Canada and Iraq: Plus ça change

Paul Wells explains why Jean Chrétien would be proud of Stephen Harper’s Iraq policy


The United States is sending hundreds of troops, maybe more, to Baghdad as chaos in Iraq mounts. Canada, Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird told the Commons today in a 35-second response to a planted question, isn’t. Baird and the Prime Minister needn’t worry about having to explain themselves further on Iraq, as the Conservative government’s policy of concerned distance from the mess puts it in pretty good harmony with the opposition New Democrats, the Liberals, and Stephen Harper’s predecessor Jean Chrétien.

I don’t follow Canadian-Iraqi relations overly closely, so I was surprised on Monday when the Department of Foreign Affairs announced it was pulling Canada’s chargé out of Baghdad, leaving no Canadian diplomatic presence there. Turns out we don’t have an embassy in Iraq after eight years of Conservative government. Our ambassador to Iraq lives and works in Jordan. The chargé, who’s been asked to leave for her safety, was first posted there a year ago. And though there were several reports in Iraqi media last autumn to the effect that a full embassy would open in Baghdad this year, there’s been no follow-up and I’m not sure how much credence to give the original reports. For one thing, they all misspell the Canadian ambassador’s name. He’s this guy.

The absence of a full ambassador in Iraq is a tell, and what it indicates is what you suspected: The Prime Minister is less excited than he used to be about the potential benefits of military intervention in Iraq. We have to look for hints like this, because nobody has seen fit to walk us through Stephen Harper’s reasoning.

If this were the U.K., we could all enjoy a merry set-to over Iraq between the former prime minister who thought deposing Saddam Hussein was a splendid idea, Tony Blair, and the perhaps-future PM, who used to think so and now really doesn’t. Boris Johnson gave the headline writers plenty to work with, arguing Blair was “unhinged” and “mad,” and that he should “put a sock in it.” Quite the contrary, I’d argue: Big public debates over the merits of big life-and-death policy decisions are all to the good and, being Canadian, make me so nostalgic, I could weep.

(On the merits, I’ll say only that even if you buy everything Blair wrote, it’s a singularly modest justification for an intervention that took the lives of 179 U.K. soldiers. Everything was fine in Iraq as late as 2010, he writes. But I don’t recall him saying in 2003 that toppling Saddam would buy peace for seven, maybe even eight years, after which it would become necessary to try again. As for Boris, his position is essentially that he liked the Iraq invasion when it seemed easy, but now he’s in the throes of sticker shock. This is an argument Michael Ignatieff would love.)

The evolution of Harper’s thinking on Iraq, and on military matters generally, would be fascinating to investigate. It’ll all have to await his memoirs, if any. You could put a good face on things by concluding, quite simply, that he learns from events: Having delivered far more phone calls to the families of soldiers who died in Afghanistan than he’d planned to, and having learned for himself what an amazing schmozzle any war and (to a lesser but still substantial degree) any equipment procurement becomes, he’s decided to do less by military than he once wanted to. The scale of military cutbacks is getting noticed, although, again, that leaves Harper vulnerable on his right flank, where there are no opposition parties.

Finally, the scale of the gap between U.S. and Canadian government thinking on the Iraq crisis remains nearly breathtaking. Barack Obama wants to enlist the help of the Iranian regime in solving this latest Iraq mess. Baird just published an article in Foreign Policy magazine saying Iran’s president, Hassan Rouhani, has not earned anyone’s trust. I don’t have great solutions to offer for a conflict that extends far past Iraq’s borders. And, to the extent anyone who used to think he had great solutions is now chastened and gun-shy, I call that progress.


Canada and Iraq: Plus ça change

  1. Harper always was a follower. At least he followed a wise Canadian in Chretien, as opposed to his usual go to men for “leadership” – disgraced US neocons. Baird is doing that for him, pandering to a small cell of evangelical Zionists who take their end-times cue from the most crazed of US cells. Our foreign policy is being written to appease the Canadian version of Jesus Camp – albeit one so small and numerically irrelevant one can only assume it is in the service of Harper’s republican imitative fantasies. This is the most bizarre, slimy, disingenuous alien regime to ever steal an election. The only regime to ever steal one. When Harper is ousted in 2015, and he will be, we must study what happened here so that in never happens again.

    • “wise Canadian in Chretien” – HAHAHAHAHA

      • Wise enough to keep Canada out of Iraq, unlike Harper who with Stock Day wrote an op-ed in the New York Times apologizing on behalf of the CPC, to the neo-cons for Canada’s lack of support.

  2. It’s absolutely amazing how, just a few weeks ago, Harper, and Baird(Mr. Piggy Winkles) were running around the world, with the Americans, sounding like they almost wanted to invade Ukraine against Russia ?
    But now, (even though ten of thousands of Iraqi’s are being killed again), not even a peep from our Dear Leader.
    Don’t get me wrong though, even Obama, and Harper, along with the rest of the world, must for surely know by now, that the entire Iraq/Afghanistan War has been a bitter loss for us all.
    Afterall, it was only about the “Oil”.
    I agree, Harper’s about-face “inaction” in regards to this, is due to his own foresight, carefully thought out, for his own Election chances.
    Nevertheless, it is, indeed, a very rare sight, to see the Cons’ NOT follow any American foreign policies….?

    This entire Iraq, Libya, Syria, Egypt,…, has become a surrealistic death-trap, for any and all involved.
    Iran’s sanctions will be dropped if they assist the States, but does Iran really want to be dragged into a huge Muslim-sect war? and what about Suadi Arabia ? – maybe Obama’s thinktanks are now proposing, that if any country can put a lid on all this, it’ll be with the help of Iran.-just to get things rolling again. [sigh].
    But remeber, it’ll always be about the Oil, and Oil is about power and wealth, no matter what.

  3. misspell the Canadian amabassador’s name

    Nice touch! Sometimes, I think all the other pundits are playing checkers while Wells is cheating at scrabble.

  4. So do we applaud the Prime Minister on ability to learn from mistakes, or lament it takes him over a decade (over two terms in office) to reach the proper conclusion?

  5. The MSM should be going after Harper for stance on Iraq, make sure Canadians know what kind of mad man we really have running this country. Canadians should be still very weary about this PM, he is not a stable enough PM to make tough decisions regarding conflicts in foreign countries, he has lost touch with reality and makes decisions when he is angry or whenever someone dosnt agree with his ideology. Im not going to call Harper a dictator, yet, but we are getting there. Opposition should swinging at Harper in the HOC for his reckless decision to want to go into Iraq, when Jean C refused to go, in back in 2003.

    • Should the MSM still be swinging at the Liberals for Chretien taking Canada into Afghanistan? If one wants Canadians to have lingering memories, it works both ways.

      • The vast majority of Canadians were in favour of Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan.

      • The Afghanistan mission as originally stated was to get al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, and to soothe the US in a time of national mourning.
        It was not the crusade envisioned by Harper and certainly nothing that might exist inside the mind of Baird.
        Colin Powell used the China shop metaphor – if you break it, you buy it.
        Iraq is now thoroughly broken. Afghanistan is now thoroughly broken. Syria is on the edge.
        Rather than a stable country run by a crazy man, Iraq has become a country in a full scale civil war on religious lines that could engulf the entire region. That is the was the Chretien avoided and Harper wanted so much to get Canada into that he apologized to the US for our failure to man up.
        These are of course just two ways in which Harper was wrong – perhaps not even the worst failures of his reign.
        When you are heading down the wrong path, everything you do can be completely wrong.

      • All parties and Canadians agreed with J.C. when we entered ‘ The War on Terror ‘ , it was even sanctioned by the UN. J.C. wasn’t as stupid as harper was when he(harper)made his stupid remarks that Canada should have participated in the Iraq war, he(harper) has been neutered on the Iraq war since(bad judgement). Harper was the one who made a mess of the Afghan. The cons sucked the life out the Afghan war by using solders as political puppets.

  6. Be fair. Canada is sending 5 cops to train the Iraqi police, Apparently that’s what Baird meant when he once said that Canada would punch above its weight on the international stage. .

  7. We have mention of Harper and Blair but no mention of Obama in story.

    For 5.5 years Obama has been president taking the lead in situation in Iraq, Syria, etc. During that time the west including america wanted to arm the rebels in Syria, the arms ended up in hands of ISIS.

    • 5.5 years ago Bush would have been mentioned in first paragraphs of almost any bad news story in Iraq, Afghanistan, etc.

      Now it is nearly impossible to find mention of Obama in similar bad news stories… for example american casualties in Afghanistan are higher in 4 years of Obama compared to 8 years of Bush, mention of casualties is way down.

      • Who knew that Presidents of the US planned military operations? Washington and Eisenhower before they were elected for sure but you’d be hard pressed to find any who did after they were.

  8. Perhaps he’s just wants oil prices to sky rocket so Alberta’s oil is worth more?

Sign in to comment.