Chretien, Bush, and the War in Iraq
Barry, Donald, American Review of Canadian Studies
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. It included improvements in border security and infrastructure, refugee and immigration screening, and increased military spending. On the international front, Ottawa deployed a naval task force to the Persian Gulf as part of U.S.-led operations against al Qaeda terrorists and the Taliban government in Afghanistan that sheltered them. It also dispatched a battle group to operate alongside U.S. forces in that country, although the commitment was not renewed beyond the initial six-month tour of duty because Canada's overstretched military was unable to field a replacement unit. Still, Canada contributed the fourth largest military contingent to the Afghanistan campaign.
The War on Terror and Iraq
Even as military operations in Afghanistan were getting underway, calls began to appear in the U.S. press to make Saddam Hussein's regime in Iraq the next target in the war on terror. Chretien expressed opposition, saying that without clear evidence there was no justification for widening the war. (9)
However, the success of the assault on Afghanistan and a growing view within the Bush administration that it had to act pre-emptively to deal with apprehended threats brought Iraq to the fore. In late November 2001, Bush asked his defense secretary, Donald Rumsfeld, to revise the U.S. war plan for Iraq and publicly called for the return of UN arms inspectors to the country. The UN cease-fire resolution that ended the Gulf War in 1991 had created a United Nations Special Commission (UNSCOM) to verify Iraq's disarmament undertakings. The International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) also carried out weapons inspections. UNSCOM and the IAEA were withdrawn in 1998, after the regime stopped cooperating with the inspectors, and replaced by the United Nations Monitoring, Verification and Inspection Commission (UNMOVIC), which operated outside Iraq. (10)
In his State of the Union address in January 2002, Bush linked Iraq to the war on terror, identifying it as a member of an "axis of evil"--states that had weapons of mass destruction and ties to terrorist groups--that posed "a grave an growing danger" to the U.S. "I will not wait on events, while dangers gather," he declared. (11) Chretien distanced himself from Bush, saying "we are with the Americans on terrorism," but "at this moment we are not implicated in any plans for Iraq or other nations." (12)
However, the campaign against Iraq was gaining momentum. In April, after meeting with British Prime Minister Tony Blair, Bush declared, "I made up my mind that Saddam needs to go." Blair backed Bush's call for regime change. (13) The following month, Bush's vice president, Richard Cheney, in a speech at the U.S. Naval Academy, hinted that the war on terror might expand to Iraq. And in June, in an address at West Point, Bush declared that a policy of containment would not work against Saddam Hussein's regime, adding, "If we wait for threats to fully materialize, we will have waited too long." (14)
The warnings passed without comment in Canada. But in August, foreign affairs minister Bill Graham criticized the Bush administration for rejecting an offer from Saddam Hussein to let UN weapons inspectors return to Iraq. Drawing on departmental advice based on Canada's long experience in the UN's inspection program in that country, he called the response "dangerous." He continued, "Iraq under Saddam Hussein is clearly always a threat, but we have no evidence he is in possession of weapons of mass destruction or that he would intend to use them at this time." Graham added that Ottawa would not participate in military action against Iraq without the endorsement of the UN. (15) However, in a blunt speech to the Veterans of Foreign Wars in late August, Vice President Cheney, perhaps the administration's most persistent advocate of military action, stated flatly, "there is no doubt that Saddam Hussein now has weapons of mass destruction," and that "a return of inspectors would provide no assurance whatsoever of his compliance with U.N. resolutions." (16)
A scheduled summit meeting between Chretien and Bush on September 9 focused Canadian attention on Iraq in a more sustained way. Before the summit, Chretien said he wanted clear evidence that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction and ties to al Qaeda before his government would support any attempt to remove Saddam Hussein from power. "I will see what [Bush] has to say. I will listen, and we will decide," he declared. (17) Public opinion soundings also showed that, in contrast to their strong support for the Afghanistan campaign, more that half of Canadians did not want Canada to be involved if the U.S. attacked Iraq. At the meeting, Chretien praised Bush's leadership in the war on terror and encouraged the president to go to the UN, assuring him that Canada would be involved in any action against Iraq if the Security Council approved. Bush offered no evidence to support the administration's claims, saying simply that he would outline the case in a speech he would make at the UN on September 12. (18)
Involving the UN
In his speech Bush drew attention to Saddam Hussein's rejection of earlier UN disarmament resolutions, and accused the Iraqi regime of continuing to develop weapons of mass destruction and sheltering terrorists, although he offered no proof. The president played down the notion of regime change, pledging to work with the Security Council "for the necessary resolutions." But he warned that if they were not enforced "action will be unavoidable." (19) Chretien would later claim credit for persuading Bush to work through the UN, though perhaps unknown to the prime minister, Bush had already told his Secretary of State, Colin Powell, and Tony Blair that he would do so. As a result, the president reassured his own public, who favored the use of force to remove Saddam Hussein from power but were divided on whether the U.S. needed allied backing, and kept the support of his main foreign ally. (20)
Foreign affairs minister Graham endorsed the president's message. He urged Iraq to readmit UN weapons inspectors, saying, "The onus is clearly on Iraq to take this step now. The onus is equally on us to ensure that our international institutions emerge from this crisis reinforced and strengthened." (21)
However, his remarks were overshadowed by reaction to comments made by Chretien on the eve of Bush's address. Speaking on a CBC television program commemorating the first anniversary of September 11, the prime minister linked the terrorist attacks to third world resentment of the West and said the U.S. should not use its power "to the point of humiliation for the others." (22) The remarks were similar to those made by Bush and Tony Blair. But American right wing commentators and the conservative press in Canada saw them as evidence that the government was anti-American. The opposition Canadian Alliance Party, which had called upon the government to support the U.S. and U.K. on Iraq, joined in the criticism. (23)
On September 16, Baghdad announced that it would accept the return of UN inspectors without conditions. Chretien backed Bush's warning to the Security Council "not to be fooled" by Iraq's response and to draft a strong resolution. (24) When Iraq tried to impose conditions on the inspectors and French and Russian support appeared to weaken, Graham reiterated Ottawa's position. "The United States came to the United Nations, which is what we asked them to do," he stated, "and we should support them now in having a clear United Nations stance." (25)
The House of Commons debated the Iraq issue at the beginning of …
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Publication information: Article title: Chretien, Bush, and the War in Iraq. Contributors: Barry, Donald - Author. Journal title: American Review of Canadian Studies. Volume: 35. Issue: 2 Publication date: Summer 2005. Page number: 215+. © 2008 Association for Canadian Studies in the United States. COPYRIGHT 2005 Gale Group.
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