. No one is going to war with Canada.

Well, no one that is, except Donald Trump. And that is a problem, even for the rest of the world, even for those places that devote almost no thought to what is going on in Ottawa or Toronto or Montreal, who wouldn’t know the maple leaf on its flag from the loon on its one dollar coin.

A loon is an aquatic bird with a haunting cry. When I went to summer camp near the Canadian border as a child, the spooky calls of the loons kept many of the younger kids awake and terrified all night long. And from now on, when you think of Canada, you should be just as afraid as those kids were.

Because although Canada has not changed a bit, the fact that the president of the United States has recently launched a series of stinging verbal and economic attacks on America’s neighbour to the north should make you very uncomfortable.

There are several reasons for this. Canada is the Miss Congeniality of countries, the most likeable place on the planet, known for doughnuts and ice hockey. The most controversial thing ever produced within Canada’s borders (which are big as it has the second largest land mass of any country) could well be Justin Bieber.

If America is going to attack such a likeable place, imagine how it might treat a place that is more complicated or difficult.

Next, Canada is not just one of America’s two closest neighbours; it is probably America’s closest ally on Earth. When America has offended the world in the past, Canada has stood by its side. When America has called for allies or support, Canada has usually been there. Canada has been dependable –and more than that, Canada has been a boon to America. Canada is America’s second largest trading partner, behind the exchange of more than half a trillion dollars.

And what’s more, according to data from the American government, the US, thanks to robust trade in services, actually has a small trade surplus with Canada.

Yet Mr Trump does not appear to believe those numbers from his own US Trade Representative’s office. Or – perhaps worse – he simply does not want to believe them because attacking Canada on trade seems to work for him politically.

In any event, Mr Trump has not only targeted Canada (among other countries) with a recent wave of tariffs, he has followed that up with a confrontation with Canadians in the wake of the most recent G7 summit – which happened to be held in Canada.

There, Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau did what heads of government do and spoke out against Mr Trump’s tariffs and, like other G7 ministers, as well as international financial officials and experts around the globe, condemned the idea of launching trade wars.

Mr Trump responded by calling Mr Trudeau “very dishonest and weak”, refusing to sign the G7 joint communique and having his aides compound the attacks with further condemnation of Mr Trudeau.

It was ugly and it appeared even uglier in light of the president’s subsequent full-on lovefest with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.

Within days, Canada’s foreign minister Chrystia Freeland went to Washington and gave a speech that was blistering in its condemnation of Mr Trump, signalling both how seriously offended Canada was by the affront and that it would not take it lying down.

“You may feel today that your size allows you to go mano-a-mano with your traditional adversaries and be guaranteed to win,” she said. “But if history tells us one thing, it is that no one nation’s pre-eminence is eternal.”

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Read more from David Rothkopf:

A bad day for world trade threatens to return the US to the protectionism of the 1930s

We are witnessing the death throes of the US as the dominant power of the free world

A new Cold War with the US and China as bitter rivals would be a grievous mistake

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Disturbingly, Ms Freeland’s remarks came almost simultaneously with a speech by the German foreign minister warning of the same thing, condemning the US for “one-sided” and “damaging” policies targeting its allies and arguing that the EU could no longer rely on the US.

Like the relationship with Canada, the breakdown in the relationship with America’s transatlantic allies should be seen as deeply worrying by virtually all of the US’s allies everywhere else. Why? Because Canada and Europe are America’s closest friends but more than that, the alliances with those countries are the very foundations of the past three-quarters of a century of US foreign policy.

When the US relationship with a country like Canada is thrown into question, everything is thrown into question. The US can no longer be depended upon. Old friendships and commitments apparently mean nothing. And that should be every bit as chilling for international “friends” who are betting on US support as the cries of those loons were for my campmates many years ago.

David Rothkopf is CEO of The Rothkopf Group, a visiting scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and author of The Great Questions of Tomorrow