Monday, May 29, 2006

The silver bullet in pro-war vote

Now Magazine, the Toronto-based news and entertainment weekly, asked Steven Staples to
contribute an article on the outcome of the debate and vote on the military's mission in Afghanistan. Here is Steven's article:

The silver bullet in pro-war vote

By Steven Staples

Michael Ignatieff. Who would George W. Bush choose to be the next leader of the Liberal Party?

My friend once bragged that punk rocker Iggy Pop had kicked her in the head during one of his Montreal concerts. Iggy and the Stooges shows were legendary for their wild mosh pits and Iggy's onstage acrobatics.

But now, everyone who is opposed to Canada's war in Afghanistan has the same bragging rights, after being kicked in the head politically by Liberal leadership candidate Michael "Iggy" Ignatieff and his backup band of Liberal caucus stooges.

PM Stephen Harper was so relieved to win Ignatieff's last-minute support last Wednesday night, May 17, to extend Canada's military mission in Afghanistan by two years to 2009 that Harper crossed the floor of the House after the vote to shake his hand.

He had much to be grateful for.

As the Peace Tower clock counted down the hours before the vote,
Conservative strategists must have worried they might actually lose. The wild card was the Liberal party. The Conservatives hoped they could still count on Liberal support since, after all, it was Paul Martin who sent troops to Kandahar in the first place. But they didn't know for sure.

Media outlets, updating their stor-ies throughout the day, predicted that the motion could be defeated.

Anti-war activists began to seriously entertain the possibility that Harper could suffer his first defeat, and Canada's support for the U.S.-led war on terror would be limited once again, as it was when Canada said no to the invasion of Iraq and missile defence.

That night, when the votes were counted, it was clear that most of the Liberal caucus opposed extending the mission. The Liberal sands were shifting. Former defence minister John McCallum and the hawkish Keith Martin opposed the motion.

Michael Ignatieff and Scott Brison distinguished themselves as the only two leadership candidates to support it, along with a dozen or so others including another former defence minister, Bill Graham. This Liberal rump saved Harper from losing his gamble to the tune of 149 to 145.

Ignatieff's main opponent, former Ontario premier Bob Rae, said he would have voted against the motion if he had a seat in Parliament, igniting speculation that the leadership race will divide along the issue of the war in Afghanistan.

The timing of the snap vote indicates the Conservatives were leery of more casualties and declining public support. Harper had good reason to be worried. Another Canadian soldier was killed on the day of the vote, hundreds of Afghans have died in vicious fighting recently, and last weekend coalition forces bombed a village in Canada's area of responsibility, killing innocent civilians, including children.

Despite the vote, anti-war activists can point to positive developments:

  • both the NDP and the Bloc Québécois are now clearly against the war;
  • many Liberals, unencumbered by the decisions of the Martin government, are speaking up;
  • and the war seems to be the one issue to come close to wounding the pro-Bush Conservatives.

The debate now moves into the Liberal leadership race.

Despite his claim to want to shift the Liberal party to the left, Ignatieff, if he wins, like Harper, will continue to move Canada closer to the United States and its wars. Nothing short of three anti-war opposition parties in Ottawa will ensure that Stephen Harper does not win the majority government he craves, and that Canada can return to its traditional role as an honest peacekeeper.

Steven Staples is director of security programs for the Polaris Institute and author of the forthcoming book Missile Defence: Round One.
NOW | MAY 25 - 31, 2006 | VOL. 25 NO. 39

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