Chretien, Bush, and the War in Iraq

Article excerpt

The war in Iraq overshadowed Canada-U.S. relations during the Chretien-Bush years. Prime Minister Jean Chretien's refusal to support the U.S.-led invasion to remove Saddam Hussein's regime from power without the backing of the United Nations enjoyed solid parliamentary and public support. But conservative commentators, politicians, and the business community criticized the government for substituting process for policy, letting down its closest ally, and risking American retaliation. Bush administration officials expressed disappointment and hinted at possible damage to the relationship. (1)

This essay examines the rift between the Chretien and Bush governments over Iraq. It argues that Chretien's decision to stand aside reflected a "deep skepticism" about President George Bush's case for war. (2) As the Canadian government saw it, the U.S. administration's contention that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction was uncertain at best. Ottawa's calls for a vigorous UN inspection program and Security Council sanction were aimed at subjecting the claim to international scrutiny and decision. Chretien judged correctly that the close intertwining of the Canadian and U.S. economies made substantive retaliation unlikely. However, anti-Bush rhetoric from members of the governing party complicated the management of the Iraq issue and irritated the president, who canceled a planned visit to Ottawa in the spring of 2003. At a deeper level, the issue appears to have widened differences in values and outlook between the two countries, and complicated Prime Minister Paul Martin's efforts to improve Canada-U.S. relations.

Setting the Stage

It is generally agreed that relations between Canada and the U.S. deteriorated in the post-2000 period. Many observers attribute this to the "philosophical gulf" between the Chretien and Bush governments, the implication being that dealings would improve when one or both of them was replaced. (3) Underlying this, however, were two factors that conditioned the management of the relationship and the handling of the Iraq war.

The first was the growing divergence between values and worldviews of the Canadian and American publics in the post-cold war era, despite the steadily increasing integration of the two countries. Michael Adams has argued that Canadians became more socially liberal, skeptical of traditional authority, and supportive of a cooperative approach to the resolution of international issues. Americans, by contrast, became more socially conservative, deferential to authority in a highly competitive national environment, and inclined to a survival of the fittest view of the world. (4)

In international affairs this could be seen in Canadians' embrace of a multilateral, rules-based order and the American view, which relied more on power and less on cooperation and the expanding role of international law in pursuing U.S. interests abroad. (5) Chretien sometimes went out of his way to highlight Canada's policy differences with the U.S., a practice he defended as good domestic politics. (6)

The second factor was the impact of the attacks upon the U.S. by al Qaeda terrorists on September 11, 2001. The attacks created a profound sense of vulnerability among Americans and elevated security to the top of Washington's agenda. Bush made cooperation in the "war on terrorism" the litmus test of other countries' relations with the U.S., saying "Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists." (7) Chretien declared that while Ottawa would stand with the U.S., "the laws of Canada will be passed by the Parliament of Canada." (8)

Canadian officials took the lead in drafting a plan to increase border security and facilitate low-risk trade and travel, which became the basis of the "Smart Border Declaration," signed by Deputy Prime Minister John Manley and Director of Homeland Security Tom Ridge, in December 2001. The Canadian government demonstrated its commitment by announcing a $7 billion (Cdn) program over five years. …