WASHINGTON – Justin Trudeau’s first-day foray into international relations included informing the U.S. president that he’ll carry out his campaign promise to withdraw from Canada’s combat mission in the Middle East.
Without offering details on the timing of the bombing-mission scaledown or what role Canada might play next, Trudeau said the country would remain involved in other aspects of the fight against Islamist rebels.
That announcement came after he spoke by phone with U.S. President Barack Obama, who was one of multiple world leaders calling to congratulate him Tuesday on his previous day’s election win.
And it came just hours after the White House expressed hope Canada might remain involved in the anti-ISIL coalition, where it contributed 10 bombing runs last month.
There had been whispers in Washington over the summer that the administration was concerned about the Liberals’ and NDP’s stated intention of withdrawing from bombing in order to contribute in other ways – which Trudeau downplayed Tuesday.
“(Obama) understands the (campaign) commitments I’ve made around ending the combat mission,” Trudeau told reporters in Ottawa, while promising to do withdraw responsibly.
“We want to ensure that the transition is done in an orderly fashion.”
The Obama administration is struggling to manage an unwieldy international coalition in Iraq-Syria; a shifting dynamic caused by escalated Russian involvement; and domestic political pressure from Republican critics who say Obama hasn’t been aggressive enough. The White House statement released after the Trudeau chat barely mentioned the military issue.
Earlier in the day, an Obama spokesman had discussed Canada’s Mideast role.
The White House said it worked well with the outgoing government on the military mission and on the Trans-Pacific Partnership – and expressed hope the next government might maintain those policies.
“We hope that we can continue to count on their ongoing support for this very important mission,” Obama’s spokesman, Josh Earnest, said of the ISIL campaign.
The White House spokesman did concede hope for one improvement from the previous government – on climate change: “We believe that it’s possible that there is more that Canada can do in this regard.”
Earnest appeared to defend the administration’s relationship with the last government, generally acknowledged to have been strained by differences over the Keystone XL pipeline.
He pushed back at a reporter’s suggestion that relations with Canada might improve with the Conservatives gone, given their oft-stated frustrations over the stalled project.
He said the relationship is more complex than a pipeline. He expressed appreciation for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s efforts over the years, and said the president would eventually be calling him too: “It would be shortsighted to reduce the relationship between our two countries to just one issue.”
Congratulations for Trudeau rolled in from around the world. A flood of well-wishes included phone calls from the leaders of Mexico, France, Britain, Italy and the U.S., as well as messages from India and China.
Foreign media coverage ranged from substantive pieces in front of the New York Times and Wall Street Journal, to gossipy supermarket-tabloid-type headlines about Trudeau’s appearance.
One example of the latter genre came from the U.K.’s Daily Mirror: “Is Justin Trudeau the sexiest politician in the world?”
Sexy or not, he faces some difficult first dates with his foreign partners. In a few weeks, he plans to attend the Paris climate-change negotiations, and will at the same time be developing a new anti-ISIL strategy.
Trudeau heard some gallows humour from fellow world leaders about the stresses of the job. He said one told him to enjoy this day – because it’s all downhill thereafter.
He said the U.S. president also joked that his hair will start greying pretty quickly.
Mexico’s Enrique Pena Nieto was the first to call the future prime minister on Monday night, and tweeted congratulations in Spanish: “Canada and Mexico have the opportunity to start a new chapter in their relationship.” As noted by the Washington Post, this is the first time since 2000 that the continent is led by three left-of-centre governments.
“I have fond memories of my visit to Canada in April 2015 and my meeting with you,” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted at Trudeau. “It was also great meeting your daughter, whom you had woken up early that day. Best wishes.”
In the U.S., one persistent critic of Conservative climate-change policies expressed delight about a potential shift in Canadian policy in time for next month’s climate talks.
“I’m hopeful tonight’s election will put Canada back in a leadership position,” former vice-president and presidential candidate Al Gore tweeted. “Congratulations.”
World media ran stories speculating on what a Trudeau win might mean. Many pieces mentioned the father-son dynamic, in Canada’s first multi-generational prime ministerial dynasty.
The Associated Press informed readers worldwide about the Richard Nixon prophecy. At a state dinner in 1972, when Trudeau was a few months old, the then-president toasted the baby’s arrival and joked that he’d become prime minister someday.
Other media judged Canada’s next leader by standards entirely separate from his views on ISIL, climate change, and free trade.
One Australian news headline said: “Justin Trudeau is Canada’s new, incredibly good looking prime minister.” And the U.K.’s Daily Mail: “‘No other leader in the world is as sexy’: Canada’s new Prime Minister Justin Trudeau causes global stir.”
An NBC News website straddled the serious and the frivolous. It introduced Trudeau to readers with facts about his politics, and personal details like his Haida-style tattoo.
NBC’s headline was: “Meet Justin Trudeau: Canada’s Liberal, Boxing, Strip-Teasing New PM.”