TNR‘s Canadian ownership might be helpful when exposing the machinations behind the Obama campaign’s Austan Goolsbee NAFTA-Gate kerfuffle, but not if this is all Michael Blanchfield’s got (and not much better than Bob Shrum).
First and foremost, the U.S. media has identified his chief of staff, Ian Brodie, as the leaker of the diplomatic cable written by the Chicago consulate reporting on the Goolsbee meeting. Harper’s domestic political foes are advancing a narrative that has already angered Democrats, and would be bad news for bilateral relations: that Harper was trying to do a favor for the GOP by tossing a piece of political dynamite in front of Obama’s train as it was barreling down on Ohio.
“They will do what is necessary to help Republicans. They’re a nasty, unprincipled bunch, who are incompetent to boot,” Bob Rae, foreign affairs critic and member of the opposition Liberal party, wrote on his blog. “Is it possible that the prime minister himself knew about this information and authorized the leaks in order to discredit the campaign of Mr. Obama for president of the United States?” New Democratic Party leader Jack Layton asked.
All of this forced Harper into issuing a denial–that neither Brodie nor anyone in his office had anything to do with the leak. Harper called the leak regrettable and “blatantly unfair” to Obama’s campaign, and has promised a full internal investigation to find the source. But his attempts to distance himself and his office aren’t ringing true to some. As one opposition Liberal MP correctly noted, leaks from the Harper government are rare. It is well known that Harper’s office keeps cabinet ministers–not to mention diplomats abroad–on a tight leash. These days, even the most seasoned of former diplomats check with Ottawa before talking to the media.
Unless we attribute omnipotence to Harper as a leader in his own government and party, it could just be a mistake. Andrew Sullivan, Obama’s leading Republican fan, calls this episode a “bum-rap” (replete with a decent CBC News video). After all, between the three contenders active in the American presidential field, the most FTA-skeptical is Senator Clinton (or is she really skeptical?). With Obama there is at least the possibility of a “Nixon Goes to China” moment, when President Obama sells free trade to the Midwest and saves Canada’s bacon. To reach that future, even Canada’s Conservatives can see the value of hedging bets between McCain and Obama, without granting Clinton any favors—Canada’s disdain for Clinton’s free trade views would probably award her conservative votes.
Perhaps, though, this episode presages a diplomatic era, when Ottawa does have spit ball accuracy in America’s politics.