Why Canada Must Reject War on Iraq
Published on Sunday, August 11, 2002 in the Toronto Star
Why Canada Must Reject War on Iraq
by Linda McQuaig
 

WE HAVE TO think pretty hard about what kind of government we want to replace Saddam Hussein with." Oddly, this comment provoked no particular reaction when it was made by a prominent U.S. commentator on a CBC radio program last week.

I suspect that if the commentator had instead said something like: "I don't see anything wrong with eating another person, if you're really, really hungry," the interviewer would have expressed surprise, if not disapproval.


We shouldn't get closer with America when its swaggering lawlessness threatens world security.

But there was no response when the commentator Lee Hamilton, director of the Washington-funded Woodrow Wilson Center for International Scholars blithely suggested that Washington has the right to forcibly overthrow the government of another country and then determine what the new regime should be.

Yes, Saddam Hussein is a dictator. But which international law or any other type of law specifies, in the absence of democracy, that responsibility for selecting a nation's leader falls to the United States?

The raw aggression of this proposition is hidden behind the often-used phrase "regime change" to describe U.S. intentions towards Iraq.

"Regime change" sounds strangely benign, like something that happens when voters go to the polls. In this case, however, it would happen when the world's most heavily-armed nation unleashes its massive firepower against another country a plan that enjoys virtually no support in the world community.

Certainly Washington's keenness to bomb Iraq should give us pause about aligning ourselves more closely with the United States as a number of influential Canadians have been urging, in the wake of Sept. 11.

Last June, for instance, the C.D. Howe Institute published a study by well-known historian J.L. Granatstein, arguing that Canada has no choice but to co-operate with the U.S. on North American defense and the war on terrorism.

My gut feeling is to be suspicious whenever someone says we have "no choice." (Recall the mantra, "there is no alternative," when we were being told to accept deep cuts to our social programs. And, of course, one barely hears of the "global economy," without hearing about how powerless we are in it. Indeed, one is more likely to encounter the word "impotence" attending a seminar on globalization than listening to hallway chatter at a Viagra convention.)

Granatstein urges us to be "practical" rather than "emotional" in deciding whether to support the expanded U.S. war on terror good advice. But he then goes on to make the odd assumption that full Canadian co-operation falls into the "practical" column, while remaining skeptical belongs in the "emotional" column.

Surely, it's the other way around. There might be some emotional reasons sympathy for Sept. 11 victims, for instance for supporting the United States, but it's hard to see practical benefits in signing up for future wars.

Granatstein argues full co-operation would give Canada greater influence with Washington. Yeah, and investing in Florida swamp land will make you rich quick.

Having our troops serve under U.S. generals in Afghanistan did nothing to protect Canada's softwood lumber industry, nor did it increase our clout in military matters. When we protested the U.S. failure to apply the Geneva conventions to prisoners seized (by us) in Afghanistan, Washington basically brushed us off.

Perhaps the brush-off would have been quicker if we hadn't had troops in Afghanistan, but a slower rebuff seems a minimal benefit.

Rejecting U.S. warmongering might actually increase our clout in the world community. U.S. academic Tony Judt argued in the New York Review of Books last week that Canada and Scandinavian nations "exercise influence far above their weight in international affairs because of their worldwide identification with aid and peacekeeping."

Judt's larger point was that Washington's obstreperous, go-it-alone behavior is diminishing its influence in the world, despite its overwhelming military power.

"Even the mere appearance of taking the world seriously would enhance American influence immeasurably from European intellectuals to Islamic fundamentalists; anti-Americanism feeds voraciously off the claim that the U.S. is callously indifferent to the views and needs of others."

It hardly makes sense for us to get more firmly on board with Washington, when its swaggering lawlessness endangers world security. Not only would our support deliver us no clout in Washington, it would reduce us to a pretty sorry excuse for a country.

If that's the best we can muster as a nation, we better cross our fingers and hope there are some more courageous countries out there with the guts to speak out against grossly anti-democratic behavior, even when it's on the part of the well-muscled "leader of the free world."

Linda McQuaig is a Toronto-based author and political commentator.

Copyright 1996-2002. Toronto Star Newspapers Limited

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