Strange Bedfellows

There’s an ancient Greek apothegm that says “the best is the enemy of the good”. This bit of classical wisdom was clearly displayed Tuesday when the NDP teamed up with the Conservatives to defeat a Liberal motion calling for the withdrawl of Canadian troops from Afghanistan by February 2009. While the NDP’s action may please its antiwar “base”, it is almost certainly a strategic and tactical error.

Tactically, because a Commons majority to withdraw from Afghanistan at the end of our current commitment would send a powerful message: our NATO allies and above all the Americans would be on notice that Canada does not intend to spend blood and treasure indefinitely while Afghanistan becomes an Iraqi-style quagmire. The signal would be heard the loudest in the US Congress, where the Democrats are battling President Bush in an attempt to set a deadline — any deadline — for the withdrawl of US troops from Iraq. Several Democrat staffers have assured me that a firm Canadian deadline for Afghanistan would strengthen their own case and would be raised on the floor of Congress. With Tuesday’s vote, Canada has thrown away any chance to influence this crucial American debate.

Strategically, as well, the NDP leadership seems to be blind to the awakening understanding on the political left that splitting the progressive vote three ways hands the Conservatives a majority in the next election. That awakening has prompted the rather bizarre snuggling up of the Greens and the Liberals. But, as Murray Dobbin argues convincingly, a Liberal-Green alliance would not be a progressive one. He sees a bond between the Greens and the NDP as the more natural coupling, even if it goes no farther than a tacit agreement that each party not run candidates in ridings where the other can mount an effective challenge to the Conservatives.

But Tuesday’s vote suggests that the NDP seems determined to preserve the same the stubborn factionalism that led the French left to self-destruct in the 2002 Presidential elections. By rejecting the Liberal compromise the NDP retained its ideological purity, but in so doing became an unlikely drummer-boy for the Harper – O’Conner militaristic hubris. Jack Layton spoke as though he was trying out for Hamlet: “The time is out of joint: – O cursed spite, / That I was ever born to set it right!“.

In the end, as we know, it didn’t turn out well for the Danish prince.

Mike

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