Coalition of the willing

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(Host) Commentator Mary Clancy reflects on Canada’s response to military action against Iraq.

(Clancy) Tuesday in the Canadian House of Commons, Prime Minister Chr tien reiterated his decision not to join the coalition of the willing. In the wake of this I had a conversation with a young American who supports the war. He was very anxious about Canada’s intransigence and wanted to know why we weren’t sticking with our best friends and closest allies.

I reminded him that we still have ships in the gulf enforcing the embargo against Iraq and that Canada has no intention of calling the ships home. I reminded him that, if asked, we might send our large field hospital somewhere near the conflict to assist. I reminded him that we had already committed the bulk of our ground force to the peacekeeping in Afghanistan, so crucial to the war against terrorism. Then I realized that none of this means a damn.

In this toxic atmosphere, he who is not with us is against us. The fact that nearly everybody else is against this war doesn’t seem to even signify in the minds of the American leadership. The fact that Tony Blair – the best British PM in a generation – has probably scuttled his own career over it doesn’t seem to matter at all. The fact that huge amounts of political capital are being wasted does not seem to bother anyone in power.

This has been the message sent across our border since the PM made his position clear. And some deservedly obscure members of Canada’s Parliament have themselves been huffing and puffing and earning a reputation for narrow minded name calling.

We all have to step back here. It may be too late for short term peace, but it’s crucial to long term security. I don’t care whether you support the war or not; we have to look beyond the conflict, and we have to be good to each other. The United States is in sore danger of losing more than a little self-respect over this war, but I am not sure that protests, marches and hurling invective are the best ways to touch the hearts of this administration. No one ever convinced me by hitting me in the head with a brick, and I imagine the same thing goes for the current U.S. government.

In the plethora of commentary since this situation began we have heard a lot about a post-war Iraq. Are there plans? Are these plans adequate? What next? Of course, that is hugely important, but I think we may be forgetting an even bigger problem. What happens in a world where the U.N. no longer counts? What happens in a world where the NATO Alliance – recently expanded to include a number of the fragile democracies from the former Soviet bloc – clearly counts for nothing?

Take this a step farther: say the U.S. decides to punish France, Germany, Canada, Russia, China and every other country that did not reply, “Ready, aye, ready.” What sort of a world are we in for? America is the biggest and the strongest, yes; but it can not thrive in a world that resembles a vacuum. We cannot let the mentality that decides to change the name of French fries dictate future foreign relations. (Helpful hint here: Canadian Bacon could be called George Bush Bacon.)

I also had a conversation this week with an American friend who said this feels like August 1914, but he hoped he was wrong. If people of good will in America and in those countries that were her former allies don’t start rebuilding relationships, he could, God forbid, be right.

This is Mary Clancy, a Canadian living in Burlington, Vermont.

Mary Clancy is president of Burlington College and a former member of the Canadian Parliament.

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