we missed the ottawa-baghdad train, now break the chain and let them stay

Jeffrey Simpson's column, "We’re glad we missed the Ottawa-Baghdad train," is a bracing reminder of recent history. Canada easily could have been in Iraq, not only "holding the bully's coat" (thank you Linda McQuaig) but exercising its own occupying muscles, as it is in Afghanistan.

Canada could have been wasting its own young lives, wasting its resources, killing yet more people who have done Canada no harm, all in the service of KBR, Bechtel and the rest of the US corporate empire. But Jean Chrétien said no - and the overwhelming majority of Canadians now understand that that was the correct decision. Even Stephen Harper has admitted that the war in Iraq was "absolutely an error".

Since Canada didn't fight in Iraq, and since most Canadians agree that was the right thing to do, doesn't it follow that we should give asylum to others who came to the same conclusion? Canada has been down this road before, to the tune of 50,000 Vietnam War resisters. Despite the persistent lies of detractors, the truth is about 10,000 of those were not drafted, but volunteered for service, then deserted.

This is an excellent column by Jeffrey Simpson, but I must again point out - and we all must continue to point out, all the time - that the US occupation of Iraq has not ended. More than 50,000 US troops and at least another 75,000 private mercenaries (also funded by US taxpayers) remain there. Hell, fresh troops are still deploying!

Simpson refers to the Iraq War's "intellectual supporters in Canada". One prime intellectual Canadian supporter was still in the US, using his intellect, writing talent and position with The New York Times to advance the cause of the Bush administration: Michael Ignatieff.
The haze of collective memory shrouds how many Canadians wanted this country to join the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003.

Newspaper archives, however, do not lie nor do the recollections of those in the maelstrom of that debate. The decision was, in public opinion at least, a near-run thing.

Public opinion polls showed the country split, with a majority in Quebec opposed to participation, and a majority elsewhere in favour. The National Post beat the drum of war in every single issue. As did, of course, the Sun chain, most of the writers at this newspaper, the AM Radio right-wingers, the Canadian Alliance (including a chap named Stephen Harper), a lot of business people who worried about relations with the United States, a bunch of senior Liberals, and plenty of citizens who believed that the right thing to do after 9/11 was to stand by our U.S. ally, take out Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, put democracy in place in Baghdad, help make Israel safer and respond resolutely to terror and the associated threat of chemical, biological and maybe nuclear weapons in Iraq.

If Canada had had a different government, or even a Liberal prime minister other than Jean Chrétien, we might have been there, perhaps not on the front lines but somewhere in what the U.S. defence secretary called the “coalition of the willing.” Fortunately, Canada remained unwilling to lend its name or treasure to the war. It was an intelligent decision made in the face of severe domestic opposition, especially in English-speaking Canada.

The method by which Mr. Chrétien made his momentous announcement – responding to a planted question in the House of Commons – was not worthy of the occasion or the obligation one might have thought we owed our traditional friends and allies for a considered, lengthy explanation. But that kind of explanation was not Mr. Chrétien’s style or his instinct. Make a decision. Get it out there fast. Get on with business.

In the end, the method of conveying the decision counted for far less than the profoundly correct decision, given the terrible losses in personnel, money and reputation the U.S. suffered in Iraq. Politically, Mr. Chrétien’s reputation was enhanced, in contrast to that of Tony Blair, whose reputation never recovered from British participation.

Matters in Iraq have finally turned out to be something better than had been feared three years ago, but far worse than all those fanciful scenarios that danced in the heads of the Bush-Cheney administration and its intellectual supporters in Canada.

For Barack Obama, the judgment on his decision to withdraw begins now and will depend on whether Iraq can remain united, avoid sectarian warfare and endemic violence while somehow managing to govern itself.

Who really knows how many Iraqis died in the war? The figure is well in excess of 100,000. As for the Americans, more than 4,400 were killed and more than 30,000 wounded. The country spent about three-quarters of a trillion dollars, at a time of increasing deficits. The Bush administration cut taxes, went to war, and kicked the bill down the road, a decision of gross irresponsibility for which Americans are paying today.

There were no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, as United Nations inspector Hans Blix kept saying. But his finding was not what the Bush-Cheney crowd wanted to hear. They had started planning for war shortly after 9/11, even though the experts on al-Qaeda told them that Saddam Hussein and al-Qaeda were mortal enemies.

Saddam was unquestionably a gruesome leader of the kind the Arab world has periodically known. But he was being contained by a variety of measures that could have been sustained at a pittance by way of cost. He was Iran’s sworn enemy, having fought a bloody war against that country. His relations with Syria were frigid. He had created his own diplomatic isolation, booming rhetoric notwithstanding. His departure created a power vacuum into which the Shiites of Iraq have stepped, with the concomitant result that Shia Iran’s influence has grown.

From geostrategic, reputational, economic and straight political perspectives, the invasion was a mistake. We can only be thankful that Canada took no part, although to repeat: It was a near-run thing in public opinion.

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