More Iraq war lessons, Canada and Israel and another AUKUS update
MORE LESSONS FROM THE IRAQ WAR 20 YEARS ON
Canada, the Iraq war and Canadian intelligence assessments
In our 17 July 2020 blog post, we referenced a superb National Film Board documentary, High Wire — the story of how Canada came to its decision not to join the US in its illegal 2003 invasion of Iraq.
then Prime Minister Jean Chrétien spoke of how the Americans were always trying to provide him with intelligence briefings, but he steadfastly resisted. He would invariably respond: “I have my own people.”
Our post continued:
But since the September 11 attacks on the USA, we have seen a litany of cases where our intelligence officials have deferred to their American counterparts, in disregard not only of Canadian and international law but to the fundamental rights of individual Canadian citizens.
A research paper by Alan Barnes, a former lead analyst in the Privy Council Office’s Intelligence Assessment Secretariat (IAS), entitled Getting it Right: Canadian Intelligence Assessments on Iraq, 2002-2003 (28 May 2020) offers further insights into this apparent dichotomy.
Writing for Canadian Press, Jim Bronskill summarizes Barnes’ key findings:
In late August 2002, a Canadian interdepartmental experts group completed an assessment of Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction programs, including chemical, biological and nuclear arms.
It concluded any remaining chemical agents or ballistic missiles from prior to the 1991 Gulf War could only exist in very small quantities, and would likely no longer be useful because of poor storage conditions.
On the issue of nuclear weapons, Canadian analysts
could see no convincing indications that Iraq was reconstituting its nuclear program. They did not have confidence in the soundness of the evidence being cited by the U.S. as proof of Iraqi nuclear activity.
CSIS tended to back Washington’s claims
However, this same report also found that, while the weight of opinion was as cited above, there were also differing views. In particular, Barnes found:
Canadian Security Intelligence Service analysis of Iraq’s mass-destruction capabilities tended to support the claims coming from Washington
Barnes provided his assessment of the reason why:
This is likely a reflection of the discomfort of CSIS managers and analysts at being out of step with the U.S. intelligence community on a critical issue which might compromise their close operational links.
In his study, Barnes references a CSIS report — stating that Saddam appeared eager to acquire a nuclear weapons capability — that was withdrawn after the IAS raised concerns. He continues:
However, by then it had been shared with the U.S., giving Washington the impression that the Canadian intelligence community concurred with the U.S. claims when this was not the case.
The Rideau Institute comments:
It is hard to know what is more troubling, the “ready-aye-ready” analysis by CSIS or the premature sharing of their faulty conclusions with their American counterparts.
The power of one, the media and the Iraq war lies
For an astonishingly courageous effort by a British civil servant to stop the invasion, recapped today by the Institute for Public Accuracy (IPA), see 20 Years Later: “The Most Important Leak” That Almost Stopped the Iraq Invasion (accuracy.org, 8 March 2023).
The IPA article recounts how, Katharine Gun, a translator with GCHQ, the British equivalent of the US National Security Agency (NSA), leaked to the media an NSA memo ordering a “spy surge” on other members of the UN Security Council to find ways to blackmail and bribe them into voting for a UN Security Council resolution authorizing the invasion of Iraq.
The IPA account continues:
The story ricocheted around the world, causing the U.S. government to fail to get UN authorization.
Her story has been immortalized in the film Official Secrets, released in 2019.
Tim Adams writes in an Observer article just ahead of the release of the film:
The legal case against Gun [for violation of the UK Official Secrets Act] was eventually dropped by the British government in 2004, after her lawyer… threatened to use disclosure to put the legal basis of the war itself on trial.
The Rideau Institute comments:
While Katharine Gun’s action failed to stop the war, it did help deny America the UN Security Council authorization — and therefore legal cover — it sought for its otherwise illegal invasion. That being said, it was a mere blip in the American media onslaught in favour of the war.
To mark the 20th anniversary of the US invasion of Iraq, the Media Education Foundation is streaming — through April 18th and free of charge — the critically acclaimed 2007 documentary War Made Easy: How Presidents & Pundits Keep Spinning Us to Death. In their words:
The film… takes a blistering look at how U.S. media outlets from Fox News to MSNBC enthusiastically disseminated Bush administration propaganda and helped sell a war that would kill thousands of American troops and hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, most of them innocent civilians.
The real reasons for the Iraq war: American neoconservative hubris
For a succinct reminder of the real reasons for the US invasion of Iraq in 2003 and its continuing toll, see The Iraq War 20 years on: End of the US’s post-9/11 neoconservative dream (Paul Rogers, openDemocracy.net, 18 March 2023).
Crisis Group: lessons still unlearned
The prestigious International Crisis Group has released a very thoughtful, albeit careful, analysis, demonstrating that the US has still failed to fully learn some of the key lessons of its disastrous Iraq and related interventions.
In essence, they argue:
While there is no blueprint for how to respond to each instance of instability, and the U.S. response will vary case by case, Washington should approach these situations with a clear sense of the limits on any outside power’s ability to drive events.
The Ukraine war, the media and CSIS today
A recent Le Monde diplomatique article, entitled Western media as cheerleaders for war (Serge Halimi and Pierre Rimbert, March 2023), begins:
Western journalists are all but unanimous that negotiating with Russia would equal forgiving it its aggression. Nothing short of a crushing victory for Ukraine is conscionable.
The cheerleader characterization will come as no surprise to regular readers of Rideau Institute posts, which have relentlessly catalogued the same phenomenon.
And despite the American promulgation of and reliance on false intelligence to justify its illegal invasion of Iraq, followed by the rendition excesses of the US and many other countries, including Canada, in the war on terror, much of the Canadian media today still has no hesitation in relying on anonymous CSIS leaks about alleged Chinese interference and alleged Canadian political collusion therewith.
A former head of CSIS, Ward Elcock, has a quite different view of the anonymous CSIS leaker, as tweeted from his CBC television interview:
Here’s the clip: pic.twitter.com/rLwgti4VqL
— RF 🇺🇦 (@dipbrat70) March 23, 2023
And for a searing critique of the Global News reporting about former Liberal MP Han Dong, see I Don’t Trust Global News’ Reporting on Han Dong (readpassage.com, Davide Mastracci, 23 March 2023). The sub-head reads:
The articles by Sam Cooper rely on anonymous CSIS sources and fail to confirm allegations or even address inconsistencies.
The Rideau Institute comments:
Citizens cannot hold their governments to account for their policies and actions without the media providing accurate information and informed analysis. So what happens when they are manifestly failing to do so on crucial issues of war and peace and foreign interference?
At last condemnation from Canada
In our 3 February 2023 blog post, we highlighted an eloquent indictment by veteran columnist Andrew Cohen of US and Canadian silence in the face of rising Israeli political extremism.
We ended our commentary with the following:
The Rideau Institute asks:
Occurring as it is, in plain sight, just how much tolerance does the Government of Canada have for Israel’s horrific “descent of democracy”?
Comments by Bezalel Smotrich, Israeli Finance Minister and minister responsible for administering the Occupied West Bank have, at last, provided the answer.
During a speech in France on 19 March 2023, Smotrich stated:
Is there a Palestinian history or culture? There is none. There is no such thing as a Palestinian people.
According to a CBC report, Canada’s condemnation came in the form of an emailed statement by a spokesperson for Global Affairs Canada, reading in part:
These shameful comments from Minister Smotrich are unacceptable. We call on the Israeli government to disavow these comments, and for an immediate de-escalation of tensions as we enter the important upcoming holiday season.
As the CBC also reported:
The upcoming period is sensitive because large numbers of Jewish and Muslim faithful pour into Jerusalem’s Old City, the emotional heart of the conflict and a flashpoint for violence.
The US and the EU also condemned the remarks.
Canada pushes back against Israeli judicial “reforms”
The democratic backsliding in Israel has proceeded to such an extent that protesters have taken to the streets there for the 8th consecutive week in the face of plans to seriously curtail the power of the judiciary.
In a Guardian commentary timed to coincide with the visit of Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu to the UK, Israeli Professor Eran Yashim writes:
If implemented, these plans will spell the end of democracy in Israel. They break the power of the supreme court to counter governmental decisions and parliamentary laws, in a country with one chamber of parliament and no constitution.
True friendship with the Israeli nation requires western leaders to convey a clear message to Netanyahu and his rogue government.
The CBC reported on 17 March that Canadian Foreign Minister Mélanie Joly — no doubt emboldened by President Biden’s own attack on the proposed legislative changes — is also pushing Israel to drop these reforms.
The official readout of the meeting states:
Minister Joly underscored Canada’s support of democracy, the rule of law and the institutions that uphold them.
The CBC elaborates:
A Global Affairs Canada source familiar with the conversation said Joly specifically noted that Ottawa is keeping a close eye on Israel’s judicial reform.
In the face of continued Israeli settlement expansion into Occupied Palestinian Territory, the official readout also criticizes
unilateral actions that jeopardize efforts for peace, including the expansion and legalization of settlements.
Norwegian FM decries “double standards”
The same CBC article also reported comments made by Norwegian Foreign Minister Anniken Huitfeldt, while in Ottawa last week, that many developing countries find it hypocritical for states to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine without calling out Israeli settlements, adding:
We need to be very firm when it comes to occupation everywhere.
These statements by Canada — in the wake of stronger American and European criticism of Israel — are welcome but far too timid.
We call on the Government of Canada to heed the call for “true friends of Israel” to convey a clear message to the Israeli government on the manifold dangers inherent in its current anti-democratic trajectory.
On 13 March 2023, in San Diego, California, President Joe Biden and the leaders of Australia and the United Kingdom announced that Australia will purchase American nuclear-powered attack submarines to modernize its fleet, in response to their growing concern over China.
This follows the announcement in Sept 2021 of the new Australia/UK/US multilateral defence partnership — AUKUS — which we discussed in detail in our 20 September 2021, 25 October 2021, and 31 January 2022 blog posts.
The most noteworthy element of that new strategic partnership was the
“bombshell” announcement that the United States and the UK will transfer highly sensitive naval nuclear-propulsion technology to Australia, in support of Australian-built American or British nuclear powered submarines.
As we reported in our 22 October 2021 blog post, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), Rafael Mariano Grossi, outlined some of the challenges posed by Australia — a non-nuclear weapons state party to the Nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty (NPT) — acquiring nuclear-powered submarines:
- It will be the first time a nation without nuclear weapons will have nuclear-powered military submarines, creating a dangerous precedent that others could seek to emulate.
- These vessels will be powered by “very highly enriched” weapons-grade uranium which can be excluded from IAEA safeguards while at sea.
- Negotiations on how to manage this non-proliferation challenge will be “very complex”.
As nuclear non-proliferation expert Trevor Findlay made clear in a January 2022 article for Arms Control Today:
It is not that anyone suspects Australia of seeking nuclear weapons through the backdoor of nuclear submarine propulsion….
The precedent will be set, paving the way for other states to demand similar capability, either as a legitimate defense asset or as cover for more alarming nuclear ambitions, such as nuclear weapons development.
The new development reflected in the San Diego announcement is that rather than all the submarines being built in Australia, as originally announced, that country will purchase up to eight Virginia-class submarines, with some submarines to eventually also be built in Australia with US technology and support.
Because Australia could buy considerably more conventional submarines for the same cost, former Australian Prime Minister Paul Keating has labelled the $368bn AUKUS nuclear submarine plan the “worst deal in all history”, adding at a National Press Club event in Australia:
If we buy eight, three are at sea. Three are going to protect us from the might of China. Really? I mean, the rubbish of it. The rubbish.
Former Australian Foreign Minister Gareth Evans, writing in the Guardian and using more circumspect language than former PM Keating, posed “the three big questions Australia’s leaders must answer about the AUKUS deal”. The first two can be summarized as follows:
- Are this small number of nuclear-propelled submarines better than a far larger number of conventional subs – for the same cost – if their primary purpose is to prevent continental Australia and its sea-lanes from possible attack?
- By “yoking” itself to such extraordinarily sophisticated and sensitive US military technology, has Australia, for all practical purposes abandoned its capacity for independent sovereign judgment?
Former FM Evans poses the third question as follows:
Just how much security has our devotion to the US, and our ever-increasing enmeshment with its military machine, really bought us, should we ever actually come under serious attack?
China raises nuclear non-proliferation concerns with the deal
On 13 March 2023 the Chinese Mission to the U.N. tweeted:
The irony of #AUKUS is that two nuclear weapons states who claim to uphold the highest nuclear non-proliferation standard are transferring tons of weapons-grade enriched uranium to a non-nuclear-weapon state, clearly violating the object and purpose of the NPT.
— Chinese Mission to UN (@Chinamission2un) March 13, 2023
RI President Peggy Mason comments:
While many experts, and indeed the IAEA itself, have expressed their concerns about the negative non-proliferation impact of the AUKUS deal — just as China is doing here — there is a deafening silence from countries like Canada, who profess to be amongst the staunchest defenders of the NPT.
IAEA head pledges “very demanding” oversight
In the wake of the San Diego announcement AP reported:
The head of the global nuclear regulatory agency [Rafael Grossi] pledged Wednesday to be “very demanding” in overseeing the United States’ planned transfer of nuclear-powered submarines to Australia, amid complaints that the U.S. move could clear the way for bad actors to escape nuclear oversight in the future.
For a former IAEA insider’s view of just how difficult the oversight task is proving to be, see Run Silent! Run Deep! Sink IAEA Safeguards? (Tariq Rauf, indepthnews.net, 7 March 2023). Note that this was released just prior to the San Diego announcement.
Particularly noteworthy is this comment by Tariq Rauf on the direction that should have been taken regarding naval nuclear propulsion:
IAEA safeguards have been strengthened over past decades and loopholes closed, hence there are ample reasons to review and to attempt to rectify the serious flaw in both the NPT and comprehensive safeguards regarding the exemption from safeguards on naval nuclear propulsion.
On the issue of alternative verification measures for the highly enriched uranium (HEU] fuel used in naval nuclear propulsion, nuclear non-proliferation expert Trevor Findlay writes:
Fortunately, Australia’s safeguards agreement, like all others, requires that it notify the IAEA of its intention to acquire nuclear material for a non-explosive military purpose and help devise suitable verification arrangements with the IAEA to ensure that the material is not diverted to nuclear weapons.
In working with the IAEA on this challenging task, Australia would be setting a precedent, for good or ill, that other states will be able to exploit.
And he summarizes the difficulties:
The sensitivity of the technology and the inaccessibility of the reactor to inspectors preclude a traditional approach. Instead, new approaches and methods will have to be devised to satisfy the IAEA that no diversion of nuclear material to weapons purposes takes place, while protecting confidential, proliferation-sensitive information.
The Canadian media reaction to the AUKUS defence pact has focused mainly on how Canada has been inexplicably “left out” of a ludicrously expensive, one-sided deal, bristling with technical difficulties.
Seemingly unaware of Canada’s own fraught history of seeking to acquire nuclear-powered submarines in the 1980s, not to mention the disturbing nuclear non-proliferation implications, this tweet by CBC’s Evan Dyer perfectly captures this blinkered analysis:
It’s remarkable that Canada, given its geography and its history, was not invited to join this alliance. pic.twitter.com/oK7u7NQ4wv
— Evan Dyer (@EvanDyerCBC) March 14, 2023
The Rideau Institute comments:
A little more research into the “history” might have led Evan Dyer to an entirely different conclusion.
Photo credit: US Government (Virginia class submarine)