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Iraq War’s Canadian legacy

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EDMONTON — It does not seem so long ago that the United States was trying to convince the world that the regime of Saddam Hussein in Iraq had Weapons of Mass Destruction and that he was planning to use them against the Americans or their allies.

Alas, after 10 years, there has been plenty of need to reflect on exactly what occurred in 2003 and the legacy of the "Coalition of the Willing" mission to depose Hussein and embark upon a nation-building experiment that by all accounts was not going to prove successful.

There is absolutely no doubt that the American claims regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction and possible links to Al Qaeda were false. Further, the almost surreal case made to the United Nations Security Council by then Secretary of State Colin Powell that contained circumstantial and exaggerated facts did very little to convince other states that there was, in fact, a reason to launch a military mission in Iraq, even with the model vial of anthrax being dangled to the Security Council members.

In the end, the United States was unable to persuade the United Nations or virtually any other state, including its closest allies, that there was a legal and legitimate reason to invade Iraq, thus leading to a select group of states joining the Americans for what has become one of the largest military and foreign policy blunders of recent history.

Beyond the fabricated evidence of Weapons of Mass Destruction, the false links to Al Qaeda and President George Bush’s desperate attempts to invoke humanitarian intervention doctrines, the 2003 invasion and subsequent mission have produced some very important legacies that are worthy of mention today.

By far the most noteworthy outcome of the circumstances surrounding the invasion was the Canadian rejection of the American plan. This was the first time in history that Canada refused to join the United States and/or Great Britain in a military operation and exercised its national sovereignty to remain out of the conflict. Prime Minister Jean Chrétien was very clear that, in order for Canada to participate in any such mission, the Liberal government would require a United Nations Security Council Resolution to legitimize an intervention. Naturally, Chrétien received heavy criticism from the Opposition in parliament, at the time led by Stephen Harper, but Canada’s refusal to join the coalition was a major statement to the world and to Canadian citizens about the nation’s views on legality and legitimacy.

Another lasting element of the 2003 debate was the questioning of the Security Council’s role in international affairs. At the time, many were left to ponder what the point of the Council was if two of the permanent members were able to do as they pleased despite the Council saying no to intervention. History, however, has taught a very different lesson. A decade later, the Security Council has been vindicated and, arguably, the 2003 Iraqi situation further entrenched the Council’s legitimacy as a decision-making body in world politics.

The 2003 mission in Iraq was debatably the first, and only, exercise of what became known as the Bush Doctrine, introduced in the 2002 National Security Strategy of the United States. Bush claimed his foreign policy would be predicated on protecting American interests at home and abroad and that the United States government would use preemptive strikes if it felt at all threatened. The mission in Iraq eroded any level of credibility that may have been initially granted to the doctrine, and more, has been a contributing factor, along with a simultaneous deployment in Afghanistan and a global recession, to the drastic decline of American power in the world.

Ten years later, it is difficult to conceive of a scenario where the military deployment and subsequent nation-building exercise in Iraq can be heralded as successful. The epitome of the mission’s irony remains encapsulated in the minds of a generation when they recall Bush standing on the deck of the USS Abraham Lincoln under the banner that read "Mission Accomplished". I doubt the men and women who lost their lives in Iraq as a result of the mission would agree with celebrating any accomplishment at all.


Robert W. Murray is an adjunct professor of political science in the department of political science at the University of Alberta.


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