Toronto Sun | Jun. 13, 2004 | Orest Slepokura
Letter to Editor

Harper on Iraq

Mr Goldstein,

In March 2003, the Iraq war meant ousting Saddam and destroying his WMD capacity. Ever since Saddam was plucked from his rabbit-hole and a firm conviction taken hold that he had none of the much-ballyhooed WMD, what the Iraq war means has changed considerably. It now equals torture at Abu Ghraib prison, random atrocities by all sides, and Jimmy Carter's 1979 "national malaise" writ large.

I can understand why Stephen Harper might not be too keen to identify himself with the war. It's like a teen-agers block party gone terribly wrong: homes trashed, girls raped, boys OD-ing on Ecstasy, puddles of puke on the lawns, riot cops assaulted, etc. That said, I'm with you on Mr Harper taking ownership of the sordid mess. It will red-flag the risk we run by allowing war-mongering neo-cons to turn our military into a farm team franchise for the Pentagon.

Orest Slepokura

Toronto Sun | Jun. 13, 2004 | Lorrie Goldstein

Harper should stick to his guns on Iraq

APPARENTLY, STEPHEN Harper is spooked.

Worried he'll be accused in the upcoming televised leaders' debates that, had he been prime minister at the start of the Iraq war, our soldiers would be coming home in body bags today.

How else to explain what seems a massive case of amnesia or revisionism on the Conservative leader's part?

At the Sun, we were staunch supporters of Canada joining the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March, 2003, and we recall who agreed and who didn't. Harper did, Jean Chretien didn't and Paul Martin was all over the map.

But as for Harper, there's no other possible interpretation of his April, 2003 statement that "we should have been there, shoulder to shoulder with our allies," along with his earlier observation that Chretien had made "a serious mistake" by refusing to join the coalition.

Now, Harper is muddying the waters, saying he was never talking about more ground troops, only more support for the forces Canada already had in theatre, as well as sending in a force before the war began to put pressure on Saddam Hussein.

Apparently, they then might have left when the shooting actually started.

Huh? That's certainly not the impression Harper gave at the time. (The irony is that even under Chretien, our naval contribution to the war effort, plus the 31 soldiers we had seconded to the U.S., meant Canada had the fourth-largest military force in the Gulf at the start of the war.)

But the difference between Chretien and Harper was that Chretien was unwilling to give U.S. President George Bush Canada's moral support, while Harper was.

Logically, based on what Harper was saying at the time, some ground forces would have been sent to Iraq had he been PM.

Rather than equivocating, Harper should defend that position. Based on what was known at that time, with the UN Security Council convinced Saddam possessed weapons of mass destruction, it was certainly an honourable argument to make.


Today, with the benefit of hindsight, knowing that Saddam did not have WMD and that the U.S./British case against him was based on either lousy or hyped-up intelligence, would we (or Harper) have backed the war? Perhaps not. Indeed, the failure to find WMD has clearly undermined the moral basis for the war against Iraq.

But Chretien didn't keep us out of Iraq because he believed Saddam had no WMD.

In fact, Chretien told the Commons in 1998 that Canada had "proof" such weapons existed.

Rather, Chretien's position was that any action had to be taken through the UN, which was paralyzed at the time.

Instead of equivocating now, Harper should have said yes, he would have sent in our forces and that based on what we now know, he might eventually have pulled them out. And that while Chretien's decision to stay out of the war is hugely popular now, at the time Canadians were deeply divided over the issue.

That would have been straight talk, which is what voters are looking for today.

As for the "body bags" the Liberals are so anxious to pin on Harper, it's a red herring. Canada has a volunteer army.

Those who join know they may be placed in harm's way. One shows respect for our military not by never sending them into danger, but by ensuring they are properly equipped, armed and compensated, areas where the Liberals have failed miserably.

The Grits now say that because they were in charge, our soldiers did not die in Iraq.


So? Under the Liberals, our soldiers faced hazardous (and honourable) duty in Afghanistan, where seven have died so far.

And more than 100 Canadian soldiers have died over the years on peacekeeping missions the Liberals so adore.

If the Liberals want to allege Canadian soldiers would have died in Iraq under a Harper government, let them also acknowledge our soldiers actually did die under their own.

As for Harper, who wants to win the trust of Canadians, he should have defended his original position on Iraq, not tried to reinvent it.