Trump’s new top diplo­mat no soft leftie

Vancouver Sun - - NP - JOHN IVI­SON

‘There’s no way to sugar-coat this — he’s a hawk’s hawk and he’s not sym­pa­thetic to our pro­gres­sive agenda.” That’s how one se­nior mem­ber of the Lib­eral gov­ern­ment re­acted to the news that Rex Tiller­son had been ousted as U.S. Sec­re­tary of State and re­placed by CIA di­rec­tor Michael Pom­peo.

Don­ald Trump’s tweet that he had re­placed his top diplo­mat didn’t so much spread around world cap­i­tals, as det­o­nate.

In Ot­tawa, the Trudeau gov­ern­ment took some com­fort from the fact that North Amer­ica is re­garded as a do­mes­tic file by the Trump Ad­min­is­tra­tion, and that the Pom­peo ap­point­ment was more about re-align­ing pol­icy on North Korea, Iran and China.

“Tiller­son had no in­flu­ence on NAFTA and I doubt (Pom­peo) will ei­ther,” said one of­fi­cial.

But that op­ti­mistic view is not held uni­ver­sally in the up­per reaches of the Trudeau gov­ern­ment.

Tiller­son’s de­par­ture will be blow for Chrys­tia Free­land, the Global Af­fairs min­is­ter, who had built a strong re­la­tion­ship with the for­mer Exxon ex­ec­u­tive.

There is also a sense that the NAFTA dis­cus­sions have, af­ter eight rounds, moved out of the hands of the pro­fes­sional ne­go­tia­tors and will be de­cided by the pres­i­dent’s in­ner team — of which Pom­peo is now de­cid­edly a mem­ber.

The op­ti­mists in the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment point to a Cato In­sti­tute study that rated Pom­peo a per­fect free-trader in Congress, dur­ing his time as a mem­ber of the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives from Kansas. He voted nine times out of nine to op­pose trade bar­ri­ers and four times out of four to op­pose trade sub­si­dies.

But on so­cial is­sues too, Pom­peo is a clas­sic, right-of-cen­tre hard-core Repub­li­can — a for­mer Gulf War vet­eran and Har­vard Law School grad­u­ate who will en­able Trump’s more im­pul­sive in­stincts.

Pom­peo’s track record in Congress is enough to alarm any­one of a sen­si­tive, lib­eral dis­po­si­tion.

He de­cried Mus­lim lead­ers who fail to con­demn ter­ror­ism as “po­ten­tially com­plicit,” said that wa­ter­board­ing is not tor­ture, worked to un­der­mine the nu­clear deal with Iran and in­stead sug­gested send­ing in bombers, called for the death sen­tence for whistle­blower Ed­ward Snow­den, op­posed reg­u­lat­ing green­house gas emis­sions, said abor­tion should only be al­lowed to save the lives of moth­ers, op­posed same-sex mar­riage, and is a life­time mem­ber of the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

On vir­tu­ally ev­ery is­sue, he is di­a­met­ri­cally op­posed to the Cana­dian gov­ern­ment.

Re­gard­less of any ide­o­log­i­cal ob­jec­tions, there can be few doubts in Ot­tawa that he will back the pres­i­dent’s po­si­tion on steel and alu­minum tar­iffs aimed at, in Trump’s words, “coun­tries that treat us the worst on trade and on mil­i­tary.”

Trump has al­ready linked Canada’s ex­emp­tion to a sat­is­fac­tory con­clu­sion of NAFTA ne­go­ti­a­tions — and that seems to re­quire a rem­edy to what he calls the “highly re­stric­tive” treat­ment of Amer­ica’s farm­ers on dairy, eggs and poul­try, cour­tesy of Canada’s sup­ply man­age­ment sys­tem.

Given his vot­ing record, Pom­peo is un­likely to view Cana­dian pro­tec­tion­ism with any de­gree of empathy, no mat­ter how much the U.S. sub­si­dizes its own farm­ers.

Canada may be on slightly firmer ground on mil­i­tary spend­ing — the other ex­plicit link to tar­iff ex­emp­tions made by Trump.

Last June, Canada said it would spend an ex­tra $60 bil­lion over 20 years, tak­ing mil­i­tary ex­pen­di­ture as a share of GDP to 1.4 per cent by 2024/25. The plan to add ca­pa­bil­ity was re­port­edly well-re­ceived in Wash­ing­ton and helps ex­plain, in part, the gen­er­ally good odour in which Canada is held.

While this in­crease falls short of the NATO’s two per cent tar­get, it does rep­re­sent a 20 per cent in­crease over time and an end to ab­so­lute spend­ing de­clines.

Or it would if it were en­acted as promised. But the plan re­quires a qua­dru­pling of cap­i­tal spend­ing over six years to $13 bil­lion, af­ter years of spend­ing not much over $3 bil­lion.

The first-year cap­i­tal spend­ing al­lo­ca­tion has al­ready fallen short of the $6 bil­lion fore­cast in the de­fence re­view doc­u­ments and there are se­ri­ous doubts about whether the Na­tional De­fence de­part­ment has the ca­pac­ity to spend the amount al­lo­cated.

The Trudeau gov­ern­ment has al­ready proven it can do busi­ness with an ad­min­is­tra­tion with which it dis­agrees pro­foundly on just about ev­ery is­sue.

But with Pom­peo’s pro­mo­tion, that task just be­came much harder.

The Lib­er­als have backed them­selves into a cor­ner by say­ing de­fence of sup­ply man­age­ment is one of their “red lines.”

That may be a prom­ise they can­not keep. It may prove that con­tin­ued shel­ter from the storm comes at the price of lib­er­al­iz­ing pro­tected sec­tors of the econ­omy and ac­tu­ally spend­ing the money al­ready pledged on the na­tion’s de­fence.

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