PG: What has the world learned about multilateralism? Did anything change after this?
BG: Since the Iraq War, international law and the rules that govern state conduct have changed a lot. … If you enter into a war where it’s not considered legitimate by the international community, you are on very, very dangerous ground.
The difference between the way the Americans have handled Iraq and Syria is not just a difference between Bush and [Barack] Obama. It’s the result of a learning experience that if you flout international law, you’re going to have to pay some consequences.
When Libya came along, Obama made sure that he had a UN mandate – he wasn’t going to intervene without a Security Council resolution and Arab League approval before he acted.
And David Cameron, when justifying the British intervention, said something like, “It’s the right thing to do and it’s the legal thing to do.” States are much more conscious of international legal constraints.
PG: That’s ironic – Bush’s legacy was a stronger international legal framework.
BG: You were in Benghazi [in Libya]. What do you think of that intervention?
PG: People in Benghazi didn’t care much about the law or diplomacy. They just wanted someone to stop [Moammar] Gadhafi. … After Iraq, I had become very anti-intervention, but I was extremely glad to see the NATO planes, as was the entire Benghazi. It was going to be a massacre, that was clear.
Obviously, it’s much easier to be against intervention when neither you nor anyone you know is about to die.
Patrick Graham is a freelance journalist. Bill Graham retired from politics in 2007 and is working on a memoir.
Iraq War timeline
Dec. 16-19: United Nations inspectors withdraw from Baghdad a day after reporting that Iraq is not cooperating with their work. The next day, the United States and Britain launch four days of air strikes.
Jan. 29: U.S. President George W. Bush describes Iraq, Iran and North Korea as an “axis of evil” which he claims is armed with weapons of mass destruction and supports terrorism.
Sept. 12: In a speech at the UN, President Bush says, “If Iraq’s regime defies us again, the world must move deliberately and decisively to hold Iraq to account.”
Nov. 8: The U.N. Security Council unanimously approves resolution 1441, giving Iraq a last chance to scrap its weapons of mass destruction or face “serious consequences.”
Nov. 13: Iraq accepts resolution 1441 unconditionally.
Nov. 16-17: Anti-war protests take place across Canada, with the largest gathering (approximately 2,500 people) in Toronto.
Nov. 20: In a speech at the NATO summit in Prague, President Bush says that “the United States will lead a coalition of the willing” to disarm Iraqi President Saddam Hussein. But Prime Minister Jean Chretien sounds a cautionary note, in tune with most of NATO’s European leaders; he says going to war with Iraq should be the decision of the U.N., not the U.S. alone.
Jan. 28: In his State of the Union address, President Bush reaffirms his intention to lead a coalition to disarm President Hussein “for the safety of our people, and for the peace of the world.”
Jan. 28: Weapons inspectors, headed by Hans Blix, criticize Iraq for not genuinely accepting UN resolutions demanding its disarmament. Iraqi presidential advisor Lt.-Gen. Amir Rashid responds by saying his government has been co-operating with inspectors “with all our capacity.”
Feb. 5: In a dramatic 83-minute speech at the UN, U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell explains the American case for war on Iraq, unveiling new evidence that Baghdad has been flouting demands for disarmament, attempting to conceal banned weapons and keeping ties to al-Qaeda Islamist militants. A top Iraqi official denounces the report as “a typical American show” based on faked evidence.
Feb. 15: The U.S. is increasingly isolated over its possible invasion of Iraq. Millions march in anti-war protests around the world.
March 17: Prime Minister Jean Chretien declares (to a standing ovation from Liberal, Bloc Québeçois and NDP MPs) that Canada will not join in waging war against Iraq. The U.S., Britain and Spain, however, abandon efforts at an international endorsement for war against Iraq. President Bush gives President Hussein 48 hours to leave the country.
March 19: The U.S. launches thousands of cruise missile strikes and air attacks on hundreds of targets in Iraq. The next day, eight British and four U.S. troops become the first known casualties on the coalition side when their helicopter crashes in Kuwait.
Compiled by Stephanie Chambers
Sources: Agence France-Presse, Associated Press, Reuters, The Globe and Mail