Unfortunately, our leaders today don’t have his backbone when it comes to resisting foreign pressure
This month marks 20 years since the United States committed a fatal error. This month also marks arguably the wisest Canadian foreign policy decision of the 21st century.
On March 19, 2003, bombers began the unprovoked pummelling of Iraq. A day later, the land invasion by U.S., British, Australian, and Polish forces began. The result was hundreds of thousands of civilian and military deaths and instability in the region that continues to this day.
The invasion was a catastrophe in every sense of the word, from the deaths to the destruction of ancient landmarks, the financial costs to the countries involved, to the deep trauma caused to the people who survived. The only ones to benefit were corporations, especially the military contractors and their stockholders, which sucked money from public coffers.
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Retired U.S. Army Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, acknowledges and deeply regrets his role in the debacle. He was instrumental in writing Powell’s infamous speech to the United Nations a month before the invasion, claiming irrefutable evidence of “weapons of mass destruction.”
When confronted about his role, Wilkerson acknowledges that he is “guilty as charged.” He also recognizes the dangerous path his country continues to follow and is using his knowledge and experience to advance the cause of global peace.
But why didn’t Canada follow our strongest allies into the futile war in Iraq? Most of the Canadian population was against this war, but ultimate credit needs to be given to our then Prime Minister Jean Chretien.
Chretien faced tremendous pressure from both U.S. president George Bush and UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. He also faced pressure from the Conservative Party led by Stephen Harper and even within his own Liberal Party. It can be argued that Chretien was an astute politician and knew that it was not sensible to go against his electorate.
This may be the case, but it does not sound like Chretien. He may have been many things, but wishy-washy was not one of them. His straightforward and sincere manner, peppered with a sharp, often self-effacing sense of humour, endeared him most to Canadians. People trusted him, even in western Canada (a rarity for Liberals).
Chretien not only kept us out of the Iraq War, thereby saving Canadian lives and preventing us from being complicit in atrocious war crimes, he also demonstrated that Canada does not have to walk lockstep with our powerful American neighbours in our foreign policy. The U.S. remains Canada’s largest trading partner, and there were no consequences to Canada saying no to the war in Iraq. This should be duly noted by the spineless political leaders we have today.
The American Empire is in decline. While they have the most powerful and expensive military, they cannot win a war. They have also lost the world’s respect, especially in the global south. As Canada mindlessly supports American foreign policy and the coups they instigate, our prestige suffers along with theirs. Most Canadians would be shocked to learn of our government and corporations’ reputation in much of the world.
So credit where credit is due: to Canadians for opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003 and to Prime Minister Jean Chretien for honouring our will. Since then, our leaders seem to have forgotten that we are an independent country capable of following our own path.
We need to embrace the legacy of 2003 again and be the version of Canada that our children will be proud of.
Gerry Chidiac specializes in languages, genocide studies and works with at-risk students. He is the recipient of an award from the Vancouver Holocaust Education Centre for excellence in teaching about the Holocaust.
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