Just being in the presence of Barack Obama elevated the stature of Stephen Harper last week.
It looked as though our prime minister had more purposes in life other than beating political opponents to death. One of his former cabinet ministers, Monte Solberg, has been saying that Mr. Harper needs a vision for the country, something other than damage control. Maybe this president can inspire him to think in loftier terms.
Mr. Harper handled himself impressively in his press conference with the new American megastar. Little of substance was accomplished at their meeting — unless you wish to count that breathtaking commitment to a new clean-energy dialogue. But the media didn’t challenge the two leaders to demonstrate concrete signs of progress. All that mattered was atmospherics and, from that point of view, the meeting was a robust success.
Tough questions? Forget about it.
Barack Obama arrived right on the heels of committing another 17,000 troops to Afghanistan.
For a president promising a new way, the escalation of a war as the first major foreign policy act was somewhat jarring. Haven’t we seen this movie before, someone might have asked him. A president ups the ante, a war drags on, a president can’t recall the troops for fear that he and his country will look weak. The quagmire scenario results.
Afghanistan, if history is any indication, does not submit to foreign occupation. Our own little Canadian experience, Mr. Obama might note, is just another added bit of evidence.
On the business of war, Mr. Harper escaped any questioning on his apparent reluctance to take issue with Guantanamo, specifically in the case of the Canadian, Omar Khadr. Mr. Obama has moved, thankfully, to shut down Gitmo, that appalling vestige of the Bush administration.
The issue of the NAFTA-gate controversy, the Canadian government’s bit of leakage that hurt Mr. Obama during his primaries battle with Hillary Clinton, fortunately did not come up.
It would have required some fancy footwork on the part of our PM. Nor did many other big differences between the two leaders — such as their positions on the Iraq war — impinge on the most friendly proceedings.
Bilateral relations were fantastic, the president and the prime minister said, not pausing to note that, for the first time in our history, passport requirements and armed men have become staples along the world’s longest undefended border.
No one wanted to spoil the fun by pointing this out as well as a lot of other things. What resulted was a good summit, made all the better by media compliance.