Friday, June 16, 2006

The Progressive Game Plan

Keywords: liberals; pragmatism; Democratic Party; Al Gore; Lloyd Axworthy; Michael Ignatieff; Responsibility to Protect; troops out.
Both in the United States and Canada, are holding conferences, seeking to hammer out a program that will bring them in the next elections.

The leaders of the met in Washington, D.C. on June 12-14, and heard speeches by , , and . The conference, called “Take Back America,” aimed to show the idealists that the party still has room for their high principles, though on most issues, the overall mood was mainly one of .

Their Canadian counterparts, who met in , Quebec this week, were “big L Liberals” — mostly a gathering of former Liberal cabinet staff, now out of office. Their meeting, which was private, was called “” and included at least one high-profile American speaker, .

I gather from the very different commentators who have been describing these meetings that the American and Canadian quests have a fair bit in common. First, their best opportunity consists in the new chance to become more forward-looking on and environment matters, where the conservative politicians have conspicuously failed. Public opinion is changing toward a greater recognition of the necessity to address the looming crisis. That must have been why Gore was invited to the Canadian meeting, ticking off, by the way, the passionate strain of nationalistic liberals. (Today’s Globe and Mail features an op ed piece by one Mark Milke that fulminates over Gore’s presence – not by arguing against anything that Al has to say, but only by expressing outrage that, as a prominent person from the enemy state next door, he could have been invited to a Canadian policy conference.)

Personally, I also rather wish that Gore had been present instead in the Washington meeting. (Actually, he may have been in both conference, but I have seen no reference to his having attended the Democratic meeting.) I just wish he were the front-runner today instead of Hillary.

For the same reason, I wish the front-runner in Canada were instead of . I regret having to say hard things about any Ignatieff, for I loved (see photo) and Alison Ignatieff, whom I came to knew socially through George’s presidency of Science for Peace, and I like and respect Michael’s brother , with whom I worked on organizing a conference on Yugoslavia a few years ago. But I won’t vote for Michael, with whom I have argued publicly about nonviolence in Iraq. He supported the American invasion of Iraq and still calls for a highly militaristic, war-fighting Canadian approach in such dangerous spots as . Most other Canadian candidates for the Liberal leadership either want Canada to withdraw entirely from Afghanistan or (in the case of and Stephane Dion) want to see Canadian armed forces engage there only in peace-building policing activities such as the protection of civilians.

It seems that the most irreconcilable division in the now is similar to that in the : it concerns the proper use of . The US meeting was divided most sharply between those who demand that the Bush administration withdraw troops from right away, and those such as Hillary Clinton, who initially supported the administration’s Iraq War and still fail to oppose it.

Besides the Mont Tremblant conference, the Liberal Party held an official policy debate in Winnipeg last weekend, where the issue of Afghanistan was the foremost controversy. Today’s Globe and Mail’s op ed page was given over mainly to the troubled policies of the Liberal Party. Besides the petulant Milke article (which I am ashamed even to dignify with one mention, let alone two), there was an informative article by Jeffrey Simpson on the 20/20 conference in Quebec, and an excellent piece by on the Winnipeg conference. I wish Axworthy were going to be the next prime minister instead of, as now, the president of the , He was the best foreign minister Canada has had during the 35 years I have lived here.

Paradoxically, he bases his implied criticism of Michael Ignatieff on his support for the principle of “,” a policy that he took the initiative in developing. The ironical thing is that Michael Ignatieff was on the international panel that created the “R2P” document. I guess the dispute between the two men now consists of a difference of opinion about how to interpret and apply that doctrine, which is widely accepted in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as Canadian policy, and is on the way to being accepted at the United Nations.

The R2P policy has many problems. The most significant one in this context is that it authorizes military action to defend a population whose own state fails to protect. This principle could be invoked (and was, by Ignatieff, along with his acceptance of Bush’s lie about weapons of mass destruction) to justify the invasion of Iraq. It can be invoked, by the same reasoning, to justify the continuing presence of foreign troops in Afghanistan.

But in Axworthy’s mind, it does not justify the current Canadian activities in Afghanistan. Instead of fighting a war on behalf on the Afghan government, he would support the use of troops for . He writes,

“After all, while NATO troops are off chasing the Taliban in the hills, hundreds of schools and mosques are being attacked and their teachers and moderate imams being kidnapped or killed.

“Peace-building, as initially conceived, requires a balanced mix of security and developmental tools and an allocation of equal resources, not the 40:1 ratio favoring military action that presently applies to our mission.”

Hooray for Axworthy and Al Gore. And, presumably, for Dryden and Dion, though I have not read their proposals personally. And boo to Michael Ignatieff and Hillary Clinton.

Onward and upward, liberals!


Blogger Rex said...

Onward & upward,TOGETHER! If we keep on trying to solve the world's problems APART instead of TOGETHER, we are likely to stay on this wild see-saw forever! We NEED everybody's wisdom! No one person has it all!
IN MY humble OPINION, none of us will ever be able to accurately predict the consequences of any particular policy! Our only hope is to keep striving for consensus on policy matters AND to always STAY OPEN to the possiblity that even world-wide consensus can never guarantee success!
Instead of a bunch of PARTies squabbling over which policy is best, let's pool our experiences (everybody's) in one big WHOLE. Maybe we could call it the Holy NDPC (New Democratic Progressive Conservatives). If we're ever going to make it into the future TOGETHER, we need to listen deeply to both the LEFT & the RIGHT!

4:30 PM  
Blogger Helen said...

I just couldn't imagine the world as a better place than if Gore and Axworthy were in power. Can you imagine super-powers who would say to those they have abused for the sake of oil and wealth "I totally understand why you hate us, and I will do everything in my power to show you respect, correct as best we can these injustices and try to regain your friendship by being honourable people."

Niave? Well, I think there are enough intelligent people out there who know this ideal is not new. You wanted to speak of religion? The most important Christian rule is supposed to be "love God and love your neighbour as yourself", so I'm always so baffled by the prejudice, hatred and intolerance of the Christian right. I think there are enough of us out here that wish, like you, to have a Christian (or whatever)left who practices the tolerance it preaches, and passes it along, most importantly, to their children.

Hopefully the Democrats and Liberals can get it together enough to "get through" to power.

Am I dreaming?

11:01 PM  
Blogger Rex said...

Let's all keep dreaming, Helen! & then encourage our children to dream too. All children 'belong' to us all!

8:05 AM  
Blogger Metta Spencer said...

I like Helen's suggestion.

8:30 PM  

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