As the 10th anniversary of the bloody Iraq War approaches, former prime minister Jean Chretien says he has no regrets about rejecting Canada’s participation in the U.S.-led mission.
“It was a very important decision, no doubt about it. It was, in fact, the first time ever that there was a war that the Brits and the Americans were involved and Canada was not there,” Chretien told CTV’s Power Play.
The move also helped assert Canada’s independence on the world stage, he said.
“Unfortunately, a lot of people thought sometimes that we were the 51st state of America. It was clear that day that we were not.”
Chretien said he refused to commit to military action in Iraq without a resolution from the UN Security Council. He said Canada always followed the UN and intervened in other conflicts when asked to.
Chretien also said he was not convinced that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction – the threat that fuelled support for a U.S.-led invasion of the country -- and that turned out to be true.
While Chretien’s firm “no” stunned the U.S., the White House was not angry about it as many believed, he said.
Chretien remembered running into Andrew Card, President George W. Bush’s chief of staff, a few weeks later at a wedding. He said Carr told him: “We were surprised, but you didn’t double-cross us.”
The Iraq invasion began on March 20, 2003. More than 4,000 U.S. soldiers were killed and more than 31,000 were wounded. The last convoy of U.S. troops left Iraq in 2011.
“I had to send troops in many places when I was prime minister and it’s always a worry you have because you’re asking young Canadians to go abroad and some will not come back,” Chretien said.
“This one, I thought the Americans were wrong.”
Chretien also addressed his visit to Venezuela last week to attend President Hugo Chavez’s funeral.
He said he went because he knew Chavez personally and “never had any problem” with the controversial leader even though he didn’t agree with him “on many things.” He also wanted to show his respect for the people of Venezuela.
“He had support of the people and he was loved by the poor of his country. He was kind of a Robin Hood,” Chretien said.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper angered the Venezuelan administration by saying in a statement that he hoped the country can have a “better, brighter future” after Chavez’s death.
Chretien said the Venezuelan authorities were “very, very happy” to see him at the funeral, because they were “very unhappy” with Harper’s remarks.