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Canada's imperial coalition: Conservatives and Liberals unite to back war

Jesse McLaren

January 28, 2011

From Afghanistan to Libya, the Conservatives and Liberals have united to promote imperialism under the guise of “humanitarian intervention.”      
Since the end of the Cold War, the US has retained overwhelming military power, but has seen its share of the world economy decline, with rivals in Europe and Asia emerging to compete for Middle Eastern and African resources. As a consequence, US imperialism has projected its military power to make up for economic decline: with a smaller carrot, it relies on a bigger stick.
Canadian corporations benefit from conditions maintained by US imperialism, so the twin parties of corporate Canada—the Liberals and Conservatives—have supported US imperialism, while increasing Canada’s military.
Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti
In 2001, the Liberal government led by Jean Chrétien—with support from the Conservatives—joined the US and Britain in launching a war against Afghanistan. They attempted to justify the war by abruptly acknowledging the crimes of the Taliban (until then, a US ally) and by making appeals to women’s rights and democracy. Michael Ignatieff declared that, for Afghans, “their best hope lies in a temporary experience of imperial rule,” but the past decade has revealed that the occupation is neither temporary nor capable of offering any hope for women rights, peace, or democracy.
In 2003, the US and its allies attempted to justify “Operation Iraqi Freedom” by making appeals to the plight of Iraqi Kurds (whose situation had long been ignored by the US) and by condemning the bloody record of Saddam Hussein (again, another former US ally). In addition, the White House and the Pentagon pumped out lies about Weapons of Mass Destruction and Iraq’s links to 9/11, in order to generate support for war.
Throughout most of the 1990s, Jean Chrétien’s Liberals had backed the sanctions against Iraq and a “no-fly zone”—measures that eventually killed over a million Iraqis. In the lead-up to the Iraq War in 2003, both the Liberals and the Conservatives enthusiastically back US plans for an invasion. Mass anti-war protests pushed the New Democratic Party to oppose the war, with or without the backing of the United Nations (after initially agreeing to support a UN-sanctioned mission), and split the Liberal caucus—forcing Chrétien, just days before the invasion began, to withdraw Canadian support.
The global anti-war movement also exposed inter-imperialist rivalry (Russia, Germany, France, and China refused to support the war) and forced Italy and Spain out of the “coalition of the willing.” The forces backing Bush’s war in 2003 were much smaller than those backing his father’s war in 1991.
In 2004, Canada’s Liberal prime minister, Paul Martin, was part of a coup orchestrated in Canada—the so-called Ottawa Initiative—that overthrew Haiti’s democratically elected leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, who was forced into exile in Africa. The resulting UN occupation has been a direct barrier to democracy and development.
Quagmires and imperial solutions
By 2006, the Iraqi and Afghan resistance movements and the global anti-war movement had turned these occupations into trillion-dollar quagmires, while “regime change” was being turned on its head—with electoral gains for Hamas in Gaza, the Muslims Brotherhood in Egypt, and Hizbullah in Lebanon. Stephen Harper, now Canada’s Conservative prime minister, extended Canada’s presence in Afghanistan (with the backing of the Liberals), and led the “international community” in imposing an economic siege on Gaza. The US resorted to proxy wars—backing Israel’s war on Lebanon and Ethiopia’s invasion of Somalia (during which there wasn’t a peep in the press calling for “no-fly zones” to protect innocent civilians there)—while trying to devise a more efficient way to control the Middle East. As Zbigniew Brzezinszki warned, fearing the revolutions that are now unfolding:
“The US role in the world is being gravely undermined by the policies launched more than three years ago. The destructive war in Iraq, the hypocritical indifference to the human dimensions of the stalemate in Israeli-Palestinian relations, the lack of diplomatic initiative in dealing with Iran, and the frequent use of Islamophobic rhetoric are setting in motion forces that threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.”
In 2008, the economic crisis heightened the contradiction between America’s economy and its military power, and sharpened inter-imperialist rivalry. The US sparred with Russia in the proxy war between Georgia and South Ossetia over Caspian oil, and developed an African Command (AFRICOM) to compete with China over the continent’s resources.
While the anti-war movement won a majority of people against the Afghanistan war, the Conservatives and Liberals extended Canada’s presence in Afghanistan for the second time, while quietly launching the $490 billion-Canada First Defense Strategy.
In 2009-10, Harper and Ignatieff united in silence—again, there were no calls for “no-fly zones”—as Israel launched air strikes, including chemical weapons, on Gaza; as Sri Lanka carried out war crimes against Tamils; and as the US conducted drone attacks in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Obama sold billions of dollars of weaponry to Egypt, Tunisia, and Saudi Arabia, and sent 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. Meanwhile, the Conservatives and Liberals extended Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan for the third time.
In Europe, allies sold Gaddafi the weapons he’s currently using against the Libyan people: aircraft from Italy, electronic jamming equipment from Germany, anti-personnel chemicals from Belgium, and sniper rifles from Britain. When there was a genuine humanitarian intervention to break the illegal siege of Gaza, Israel attacked the aid flotilla, killing nine people the Mavi Marmara.
Revolution and counter-revolution
A decade of growing inter-imperialist rivalry, sharpened by the recession, has been thrown into crisis by revolutions—beginning in Tunisia and Egypt and now spreading across the region—which “threaten to push America out of the Middle East, with dire consequences for itself and its friends in Egypt, Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia.” Our dream is their nightmare, which is why the imperialist powers are scrambling to contain the movements for freedom and democracy in the Arab world. Their counter-revolution is taking a variety of forms: while the West is intervening indirectly through regimes in Yemen and Bahrain (along with Saudi troops) to massacre protesters, it is intervening directly in Libya under the tired excuse of ‘humanitarianism.’ Having armed Gaddafi, refused to deliver medical supplies or weapons to the revolutionaries, and blocked refugees and war resisters, the West has now launched an attack on the eighth anniversary of the Iraq War (burying any mention of Obama’s failed promise to end that occupation).
The Conservatives and Liberals are eager to protect Canadian investment in Libyan oil and prisons, and to distract from the Afghan War: predictably, both parties have, yet again, united in support of imperialism. Without the pressure of a mass anti-war movement, the NDP has resorted to its usual position of unquestioningly supporting a UN-backed mission.
But revolution and inter-imperialist rivalry have made the new “coalition of the willing” even more unstable than last time: the African Union refused to participate from the start; Turkey and the Arab League have vacillated; Germany pulled out of NATO operations in Libya; Italy accused France of trying to secure oil contracts; and the US has had to tone down British Prime Minister David Cameron’s aggressive words. At the same time, the people of Libya, inspired by their own courage, will not let their revolution be hijacked so easily, and could get fresh wind if other regional tyrants are toppled.
It should be obvious from the past 10 years, never mind the last century, that Western powers—including Canada under both Conservatives and Liberals—are a band of warring brothers who compete for resources, arm the world’s most ruthless dictators, and then use military intervention to reassert control. The last decade, especially the past few months, also shows that only the people of the region are willing and capable of liberating themselves.
The best way for those in the West to show solidarity is to keep depleted uranium bombs off their land and to let them determine their own future.
As Afghan women’s rights activist Malalai Joya reminds us:
“No nation can bring liberation to another nation. These are nations that can liberate themselves. The nations that pose themselves as liberators to others will lead them into slavery. What we have experienced in Afghanistan and in Iraq prove this point. If the US and its allies let us have a little bit of space and peace, then we know what to do with our destiny. The people of Afghanistan don’t want occupation. They need honest support, they need educational support, they need your powerful voice—which means, first of all, international solidarity against the warmongers of your government.”

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