Trudeau visits Washington, as the locals sound alarm bells about the president
Alexander Panetta, The Canadian Press
Published Tuesday, October 10, 2017 11:58AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, October 10, 2017 5:08PM EDT
WASHINGTON -- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has arrived in Washington at a jittery moment in the U.S. capital, to the sound of metaphorical alarm bells being rung by American power-brokers about the possibility of U.S. President Donald Trump triggering different international crises.
The warnings are coming from corners that would normally be tight allies of a Republican administration -- yet they are now expressing concern that erratic presidential behaviour might cause chaos on trade and national security.
The biggest U.S. business group has launched a lobby effort to save the North American Free Trade Agreement, worrying that the president might be sabotaging the renegotiation.
Trump did nothing to dissuade that impression. He told Forbes magazine in a just-released interview he hopes to invoke NAFTA's exit clause to negotiate a better deal later: "I happen to think that NAFTA will have to be terminated if we're going to make it good. Otherwise, I believe you can't negotiate a good deal."
But this town is especially fixated on another, more eye-popping criticism of Trump.
The Republican who leads the Senate's foreign-affairs committee, Bob Corker, has declared the president needs adult supervision, is in constant danger of unleashing chaos and could wind up causing, "World War III."
This is the thorn-filled thicket awaiting Trudeau.
Amid disputes over tariffs on lumber and Bombardier planes, and the NAFTA talks, Trudeau plans to discuss several trade concerns with the president at the White House on Wednesday and will also be meeting a more pro-NAFTA contingent of powerful U.S. lawmakers.
Canada's foreign affairs minister admits her concern.
Chrystia Freeland was asked to comment on the spat with Corker as she participated Tuesday in a women-in-business summit organized by Fortune magazine and although she declined to discuss personalities, she did share some worries.
Freeland said she's worried because old, successful institutions are starting to break down. She credited post-Second World War trade organizations, as well as the United Nations, the World Bank and the IMF with safeguarding more than 70 years of prosperity.
"There are a lot of things that are concerning in the world right now," Freeland said when asked about Corker's comments. "I think this is probably the most uncertain moment in international relations since the end of the Second World War .
"(The postwar order) has really worked. With time it has embraced more and more people into a peaceful, prosperous world. It's been great. And that order is starting to fracture. As a result, we're seeing tensions in lots of different places."
She mentioned North Korea as one example.
The most notable thing about Corker's comments, perhaps, is that they were made in public. In doing so, he yanked back the curtain on a conversation that has been rampant in Washington for months.
In private and in off-the-record chats, numerous Republicans criticize the president and fret about instability.
One well-placed military officer aware of high-level discussions confirmed Corker's account.
He described in an off-the-record chat with The Canadian Press how senior brass work constantly to block the worst ideas from the White House for fear of escalating tensions and provoking war.
He cited three indispensable players and offered a dark prognosis of what should happen if chief of staff John Kelly, Defence Secretary James Mattis, or national security adviser H.R. McMaster left government: "Start panicking."
Then there's the trade front.
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, whose political donations in the last election cycle went 96 per cent to Republicans and four per cent to Democrats, according to the transparency site OpenSecrets.org., is expressing worries about NAFTA as the latest round of talks is set to start Wednesday..
On Tuesday, chamber president Tom Donohue fretted that the negotiations have been designed to fail.
He singled out his own country's proposals -- on auto parts, on dispute resolution, on Buy American procurement rules and on a sunset clause that could result in NAFTA's termination after five years.
"There are several poison pill proposals still on the table that could doom the entire deal. ... All of these proposals are unnecessary and unacceptable," Donohue said, according to a prepared text.
"Ladies and gentlemen, we've reached a critical moment. And the chamber has had no choice but ring the alarm bells."
He said the business lobby will ramp up its efforts on Capitol Hill. It will also send the White House a letter signed by more than 300 state and local chambers expressing support for NAFTA.
Freeland is Canada's lead minister on the NAFTA file and she has expressed concern before about the potential for instability.
At the last round of talks, she gave her colleagues from the U.S. and Mexico three books, including Margaret MacMillan's "The War That Ended Peace," about how, at the birth of the 20th century, a backlash against globalization, fear of terrorism, a fast-changing economy and a rise in nationalism led to the First World War.