Inside Washington: Death of GWOT – The ’special’ partnership: what’s next now that the ‘war-on-terror’ is passé? – By Neil Macdonald
When former Conservative finance minister Michael Wilson arrived in Washington three years ago to take up his post as Canada’s ambassador, he had an underling arrange a couple of meet-and-greet receptions for some U.S. opinion leaders the embassy thought were worth cultivating.
Wilson had a banner made up for the occasion and positioned himself in front of it to make a little speech on the special relationship Canada and the U.S. enjoy.
“Partners In The War On Terror,” it proclaimed.
In that banner was Canada’s message: don’t worry, we’ve signed up. We’re with you. Your enemies are our enemies. We’re on board. Hoo-ah.
This week, I sent a simple question to Wilson’s people at the Canadian embassy here: “Is Canada still a partner in the war on terror?”
The embassy’s reply: “The question does not warrant a response.”
Because as Michael Wilson and everybody else here knows, the “war on terror” is no longer a phrase to be used in correct Washington company. It is in bad odour. A brutish thing from the past. An ex-slogan. Dead as Monty Python’s Norwegian Blue parrot.
The notice went out
The death of the Bush administration’s signature slogan was first announced in an internal memo from Barack Obama’s White House last month: “This administration prefers to avoid using the term ‘Global War On Terror (GWOT),’” the directive advised workers at the Pentagon.
A few days later, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton confirmed GWOT’s demise to reporters, but offered no explanation for the change. “I think that speaks for itself, obviously,” was all she would say.
Meanwhile, a senior adviser in the office of Prime Minister Stephen Harper in Ottawa (the same PMO that provided ambassador Wilson with his talking points here three years ago) confirmed the changed state of affairs: “Hillary’s answer is the best one,” he told me. “It’s fairly obvious and no one is interested in commenting past that.”
But a Canadian diplomat allowed himself to be teased out a little further on the subject. The phrase was never terribly popular with some Canadians anyway, he allowed.
But, he noted: “Rarely is Canada the creator of the bumper sticker. We went along with it, as did (then British prime minister Tony) Blair, (then Australian prime minister John) Howard, and (then French interior minister Nicolas) Sarkozy. Which means we were in good company.”
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