Trump Slammed Canada for Burning Down the White House. It Didn't, Really

Virginia Carson
June 7, 2018

Trump's meeting with Trudeau could be particularly frosty, given the president's recent sharp criticism of Canadian trade policies and the anger in Ottawa over Washington's decision to justify its new tariffs on national security grounds.

"The idea that, you know, our soldiers who had fought and died together on the beaches of World War II and the mountains of Afghanistan, and have stood shoulder to shoulder in some of the most hard places in the world, that are always there for each other, somehow - this is insulting to that", Trudeau said in an interview with NBC.

The fight has pushed relations between Canada and its closest commercial and diplomatic partner to their tensest time in recent memory, with $900-billion of annual trade in the balance.

Mr Trump is "probably the strongest trade reformer of the past 20 years", he said.

Asked about the state of US-Canada relations, National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow acknowledged some short-term tensions, but said he believes relations between the two countries remain "very good".

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However, the soldiers who sacked Washington were all British.

The 1812 reference may prove the bizarreness of the entire argument, but it also points to a more troubling, historical lesson. The United States wanted free trade with Europe, but Britain was vehemently opposed to that.

The problem with Trump's comments to Trudeau is that British troops burned down the White House during the War of 1812. Under that principle, British officers would board USA vessels and force (often former) British sailors to work for them instead, which resulted in the 1807 USS Chesapeake incident in which three American sailors were killed and 16 wounded.

That move unleashed fury in the Group of Seven (G7) industrialized nations and prompted quick retaliation from Canada and Mexico and a promise from the European Union to do so as well, unnerving investors who fear a trade war that could derail the global economy.

The reasons for the war included United States frustration at the British forcing American merchant sailors into the Royal Navy, as well as trade restrictions on the US.

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Two sources in Ottawa said divisions between the United States and other G7 members were so great that senior officials in charge of each nation's preparations planned to hold an unusual additional meeting the night before the summit in a bid to find consensus. Both countries were at odds with the United States because its policy of neutrality conflicted with the two European nations attempts to essentially to starve each other into submission.

A lithograph print showing fire damage to the White House after burning by the British during the war of 1812.

The other 6 members of the G7 are holding out hope they can find common ground with Trump, but are prepared to stand up to USA protectionism. The EU also attends.

Expectations for a resolution of the trade row this week are low after finance leaders from the United States' G7 partners butted heads with U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin at a meeting last week in the Canadian resort town of Whistler, British Columbia.

In the case of the United States, the subsequent embargo caused economic decline in the short run, even though it's being credited with making the United States more self-reliant in the long term.

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Adding to the uncertainty is European anger over Trump's decision to pull the United States out of the worldwide nuclear agreement with Iran. He has highlighted his efforts on Twitter, writing Monday: "The U.S. has made such bad trade deals over so many years that we can only WIN!"

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