Stop, Stop! A North American Union!

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By Marcela Sanchez
Special to washingtonpost.com
Friday, July 13, 2007; 12:00 AM

WASHINGTON -- Those who celebrated immigration reform's defeat last month as "a glorious victory for the American people" have a new issue to exploit. Their target: the Security and Prosperity Partnership of North America, or SPP, launched in March 2005 by the leaders of Canada, Mexico and the United States.

Haven't heard of it? Well, those merchants of fear and exaggeration wish you had. According to them, the SPP will lead to a host of undesirable consequences, from a 10- to 12-lane highway splitting America's heartland from Mexico to Canada, to the elimination of America's borders and an "end (of) the United States as we know it," according to CNN's Lou Dobbs. One Web site, StopSPP.com, depicts the ramifications with a graphic of North America in flames.

Dobbs and others believe that the SPP is a "blueprint for the North American Union" and that next month's summit in Montebello, Canada, between President Bush, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Mexican President Felipe Calderon will further consolidate the agreement and lead to the dissolution of U.S. sovereignty.

As it turns out, the agenda for that meeting isn't so apocalyptic. The three North American leaders are expected to announce an integrated strategy to combat pandemics, with avian flu one of the central motivations. Also finalized should be what organizers call a "trilateral regulatory cooperation framework meant to enhance competitiveness, while maintaining high standards of health and safety."

As far as an attempt to dissolve the U.S. and establish a North American Union, don't look for it in the summit's plans. There is no mention of erasing borders and establishing a separate legal system, adopting a single currency or creating a secret police. Unless, of course, the team of disease-fighting scientists somehow takes a wrong turn in Kansas City and transforms into a revolutionary army for the North American Union. In sum, the SPP doesn't pose much of a threat.

Not only is the SPP wrongly maligned for doing things it doesn't, it is given credit for having the power to do things it simply cannot. The partnership's stated initiatives and aims are simply far too ambitious for an organization that has mostly proved it can do one thing very well -- get together for meetings to discuss potential agreements.

So far the representatives from the U.S., Canada and Mexico have used the SPP framework to discuss the development of e-commerce in North America. They have taken steps that decreased transit times at the Detroit/Windsor border crossing by 50 percent. They have even delved into environmental affairs by signing a trilateral agreement (nonbinding, of course) to cooperate in conserving the continent's bird species and habitat.

But in Dobbsian logic, all of these steps smack of integration and therefore the loss of sovereignty. To this end, perhaps one of the SPP's most pernicious achievements has been an agreement to discuss how to harmonize care instructions on apparel labels. One can imagine no greater threat to U.S. sovereignty than consumer confusion over "Dry Clean Only" or "Only Dry Clean." Yes, the sky is falling.

You have to give Dobbs and those of his ilk some credit for creativity. They have grafted onto the government initiative some of the more forward-looking elements of a theory proposed by Robert Pastor of American University.

Pastor, director of the school's Center for North American Studies, has envisaged what he calls a North American Community, an affiliation of sovereign states whose economic, social and security ties are so intertwined that they require deepening cross-border cooperation. Pastor has no official connection to the SPP and in fact has often criticized it as too weak. "The truth is that (the SPP) is a timid bureaucratic operation that measures progress by the number of meetings that are held," Pastor told me.

One Canadian official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because of how sensitive the issue has become, said that what is missing in any search for deeper North American integration is "the vision thing" -- a leader, or leaders, asking how integration can work, rather than, as it is today, a line of lawyers on either side of the borders, listing why it can't. As long as that leadership is missing, the result is "a void that people like Lou Dobbs ... are rushing to fill," the official said.

In a Dobbsian world, the U.S. will always be under siege, whether it be from illegal immigrants or those trying to address crucial economic and security concerns by involving decision-makers across the continent. There are trilateral threats that do need to be taken seriously. But even if there weren't, rest assured that Dobbs and his followers are vigilant and will let no fact stand in the way of vitriol and paranoia.

Marcela Sanchez's e-mail address is desdewash@washpost.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company

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