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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 policy. 

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 Afghanistan. 

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 writes. 

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 September 11th. 

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 Studies. 

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.  

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> Chretien on domestic policy

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