Tue, 12 Sep 2006
I voted for the New Democratic Party in the last federal election.
I didn’t cast this vote out of enthusiasm. In my riding the choices were an incumbent Conservative MP, a fairly high-profile NDP challenger, and an obscure Liberal with no hope of winning. I didn’t find any of the party leaders appealing. Finally I ruled out the Conservatives because I was turned off by their social regressivism – even though, it should be admitted, Stephen Harper didn’t make much of an issue of gay marriage or abortion in the campaign. That left two choices. On election day, as I sat in the polling booth, my pencil wavered between the Liberal and NDP candidates. At the last minute I marked my X for the New Democrat, local radio crank Don Kossick. My logic was that the Conservatives were going to win anyway, so I might as well use my vote to try and keep them honest, allowing them the narrowest possible margin of victory, in this riding at least.
I repudiate my vote.
I was aware at election time that on foreign policy the NDP and I do not agree. The party has been characterised by the most uncompromising variety of pacifism ever since J.S. Woodsworth stood up to oppose Canadian involvement in World War II. As for me, although I recognise that war is always grisly and terrible, I don’t think democracies can shirk from fighting evil – yeah, I said evil – whether in the form of Nazism, Communism, or Islamism. I’m not even willing to commit entirely to the consensus view that the Vietnam war was a mistake. I half-supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq. It probably goes without saying that I strongly favour continuing the fight against Taliban forces in Afghanistan.
At their just-ended convention in Quebec City, the New Democratic Party called for Canadian troops to be withdrawn from Afghanistan in February 2007, two years ahead of schedule. The resolution passed with 90% support. Earlier the party’s youth wing had voted on a resolution opposing Canada’s “occupation” of that country. Every single youth delegate voted for the resolution. The CBC reported (update – link no longer active) that not one person stood to debate the point – not even to express reservations about that provocative word “occupation”.
The same day, delegates heard a speech by an Afghan woman named Malalai Joya who implied that we were deluded to think that we were fighting for liberal values in her country. I can’t find the complete text of her speech online, but she’s quoted as saying, “When the entire nation is living under the shadow of the gun and warlordism, how can its women enjoy very basic freedoms?” I should note that Joya is a member of the Afghan parliament, and would presumably admit that however imperfect the current regime, her “basic freedoms” are slightly less circumscribed than they would be under the Taliban. According to the CBC report linked above, Joya doesn’t favour the removal of NATO troops. She just wants Canadians to “withdraw their support” from the warlords in Hamid Karzai’s government. The delegates gave her a standing ovation. Then they went ahead and voted for a complete pullout.
I have to admit a blind spot here. I have no idea what these delegates actually expect to happen in Afghanistan once the Canadians are gone. I assume – I will generously credit them basic decency by assuming – that the NDP doesn’t want the woman-hating, idol-smashing, al-Qaeda-supporting Taliban to return to power. I also assume that their opposition to the Canadian presence in Afghanistan extends to the presence of any foreign troops – in other words, that they don’t just want Canada to stand aside while other members of NATO carry on defending the new government without us. Beyond this, I can’t even guess what NDPers are thinking. Do they believe that once NATO has withdrawn, the rebels are going to stop fighting? Do they think that the weak and backward Afghan government is going to get stronger and more progressive once our corrupting foreign influence has been removed? Do they care that considerable swaths of southern territory are already under Taliban control?
I can’t pretend that the war is being waged as intelligently as it could be. This article by Johann Hari makes the case that the U.S.-led campaign against heroin trafficking is undermining the fight. By burning the poppy crops that provide many poor Afghans with their only source of income, we turn potential allies into Taliban sympathisers. Hari offers a plausible alternative strategy: instead of destroying the poppies, or letting them be processed into heroin and smuggled into the west, we should be buying the poppy crops ourselves. Perhaps this would be expensive, but losing the war ain’t gonna be cheap either.
Obviously there is room for constructive criticism of the Afghanistan mission. But I no longer believe that the NDP has the moral authority to offer it. They are silly with anti-Americanism. The world should be wary of untrammelled American power, especially as exercised by the current administration, incompetent and self-righteous. But the New Democrats have gone beyond wariness to superstitious dread. The name George W. Bush has become a curse to them, and they recoil from every cause, however just, that has been stained by it.
I have more to say about Afghanistan here.