Sunday, June 18, 2006

Pramatic Turn

I would love it if a Liberal candidate made a speech resembling the following.

Peace keeping means what it says. It involves keeping the peace between two identifiable warring factions who want peace and have invited third party in to keep it. It really only has a hope of succeeding when those groups are separated from one another by geography. As guerilla war supplants state on state violence as the dominant form of conflict, peacekeeping missions have become less and less useful. In this sense Ignatieff is right and Rae, Volpe and Layton are dead wrong. Peace keeping has had it day; it represents a proud chapter in Canada history, but that chapter has been written; let us move on. The question is to what.

Ignatieff is the only candidate is to propose a replacement and for that he deserves credit. Ignatieff, however, proposes that we adopt a Neo Conservative doctrine that works in theory, but is a miserable failure in practice. So here we Liberals are, trapped between ideology and nostalgia.

It is time we Liberals take a pragmatic turn. This should be a simple enough, but alas I fear no. For most Canadian politicians foreign policy is a subject they would prefer to forget much less discuss and is only made tolerable for us Liberals by a number refined and ready made platitudes. Do not be fooled by Ignatieff’s muscular Victorian venire either, a puritanical adherence to altruism still has domain over all parties and one asks “how does this benefit Canada?”, “what are the risks?” or “how likely is such a mission to succeed?” at ones own peril. Good intentions and moral obligation are still seen as magical guarantees of a mission’s success. Ignatieff’s position is just more in keeping with Conservative axiom that when it comes to foreign policy all one need do is to puff out one’s chest and hope for the best and a different set of platitudes. In keeping with such a testosterone driven attitude, Ignatieff followed Stephen Harper’s lead and claimed that anyone who opposed the extension of the Afghan mission does not “support the troops”. Where Ignatieff differs from Harper is that he does not believe that our obligation to protect does not in theory depend upon American’s willingness to intervene even if it does in practice.

As Liberals, we must not be tempted either of these two sets of platitudes. We must be more worldly in outlook. We must start asking questions that we have either repressed, or were afraid to ask. Only once we start asking the more mundane questions about how this or that policy benefits Canada, what are the chances of it succeeding, will we create a more realistic picture for the Canadian public. As representatives of the people, we owe the public that much; we owe them the truth.

For starters this means removing the fig leaf of Conservative procedural misconduct and having the very debate about Afghanistan we, rightly claim the Canadian people missed out on. In doing so, pace Ignatieff, scared cows are not the only wild animal to be avoided. We must also be wary of elephants and guerillas. Let us not pretend, for example, that our Afghanistan policy will not have domestic consequences. We have recently seen that it does. We can not pretend, as Stephen Harper does, that sending troops to Afghanistan will not protect us from terrorists who have never set foot in that country, but who wish us ill will because we have sent troops there. We must accept that in a democratic society, politicians have a duty to base their arguments on the truth and that they do not have the option of designing arguments to obscure it even if believe our hearts in the right place.

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