Worldwide political strains over the war in Afghanistan claimed their first national government this weekend as the Dutch ruling coalition collapsed over the question of whether to withdraw troops this year.
Conservative Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende of the Netherlands phoned Queen Beatrix to dissolve parliament yesterday morning after his left-wing coalition partner withdrew from the government in the wake of an all-night debate over a NATO request to extend the presence of 1,600 troops beyond 2010.
Mr. Balkenende's Christian Democrats lost the support of the Labour Party, who have formed an awkward coalition for almost three years. The country's participation in Afghanistan has become an increasingly divisive issue in the coalition, and the Prime Minister's attempt to alter a promise to withdraw in 2010 became the last straw, opposition leaders said.
“Where there is no trust, it is difficult to work together,” Mr. Balkenende said at a news conference after the debate collapsed. “There is no road left for this cabinet to walk.”
An election will be called before May. The result makes it almost certain that the Netherlands will be the first major participant in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization fighting coalition to withdraw from the war, almost a year ahead of Canada's promised withdrawal – a decision that will create a military vacuum in Afghanistan's war-ravaged south after the current surge of 30,000 extra U.S. troops ends.
Canada, over to you.