Leaked info mostly just routine stuff

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Sun Media, Friday, December 3, 2010

Hurray! Canada Day at WikiLeaks. What a relief. At least the Americans talked about us a little bit. Imagine our consternation if they didn't talk about us at all. Why, it would give us "an inferiority complex," resulting in anti-American chips on our shoulders.

Now that we've had our little moment in the spotlight, the larger question is whether these revelations, or titillations, will result in any harm to in Canada's relations with the United States, or any other ally.

They may certainly affect the way our diplomats, to say nothing of the Americans, write up their cables to headquarters. One Canadian ambassador, William Crosbie in Kabul, has already offered to fall on his sword, for American reporting of his verbal comments to colleagues.

He was telling Ottawa what Stephen Harper already knew -- that Afghan president Hamid Karzai is a weak and irresolute leader of a corrupt regime. Crosbie offered his resignation Wednesday in a note to Foreign Affairs that was promptly, uh, leaked. It seems to be contagious.

For the rest, we may wonder if American diplomats in Ottawa don't have better things to do than monitoring Canadian TV shows for telltale signs of anti-Americanism, or observing that Little Mosque on the Prairie's storyline is hardly credible. Hello!

But this is what cultural attaches do -- they appraise local culture and its impact on attitudes towards, in this instance, Americans. We should be grateful that they noticed any Canadian content in a prime time schedule loaded with American sitcoms, drama series and reality shows.

Much of the reporting to Washington from Ottawa was simply routine. For example, a briefing note was prepared for President George W. Bush ahead of a trip to Ottawa in late 2004. This would have been drafted in the political section of the U.S. embassy, approved by the ambassador, Paul Celluci, and duly sent to the State Department and the National Security Council at the White House. It's not clear that Bush ever saw the diplomatic ruminations that the Martin minority government was weak and that "predictions on how long it will last range from six months to two years."

They got that right.

I happened to have lunch with Celluci in Montreal ahead of that visit and he asked for advice on what Bush should say in his speech in Halifax. "He should say thank you," I replied, "thanks for landing our planes in Gander and Halifax on 9/11."

On another occasion, a couple of diplomats from the Canada Desk at Foggy Bottom took me to breakfast and asked how I thought they should position the relationship between Dubya and Harper. "That's easy," I said, "stop calling him Steve."

This is what diplomats do -- they go around taking the pulse of foreign countries.

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