I strongly encourage all readers of Pearls and Irritations to watch this remarkable new documentary from the National Film Board of Canada on PM Jean Chretien’s decision to say no to the Iraq War in 2003.
The decision was, according to the Toronto Star’s senior journalist Chantal Hebert, Chretien’s defining moment as PM, and according to Chretien himself, the greatest affirmation of Canadian independence in the past 50-75 years.
It’s excellent, and it is a great pointer to what an independent foreign policy for Australia could be like from within the alliance, if we so chose.
In particular there is this marvellous sentence, in a sequence from about 1:03:40 – 1:04:50
On 17 March 2003, at 9:00 a.m., two days before the war began, Canada got an official request from the British Embassy in Ottawa (not the US Embassy), to answer four questions by noon. Canadians thought this was obnoxious and decided not to answer before noon, nor before 1:00 pm, nor even before 2:00 pm. But at 2:00 pm, they said, the
“PM would address Parliament, because he answers to Canadians, not to Americans or British”.
Another highlight is the role of and comments from the Canadian ambassador to the UN at the time, Paul Heinbecker. (Disclosure: Paul and his wife have been personal friends for two decades.) He was desperately trying to stretch out the timeline so the UN weapons inspectors under Hans Blix could complete their job. He learnt through sources in Washington DC that the Americans were going to complain about him to PM Chretien and decided to phone the PM himself to give him a heads up. I paraphrase:
“You’re a big boy, aren’t you?”, Chretien asked.
“Yes, I think so,” Paul replied.
“Well then, do what big boys do. Tell them to get lost”.
That was the end of the story.
Do watch it, and weep for Australia.