America From Abroad : Dear Mr. President

Foreign policy may have played second fiddle--or second saxophone--to domestic problems in the U.S. presidential campaign that culminates today. But in fact, whether it turns out to be President Bush, President Clinton or President Perot, the man who occupies the White House for the next four years will spend a lot of that time coping with global issues.

What kind of advice is the winner likely to hear from the men and women who are paid to be America’s eyes and ears in foreign capitals?

World Report asked Times correspondents in Berlin, Brussels, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, London, Mexico City, Moscow, Toronto and Tokyo to step into the shoes of the political secretaries of the American embassies in those cities and offer some tips in a memo to the new President . . .


‘Give a wide berth to the issues of Quebec and elections . . . ‘

In the coming months, attention in Canada will be focused on two dreary matters: the question of independence for the French-speaking province of Quebec and national elections.


The elections have to be called by fall, 1993. They will be a contest between three major parties--all of whose leaders are held in the utmost contempt by voters--and two fringe movements of growing strength. Prime Minister Brian Mulroney is about as popular as Richard III in Act III, but the competition doesn’t rate much better.

How the elections and the never-ending Quebec question will play off one another is anyone’s guess. It might be best to give both of these sticky issues a wide berth. America has little to gain by getting involved here, and much to lose.

Part of Mulroney’s problem has been Washington’s chumminess. He is known here not as the prime minister who attacked the budget deficit and reduced inflation to near zero--which he did--but as the toady who sent Canada’s brave young fighting men off to wage George Bush’s Gulf War, and who sold off the national soul--not to mention the industrial base--to Washington and Mexico City with the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Many Canadians feel dominated, even engulfed, by their giant southern neighbor. And it doesn’t help when, again and again, Americans reveal a shameful ignorance about this country. (You may recall that Al Capone once said he didn’t know what street Canada was on. Rep. Clement Zablocki of Wisconsin expressed amazement, after a 1977 speech by Pierre Trudeau, that a Canadian could speak such good English.)

So, forget about offering joy rides on the presidential speedboat. Such gestures are viewed as sickening spectacles here. And please instruct the Marine Corps that when flying the Canadian flag, the stem on the maple leaf goes DOWN.

On Quebec: The province must have an election by 1994, and it will be contested on the issue of sovereignty.

It isn’t clear that the separatist Parti Quebecois could win either the election or a referendum on independence. Still, with party chief Jacques Parizeau trying to seize the initiative, expect stepped-up pressure on your Administration to take a stand on Quebec sovereignty.

Beware of trick questions--such as whether Washington would extend to an independent Quebec the free-trade provisions that it has already negotiated with Canada and Mexico. A “yes” answer would fuel the separatist cause, bolstering the argument that a sovereign Quebec would have a viable economy; a “no,” however, would come across in this ever more prickly land as Yankee meddling in aid of the federalists.

The consequences of a Quebec bug-out from Canada in our post-Cold War world would be far less grave than they would have been, say, 15 years ago, when the Canadian north was studded with DEW Line stations. Still, it would be imprudent to assume that a new Quebec libre would be a stable, prosperous nation on our northern border from the outset.