Canada in the Crossfire

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Regular Spectre contributor Heather Wokusch recently provided the Guest Commentary for CBC Radio Canada. This is what she told her (we hope many) listeners.



Canadian Prime Minister Martin is due to meet George Bush today at the "Summit of the Americas" in Mexico. While missile defense, terrorism and trade issues will no doubt top their agenda, an equally crucial matter will be hidden from the headlines: the raging Franco-US battle and its troubling implications for Canada.



Last year, France's strong opposition to the war in Iraq angered the U.S., and since then there's been a sharp jump in transatlantic tensions. Six Christmas-time flights between Paris and Los Angeles were halted because the FBI said it had found "suspicious" names on passenger lists. It later turned out none of suspected passengers had presented any security risk whatsoever - one was a Welsh insurance salesman and another was a young child. France immediately accused the FBI of sloppiness, and US officials shot back by saying Air France was infiltrated by Islamic extremists.



Then political fires were stoked when a prominent French judge threatened to take US Vice President Cheney to court over allegations of bribery and money laundering.  It concerns a time when Cheney was CEO of the energy giant Halliburton, which was negotiating a lucrative deal in Nigeria. These charges will not sit well with the White House - especially in an election year.



But the Bush Administration is fighting back. Pentagon adviser Richard Perle just released a book entitled An End to Evil: How to Win the War on Terror which claims, among other revelations, that France should be teated as an enemy and, "We should force European

governments to choose between Paris and Washington."



And this is where the new Canadian Prime Minister steps in.



Former Prime Minister Chrétien had angered the White House by refusing to send troops to Iraq, and in response Canada got the cold shoulder from Bush. In contrast, Martin has pledged to improve the relationship between Canada and its southern neighbour, but he's walking on thin ice.



If Pentagon advisers publicly warn Europe to choose the US over France, what about Canada? The Bush Administration's "You're with us or against us" policy leaves little room for manoeuvring.



Perle's book also calls for aggressive action against Syria and North Korea, and of course, the White House would love Canadian troops to participate.



So Prime Minister Martin, and indeed every Canadian, has a choice: either support the United States in its "pre-emptive" wars or instead, choose the path of international diplomacy. Either risk the lives of Canadian troops in Bush's ongoing battles or simply refuse.



Because ultimately it isn't a choice between the United States and France, but rather a choice between perpetual war and sustainable peace.



The bottom line: a strong and opinionated Canada is a powerful counterbalance to US intransigence, and one that will be ever more crucial in the years ahead.



Heather Wokusch is a free-lance journalist. She can be contacted via her web site: www.heatherwokusch.com