(Re)building Bridges

By: Joe Walsh

President Obama with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at their press conference in Ottawa. Image Courtesy CNN.

President Obama with Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at their press conference in Ottawa. Image Courtesy CNN.

On Thursday, Barack Obama made his first international trip as president to Canada. A meeting, followed by a press conference was held between the president and Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

The comprehensive meeting between the two leaders covered trade, the economy and military action.

Canadians had voiced concern over what is being called the “Buy American” clause of the new stimulus package.

“I want to grow trade, and not contract it,” Obama said during the press conference in an effort to diffuse the notion. “I don’t think there’s anything in the recovery package that’s adverse to that goal.”

He stressed the importance of continuing international trade as, “One of the largest economies in the world, it’s important for us to make sure that we are showing leadership in the belief that trade ultimately is beneficial to all countries.”

Obama went on to say, “My administration is committed to making sure that even as we take steps to strengthen the U.S. economy, that we are doing so in a way that actually over time will enhance the ability of trading partners, like Canada, to work within our boundaries.”

“It’s about time we start repairing our image,” said Jeff Bode, a junior at Marist College. “I consider myself a Republican, but the way we have handled foreign relationships in the last eight years is despicable. No wonder nobody wants to support us in our military efforts.”

The visit also covered troop deployment in the Middle East, a topic that interested people as the president had quietly increased troop deployment in Pakistan and Afganistan after approvint the stimulus plan.

“I am absolutely convinced that you cannot solve the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism in that region solely through military means,” Obama told Peter Mansbridge of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. He stressed that military action was not the only element to the solution; diplomacy would have to come into play as well.

The president spoke with Prime Minister Harper about the 2,800 troops Canada currently has deployed in Afghanistan. New legislation passed by parliament has them pulling out in two years. President Obama asked Harper to re-evaluate; hoping to alleviate an international sense of war fatigue. He also voiced it is the United States’ interest to share the troop burden in whatever ways it can.

Combined photo of Harper and Obama. Courtesy The Canadian press.

Combined photo of Harper and Obama. Courtesy The Canadian press.

On Tuesday, the Pentagon made it public that the president approved the deployment of 17,000 troops to Afghanistan. Of the 17,000 soldiers, the initial deployment will be split into 8,000 marines and 4,000 army troops.  At a later date, the 5,000 remaining troops will be placed where needed most.

“I get what [Obama] was trying to do,” junior Chris Cholko said. “But I don’t think someone who is promising to change the country should be sneaking extra troops by the public. It isn’t sending the right message.”

Although Canadians were less welcoming to previous American president, George W. Bush, their perception of the country is already improving. According to a recent Canadian Press/Harris-Decima survey, 74 percent of respondents said they anticipate positive relations with America in the future. This is a leap from the 36% who thought the past few years brought positive relations between the countries.

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