US embassy cable - 03OTTAWA917

CANADA-IRAQ: WHAT NOW?

Identifier: 03OTTAWA917
Wikileaks: View 03OTTAWA917 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Ottawa
Created: 2003-03-28 22:31:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL//NOFORN
Tags: PREL MARR PTER CA
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 OTTAWA 000917 
 
SIPDIS 
 
NOFORN 
 
E.O. 12958: DECL: 03/28/2013 
TAGS: PREL, MARR, PTER, CA 
SUBJECT: CANADA-IRAQ: WHAT NOW? 
 
REF: OTTAWA 892 (NOTAL) 
 
Classified By: DCM Stephen R. Kelly, Reason: 1.5 (b) and (d) 
 
1. (C/NF) SUMMARY.  Ambassador Cellucci's widely reported 
expression of U.S. disappointment over official Canada's 
position on Iraq and the military campaign has precipitated a 
tidal wave of response.  While senior Cabinet ministers 
clearly got the message and want to turn things around in the 
bilateral relationship (reftel), as does the Liberal Party's 
heir apparent, it remains unclear whether Prime Minister 
Chretien - the key decision maker in this case-- is willing 
to rein in the left wing of his party and buck public 
opinion, which he sees as solidly in the anti-war camp.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
2. (C/NF) The world has changed dramatically over the last 
several years, and Canada has been taking stock of its 
foreign policy.  Canadians are acutely aware of and sensitive 
to their dependence upon the U.S. for economic prosperity and 
national security, but are also driven by a historic 
imperative to assert a Canadian identity that clearly sets 
the country apart from America.  While not visceral 
anti-Americanism in a classic sense, it does color government 
foreign policy decisions.  In recent months, senior officials 
from the Prime Minister down have cited "Canadian 
sovereignty" and "the Canadian way" to the House of Commons 
as justification for any number of positions, some of them 
quite contradictory.  Moreover, it is unclear that the 
Canadian leadership and public understand, at a fundamental 
level, the implications of the 2001 terrorist attacks on 
America and the depth of U.S. commitment to preventing a 
recurrence of such attacks.  These are some of the factors in 
Canada's ambivalent approach to Iraq from the beginning.  The 
particular leadership style of Jean Chretien, who has 
announced he will retire in February 2004, is another element 
in Canadian waffling on Iraq. 
 
3. (C/NF) The identity confusion notwithstanding, it appears 
that many Canadian officials assumed that Canada's stance on 
Iraq did not "really" matter in the larger scheme of things 
and that our relations would revert to business as usual once 
the flap over their non-participation in Iraq blew over. 
Chretien's resolute silence when members of his staff or the 
Liberal Caucus -- including a Cabinet minister -- publicly 
made disparaging comments about the United States and the 
President seemed to play to that assumption.  Thus, the 
Ambassador's March 25 remarks at a Toronto business forum, 
voicing U.S. disappointment over Canada's position on Iraq 
and comportment regarding the war, gave attentive observers a 
much needed jolt and loosed a hail of I-told-you-so media 
commentary and broad speculation about the consequences of 
U.S. disappointment. 
 
4. (C/NF) Canadian media have played out the reactions for 
most of the week, including the interesting conclusion of 
Liberal pollster Michael Marzolini (CEO of Pollara Inc.) that 
had Jean Chretien decided to support the United States, 
Canadians would have swung behind him and accepted military 
action in Iraq.  He told a Toronto audience that in asking 
whether "Canadians accept war, (albeit) reluctantly and 
grudgingly," instead of whether they "want" war, he found 
that a small majority actually favored Canada's participation 
in the Iraq conflict.  This majority was on a par with the 56 
percent approval Pollara registered for participation in the 
Kosovo conflict four years ago, which Canada entered without 
UNSC approval.  The question is whether Marzolini's newly 
revealed conclusions, in addition to the Ambassador's 
comments, might stir up public opinion enough to convince the 
Prime Minister of the need to change tack. 
 
5. (C/NF) On foreign policy PM Jean Chretien calls the shots, 
and he plays to the polls.  He is first and foremost a 
domestic politician from Quebec, the home of Canada's 
tenacious and pacifist francophone linguistic minority.  His 
political roots are dug deeply into old-line Liberal Party 
soil and he is unsympathetic to, and out of touch with, U.S. 
foreign policy concerns. Moreover, since Chretien's 
announcement last August that he would quit politics in 2004 
-- and the soaring star of Liberal backbencher Paul Martin 
(expected to win the party leadership in November) -- it has 
become evident that the PM has lost his ironfisted grip on an 
increasingly restive Liberal Caucus.  His focus since the 
announcement has been to shape his legacy for the history 
books, and he crafted his last budget to boost the social 
traditions of the Liberal party. 
 
6. (C/NF) As Prime Minister, Chretien's modus operandi has 
been to play to domestic public opinion, which he does even 
to the detriment of his own Cabinet members attempting to 
advance Canada's external policy interests. An egregious 
example was his public admonition of Defense Minister 
McCallum for stating in Washington what GOC officials had 
told us privately since December, i.e., that if the UN 
process should fail and no explicit authorization for force 
be given, "Canada will at that time decide whether to 
participate in a proposed military coalition."  The PM's 
outburst in the House of Commons was explained to us as 
concern for public perception -- at a time, it turns out, 
when the polls showed a leap in Canadian opposition to 
military action.  The tactic of ceding to public opinion 
appeared vindicated in the resounding public response to 
Chretien's March 17 announcement that Canada would not join 
the U.S. led coalition.  That said, the collective body of 
anecdotal evidence and published opinions over the past year 
suggest that the Canadian public, though still broadly 
supportive of Liberal party policies, has become disenchanted 
with--even embarrassed by--Jean Chretien, and is relieved 
that he took the hint (from polls) to step down. 
 
7. (C/NF) What now?  With the fluid dynamic of Jean Chretien 
officially at the helm for the next 10 months, we should not 
expect any change in this government's decision against 
joining coalition operations in Iraq (even though, 
ironically, Canada's indirect military contributions to the 
Gulf region and its upcoming ISAF role, are far more 
significant than those of most of the coalition members).  At 
the same time, we can hope that Canadians' collective 
embarrassment over the government's behavior (Chretien 
himself does not exhibit any sense of shame) might prompt the 
GOC to focus seriously on post-conflict needs of Iraq.  We 
see some promising signs in the government's pledge this week 
of CAD 100 million to immediate humanitarian relief and the 
possibility of future funding.  In the House of Commons 
Question Period this week, Members of the opposition have 
proposed potential non-military assistance such as a "field 
hospital." 
 
8. (C/NF) Finally, even the March 28 Toronto Star contained 
an amazing editorial (given the newspaper's anti-U.S. bias) 
calling on Chretien to become more involved in Iraq in the 
reconstruction phase as a way of moving back into the 
US/British fold.  Although it doesn't voice support for the 
US, it does display a chastened tone (not matched by any of 
the other opinion pieces) and acknowledges that Canada's 
breaking with the US on Iraq is not without repercussions. 
For our part, we should continue to publicize USG efforts to 
resolve trade disputes-notably softwood lumber-and to tout 
the progress on border initiatives, but consciously, without 
diluting the points made by the Ambassador in Toronto.   In 
any case, we believe that once Chretien is gone, there will 
be an improvement in Canada's policy toward the U.S., at 
least in tone and perhaps even substantively. 
CELLUCCI 

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