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Book Reviews

Canada and the New American Empire: War and Anti War

by George Melnyk

After Iraq: War, Imperialism and Democracy

by Jim Harding

The rapid-fire pace of events unfolding under the American occupation of Iraq, coupled with the CNN-headline approach to the war, make it difficult to understand daily events, much less appreciate the historical roots of the invasion.

Despite its uninspired title, Jim Harding’s After Iraq is a good primer for those trying to make sense of the historical context for the latest Baghdad bombing. A professor and longtime peace activist, Harding presents a very accessible history of Iraq that, by examining the legacy of Great Power intervention in pursuit of oil and geopolitical advantage, opens a window on why so many regular Iraqis did not greet their American saviours as liberators. The book gives a detailed exploration of the past 20 years of politics with respect to Iraq, including the 1991 war, the controversial sanctions that killed over one million people, and the drama of UN showdowns over weapons inspectors which predated the latest invasion.

Most important, Harding places these events within a global understanding, and even touches upon the many ways that Canada, though not necessarily a vocal supporter of the invasion, certainly helped aid and abet.

Harding’s essay on the Bush Doctrine is also one of the strongest contributions to Canada and the New American Empire, a collection of anti-war essays edited by George Melnyk. While featuring some well-known contributors, including Douglas Roche, Scott Ritter, Bill Phipps, and Mel Hurtig, this uneven collection tends toward the academic. There is some solid scholarship here, but much of the work is uninspired, reading more like a collection of conference papers in which the distance between writer and audience is clearly felt.

Both books tend to treat Canada’s history with kid gloves, portraying this country more or less as an innocent abroad that suddenly got inexplicably corrupted during the 1991 Gulf War. The intense focus placed on U.S. policy here would serve Canadians better if the broad assumptions about Canada’s often contradictory role on the global stage had been placed under the microscope as well.