Opinion: Another Obama gaffe


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Hidden deep within the transcript of the other night’s Democratic debate before some 15,000 union members in Chicago’s Soldier Field was yet another little-noticed and embarrassing error by Barack Obama.

His party opponents, especially frontrunner Hillary Clinton, have been on his case for the last couple of weeks, suggesting he is too naive and inexperienced to become commander in chief after a state legislative job and barely two years in the U.S. Senate. Obama in one debate said he would indeed meet with some of the world’s dictators in his first year as president without preconditions as part of his ‘new page’ diplomacy.

Then in a major foreign policy speech designed to enhance his credibility as a potential leader he suggested he might unilaterally bomb the U.S. ally and nuclear power Pakistan if that country’s president was insufficently on the program about chasing Al Qaeda leaders. Then Obama ruled out the use of nuclear weapons, which Clinton suggested presidents should never do.


In the Chicago gathering before an Obama-friendly hometown crowd, the subject turned to trade in general and the North American Free Trade Agreement in particular, which bothers union members fearing job losses. Obama said upon becoming president, ‘I would immediately call the president of Mexico, the president of Canada, to try to amend NAFTA, because I think that we can get labor agreements in that agreement right now.’

Problem is, as some Harvard graduates might know, our next-door neighbor Canada doesn’t have a president. For more than 140 years now it has had a parliamentary system and ...

...the top political leader is the prime minister, who is the head of the controlling party in Parliament.

Then last Friday in Iowa Mitt Romney was asked by a German reporter what he thought of Germany. ‘President Merkel is wonderful, and will do great things for her country and for the world,’ he replied. Oops, Angela Merkel is Germany’s chancellor, not president.

The gaffes recall a 1999 interview of candidate George W. Bush by a Boston TV reporter who suddenly asked him to name the head of Pakistan. Bush didn’t know and the mistake was cited for weeks as proof of his inexperience in foreign affairs; it was called a lack of gravitas at the time. (Quick, what is the name of Canada’s prime minister?**)

In fact, that concern was a major reason for Bush choosing Dick Cheney with his long Washington experience as running mate; Cheney provided instant gravitas. And in the post-9/11 world, Bush has come to know Pakistan’s Pervez Musharraf very well.

Canadians are more than familiar with American ignorance and indifference about their country as a peaceful neighbor. Obama would do well to get a staff briefing on the country and its complex economic, cultural and political links to the U.S., ties that actually form the largest bilateral economic relationship in the world. More than $1 billion a day passes across the border.

In fact, despite all the talk and friction over American trade with Asian countries, there’s more trade flowing just across the single Ambassador Bridge linking Detroit to Windsor, Ontario, than the total that goes between the United States and Japan. Bush will visit Montebello, Quebec, Aug. 20-21 for a North American summit.


(**Canada’s prime minister, by the way, is Stephen Harper of the new Conservative Party, who formed a minority government in February 2006 after running on a platform that included closer ties to the U.S. than the previous 12 years of Liberal governments.)

--Andrew Malcolm