Prime Minister Justin Trudeau says that Canadians would appreciate it if Americans paid more attention to what’s going on around the globe. And that’s not completely surprising. No one likes to be ignored, and there is the stereotype of the ugly American who is clueless about any culture besides his own.
I wonder what Trudeau thinks of America’s past and current attention to the Middle East; to Somalia, Russia, China, Vietnam, and Korea. Historically, we have paid very close attention to countries that have threatened us, their neighbors, or their own people.
Now the common cry seems to be that we need to mind our own business and stay out of the world’s affairs. We’re told over and over again that it would have been better if we’d stayed out of Vietnam, of Iraq, that it was good that we have stayed out of Libya and Syria.
As Max Boot pointed out in the Weekly Standard, every candidate this election cycle has disavowed the United States acting as the world’s policemen. And this has been a line used for decades now, by Obama, Clinton, George H. W. Bush, Reagan, and Carter, even as, under each of those Presidents, we have taken military action in the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, Grenada Panama, Bosnia, Haiti, Kosovo, and East Timor. We seem to always be disclaiming any attention we give, and yet we are drawn into world events time and again, most often because we are asked.
The most common argument against this sort of “paying attention” is that we can’t be everywhere at once, and then, how do we choose who to defend and who to ignore? What is really galling is that the given answer is that we should step back and do nothing.
If we can’t save everyone, why save anyone? Yet I’m sure the Kuwaitis, Kurds, Croats, Bosnians, and Rwandans are glad we decided to save someone rather than stand by and allow genocide to proceed unchallenged.
Which takes us back to why we don’t pay attention to Canada. The answer is two-fold: Canada is a stable, free, Western industrialized country. Why ought we pay attention to Canada, aside from making them feel good?
What would our paying attention to Canada accomplish? As long as Canada isn’t slipping toward tyranny, disaster, or war, there’s no particularly good reason to turn our attention to our neighbor to the north.
But that doesn’t mean Canada couldn’t create both a more positive reason to pay attention to it and help solve some of the “world policeman” conundrum. Canada is a wealthy enough country that it could start stepping in during international conflicts as well.
Instead of waiting for a humanitarian crisis to get bad enough for the oh-so-effective UN to be called in (inevitably funded and mostly supported by the US), Canada could be proactive and start taking on the problems that the US, by itself, simply does not have the resources or will to be involved in.
I would be overjoyed if Canada decided to step up to plate and started taking on ISIS, since the US performance has been rather lackluster so far. I’m not sure that’s a road that Trudeau would be willing to follow, but that would be a Canada worth giving our attention.