Little fallout over cables referring to Canada

WASHINGTON—With so much diplomatic egg on their faces almost everywhere else, American officials are showing signs of relief that at least Canada’s share of the humiliating WikiLeaks disclosures is minor.

A few harsh words here, a few private irritations there. But barring more serious disclosures to come — among them, a potentially damaging secret U.S. cable quoting remarks by Canada’s ambassador to Kabul — the four long-awaited Canada memos that emerged Wednesday registered barely a blip on the bilateral radar.

“I’m delighted, frankly. Compared to some of the highly sensitive cables involving other countries, the material on Canada is completely benign,” said former U.S. ambassador Gordon Giffin, who was stationed in Ottawa during the Clinton era.

“There is some foolishness there — a cable from someone in the embassy with a burr up their butt about the CBC and nothing better to do. But that’s just someone going a bit off-course.

“Nobody of consequence would have read it. And I can’t see that kind of foolishness dislodging the fundamental reality of such a thoughtful, serious and deep bilateral relationship.”

The phrase “Canada’s habitual inferiority complex” grabbed Wednesday’s instant headlines Wednesday as the documents emerged. But even that apparent slight was blunted by the larger sentence, which offered “scene-setting” diplomatic advice for President Barack Obama on the eve of his 2009 visit to Ottawa.

“Your decision to make Ottawa your first foreign destination as president will do much to diminish — temporarily at least — Canada’s habitual inferiority complex vis-à-vis the U.S., and its chronic but accurate complaint that the U.S. pays far less attention to Canada than Canada does to us,” the diplomatic cable from the U.S. embassy in Ottawa told the president.

Former U.S. ambassador Paul Cellucci reacted with surprise — and moments later, relief — when informed by the Toronto Star that his 2004 memo to George W. Bush had been posted to WikiLeaks.

In it, Cellucci describes how Canada was engaged in “soul-searching” about its “decline from ‘middle power’ status to that of an ‘active observer’ of global affairs, a trend which some Canadians believe should be reversed.”

Not an easy thought for many Canadians. Not inaccurate, either. And not exactly comparable to the Saudi King telling the Americans they must “cut the head of the snake” in neighbouring Iran.

Six years later Cellucci, now an attorney in Boston, stands by his words, though they were never intended for public eyes.

“It’s just not my style to write about political personalities that way. But besides that, there was never any reason to because the Canada-U.S. relationship transcends personality — it’s bigger than that,” he said.

“When you are dealing with the leader of Russia or a European country, personality is a bigger factor in relations. And so I understand why my diplomatic colleagues would go there. But when it comes to Canada and the U.S., it’s just in a different category.”

The New York Times, one of five news groups to preview the WikiLeaks trove of more than 250,000 stolen State Department, dedicated its own story to the Canada cables Wednesday, playing up U.S. perceptions of anti-Americanism at the tail end of the Bush era.

The Times account quotes an as-yet-unreleased cable describing how Canadians “always carry a chip on their shoulder” in part because of a feeling that their country “is condemned to always play ‘Robin’ to the U.S. ‘Batman.’ ”

Another note of potential embarrassment for Ottawa emerged Wednesday with the disclosure that French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner assumed the role of a Canadian diplomat during his first meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to reconsider the case of Omar Khadr.

Kouchner handed Clinton “a paper concerning Khadr, a 15-year-old Muslim of Canadian origin. Clinton agreed to review the case,” according to a diplomatic summary of the February 2009 meeting.

The WikiLeaks dump could cause further political ripples in Ottawa, however, over an as yet unreleased cable from the U.S. embassy in Afghanistan that purportedly quotes Canada’s ambassador to Kabul in a red rage over Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

Ambassador William Crosbie has offered to resign even before the cable is released, theNational Post reported.

Crosbie is reported to have said to his U.S. counterpart, Karl Eikenberry, in February, 2010, that Karzai was misusing his power and had hijacked the country’s electoral process to tilt the last national vote in his favour.

Upon learning that his words may come back to haunt him via WikiLeaks, Crosbie sent a cable to Ottawa, offering to quit over the coming furor.

“The (U.S.) report accurately notes that I was emotional and quotes me as saying that Karzai’s actions ‘made my blood boil,’ Crosbie wrote to his political masters in Ottawa.

The Post report says Crosbie and Eikenberry met last Saturday to discuss the impact of the WikiLeaks disclosures on the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Eikenberry apparently told Crosbie that the leaked documents could “feed Karzai’s paranoia and mistrust of the U.S.” and make him more confrontational toward the Americans and other NATO countries.

With files from Allan Woods

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