What’s so good about a bi-partisan foreign policy?
The Suez trouble has underlined, without doing much to settle, a question that nearly always troubles democratic governments in times of international crisis.
Should normal parliamentary discussion continue or should all differences be forgotten while the nation’s political parties rally around a common foreign policy?
Many people believe the only possible answer to the second question is yes. In the case immediately in point—the recent special Commons session over Suez and the UN—many people felt it was both unseemly and dangerous that the opposition parties insisted on an old-fashioned, knock-down debate. Would it not have been far better, they ask if Canada had followed the recent example of the United States and its now well-established bipartisan front.
With this point of view Maclean’s cannot agree. We feel very strongly that every action of the government's, whether in foreign or domestic policy, ought to come under the close scrutiny of the opposition and, if the opposition so considers desirable, its vigorous challenge. We feel that this is especially true these days, when foreign policy overshadows domestic policy and when every international action can affect the future of every individual.
In the recent Suez debate at Ottawa many important points were brought out both in support of and in criticism of the courses followed by the government. If nothing else was established, this at least became clear: Suez and the events around it have raised serious differences of opinion among responsible people on questions of the highest public importance. Should those differences of opinion have been forgotten? Should the minority always let its arguments go by default when the argument concerns questions of foreign policy?
The case for an opposition party challenging the government’s foreign policy has been made only too clearly in recent months in the capitals of the three great powers.
In Britain there was an opposition to express the very strong beliefs of a very large section of the United Kingdom’s population against the Eden attack on Egypt. Without such an opposition—and a recognition of the duty to give voice to it when the opposition is sincerely based -— any government of any power could make war at any time it chose without incurring the effective disfavor of any substantial percentage of its voters.
In the United States there has been a so-called “bi-partisan” foreign policy. And what has been the result? The result has been inaction of the most stifling kind. The U. S. policy makers have stumbled and fumbled in the Middle East ever since John Foster Dulles contributed so heavily to setting off the fuse by withdrawing funds to help Egypt build the Aswan high dam. In the U. S. bi-partisan tradition there has been no debate within the country. There has been no opposition to the administration's policy. There hasn't even been a very clear-cut policy to oppose.
In the Soviet Union, of course, there has never been an opposition. Surely we do not need to spell out the corollary here. Everyone who believes in democracy must believe, almost by definition, that a unanimous domestic policy— unanimous, that is, for the mere sake of unanimity—is very likely to lead to one-party dictatorship.
An uncriticized foreign policy can point in exactly the same direction. Difference is the very essence of democracy.
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