On Paul Cellucci

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By Zev Singer, OTTAWA CITIZEN June 9, 2013

OTTAWA — Paul Cellucci, the first ambassador George W. Bush sent to Ottawa, had already been serving in the post for five months by Sept. 11, 2001. So the man, whose style is rarely described without use of the word “blunt,” was not actually sent to Canada as part of the reaction to suddenly new circumstances.

Even if it felt that way.

A personal friend of the Bush family and a former governor of Massachusetts, Cellucci typified the recent shift in diplomacy between the two countries from the polite, non-partisan career foreign service officer to the more political and outspoken appointee not afraid to take a message from the Oval Office directly to the public.

Cellucci died Saturday of complications related to Lou Gehrig’s disease at the age of 65.

In his five years in Ottawa, Cellucci was not afraid to advocate publicly for greater military spending by the Canadian government. While critics saw it as meddling in Canadian affairs, he was unapologetic about his approach.

“Some people still think that we’re in a different era, where diplomacy is always done behind closed doors,” Cellucci told The Canadian Press in 2005. “For us in the United States, that’s no longer the case. We have to be speaking not only to the government, but to the people of a country where we are serving in, so that we can explain how we feel, defend the actions we take, advocate for what the United States is doing and for what it stands for.”

When he left the post, he went even further. In a book called Unquiet Diplomacy, he wrote about how the U.S. felt betrayed when Canada refused to join the invasion of Iraq. Those feelings were compounded, he said, by a subsequent doublecross.

“After Jean Chrétien announced that Canada would not join the coalition invasion of Iraq,” he wrote in the book, “the Canadian government tried to soften the blow. My embassy received assurances at a meeting at the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade that, although Canada would not participate as an active partner in the war coalition, once the war began the government would say positive things about the United States and negative things about Iraq.”

However, once the Iraqi invasion began, Chretien was publicly critical of American actions.

“Instead of saying much that was positive about my government and its decision to go to war, Prime Minister Chretien chose to emphasize the need for any such military action to be authorized by the UN. There was a suggestion — intentional or not — that what the U.S.-led coalition was doing in Iraq lacked legitimacy.”

Chrétien’s successor was also taken to task in the book for many months of dithering over whether Canada would become an active player in the Americans’ planned missile-defence system.

The ex-ambassador wrote that Martin made the “perplexing, astounding” and “disappointing” decision to nix the missile scheme against his own best instincts only because it might help him win votes in Quebec otherwise destined for the Bloc Québécois. He also called Martin’s handling of the file “clumsy” and “inept.”

Whether Cellucci’s direct style produced results has been questioned, with critics pointing to the Canadian decisions on both the Iraq war and missile defence as examples of failure to sway the country.

Colin Robertson, a former Canadian diplomat who worked with Cellucci and was in touch with him as recently as the last few months, said there were results down the road. Robertson cited Canada’s now expanded military lift capacity, in the form of Globemaster planes, as something for which Cellucci advocated that did materialize.

“He wasn’t particularly well received necessarily by the government of the day, but in retrospect it’s made a signal contribution to what we’ve been able to do abroad,” Robertson said of that file.

Robertson also said Cellucci, who understood the nuts and bolts of cross-border issues from experience as a governor, was very important in getting U.S. customs clearance into Stanfield Airport in Halifax, which he said was crucial for economic development in the Maritimes.

Robertson added that while Cellucci’s style was memorable, it didn’t come out of nowhere in cross-border relations. He said diplomats, even relatively direct American ones, are always mindful of where they are and what they think the public can handle. In a way, Robertson said, the presence of Cellucci was an indication that the Americans thought Canadians were becoming ready for some more direct talk.

Cellucci — a car dealer’s son whose physical resemblance to Robert De Niro was said to be matched by his willingness in private to do De Niro impressions from the movie Taxi Driver — put it this way in his book, when talking about that fact that he was sometimes described in Canada as “Rambo Cellucci.”

“As I told my embassy staff, this was nothing. And at all times I felt confident that most people would realize that I had paid Canadians one of the best compliments that you can pay a friend. I told them the truth, as I saw it.”

Read more: http://www.ottawacitizen.com/news/Ottawa+remembers+Cellucci+outspoken+contributions/8501595/story.html#ixzz2WrrN3hT9