Thursday, 23 April 2009

Aggressive ignorance is hurting the American image and a lot more than just image

There is nothing worse than aggressive stupidity.
- Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Janet Napolitano, US Secretary of Homeland SecurityUnless it’s aggressive stupidity coupled with power. For this reason, aggressive stupidity exercised by Americans in positions of power is arguably the most dangerous in the world. Obama’s much-vaunted promises of change have unfortunately not taken effect. We still are faced with high-ranking American officials whose ignorance of the outside world and their own portfolios is absolutely devastating.

Take Janet Napolitano, Secretary for Homeland Security, for example. (You may have guessed that’s who I wanted to talk about all along.) She has gone on record equating the Mexican and Canadian borders, for starters. That’s not even comparing apples and oranges. That’s comparing Blackberries and oranges. The problems to the North and to the South are vastly different. To the South you have illegal immigrants flowing in; to the North you have congestion slowing down the world’s most vigorous trading partnership. Canadians are not crossing the border in isolated places hoping to find a better life in the US, at least not in numbers significant enough to matter. And those are probably neatly counter-balanced by illegal American immigrants in Canada.

On Monday, Ms. Napolitano took her foot and stuffed it into her mouth all the way up to her hip.

In an interview broadcast Monday on the CBC, Ms. Napolitano attempted to justify her call for stricter border security on the premise that "suspected or known terrorists" have entered the U. S. across the Canadian border, including the perpetrators of the 9/11 attack.

All the 9/11 terrorists, of course, entered the United States directly from overseas. The notion that some arrived via Canada is a myth that briefly popped up in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, and was then quickly debunked.

Informed of her error, Ms. Napolitano blustered: "I can't talk to that. I can talk about the future. And here's the future. The future is we have borders."

Just what does that mean, exactly?

Even Rush Limbaugh knows better. For the record, the 9/11 terrorists all had papers in order, issued to them by the American government, and not one of them entered the US through Canada.

She has since retracted the statement, claiming she was misunderstood. Judge for yourselves.

The furor began when Napolitano was asked to clarify statements she had made about equal treatment for the Mexican and Canadian borders, despite the fact that a flood of illegal immigrants and a massive drug war are two serious issues on the southern border.

"Yes, Canada is not Mexico, it doesn't have a drug war going on, it didn't have 6,000 homicides that were drug-related last year," she said.

"Nonetheless, to the extent that terrorists have come into our country or suspected or known terrorists have entered our country across a border, it's been across the Canadian border. There are real issues there."

When asked if she was referring to the 9-11 terrorists, Napolitano added: "Not just those but others as well."

Misunderstood, eh? How many ways are there to understand "just" and "as well"?

Is it any surprise that Canadians are upset?

In February, the former Arizona governor--criticized as weak on security along her state's Mexican border during her term--ordered a review of 49th parallel security, saying the terrorist threat was greater there than on the Mexican border. Last month, she said Canada should be treated the same as Mexico--as if there were any real similarities.

As long as she repeats this rubbish, the corrections that follow are unpersuasive.

Canadian Ambassador to the U. S. Michael Wilson does his best to sow truth in hard soil, but this needs to be dealt with at the top. It is now for Prime Minister Stephen Harper to deal directly with Obama, to ensure the border remains open to visitors and convenient to trade.

Unchecked by higher authority, Napolitano's vaulting ignorance is capable of serious harm to Canada.

American friends have sometimes asked me where Canadian anti-Americanism comes from. There are a lot of answers to that question, some of them not too flattering to Canadians, but Napolitano’s shenanigans are an example of the kind of thing that creates a lot of ill will.

Will somebody please send the woman home to Arizona and find somebody competent to replace her? (So much for the stereotype of Republicans being rubes, and Democrats being urbane and sophisticated.) Anybody who believes for ten seconds that the Mexican and Canadian borders are in any way equivalent has no credibility. And she’s had considerably longer than ten seconds to catch on to that fact. If it hasn’t dawned on her in the months she’s held her position, there’s no hope of her ever understanding. This is a fundamental reality that she should have grasped at her very first briefing. It is one thing to be ignorant; it is another altogether to cling to that ignorance in the face of massive evidence to the contrary. And it is sheer insanity to give this kind of person the authority to act on their ignorance. The damage she can do to the American-Canadian trading relationship - and thus to the American economy - is unthinkable. We are, after all, the USA’s biggest trading partner, far eclipsing Japan, the European Union, and even China.

Yeah, I'm steamed. Sorry. And when you find somebody else, make sure it's somebody who has actually crossed the border at least once? Napolitano has flown over it, but has never set foot, or even car tire, in a Canadian border crossing. For crying out loud...


Janna Qualman said...

I'm ashamed.

And these same politicians are in wonder over the fact that other countries don't take us seriously? Duh.

Janet said...

My only hope is that the Internet, which fosters conversations between people who would never meet otherwise, will make more Americans aware and that they will bring pressure to bear on their own officials. Geographic isolation has been a major factor in how little Americans have been aware of the impact of their words and actions, but this is perhaps starting to change a bit. Being optimistic.

You make me optimistic, Janna. :o)

Email your Congressmen... ;o)

For the record, I've had plenty of cause to be steamed at my own politicians too.

Janna Qualman said...

I think perhaps optimism is one of my specialties. :)

Jared said...

America has too much room, geographically and economically. We're isolated from the world, and insulated from the consequences of our actions.

Families need travel. International travel shouldn't be relegated to 'dream vacations', and, no, one doesn't need to 'see America first'.

One semester abroad should also be required for university students.

But I have a lot of opinions...

Alexander Field said...

I have to say, these quotes you pulled out sound a lot like a recent president. Oh man. And really, the question here is, how....HOW! can one actually insult CANADA so bad...and multiple times?...that's gotta be pretty difficult to do...seriously.

Anonymous said...

I'd like to apologize in advance for the perfect storm of idiocy I expect the present U.S. administration will inflict upon the world for the next four years.

Janet said...

Jared, that is exactly right. And I think any group of people in the same situation would turn out just the same, maybe worse. The problem is, with the kind of power America holds, the consequences for everybody else can be far-reaching. A politician who does a good job of taking care of local voters is not necessarily qualified to deal with issues with a broader reach. Again, this is universally true, but the repercussions are bigger in the case of America.

Alex, Janet Napolitano is not the first or even worst example by any means. But she definitely proves that it's not restricted to one end of the political spectrum.

ET, I'm not a partisan person. If I make an indepth reply to your comment, I risk raising a bit of a firestorm. Let's just say that as far as the rest of the world is concerned, it will be hard to do worse than the last eight years. I must say that the last American ambassador to Canada was a winner, despite his previous lack of background in Canadian affairs. Here's hoping the next does equally well.

Anonymous said...

Janet, I can respect people's contrary opinons, and I'll be the first to admit Bush/Cheney made some mistakes both at home and abroad. But I'm confident in predicting tragic results from Obama, and I expect it to be far worse than anything we've seen so far.

Janet said...

Guess we'll have to wait and see. Like with most politicians, I've seen some good things and some bad things.

Melanie Avila said...


I meet a lot of Canadians down here in Mexico and I think a lot of them have hostility towards Americans because of crap like this, as well as because Americans are not always perceived as very intelligent or compassionate in other countries (like here) and Canadians are often lumped together with Americans. My one Canadian here is insulted when people assume she's American.

Janet said...

Melanie, all human beings seem to want to find reasons to look down on others. Canadians are not different. There are some legitimate grievances, and the rest is just prejudice. I've heard of Americans living in Canada getting really sick of taking the flak. It's unfortunate that we can't seem to get beyond the labels.

I promise not to blame you for your government if you promise not to blame me for mine. ;o)

SQT said...

The American media has done a wonderful job of making sure that conservatives are branded as closed-minded, racist fools and that the liberals are-- as you put it-- urbane and sophisticated. But people like Napolitano and V.P. Biden make it really hard to keep the lipstick on that pig. I'm guessing etwriter is more correct in his assessment than you know. American politics is a nightmare right now. I'm not sure what Napolitano's comments were supposed to accomplish. I know they came on the heels of a change in government vernacular in which the war on terror was now supposed to be referred to as an "overseas contingency operation." Whatever.

Obama didn't lie when he was campaigning and said he wants to "spread the wealth." As far as I can tell he is determined to undermine our position in the world in every way possible and still continue to blame Bush for everything-- including the tripling of our national debt within the first month of Obama being in office. My kids will literally have to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in taxes in their lifetime to pay the debt on Obama's spending. I think that's criminal and there's nothing I can do about it except watch the press cheer him on. My country makes me sick right now.

SQT said...

As far as anti-American prejudice goes... I honestly don't worry about it. Most American's don't. It's not that we're oblivious, we're just used to it. Though when I went to school in Japan I found that American's were treated better than a lot of other European visitors. I went to school with kids from over 20 different countries and the Japanese had their preconceived notions about just about everyone. Germans were expected to have dreadlocks and the French were expected to smell. (This is the Japanese impression not mine). American's, by and large, have their own terms, like "euro-trash" to put down the people who look their nose down at us. And if that doesn't work, we just tell ourselves that everyone else is just jealous of our wealth and resources. We tell ourselves, if we're so bad, then why do they watch our movies? Why do they follow our politics?We're all masters as rationalizations when necessary.

Janet said...

SQT, I know how you feel. There were a few bad years there where I felt like renouncing my Canadian citizenship. If there had been a strong contender for an alternate, who knows what I would have done? Things have improved a little, but anyone who looks to politicians of any stripe for good examples is going to either be very selective about the information they listen to, or live in a constant state of frustration. Right now I'm trying to ignore politicians on both sides of the border as much as possible but every now and again, they insist on capturing my attention.

Anyway, I hope for everybody's sake that Obama does better than you fear. I'm not going to try to predict anything.


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