In the past month, there are been several blockbuster stories that suggest NATO's intervention in Afghanistan is continuing to unravel. Afghans are turning their guns on their NATO trainers with increasing frequency, former top U.S. generals are openly talking about the massive body counts, and France has announced it will withdraw its "training mission" a year early in 2013. Even the U.S. now claims it will "wind down" combat operations a year early, in 2013.
None of this has been seriously debated in the Canadian media. This despite the fact that Canada's current mission, which will see nearly 1,000 Canadian Forces personnel in Afghanistan until the end of 2014, was pushed through undemocratically (and underhandedly) by the Conservatives and Liberals back in 2010. For years, Harper had insisted that Canadian troops would leave in 2011. But then, in June 2010, Liberal foreign affairs critic Bob Rae came to the rescue, insisting that Canada had a responsibility to stay the course and to make some kind of ongoing military contribution to the occupation of Afghanistan. The Liberals served this one up on a tee for Harper -- the third time they helped Harper extend Canada's participation in the war. This is not surprising, because it was the Liberals who first sent troops to Afghanistan and who made the decision to take on the counter-insurgency mission in Kandahar (see this article for some disturbing speculation about just how many Afghans that Canadian troops may have killed).
This afternoon, in Quebec City, we will get a chance to see if any of the NDP leadership candidates plan to return the issue of Canada's role in Afghanistan to a prominent place in this country's political discussion. The debate starts at 2 p.m. EST and you can watch it live here.
The Canadian Peace Alliance has recently submitted a questionnaire to all the candidates. I've included the questions below, so you can get a sense of the priorities of the anti-war movement in Canada. It was not easy to keep it to five questions. The Harper government's foreign policy has made us the Ugly Canadian on the world stage. Stopping and reversing this foreign policy will require a vigorous and sustained public debate, not to mention the renewal and building of the anti-war movement.
I'll be writing up my impressions after the debate. And I'll try to follow some of the discussion today on Twitter.
The Canadian Peace Alliance has sent the following questions to the federal NDP leadership candidates.
Questions for New Democratic Party leadership candidates
1. Military Spending -- The Canada First Defence Strategy earmarks $480 billion for military spending by 2025. This is the largest increase in military spending since WWII and makes Canada the 13th largest military spender in the world. Simultaneously, the government of Canada is calling for austerity and plans an $11 billion cut to public services in their next federal budget. The Canadian Peace Alliance has launched a campaign called Peace and Prosperity -- NOT -- War and Austerity to redirect that spending.
Question: What would you do to counter this imbalance and call for a redirection of money, allocated for the military to public services, health, veteran rehabilitation, education and environmental programs?
2. Afghanistan – The Government of Canada has extended Canada's troop presence in Afghanistan until 2013. This is the third time they have extended Canada's participation in the war. In poll after poll, the majority of Canadians have shown that they want all of our troops removed from Afghanistan now.
Question: What would you do to as leader of the opposition to raise this issue and to call for the immediate removal of all Canadian troops including troop trainers from Afghanistan?
3. Sanctions and war on Iran -- There are signs that the U.S., Israel and other NATO countries not only are planning a fifth round of severe sanctions but also a possible nuclear military attack on Iran's nuclear facilities. Any use of military force against nuclear installations in Iran will be dangerous and illegal under international law. As was the case with Iraq, sanctions and war created a humanitarian crisis with more than 1.5 million dead and a country in ruins.
Question: Would you oppose further sanctions and a military attack on Iran?
4. Civil Liberties -- The Conservative government has a record of attacking those who dissent -- in particular, criminalizing Muslims as so-called "Islamists" and criminalizing Aboriginal people who try to assert control over their traditional territories. Now the government has said it will reintroduce anti-terror legislation which had expired in 2007 including clauses in Bills C-36 and C-42 which suspend the rule of law and allowed for people to be arrested and detained without charge.
Question: What would you do to stop the Conservatives' plan to set back civil liberties in Canada and work to rescind those elements of Bills C-36 and C-42 that have been extended?
5. NATO -- The NDP is on record calling for Canada to withdraw from NATO. Canada's NATO membership has resulted in our armed forces being embroiled in conflicts, such as the war in Libya, during which NATO far exceeded its regional and military mandate. The Libya mission, under NATO, morphed from a call for a limited mission into an aggressive war for regime change.
Question: Do you think Canada should continue to be part of NATO? If yes, why? If no, why?