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Democracy and the Politics of War PDF Print E-mail
Contributed by John W. Warnock   
Sunday, 06 April 2008
The consensus of the mass media in Canada is that Stephen Harper achieved everything that was hoped for at the NATO meeting in Bucharest this past week. France agreed to send more troops to Afghanistan. Poland agreed to give additional support. The alliance agreed unanimously that the Cold War military alliance was facing up to the test of the counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan.

The Canadian prime minister proclaimed that there was a “consensus” in Canada on the pursuit of the Afghan war. He openly challenged public opinion polls that indicated that a majority of Canadians opposed the extension of the current mission in Kandahar province. He argued that the “anti-war position” of the NDP, the Bloc and other Canadians reflected “only a scant minority.”

Canadians oppose extending the war in Afghanistan
    Angus Reid Strategies released the most recent public opinion poll on the war in Afghanistan on March 26, 2008. It found that 58% of Canadians disagreed with the decision of Parliament to extend the Canadian mission for another three years. Strong disagreement was expressed by 42% of Canadians.
    Who supports the Canadian war?  According to the Angus Reid survey, only supporters of the Conservative Party (72%). Those who oppose the extension of the war include strong majorities in all the other political parties: Liberals (63%), NDP (74%), Bloc Quebecois (78%) and Green Party (68%). 

The Afghan war and French public opinion
    Stephen Harper was pleased that French President Nicolas Sarkozy agreed to provide another 800 troops for the war in Afghanistan. Sarkozy has been pursuing an “Atlanticist” foreign policy in the face of rapidly falling public support. A recent BVA poll showed only 15% supporting the decision to increase the number of French troops in Afghanistan; 68% opposed the decision, and 65% opposed the U.S. occupation.
    The opposition Socialist Party (PS) has introduced a motion of censure for sending the additional troops to Afghanistan without the approval of the French parliament. But a similar decision was taken by the PS government in 2001. A recent CSA poll found that 72% of the French thought that the PS would do no better than Sarkozy if they were in office.

Polish opposition to the Afghan war
    Before heading back to Canada, Stephen Harper paid a visit to Poland to offer support for Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. Since taking office in October 2007, Tusk has increased the Polish commitment to the U.S. counter-insurgency war in Afghanistan. Yet in the campaign leading up to the Polish parliamentary election, he had taken a strong stand against the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
    Public opinion polls in Poland over the past two years have indicated that between 70% and 80% of the population is opposed to participation in both wars. There is great concern in Poland over the issue of human rights in Afghanistan. Seven Polish soldiers have been charged with war crimes for launching a mortar attack on a village said to host Taliban rebels. Six Afghan civilians were killed, including women and children. Canadian Forces regularly launch similar attacks on villages, but the Canadian  government and the military never admit to killing any civilians.

    The divisions over the war in Afghanistan reflect a general problem that exists in all the western democracies. How does the general public influence government policy? How important are elections when those who gain office are contemptuous of public opinion? The widespread disillusionment with the operations of the present political system is reflected in the steadily declining participation in electoral politics.

John W. Warnock is author of Creating a Failed States: the U.S. and Canada in Afghanistan, to be published by Fernwood Publishing in May 2008.




Last Updated ( Monday, 07 April 2008 )
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