As many already know, the transparency activist website Wikileaks is in the process of publishing the text of about 250,000 US diplomatic cables this week. The revelations from the leaked cables range from the scandalous (and even criminal) to the mundane. But, like the previously released Afghanistan and Iraq war logs, these documents hold unique value to historians. The New York Times referred to the leaked cables as “Fodder for Historians”. The History News Network recently posted a forum for historians to discuss the value of these sources and how historians should use the released diplomatic cables.
For Canadian historians, the records of the war logs and the newly released diplomatic cables offer unique firsthand insights into the evolving relationship between Canada and the US in the early years of the twenty-first century. As I wrap up my introductory course in post-Confederation Canadian history, I find the comments contained in a recently published US diplomatic cable from the embassy in Ottawa regarding the 2008 Canadian federal election a fascinating look at the state of Canada-US relations. This source provides excellent evidence for a study of the changing historical relationship between these two countries.
Text from US embassy report on 2008 Canadian federal election, 22 September 2008:
NAFTA? Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative? Border crossing times? The future of NORAD? Canada’s role in NATO? Protection of Canadian water reserves? Canadian sovereignty in the Arctic and the Northwest Passage? At least among the leaders of the major parties, these issues have not come up so far in the campaigns, although they seize much public attention in normal times. Even in Ontario and Quebec, with their long and important borders with the U.S., the leadership candidates apparently so far have not ventured to make promises to woo voters who might be disgruntled with U.S. policies and practices. However, these may still emerge as more salient issues at the riding level as individual candidates press the flesh door to door, and may also then percolate up to the leadership formal debates on October 1 and 2.
(C) Why the U.S. relationship appears off the table, at least so far, is probably be due to several key factors. An almost inherent Canadian inferiority complex may disincline Canadian political leaders from making this election about the U.S. (unlike in the 1988 free trade campaigns) instead of sticking to domestic topics of bread-and-butter interest to voters. The leaders may also recognize that bilateral relations are simply too important — and successful — to turn into political campaign fodder that could backfire. They may also be viewing the poll numbers in the U.S. and recognizing that the results are too close to call. Had the Canadian campaign taken place after the U.S. election, the Conservatives might have been tempted to claim they could work more effectively with a President McCain, or the Liberals with a President Obama. Even this could be a risky strategy, as perceptions of being too close to the U.S. leader are often distasteful to Canadian voters; one recurrent jibe about PM Harper is that he is a “clone of George W. Bush.” Ultimately, the U.S. is like the proverbial 900 pound gorilla in the midst of the Canadian federal election: overwhelming but too potentially menacing to acknowledge.
To keep track of all of the leaked US diplomatic cables relating to Canada, visit the CBC.ca database here.