Chretien on foreign policy Politics Watch ® News Services
October 22, 2007, updated 4:20 p.m.
|The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001
are considered the biggest event in
recent history, but it received just five pages in Jean
Chretien's new book.
OTTAWA (PoliticsWatch.com) —
In a two-part series, PoliticsWatch examines some of the issues
raised in former prime minister Jean Chretien's second memoir, My
Years as Prime Minister.
In part one, PoliticsWatch looks at Chretien's foreign
Since the release of My
Years as Prime Minister, published by Knopf Canada, much of the
media coverage about foreign policy has focused on one sentence about former prime
minister Paul Martin's alleged dithering on
However, there is plenty more for politics and public policy
observers in former prime minister Jean Chretien's
behind-the-scenes take on his time in office.
Nowhere is it more interesting than in Chapter 12 "No to
War," where Chretien looks at the events leading up to his
decision not to support the U.S.-led invasion in Iraq.
Behind-the-scenes conversations between Chretien, U.S. President George
W. Bush, U.S. Vice President Dick Cheney and former White
House chief of staff Andrew Card are included. Many of the conversations
are in quotations based on the former PM's recollection.
Chretien reveals in this chapter that the popular belief that Bush
was so miffed over Canada's decision to stay out of Iraq that he wouldn't
invite him to his Crawford, Texas ranch is not true.
"In fact, he did invite me, though the events of 9/11 made it
difficult for us to find a suitable date," Chretien
In fact, Chretien said Card told him at a wedding reception for the
U.S. ambassador's daughter that the White House did not feel at all
"double-crossed" by his decision.
Chretien's book offers a lot of information not publicly known,
especially about Iraq, but the book is thin on any real insight on
other issues surrounding the War on Terror.
In fact, the book's index does not even include an entry
for the "War on Terror."
Even though it was the biggest news event during his 10 years as prime minister,
the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Centre and the Pentagon
account for just five of the 435 pages in Chretien's book.
In those five pages, Chretien does not repeat his controversial 2002 comments linking Western wealth to 9/11: "We're looked upon as being arrogant, self-satisfied, greedy and with no limits. And the 11th of September is an occasion for me to realize it even more," Chretien told the
CBC in an interview for a special documentary commemorating
the first anniversary of 9/11.
However, the former prime minister doesn't disavow those comments either and he uses an extract from a speech he gave days after the terrorist attacks in which he stated that "Islam has nothing to do" with
Books such as Chretien's are supposed to provide historians with an understanding of what is going
through a prime minister's mind when such momentous events happen. My Years as Prime Minister fails to do so.
After seeing the World Trade Centre towers collapse on television, Chretien recalls saying, "The world is going to be a very different place from now on."
However, he never goes on to explain just how the world will be different and what would Canada's role be. Chretien says Islam is not to blame for
September 11 but he never offers his thoughts on what is.
Chretien describes in detail his schedule on 9/11 and some of the decisions he made, but the five pages on the terrorist attack serve more as a vehicle to boast about his ability to "become cool rather than panicky in crisis situations."
The brief portion on the terror attacks is also where Chretien levels one of his most controversial comments in the entire book in which he
blames Paul Martin's dithering
for Canada's current combat role in Afghanistan.
"Later, unfortunately, when my successor took too long to make up his mind about whether Canada should extend our term with ISAF, our soldiers were moved out of Kabul and sent south again to battle the
Taliban in the killing fields around Kandahar," Chretien writes.
This comment has become controversial for two reasons.
The first being Chretien's use of the loaded term "killing fields" to describe Canada's combat mission.
The Killing Fields is a term used to describe the atrocities of the Khmer Rouge
regime which killed an estimated 2 million Cambodians in the late 1970s. Using the term to make a comparison to Canada's role in Afghanistan is in poor taste and is an overkill of spin against Martin.
In addition, a former prime minister describing Afghanistan as the
killing fields hurts the morale of Canadian troops serving their
nation at war.
Secondly, Chretien's unattributed claim of Martin's dithering is not accurate, according to those in government at the time.
A new book, The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, published before Chretien's accusation became public,
doesn't support the former PM's claim.
The book is written by Eugene Lang, who was chief of staff to Martin defence minister
Bill Graham, and Janice Gross Stein, director of the
University of Toronto's Munk Centre for International
In addition, Kenneth Calder, a retired defence official, told the Globe and Mail there was no delay in the decision-making process on Afghanistan and,
in fact, it moved forward rapidly.
Chretien's decision not to participate in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq, meanwhile, comes up repeatedly in
his memoirs, often in unrelated chapters as a way for
the ex-PM to boast about his instincts or how he had spared Canada a resulting political crisis.
Chretien's book does not make a single mention of Iran, which is now at the centre of international attention because of its nuclear ambitions in defiance of the UN.
Zahra Kazemi, a Canadian journalist who was beaten to death by Iranian authorities after she was detained for taking pictures outside a
Tehran prison during a student protest, also does not appear on the
pages of Chretien's book.
Kazemi is omitted even though her widely reported and controversial death happened in 2003 while Chretien was in his final months in power.
Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was sent to Syria
as a terror suspect by U.S. authorities where he was tortured,
receives just one mention in Chretien's book.
Chretien said he was able to secure Arar's release and return to
Canada due to his overall foreign policy position not to isolate
dictators, such as former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad.
"I believed that engaging him in dialogue had been better than
isolating him, despite the many serious differences we had about
foreign policy and human rights," Chretien wrote.
Mulroney on . . .
(September 12, 2007)
What does former prime minister Brian Mulroney think of Paul Martin, Hillary
Clinton, the Parliamentary Press Gallery and others? Find out as PoliticsWatch
looks at the former PM's new memoirs.
Chretien on domestic policy
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