Even as he reaffirmed the US' deep friendship with their country, President Bush defended his policy on Iraq Wednesday before an audience of Canadians, declaring that a free Iraq will be "a model to reformers from Damascus to Teheran."
Bush concluded his two-day trip to the north with an address in Halifax, Nova Scotia, in which he sought to mend fences with expressions of affection and humor, while unambiguously re-embracing a course that most Canadians have condemned.
"Sometimes even the closest of friends disagree, and two years ago we disagreed about the best course of action in Iraq," Bush recalled, alluding to Canadians' overwhelming opposition to the US-led invasion that toppled Saddam Hussein.
"Yet as your prime minister made clear in Washington earlier this year, there is no disagreement at all with what has to be done in going forward," Bush went on, with Prime Minister Paul Martin listening respectfully. "We must help the Iraqi people secure their country and build a free and democratic society."
In robustly defending his own foreign policy before a nation of skeptics, Bush invoked the memory of Mackenzie King, Canada's prime minister during World War II.
"Of course, we should protect our coasts and strengthen our ports and cities against attack," Bush said, recalling King's words. "The prime minister went on to say, `We must also go out and meet the enemy before he reaches our shores. We must defeat him before he attacks us, before our cities are laid to waste."'
US and Canadian officials had described Bush's two-day trip to Canada (the first presidential visit to the country in a decade) as an effort to burnish the US' image in the face of lingering anger over the war in Iraq, and as a warm-up to his visit early next year to European capitals, where opposition to the Iraq campaign also runs deep.
Martin, who clearly has a far easier relationship with Bush than did the former prime minister, Jean Chretien, said his country's hospitality in 2001 was neighborly in a "profoundly Canadian" way. Martin recalled, too, that people across the northeastern US had helped the people of Halifax after that port city was devastated by the explosion of a munitions ship in 1917.
"To this day, the people of Halifax send a Christmas tree each year to Boston as a gesture of thanks and friendship," Martin noted.
Bush got a loud laugh when he alluded to the two countries' disagreement over the US ban on Canadian beef imports, put in place after a calf in Alberta was found to have mad cow disease last year. "I proudly ate some Alberta beef last night," the president said, "and I'm still standing."