Thursday, 27 March 2003

Nope, no al-Qaeda links here…

Gethain Chamberlain of The Scotsman reports that Iraqi POWs captured in Basra indicate an al-Qaeda cell is operating in the city:

Near Basra, Iraq: British military interrogators claim captured Iraqi soldiers have told them that al-Qaeda terrorists are fighting on the side of Saddam Hussein’s forces against allied troops near Basra.

At least a dozen members of Osama bin Laden’s network are in the town of Az Zubayr where they are coordinating grenade and gun attacks on coalition positions, according to the Iraqi prisoners of war. ...

A senior British military source inside Iraq said: “The information we have received from PoWs today is that an al-Qaeda cell may be operating in Az Zubayr. There are possibly around a dozen of them and that is obviously a matter of concern to us.”

Nothing to see here; move along…

Via the Command Post and the Sydney Morning Herald.

Cellucci in Canada

Some remarks made by Paul Cellucci, the U.S. ambassador to Canada, during a visit to Toronto on Tuesday are causing quite a stir on both sides of the border. His speech to the Economic Club of Toronto raised hackles in Ottawa due to his criticism of the Chrétien government’s stance on the War in Iraq, while his responses to the media after the speech have caused a stir south of the border in the lefty and centrist wing of the blogosphere. According to The Globe and Mail, Cellucci said:

Mr. Cellucci said the relationship between the two countries will endure in the long term, but “there may be short-term strains here.”

Asked what those strains would be, Mr. Cellucci replied, “You’ll have to wait and see.” But he cryptically added it is his government’s position that “security will trump trade,” implying possible implications for cross-border traffic.

Dan Drezner’s critique is reasonable, although I think he (along with Jacob T. Levy, Henry Farrell, Matthew Yglesias, and Kevin Drum of CalPundit) may be reading too much into an off-hand comment; a presidential administration has limited control over what annoyed members of Congress might attach to an appropriations bill, nor can it really control the effects of a grassroots economic boycott. And, like it or not, administration policy is that “security will trump trade”; it certainly trumps all sorts of other things, as both the War on Drugs and PATRIOT Act have proven.

On the other hand, others have different perspectives: Pieter Dorsman of Peaktalk believes that Cellucci was delivering a much-needed wakeup call to Canada’s political and business elite, Mike Watkins thinks it’s a good thing that Cellucci brought the issues of anti-Americanism and anti-Canadianism to the forefront (and notes a generational divide within his half-American, half-Canadian family), Tim G. in Toronto thinks Cellucci wasn’t nearly blunt enough, and Laurent seems to think (my French is a tad rusty) that it’s a big dustup over nothing: « le commerce prévaut sur la politique étrangère » (trade prevails over foreign politics).

As I’ve mentioned before, the Chrétien government has missed the boat on the “secure perimeter”; although Canada would have had to reform its asylum and immigration procedures somewhat to secure American agreement, the economic benefits of a Schengen-style union with an open border would greatly outweigh the loss of sovereignty associated with the arrangement (as in the case of NAFTA). As Cellucci discusses in the speech, there is increased coordination between Immigration Canada and the U.S. INS, but it’s a lot more hassle than would be necessary if both the U.S. and Canada could come to a common agreement on visa and asylum policy. Chrétien made this bed, and now he has to lie in it.

More perspectives via Feedster; Alec Saunders has a good roundup of Canadian reaction.

Jacob has just posted an update, including an email from a Canadian civil servant. There's one telling quote:

As a side note, I wonder if part of the problem in relations is that Bush's administration pays more attention to what other leaders say for domestic consumption than past administrations. There's some evidence that he's more aware of other leaders playing up anti-Americanism in their home countries than any other President before him; at the minimum, he is more bothered by it.

I think this is largely reflective of how Bush 43 deals with the world; since other countries’ leaders think nothing of using remarks he makes for domestic consumption (including everyone’s favorite bug-bears like the International Criminal Court and Kyoto, where his substantive policy is the same as Bill Clinton’s) against him, he feels entitled to do the same to them.

Dan Simon (found via Jacob) comments at length as well; the most important paragraph:

The real issue—the one about which Cellucci issued his veiled threat—is that of “homeland security”. For various reasons, the Canadian government has at times dragged its feet in dealing with terrorist groups, with the result that Canada has come to be viewed as something of a haven, and even a staging ground, for anti-US terorist cells. (Recall that Ahmed Ressam was caught importing bombing materials across the border from Canada in 1999.) As long as the border between the US and Canada remains wide open, American border security is in practice no tighter than Canadian border security, and Canada's generous immigration laws and occasionally lax attitude towards certain violent groups is thus of direct concern to US officials. Hence Cellucci's remark that “[f]or Canada the priority is trade, for us the priority is security….Security trumps trade.”

I think Dan’s hit the nail on the head.