November 14, 2011
by Christopher Sands
Harry Truman once said that if you want a friend in Washington, you should get a dog. Prime Minister Stephen Harper, famously a cat person, may want to adopt a dog before his next meeting with President Barack Obama.
Harper has been a great friend to Obama: supportive of the U.S. global warming approach at Copenhagen and Cancun, ponying up billions to support the auto bailouts, supporting the U.S.-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, and offering to sell renewable hydroelectric power as well as oil and gas to energize an American economic recovery. This from a Conservative whose political friends in the United States can't stand Obama.
But as many have discovered, it doesn't pay to be Obama's friend. Just ask Britain's Gordon Brown, Spain's José Luis Zapatero, Australia's Kevin Rudd, Israel's Binyamin Netanyahu or Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.
Why stop with foreigners? Here in the United States, the list of disappointed friends includes the labour unions (no card check legislation, and three free trade deals passed last month), Hispanics (no effort on immigration reform and deportations are up), African Americans (hardest hit by the recession), the peace movement (drone killings multiply and Guantanamo remains open), Wall Street (bailed out and then scapegoated), Occupy protestors, and environmentalists (no cap and trade, no carbon tax).
Domestic interests are different from foreign ones, though: they vote. So Obama is parceling out Grinch-like gifts to save his fading chances at a second term. And if that means selling out a few BFFs for the "friends needed now" (FNNs) then Obama will do it.
So labour bosses get a National Labor Relations Board investigation of Boeing, and "Buy American" provisions in the Obama jobs bill -- sorry Canada. And environmentalists get a decision not to decide on the Keystone pipeline -- sorry Canada, again.
Environmentalists needed something. Climate change has been their most successful fundraising issue ever, and in a depressed economy with charitable contributions down, they needed the prospect of carbon cap and trade legislation, or a carbon tax, to bring in donations.
When they didn't get cap and trade, many environmental groups fell back on extant agendas -- farmland preservation, protection of endangered species, organic food production, recycling, green energy, clean water and clear air efforts on the local level. The result was fragmentation: nothing united environmentalists like climate change had done.
Until Keystone, that is. The pipeline project had bad news (er, good news) for everyone in the green coalition: it enabled fossil fuel consumption, so was bad for the air; it crossed the Oglala aquifer, so it endangered water; it disrupted farmland and wilderness; it was not recyclable.
A presidential permit is required to overcome Nebraska's landowners, holding out for more compensation for the right-of-way and manipulating state politics (and green groups) to get it. Environmental groups asked the White House for more time, and more hearings -- to raise more money, some of which would help Obama and the Democrats in 2012.
Obama added more hearings in 2011, but told Canada privately that the decision would be made to approve the pipeline by the end of the year. Now, it won't be made until after the 2012 election.
If he is re-elected Obama's green friends may then discover that the president will approve the Keystone pipeline anyway, as all of the economic logic, scientific evidence and legal precedent suggests that he should.
Unless of course Obama decides then that he needs the environmentalists more than Harper and the Canadians. Sorry Canada. Try a dog.
Christopher Sands is a Senior Fellow at Hudson Institute.
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