With March 20, 2013 representing the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq, historians and journalists in both Canada and the United States have been assessing the wisdom of this historic decision. The Iraq War, due to its enormous costs in human, financial and material terms, has long fallen out of favor with the American people and the political class. Even the Republican Party has taken some distance from the major architects of the war—former President George W. Bush and former Vice President Dick Cheney. Neither has addressed a Republican National Convention since 2004.
In Canada last week, former Prime Minister Jean Chrétien made all the media rounds and was strongly commended for refusing to go along with the so-called “Coalition of the Willing” in 2003 after the UN Security Council refused to sanction the U.S.-led invasion. It was the first time that Canada said “no” to a U.S. president about to enter a war. It was a defining moment because Canada was a faithful U.S. ally in World War II, in the 1990-91 Persian Gulf War, the 1950-53 Korean War, and throughout the Cold War. Moreover, Canada was very supportive of the invasion of Afghanistan after September 11, 2001.
The decision to go to war in Iraq was never popular in Canada, despite the initial support of the opposition Conservative party leader, Stephen Harper. The case for weapons of mass destruction and the links between Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, and Al Qaeda were never convincing to the general population. The Canadian government of the day, led by Prime Minister Chrétien, had large-scale support for saying “no,” and this support was especially vocal in Chrétien’s home province of Québec. Even Conservative leader and current Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper later recanted, saying the war was a mistake.
President Barack Obama receives his first visit from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the White House today. As a testament to the strength of the U.S.-Canada relationship, this will be the seventh time Obama and Harper have met since the new President took office. Health care is not likely to make the agenda, but trade, energy and the environment, Afghanistan, and border management are expected to be discussed.
Americans might not know much about these issues, but maybe they should. For example, Canada is a top trading partner of the United States, with nearly $750 billion in two-way trade in 2008. The U.S. economy is not only fueled by Canadian trade, but also, literally, by Canadian energy. Canada has the world’s second-largest proven oil reserves, after Saudi Arabia, and is consistently one of the top three suppliers of oil to the United States. Along with the need for coordinated environmental management along the 5,500 mile (8,900 kilometer) U.S.-Canadian border, the United States and Canada recently began a Clean Energy Dialogue to help speed the transition to greater use of clean energy sources in both countries. Canada has been a partner in the fight against terrorism and currently has 2,500 troops on the ground in Afghanistan. Our ability to increase security along the northern border since September 11, 2001, has also depended on Canadian cooperation.