19 March 2009

Bush in Canada

The story didn’t get much play in the US media, and (very surprisingly) almost no mention at all (outside Calgary) in the Canadian media, but George Bush gave his first post-presidential (paid) speech to a bunch of oil barons in Alberta a couple of days ago. He was under extremely heavy security -- the kind a mass-murderer would get, not that of a visiting dignitary -- the entire time, making no public appearances. His appearance drew protests, even in the highly-conservative* city and provice of Calgary, Alberta.

*(“conservative” in the Canadian sense of the term, not the American sense.)

We have mixed feelings about this. Like most Americans (and most Canadians), we are not big fans of George Bush, his policies or view of the world. But that’s not really the problem.

The problem is that allowing him into Canada in the first place is against the law. It’s against Canadian law, it’s against the international treaties Canada signed. Canadian law specifically bars people suspected or accused of war crimes into the country, and it’s a fact that Mr Bush has been accused of exactly that. Such people are not let in, period, full stop. No exceptions -- except, apparently, this time.

It is also Canadian law that people who have US criminal records -- as Mr. Bush does -- cannot be freely admitted into the country.

Finally, visitors to Canada cannot earn money here without a work permit. This is also very clearly spelled out in the law. These are the rules I have to play by, the rules every other newcomer to Canada has to obey, why doesn’t (now private citizen) Bush have to?

In making an exception to these laws, and also (importantly) spurning Canada’s treaty obligations to arrest, detain and investigate accusations of war crimes, PM Harper and his administration undermine the law and its importance to society. They undermine the strength of the accords this country signs, which of course reduces those accords to a joke. He also sends a clear message to immigrants everywhere that being rich and/or famous exempts you from “the rules.” These days in particular, that is not a particularly welcome -- or sensible -- view. Much of the mess the world is in today is a direct result of leaders in government and business who decided that they were too rich, too important, or too self-righteous to have the laws and charters of the world apply to them.

Canada’s immigration policy imposes some inconvenient hardships on those who wish to come here, particularly the inability to work until you are granted permanent resident status (which takes several years). To watch anyone, nevermind who, sail in here and rake in the cash, flouting all the major immigration laws and regulations -- and particularly when the person in question should, according to customs and treaty obligations, be arrested, detained and shipped to the Hague -- is outrageous and hypocritical. I know Mr. Bush is not trying for permanent residence, and I know lots of Americans (such as athletes and entertainers) come to Canada and earn money -- but every single one of them (except Bush) still has to submit to background checks, pay taxes on what they earn, hire lawyers to get a work permit and generally follow the rules, with the distinct probability that if they do not pass muster they will be denied admission. But as he has done his entire life, Mr. Bush not only gets a pass on this, he takes full advantage of it.

Canada should have said simply (and early on), “We would love to host Mr Bush as a former president of the US, but due to our laws and international commitments we must advise him not to attempt entry into Canada or any other country that respects its obligations under the Geneva Conventions.”

Amy Winehouse, by comparison, would have an almost impossible task before her if she to want to do some concerts in this country -- despite the demand for her services and her cultural success -- because of her drink-related convictions and widely-publicised drug problems. Canada Customs would take one look at her and almost certainly (but politely) turn her away. How is this different than Mr Bush, who has at least one DUI and cocaine conviction on his record? Is it the tattoos? The rat’s nest hairdo? The bad makeup?

It is bad enough that America itself has not yet owned up to its obligations to the world when it comes to investigating and prosecuting torture and war crimes, but the political fallout and societal chaos of the US government arresting a former president and other top officials is at least comprehensible and the desire to avoid this understandable. Canada, however, is not under any obligation to concern itself with those consequences, as they don’t affect us. Does anyone really believe that if Canada had arrested Mr Bush, the US would retaliate?? With what??

This is just one more example of the lack of genuine “grown-ups,” ie people who actually honour and respect the laws they swear allegiance to, in leadership positions in the world. It is the second-largest source of the issues we face in the world today. I’m hopeful that this trend has now found its bottom and is starting to reverse, but clearly we have a long way to go before the West returns to being a fully civilised society that honours the rule of law.

Having said all that, we were at least partially cheered by some of what Mr Bush had to say in his speech (not that this excuses anything). It seems to us he made a genuine (for him) attempt to be classy and gracious -- not the first time he has tried to do so, it should be noted -- with regard to the current president. He specifically repudiated those who have succeeded him in the Republican party, saying (paraphrasing him, his English is very poor as you know) that it is “essential” to support the president and that his policies succeed, even if you disagree with them. A lot of Republicans clearly need to get this memo, starting with former VP Darth Dick “STFU” Cheney.

He also said it was not proper for him to criticise Obama, at least in the early days of his administration (he has only been there for two months, let’s not forget), and that he loves his country more than he loves politics, which is why he wants Obama to succeed. These are all sentiments we strongly support, and not just because “our guy” is in power right now; we felt the exact same way during Bush’s first term, before it became obvious that the level of hypocrisy, incompetence and corruption in the Bush administration precluded any possibility of success.

“He was not my first choice for President, but when he won, I thought it was good for the United States of America,” Bush said at the speech, for which he was paid approximately $250,000 (Canadian -- I wonder if he knows we’re not at par anymore?).

He added “I want the President to succeed ... [Mr Obama] deserves my silence and if he wants my help he can pick up the phone and call me.”

I consider Mr Bush a deeply misguided, intellectually-challenged and dishonest man, but even I have to acknowledge and respect his patriotism. Interestingly, even at this carefully-calculated, high-security event playing to a friendly audience, he apparently got some pushback on his decisions regarding Iraq and Afghanistan. I hope he will reflect on that.

I will continue to hope that he eventually understands the connections -- and consequences -- between his actions and his unpopularity. Trials, for example, are an excellent way of discovering other people’s perspectives on your actions, don’t you agree?


Anonymous said...

The not at all anonymous Mark Glenn writes,

It's been real weird listening to the republicans loudly explain away the blunders of the last decade as the fault of democrats while they held a complete lock on power during that period. I found this great quote from Barney Frank (Massachusetts Congressman and Chairman of the Financial Services Committee) here:

Barney Frank

It's titled "Is There an Antidote to the Republican Amnesia?" and it sums up the whole thing nicer than I ever could. Here's the opening line just to give you a taste. "Memory eventually fails us all, but apparently the decline strikes one party far more than the other."

He goes on to openly blast the GOP for their "collective amnesia" in blaming the Dems for the current financial crisis, the war in Iraq, and everything else that makes their party look so repulsive as to render them un-electable for an entire generation. I guess shifting the blame by re-writing history is the only course of action they can take to fix their tarnished image.

chas_m said...

I was looking over my archives in advance of doing today's redecorating of the site, and found a quote of mine from May 2002:

"Why do the Republicans always have to be the party of NO! NO I CAN'T HEAR YOU LALALALALALALA!"