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Will Harper and Ignatieff Finally Abandon George Bush’s Philosophy?

Especially on the Middle East and Afghanistan?

By Haroon Siddiqui

Toronto–Even the American voters, manipulated and scared into sticking with their president for the last five years, have, finally, abandoned George W. Bush. Will (Canadian Prime Minister) Stephen Harper? And Michael Ignatieff (of the Canadian Liberal Party)?

American mid-term elections usually do not favour a president’s party, much like parliamentary by-elections serve as a slap to the party in power. Still, Tuesday’s was as sweeping a vote of non-confidence in a president as we have seen in a long time.

Tossing out Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld will do little to steady the sinking ship.

The election was more than a referendum on a president operating above the law and presiding over financial and moral corruption, cronyism and excessive political partisanship at the expense of the common good. It was more than a referendum on Iraq, where the U.S.—much like the military junta in Algeria in the 1990s—is a party to or an accomplice in anarchy and mass killings.

The entire gamut of Bush’s policies stands repudiated:

The war on terror, which has increased terrorism and diluted the most fundamental principles of American democracy, with warrant-less wiretaps on residents, secret CIA prisons, detention of hundreds without charge, and the use of torture.

The war in Afghanistan, which is going nowhere.

The blind support of Israel’s own “war on terror,” which is making Israelis less safe, while starving and punishing all Palestinians and killing and injuring too many.

The botched handling of North Korea and Iran, which has led to one nation already acquiring a nuclear bomb and the other increasingly slipping out from under international inspections.

These are the issues on which Harper has been blindly following Bush and on some of which Ignatieff has been an apologist for Bush.

On Iraq, the American public, understandably, is concerned with the drip-drip loss of American lives, the torrent of hundreds of billions of dollars going down the drain, and the Republican Congress shutting down the office that was exposing the over-billing and failure of the rebuilding efforts in Iraq.

But of greater import to Canadians and most of the world is the ongoing slaughter of tens of thousands of Iraqi civilians, the ruining of an historic civilization, the seemingly unstoppable slide toward the breakup of the country into three ethnic ghettoes, each “a nation” within a nation, and the destabilization of the entire region, with Iran as the major beneficiary.

The death sentence handed Saddam Hussein — suitably, on the eve of the American election but, mercifully, to no Republican electoral gain — serves only as a temporary distraction from all these accumulating horrors. The benefit that could have been derived from having the tyrant tried by an international tribunal on charges of crimes against humanity was sacrificed to the needs of controlling his trial as a tool of American propaganda.

It seems only a matter of time before Bush will cut and run, his nervous news conference yesterday being only one straw in the wind. A panel led by James Baker, secretary of state for the elder George H.W. Bush, is working on an exit strategy without loss of face. The British are already on the same track.

It is important to find the right way out of the Hobson’s choice in Iraq: American presence feeds the insurgency and a departure may intensify the civil war.

Canada, having refused to participate in the wretched enterprise (even if Harper in opposition very much wanted to), should be calling for the United Nations or the Arab League, in concert with such regional powers as India, to send in a peacemaking force to see Iraq out of its American-inflicted misery.

On the Arab-Israeli dispute, Canada should be condemning the latest Israeli offensive in Gaza, where air strikes, gunfire and tank shelling constitute a grotesque overreaction to the crude Hamas homemade rockets.

The European Union, the Vatican and the UN secretary-general have already spoken out. As the EU statement said, “the right to defend does not justify the use of disproportionate use of violence or actions which are contrary to international humanitarian law.”

This was the same issue in Lebanon, where the Harper-supported Israeli war left a swath of destruction and death, and, inevitably, emboldened and strengthened Hezbollah and its two sponsors, Syria and Iran.

Speaking of Iran, there’s no talking to it on the nuclear file. Canada is well-suited to be the bridge between the U.S. and Europe in engaging Iran in a grand bargain, normalization of relations in return for verifiably abandoning the nuclear option.

Similarly, a rethinking is required in Afghanistan. Harper’s characterization of the Taliban as an existential threat to Canada — if we aren’t there, they’d be here — is as foolish as Bush justifying his enterprise in Iraq as essential to American security.

The American voters have seen through the Bush propaganda. Will Harper?

Haroon Siddiqui, the Star’s editorial page editor emeritus, runs Thursday and Sunday. hsiddiq@thestar.ca.


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