Saturday, October 11, 2014

Canada's Iraq Mission

Jean Chrétien was the Prime Minister of Canada in March 2003 who refused to take Canada into the Iraq war, a war initiated by the United States based on false claims.  Chrétien cited the lack of UN backing as the reason, though he would later say that he never believed in the existence of a WMD threat (in other words, he believed those claims were untrue).  In early 2003, there were very few world leaders who had the stones to take that position.  And Canada doesn't regret its choice.

There was no proof of WMD in the hands of Saddam Hussein's Iraq and, despite American suspicions, there was no proof, either, of Iraqi collusion with al-Qaeda.  Nevertheless, by the middle of 2002, it was clear that Bush intended war on Iraq, and it was at this time that Chrétien met Bush in Detroit.  Public reports of the meeting were accurate enough – that Bush had urged his case against Iraq, and that Chrétien had reiterated his known position that Iraq must pose a clear and present danger to the world before armed action was necessary.  In private, Chrétien told Bush that Canada's support for a war in Iraq would be greatly enhanced if the United States could secure the support of the United Nations.

UN support was not forthcoming, and neither was Chrétien's,  The official American case for war – that Iraq had WMDs and was ready to use them – was weak, and widely doubted in the intelligence communities of the Western world.  Diplomacy at the UN hadn't helped the American case; the American determination not to wait for the final reports of UN weapons inspectors counted heavily against the United States.

A Liberal party convention was called for Toronto in November 2003.  Martin was the inevitable winner, but Chrétien in his farewell address was the star of the show.  In conclusion, he said, "it was because of our deep belief as Canadians in the value of multilateralism and the United Nations that we did not go to war in Iraq."  The convention rose and cheered the old leader to the echo. Paul Martin (his successor), many believed, would have done things differently in foreign policy, including Iraq; Chrétien's speech was a warning not to try.
– Robert Bothwell, The Penguin History of Canada, 2006

When he stepped down as Prime Minister, Jean Chrétien reminded his Party that they did the right thing when they refused to take Canada into the Iraq war, a war initiated by the United States based on false claims.  And they did it for the right reasons; the most Canadian of reasons.  And he was applauded for that.  Canadians do not regret that decision.  And those I've talked to hold Jean Chrétien in very high regard. 

"If military action proceeds without a new resolution of the Security Council, Canada will not participate."

– Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, in the Canadian House of Commons
    Monday, March 18, 2003
Canada's current Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, as the leader of Canada's Official Opposition in 2003, publicly apologized to the Americans at the time, saying, "For the first time in history, the Canadian government has not stood by its key British and American allies in their time of need."  In other words, "it is Canada's place to be the puppet of the United States." Way to go, Stephen Harper, tell the Canadian people that their national sovereignty takes 2nd place to the demands of the US and the UK. Since when is it Canada's obligation to put reason and morality aside and support its allies when they act wrongly, unwisely, immorally?

It's ironic that, especially after the decision to stay out of Iraq was proven to be the right one, Canada elected a conservative government that would most definitely have sent troops into Iraq in 2003.

Stephen Harper's government is sending Canadian Forces into Iraq now.  Few believe that is a wise move.  When former commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, General Rick Hillier (who resigned in July 2008) was asked why Canada sent troops to Afghanistan, he replied, "As a way to relieve the pressure of saying 'no' to the Americans on Iraq." In other words, the Afghanistan deployment was a political decision and an attempt to rebuild Canada's credibility with the Bush Administration. The government felt a strong need to do something significant for the US. And soldiers died, yet again, for politics.

I shouldn't have to point this out, but political expediency is no reason to send young soldiers into war. And countries like Canada need to look back at times they've followed the lead of the United States for political reasons – and ask, "How did that work out?"

Yeh ... how did Afghanistan work out for ya, Canada?

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Jean Chrétrien