FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Canada’s Secretive Role in Iraq

by YVES ENGLER

When a US-led coalition invaded Iraq the forward-looking Canadian government stayed out of the war. And if you believe that I have a bridge for sale in Moose Jaw at an excellent price.

As part of the tenth anniversary of the invasion many media outlets lauded Canada’s refusal to join the second Iraq war. Former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien got the ball rolling by boasting that he never believed Iraq had amassed weapons of mass destruction and that staying out of the war “is a decision that the people of Muslim faith and Arab culture have appreciated very much from Canada, and it was the right decision.”

While the more liberal end of the dominant media regurgitated the former PM’s claim, it’s completely false to say Canada did not participate in the 2003 invasion of Iraq. As Richard Sanders has detailed, dozens of Canadian troops were integrated in US units fighting in Iraq; U.S. warplanes en route to that country refueled in Newfoundland; With Canadian naval vessels leading maritime interdiction efforts off the coast of Iraq, Ottawa had legal opinion suggesting it was technically at war with that country; Canadian fighter pilots participated in “training” missions in Iraq; three different Canadian generals oversaw tens of thousands of international troops there; Canadian aid flowed to the country in support of US policy. As such, some have concluded that Canada was the fifth or sixth biggest contributor to the US-led war.

But the Jean Chrétien government didn’t do what the Bush administration wanted above all else, which was to publicly endorse the invasion by joining the “coalition of the willing”. Notwithstanding Chrétien’s claims, this wasn’t because he distrusted Bush’s pre-war intelligence or because of any moral principle. Rather, the Liberal government refused to join the “coalition of the willing” because hundreds of thousands of Canadians took to the streets against the war, particularly in Quebec. With the biggest demonstrations taking place in Montréal and Quebecers strongly opposed to the war, the federal government feared that openly endorsing the invasion would boost the sovereignist Parti Québecois vote in the next provincial election.

So the Chrétien Liberals found a middle ground between the massive anti-war mobilization and Canada’s long-standing support for US imperialism.

Tenth anniversary stories in the mainstream media have mostly erased the role popular protest played in this important decision, focusing instead on an enlightened leader who simply chose to do the right thing.

Of course the Iraq war was not the first time that popular movements forced the hand of foreign policy decision-makers. Or the first time that the “official story” ignored the role of protesters. Or the first time that the myth makers twisted the truth to promote the notion of a benevolent Canadian foreign policy.

Take the example of Ottawa’s move to adopt sanctions against apartheid South Africa in 1986. While former PM Brian Mulroney and many media commentators now boast that Canada sanctioned South Africa, they rarely mention the two decades of international solidarity activism that exposed and opposed Canadian corporate and diplomatic support for the racist regime. (And as with the Liberals refusal to join the “coalition of the willing” in Iraq, Canadian sanctions against South Africa were half measures). Even though Ottawa prioritized corporate and geostrategic interests above the injustices taking place there for four decades, today much is made about Canada’s morally righteous position on apartheid South Africa.

The dynamics were similar with the 1973 coup in Chile. The Pierre Trudeau government was hostile to Salvador Allende’s elected government and predisposed to supporting Augusto Pinochet. Days after the coup against Allende, Andrew Ross, Canada’s ambassador to Chile cabled External Affairs: “Reprisals and searches have created panic atmosphere affecting particularly expatriates including the riffraff of the Latin American Left to whom Allende gave asylum … the country has been on a prolonged political binge under the elected Allende government and the junta has assumed the probably thankless task of sobering Chile up.”

Canadian leftists were outraged at Ottawa’s support for the coup and its unwillingness to accept refugees hunted by the military regime. Many denounced the federal government’s policy and some (my mother among them) occupied various Chilean and Canadian government offices in protest. The Trudeau government was surprised at the depth of the opposition.

Similar to Chrétien on Iraq, the Trudeau government tried to placate the protesters all the while pursuing a pro-US/pro-corporate policy. Canadian investment and business relations with Chile grew substantially after the coup. Ottawa did allow refugees from the Pinochet dictatorship asylum in Canada but continued to support the pro-Pinochet and pro-investment policies directly responsible for the refugee problem. As a result of the protests, thousands of refugees from the Pinochet (1973-90) dictatorship gained asylum in Canada, leaving many with the impression that Canada was somehow sympathetic to Chile’s left. But, this view of Canada’s relationship to Chile is as far from the truth as Baffin Island is from Tierra del Fuego.

Like Iraq, the partial activist victories regarding South Africa and Chile have been twisted to reinforce the idea that Canadian foreign policy is benevolent. And this myth, which obscures the corporate and geostrategic interests that overwhelmingly drive Canadian foreign policy, is an obstacle to building effective opposition to Ottawa’s destructive role in international affairs.

With politicians and establishment commentators refusing to credit activists, it’s important we write our own history. A better understanding of the power of solidarity and especially our victories will strengthen our movements.

But at the same time it’s important to be conscious of current limitations. Canadian foreign policy so overwhelmingly prioritizes corporate and geostrategic interests that full-scale victories are nearly impossible in the short or medium term. We’ll achieve no lasting change without fundamentally changing Canada’s corporate dominated political system.

Yves Engler’s latest book is The Ugly Canadian: Stephen Harper’s foreign policy. For more information visit yvesengler.com

Yves Engler’s latest book is ‪Canada in Africa: 300 years of Aid and Exploitation.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

Weekend Edition
December 09, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Nasty As They Wanna Be
Henry Giroux
Trump’s Second Gilded Age: Overcoming the Rule of Billionaires and Militarists
Andrew Levine
Trump’s Chumps: Victims of the Old Bait and Switch
Chris Welzenbach
The Forgotten Sneak Attack
Lewis Lapham
Hostile Takeover
Joshua Frank
This Week at CounterPunch: More Hollow Smears and Baseless Accusations
Paul Street
The Democrats Do Their Job, Again
Vijay Prashad
The Cuban Revolution: Defying Imperialism From Its Backyard
Michael Hudson - Sharmini Peries
Orwellian Economics
Mark Ames
The Anonymous Blacklist Promoted by the Washington Post Has Apparent Ties to Ukrainian Fascism and CIA Spying
Erin McCarley
American Nazis and the Fight for US History
Yoav Litvin
Resist or Conform: Lessons in Fortitude and Weakness From the Israeli Left
Conn Hallinan
India & Pakistan: the Unthinkable
Andrew Smolski
Third Coast Pillory: Nativism on the Left – A Realer Smith
Joshua Sperber
Trump in the Age of Identity Politics
Brandy Baker
Jill Stein Sees Russia From Her House
Katheryne Schulz
Report from Santiago de Cuba: Celebrating Fidel’s Rebellious Life
Nelson Valdes
Fidel and the Good People
Norman Solomon
McCarthy’s Smiling Ghost: Democrats Point the Finger at Russia
Renee Parsons
The Snowflake Nation and Trump on Immigration
Margaret Kimberley
Black Fear of Trump
Michael J. Sainato
A Pruitt Running Through It: Trump Kills Nearly Useless EPA With Nomination of Oil Industry Hack
Ron Jacobs
Surviving Hate and Death—The AIDS Crisis in 1980s USA
David Swanson
Virginia’s Constitution Needs Improving
Louis Proyect
Narcos and the Story of Colombia’s Unhappiness
Paul Atwood
War Has Been, is, and Will be the American Way of Life…Unless?
John Wight
Syria and the Bodyguard of Lies
Richard Hardigan
Anti-Semitism Awareness Act: Senate Bill Criminalizes Criticism of Israel
Kathy Kelly
See How We Live
David Macaray
Trump Picks his Secretary of Labor. Ho-Hum.
Howard Lisnoff
Interview with a Political Organizer
Yves Engler
BDS and Anti-Semitism
Adam Parsons
Home Truths About the Climate Emergency
Brian Cloughley
The Decline and Fall of Britain
Eamonn Fingleton
U.S. China Policy: Is Obama Schizoid?
Graham Peebles
Worldwide Air Pollution is Making us Ill
Joseph Natoli
Fake News is Subjective?
Andre Vltchek
Tough-Talking Philippine President Duterte
Binoy Kampmark
Total Surveillance: Snooping in the United Kingdom
Guillermo R. Gil
Vivirse la película: Willful Opposition to the Fiscal Control Board in Puerto Rico
Patrick Bond
South Africa’s Junk Credit Rating was Avoided, But at the Cost of Junk Analysis
Clancy Sigal
Investigate the Protesters! A Trial Balloon Filled With Poison Gas
Pierre Labossiere – Margaret Prescod
Human Rights and Alternative Media Delegation Report on Haiti’s Elections
Charles R. Larson
Review:  Helon Habila’s The Chibok Girls: the Boko Haram Kidnappings and Islamist Militancy in Nigeria
David Yearsley
Brahms and the Tears of Britain’s Oppressed
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail