In March 2003, the United States and a coalition of allies invaded Iraq, in the name of democracy and to avenge the attacks of September 11, 2001. This illegal intervention caused the downfall of Saddam Hussein, led to chaos in the region, and opened a Pandora’s box of evils whose disastrous consequences are still being felt throughout the Middle East. Canada declined to follow the Bush administration into the bloody conflict. Now, providing a much-needed historical perspective, Claude Guilmain’s High Wire takes us behind the scenes to shine a light on this poorly understood episode, while denouncing the interventionist approach to foreign policy taken by the United States after the end of World War II. Featuring accounts from several key players, the film reminds us of the terrible price we pay when diplomacy fails.
In 2003, Canada refused to follow the United States in invading Iraq. The film examines the behind-the-scenes tug of war that took place at the time with our neighbours to the south.
High Wire examines the reasons that Canada declined to take part in the 2003 US-led military mission in Iraq, shining a spotlight on the diplomatic tug of war that took place behind the scenes with our neighbours to the south, who have often adopted an interventionist foreign policy to serve their own economic and geopolitical interests. Canada’s historic refusal could have had disastrous consequences, but a number of key players and other analysts remind us of the terrible price we pay when diplomacy fails.
Once the spotlights have been turned off, the grey areas of a major international news story can sometimes be seen more clearly. In March 2003, the United States and a coalition of allies invaded Iraq, in the name of democracy and to avenge the attacks of September 11, 2001. This illegal intervention caused the downfall of Saddam Hussein and led to chaos in the region. There was also a heavy human toll, especially on the Iraqi side, and the operation opened a Pandora’s box of evils whose disastrous consequences are still being felt throughout the Middle East. At the time, in the absence of any factual evidence that Iraq possessed weapons of mass destruction, Canada declined to join the Bush administration in the bloody conflict. Now, providing a much-needed historical perspective, High Wire takes us behind the scenes to shine a light on this poorly understood episode of our political history.
At a time of such international instability, what was behind Canada’s decision not to join the military coalition? The film traces the timeline of events and uses testimony from several key players to document the tug of war that unfolded with our neighbour to the south. These witnesses include Canada’s ambassador to the UN, Paul Heinbecker, then-Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, and his principal political advisers, Claude Laverdure and Edward Goldenberg. More broadly, High Wire offers the director’s eloquent overview of the state of the world at a turning point in our history.
Other analysts appear in the film to discuss the interventionist approach that dominated US foreign policy after the end of World War II, when a new vision of the world was emerging from the ruins of Nazism and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. Miloud Chennoufi, a professor at Canadian Forces College, recalls that the United States began to prioritize its economic and geopolitical interests to the detriment of democratic values. Hence its support for a number of dictatorships, either through direct intervention or by means of secret CIA operations such as those in Iran (1953), Guatemala (1954), and Indonesia (1965–66). High Wire examines the war in Iraq as an openly interventionist action by a country that, in constant need of new enemies to feed its military machine, maintained a climate of fear in the public by exploiting threats.
By opposing the doctrine of preventive war advocated in Washington, and by refusing to support the ambitions of the Pentagon and the military-industrial complex, Canada distanced itself from a tense international situation. In doing so, it ran the risk of diplomatic breakdown or economic reprisals, but in choosing a path of reason and political accountability, the country reaffirmed its independence. The retrospective analysis of High Wire brings in multiple points of view, illuminating the mysteries behind a high-level decision that affected the collective future of a nation. The film reminds us that human suffering, which accompanies all military action, is the terrible price we pay when diplomacy fails to resolve international conflicts.
Written, Researched and Directed by
Dr. Miloud Chennoufi
Department of Defence Studies
Canadian Forces College
Rt. Hon. Jean Chrétien
Prime Minister of Canada, 1993–2003
Canadian Ambassador (Ret’d), Permanent Canadian representative to the United Nations, 2000-2004
Edward Goldenberg, C.M.
Former Senior Policy Advisor and Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
Canadian Ambassador (Ret’d), Diplomatic advisor to Prime Minister Jean Chrétien
Professor, School of Applied Politics
University of Sherbrooke
with the assistance of
Martin Léon, Leader
Alexis Dumais, EMD
Sheila Hannigan, cello
Multi-screen System Designer
Multi-Screen System Assistant
Camille Bergeron Bégin
Jacques Bertrand Simard
Credits and Graphic Animations
Christian Langlois, Mémoire liquide
Design and Graphic Animations
Subtitles and Translation
Administrator and Line Producer
Alexandrine Torres de Figueiredo
Technical Audio Support
Producers and Executive Producers
the National Film Board of Canada – Canadian Francophonie Studio