21 March 2004

Canada Got it Right on Iraq

What lessons should Canada learn from the Iraq experience? First and foremost, that values matter in foreign policy. Reduced to its basics, participation in the Iraq war would have meant sending young Canadians to kill, and be killed by, young Iraqis for the sake of maintaining friendly relations with Washington.

Second, going along to get along has never made good public policy, or good politics, either. The Canadian government looked at the evidence Washington presented and voted its conscience. Another government, the Spanish, looked at the same evidence, and voted its interests, specifically its interests with Washington. One is in office and the other is not.

Third, the Iraq war demonstrates the limits of intelligence. The U.S. administration and others made intelligence pivotal to their decision-making. The Canadian government used it as one input among many. One government is embarrassed and the other is not. Time, and enquiries, will tell whether the intelligence in the United States and Britain was just catastrophically bad, politically manipulated or both. The Canadian analysis was better.

Fourth, Canada does not have to choose between the UN and the United States. To be respected in Washington, we need to be effective in the world, including at the UN. The converse is also true; effectiveness in New York depends on visible influence in Washington.

Finally, we should not shrink from disagreeing with U.S. administrations when they are wrong any more than we should shrink from agreeing with them when they are right. We should call them as we see them. We did so on Iraq, and we have been vindicated.

Really, this is a Canadian version of the Powell doctrine Australia should have followed it a year ago. We should follow it in the future.

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