The Canadian Election and the War in Afghanistan by Michael Skinner

Conservative Party leader, Stephen Harper, attempted to remove questions about Canada’s role in Afghanistan from debate during the election campaign by announcing the combat role of the Canadian Forces will end, in 2011, if he is re-elected as Prime Minister.

But let’s be clear about what the current combat role entails. Many Canadian political and military leaders claim the current counterinsurgency war will help bring stability, development, democracy, and the liberation of women to Afghanis, which will in turn make Canadians and the people of the world safer. However, Canada is participating in a counterinsurgency war using tactics prohibited by international law. Canada is also participating in a global American-led war with obscured geopolitical and economic objectives. Canadian political leaders have put us in this position to curry favour with the United States and benefit a small minority of Canadians – primarily investors in Canada’s military industrial complex, the extractive industries, construction, transportation, communications, and other industries that can profit from war.

None of the Canadian political parties has produced a clearly focused foreign policy that most people – and not just people on the left – in Canada and Quebec can support in good conscience.

During the current election campaign, the leaders of all the political parties have avoided discussing the issues of the war in Afghanistan and its broad implications for Canadian foreign policy in any depth. The NDP, Green, and Bloc Québécois parties have at least produced platforms advocating withdrawal of Canadian combat troops from Afghanistan. The Conservatives and Liberals advocate holding the present destructive course until 2011.

All parties have avoided discussing Canada’s combat role in Afghanistan in any depth for fear of alienating the small but powerful minority of war supporters. Most grassroots support for the war is generally well-intentioned, but, unfortunately, misinformed by the claims of altruistic intent made by the Government of Canada and Canadian Forces. Some grassroots support for the war, however, displays a disturbing trend towards an emerging North American jingoism.

Big business support for the war is profit-driven. The war is transferring billions of tax dollars to manufacturers and service providers in the military/security industries and many other related industries. The war is also opening Afghanistan to foreign investment and could potentially make all of Central Asia far more accessible for North American businesses.

Successive Liberal and Conservative governments have manoeuvred Canada into a subordinated position deeply integrated within America’s global war-making organisation. Canada’s imperial interests have become aligned with American ones. Yet, no leader of a major Canadian political party has asked why Canada is in this subordinated position as a key support of American imperialism, or laid out clear strategies to break from it.

The Financial Costs of Canadian Militarism in Afghanistan
Neither the recent Conservative government nor the earlier Liberal government have been forthright about the priorities for the war in Afghanistan. Even Canada’s Auditor-General, Kevin Page, has had a difficult time getting clear answers from state agencies regarding the costs of the war. Page estimates the cost could reach $14 to18 billion by 2011. The Rideau Institute estimates the costs could balloon to as much as $28 billion.

Canada pledged only $1 billion for development aid for the period 2001-11, little of which, to date, appears to have been spent on substantive human development projects. Independent assessments of Canada’s development role are difficult because the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) and the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade (DFAIT) appear as secretive as the Department of National Defence about how they spend their budgets in Afghanistan.

The gross difference between the Canadian war and development budgets is reflected in the gross difference in scale between actual destruction and reconstruction on the ground in Afghanistan.

It is important to keep in mind that the financial costs of the war borne by most taxpayers are a boom to the corporations profiting from war. Politicians consciously decide to prioritise this economic transfer to war-profiteering corporations over other potential spending in social welfare, environmental protection, and sustainable economic development.

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Michael Skinner is at the Department of Political Science at York University and is a member of CUPW and CUPE.

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