Government’s motion on Afghanistan will split Liberals

The following is text of the government’s motion on extending the mission in Afghanistan. My comments appear between segments of the motion. The key point of contention is Canada’s extended role in the southern Afghan province of Kandahar from 2009-2011.

That, whereas the House recognizes the important contribution and sacrifice of Canadian Forces and Canadian civilian personnel as part of the UN mandated, NATO-led mission deployed in Afghanistan at the request of the democratically elected government of Afghanistan;

This sets the scene and important in the emphasis of the internationalist, multilateral mandate that Canada operates under in Afghanistan. The mission operates with the blessing of the UN, an organization in which most Canadians believes strongly and with which Canada self-identifies when it comes to its foreign policy. The UN mandated mission should be something that Liberals can easily subscribe to, but it’s interesting to note that despite the UN’s acceptance of the mission, the NDP and Bloc take a strict isolationist approach.

whereas, as set out in the Speech from the Throne, the House does not believe that Canada should simply abandon the people of Afghanistan after February 2009; that Canada should build on its accomplishments and shift to accelerate the training of the Afghan army and police so that the government of Afghanistan can defend its own sovereignty and ensure that progress in Afghanistan is not lost and that our international commitments and reputation are upheld;

The Speech from the Throne of course is an important reference point. The government received a mandate from Parliament when the Throne Speech passed in the fall. The Liberals, forming the Official Opposition, passed on judging the government’s proposed mandate and abstained from the vote. The Throne Speech first outlined the government’s intention to extend the mission in Kandahar through 2011. So, what has changed since then?

whereas in February 2002, the government took a decision to deploy 850 troops to Kandahar, the Canadian Forces have served in various capacities and locations in Afghanistan since that time and, on May 17, 2006, the House adopted a motion to support a two year extension of Canada’s deployment in Afghanistan;

whereas the House welcomes the report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan, chaired by John Manley, and recognizes the important contribution they have made;

What has changed is that John Manley has released his report. Manley expressed that Canada lost its voice on the international stage but has now regained it. Manley stated that when Canada speaks, the world listens. He cited the former Liberal PM Lester B. Pearson as a source for inspiration and for doing the right thing with respect to Canadian foreign policy.

whereas their Report establishes clearly that security is an essential condition of good governance and lasting development and that, for best effect, all three components of a comprehensive strategy military, diplomatic and development need to reinforce each other;

The report by the former Liberal Minister of Foreign Affairs has stressed the need for a mix of a number of Canadian efforts in Afghanistan (including military).

whereas the government accepts the analysis and recommendations of the Panel and is committed to taking action, including revamping Canada’s reconstruction and development efforts to give priority to direct, bilateral project assistance that addresses the immediate, practical
needs of the Afghan people, especially in Kandahar province, as well as effective multi-year aid commitments with concrete objectives and assessments, and, further, to assert strong Canadian leadership to promote better co-ordination of the overall effort in Afghanistan by the international community, and, Afghan authorities;

The government states, in its motion, that it is following the lead of Mr. Manley. Here the motion stresses aid development and international coordination. All of which should be found acceptable to a majority of Parliament.

whereas the results of progress in Afghanistan, including Canada’s military deployment, will be reviewed in 2011 (by which time the Afghanistan Compact will have concluded) and, in advance, the government will provide to the House an assessment and evaluation of progress, drawing on and consistent with the Panel’s recommendations regarding performance standards, results, benchmarks and timelines; and

Full reporting to Parliament on progress in Afghanistan.

whereas the ultimate aim of Canadian policy is to leave Afghanistan to Afghans, in a country that is better governed, more peaceful and more secure;

How could any MP disagree?

therefore, the House supports the continuation of Canada’s current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces expeditiously to take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole so that, as the Afghan National Security Forces gain capability, Canada’s combat role should be commensurately reduced, on condition that:

Stephane Dion has stated that he wishes Canada’s “combat role” in Kandahar to cease by February 2009. John Manley recommends against this. The House will essentially be voting on the recommendations, or at least within the guidelines of the Manley Report. This motion is not inconsistent with John Manley’s recommendations and the Liberal Party (many of whom have incredible respect for Mr. Manley) will find itself divided on this motion if allowed to vote freely. John Manley and Mr. Harper are framing Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan in a Pearsonian perspective; internationalist intervention in failed states is the right thing to do and consistent with values that Canadians cherish. Mr. Dion faces a tough choice. If he chooses to abstain from voting on this important motion, he loses his credibility on speaking on the most important issue facing Parliament today, Canada’s role in Afghanistan. If Dion whips his caucus into voting against, there will be an open revolt against his leadership. If Dion allows a free vote on the motion, internal divisions within the party will be counted as if a roll call and the public division will emphasize that the Liberal party is only a loose collective of membership card holders waiting for the next leadership review.

(a) Canada secure a partner that will provide a battle group of approximately 1,000 to arrive and be operational no later than February 2009, to expand International Security Assistance Force’s security coverage in Kandahar;

A move entirely consistent with a recommendation from the Manley Report. A realistic move to shift some of the weight to a partnering NATO country.

(b) to better ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian contingent, the government secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high performance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance before February 2009.

This is important for Canada’s success in Afghanistan. UAVs are recommended for road surveillance especially during the night in order to spot and help neutralize Taliban fighters planting IEDs at the sides of roads used by the Canadian military and aid workers.

On the record: Harper and Dion on Pakistan

Here is a video from Mike Duffy Live that shows Dion’s comments on Pakistan, and Stephen Harper’s response.

Please see my previous posts on this topic:
Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday? (1/17, 5:32am)
Stephane Dion should be thankful he’s not a conservative party leader (1/17, 3:55pm)
Pakistan condemns Dion’s foreign policy ignorance (1/17, 6:23pm)
Thoughts about the Pakistan story (1/18, 4:59pm)

Thoughts about the Pakistan story

Often when writing this blog I try and wear two hats: one of a reporter and one of a conservative critic. If I get whiff of a good story, I’ll do my best to investigate and be first to put it out there for public consumption. As an advocate of blogging as a new reporting medium, I will say that I am thrilled when I see big stories break on blogs before the so-called mainstream media goes to air/print.

Last night, I received word from someone that works in media that a press release from the High Commissioner was just starting to hit the email boxes of fellow reporters in Ottawa. As I’m not usually on the press contact list of most organizations, I called the Pakistani High Commission to confirm the story. They referred me to the press officer who had already gone home for the evening. Likely expecting a number of media calls that evening, the commission passed on the officer’s home number which I called. When speaking with the press officer, I only inquired as to whether a statement or release had been authored concerning “Mr. Dion’s remarks on Pakistan and NATO” and requested that a copy be emailed to me. They informed me that they had in fact just penned a release and that they would email me a copy.

Some people have emailed me with concerns that by calling the High Commission, I brought attention to a news story of which they would have otherwise not been aware. This is laughable and quite insulting to the professionalism of diplomatic staff whose job it is is to track the host country’s political scene in order to report developments which concern their government. Stephane Dion’s statements regarding NATO and possible “forces” being introduced into Pakistan were already published in the Ottawa Citizen and I’m quite certain that the diplomatic staff reads the papers (and watches the news. The story was on both Mike Duffy and Newman last night). I did nothing to suggest to the Pakistani High Commission that Mr. Dion’s statements were inappropriate; I simply expressed to them that I wanted to be cc’d on the release that they were only starting to send out.

I believe that I was the first to publish the release. Minutes later on his blog, David Akin published it too. My blog beat the CP wire by an hour on a breaking news story. The story’s value was “very high” as Canada has important security interests in central Asia and that a man seeking the office of the Prime Minister had apparently taken a new track on proposed Canadian foreign policy. While I may have been first to break news of the release, it is unfair to say that the mainstream media was negligent or uninterested in reporting on the story. After I posted on the story last night, I benefited from discussions with one of Ottawa bureau chiefs and two other Ottawa reporters. To Peter Mansbridge’s credit, the CBC anchor used a scheduled Mansbridge One-on-One taping the same day to press Dion (and hard) on his statement and to ask him about Pakistan’s condemnation of Dion’s remarks.

As for the partisan statements that I made on this blog concerning the release: I do believe in what I wrote. In fact, much of it mirrors and complements what I have previously said. I think that Canadians should set a very high standard for their applicants to executive and legislative powers, especially when it comes to matters of national defense and foreign policy.

As for Conservatives “taking advantage” of Mr. Dion’s statements or positions? This does nothing to hurt foreign relations as Mr. Harper is the Prime Minister and such high level diplomatic/military transactions cross his desk and not that of Mr. Dion. Despite this, it is the responsible duty of our party-based political system to discuss/debate and sometimes ridicule the positions of opponents. As Canadians, we charge our elected representatives with pursing our interests and those of Canada, and anything less than challenging a new proposed track on foreign policy would be irresponsible and a betrayal to our principles of informed debate, the foundation of our democracy. Parties are the method by which discussion is focused and made effective. Rather than having 308 independent and non-cohesive message tracks, we more effectively debate a handful at a time. It is the duty of parties to propose new ideas and the duty of other parties to put those ideas through the test of intense debate.

The Conservatives can hardly be blamed for both debating what appeared to be Mr. Dion’s divergent foreign policy proposal, and they cannot be blamed for taking the Liberal leader at his literal word. Now Mr. Dion has said that he means “diplomacy” and not “force” even though he called for considering “NATO forces” in Pakistan. Either one of two things then happened. Mr. Dion either realized the faults of his proposal and climbed down in the face of being battered on an already weak file of his. Or the Liberal leader misspoke, which is known to happen. However, misinterpreting Dion’s intent based on his words has really only been known to happen in English. Is it possible that Mr. Dion made a gaffe in French about an issue that was on the top of his mind (he had just come back from his first trip to Afghanistan)? It’s possible, but its not probable. I believe that Mr. Dion was proposing a new track even if it’s a proposal for others to help develop his ideas. And in this, I honestly believe that this is where one of Mr. Dion’s political faults lies; he takes an academic approach which is better suited to the safe environment of a “what-if” university seminar. Such an environment is the incubator to under-developed ideas and untested policy proposals. The national stage is no place to “spitball” ideas.

Some will say that they’ve found it refreshing to hear a Canadian politician “tell it like it is on Pakistan” and “say what we’ve all been thinking”. Pakistan has been a laggard when it comes to taking care of the radical elements in its western province. Like most Canadians, I am concerned about our inability to address this problem directly. Yet, Pakistan is a sovereign country that has the jurisdiction over its own security. Most Canadians would agree that the only scenarios that would allow military presence within Pakistan’s borders would be either with the permission of the Pakistani government, or with a broad international consensus to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. The Pakistani government is not about to allow any western nation to put our soldiers on the ground there (this is a well known sentiment of the Musharraf government – so it is surprising that Mr. Dion suggested this). Further, the UN is not on the verge on granting any military the authority to violate Pakistan’s sovereignty. Mr. Dion’s statements were ill-conceived and more theoretical than practical in nature.

For Canadian security in central Asia, Pakistan needs a stable administration. If it’s democratic, all the better. But, the “nuance” here is that if Western troops go in, it’ll tip the population of Pakistan away from Musharraf, and away from Bhutto’s PPP and towards radical elements. Having Americans in Saudi Arabia supposedly radicalized Osama bin Laden against the West, so suggesting something half-baked (but on the very surface, quite logical until you dig deeper) is irresponsible of Dion and especially for a man who is supposedly advised on these matters. As a privy counselor, former member of cabinet and leader of the Opposition, Dion receives security briefings. Since Pakistan stability is a key buttress against the whole of central Asia collapsing, Dion made an unfortunate error in making such a weakly-considered statement as the Pakistani media picked up comments from the Canadian opposition leader, named him as the likely winner of the future election and claim that his policy musings will be the Canadian agenda in a matter of weeks or months.

Dion, of course has the right to make such statements however inappropriate they may be. But it is the duty of partisans of all stripes to put his ideas through the machinations of public debate in order for Canadians to be best served.

Pakistan condemns Dion’s foreign policy ignorance

I just got off of the phone with the press officer for the Pakistan High Commission here in Ottawa after asking for Pakistan’s response (if any) to Mr. Dion’s comments regarding his proposal that NATO expands their mission into Pakistan.

Here is the official release:

PRESS RELEASE

We are dismayed by the statement of the leader of opposition, Mr. Stephane Dion about NATO intervention in Pakistan. It shows a lack of understanding of the ground realities. We have, at the highest level, made it clear that Pakistan will not allow any foreign forces to operate within its territory under any circumstances. The sovereignty of the state will not be compromised at any level as the government and people of Pakistan are fully capable of handling their security matters themselves.

Pakistan is a peace-loving country and has joined the international community in the war against terrorism as an equal partner. The contribution made by Pakistan in this regard has been recognized throughout the world.

The price paid by Pakistan being a frontline state cannot be undermined by certain irrational comments.

Pakistan has been saying all along that the problem lies inside Afghanistan and the solution should come from there too. It is because of the security situation there that Pakistan is facing heat across the border.

Dion needs to tell Canada, Afghanistan, Pakistan and our NATO allies if he maintains his position of NATO escalation into Pakistan, or if he is simply ignorant of foreign policy and whether that ignorance lies within his understanding of what NATO is, or that Pakistan is a sovereign nation, or that NATO is in Afghanistan (and not Pakistan) with the blessing of the UN. I hope that he is not clueless on all of these facts.

UPDATE: The Liberals have clarified that this is not what their leader meant. So, he’s just ignorant of foreign policy.

UPDATE: This isn’t good. The following was printed in The Daily Times (Pakistan) (h/t catherine in the comments):

Dion, a leader of the Liberal Party likely to win the elections this year, said NATO could be forced to take action inside Pakistan if President Pervez Musharraf’s government failed to stop the movement of terrorists to Afghanistan.

I’m not concerned that they think Harper will lose the upcoming election (we’ve got a better vantage point here in Canada). I’m concerned that they think that Dion will be Prime Minister and that this would be the policy of a future Canadian government. I think that Dion ought to emphasize his position himself, with clarity. It’s that important.

UPDATE 1/18: Dion, in his own words calls for “diplomatic intervention”. CBC reports that Dion moved to distance himself from the suggestion that NATO should be deployed in Pakistan.

FURTHER READING FROM ST.CA: Previous Post – Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday?

Stephane Dion should be thankful he’s not a conservative party leader

During the 2000 election, one of the greatest “blunders” that Stockwell Day made during the campaign was to compare the Canadian “brain drain” to the flow of the Niagara River, which as it turns out flows north, not south as Day was trying to imply.

“Surely a man who doesn’t know the flow direction of the Niagara River is unfit to lead this country” became the narrative of the journalist pack that covered the race.

Fast forward to yesterday and Stephane Dion’s musing that NATO should expand its mission into Pakistan. Not only has the Liberal leader changed his position on Canada’s most significant foreign policy direction a number of times, he’s now spitballing under-developed ideas which no serious policy analyst would responsibly suggest.

This is a man who will soon be running in an election to lead our country. Where is the scrutiny that we have come to expect from our easily offended geography buffs in the Canadian media?

The Parliamentary Press Gallery complains that there’s never a microphone around the Prime Minister or any ministers when they’d like. Conservatives have long since learned that in the Canadian media environment any sniffle becomes a sneeze. While members of the press try to pin down conservatives (in power or not) with a barrage of microphones, conservatives worry that there isn’t a press mic powerful enough to pick up any sound that comes from the Liberal leader who is showing that he just may be unfit to lead a serious discussion on Canadian foreign policy on the national stage.

Read my previous article on Dion’s Pakistan thought experiment

Will Stephane Dion make military decisions someday?

Yesterday, Stephane Dion made an unfortunate declaration regarding Canada’s foreign policy and amends his position on Canada’s military role in central Asia.

QUEBEC – Any attempt to counter terrorists in war-torn Afghanistan will not succeed without an intervention in neighbouring Pakistan, Liberal Leader Stephane Dion said Wednesday.

Dion hinted NATO could take action in Pakistan, which has a porous border with Afghanistan, if the Pakistani government doesn’t move to track terrorists.

“We are going to have to discuss that very actively if they (the Pakistanis) are not able to deal with it on their own. We could consider that option with the NATO forces in order to help Pakistan help us pacify Afghanistan,” said Dion in Quebec City, commenting after his two-day trip to Afghanistan last weekend. “As long as we don’t solve the problem in Pakistan, I don’t see how we can solve it in Afghanistan.”

Photo:Massoud Hossaini/AFPThe suggestion that NATO could put boots on the ground in a country whose administration is already unstable due to tensions between civil society and fundamentalist Islamic elements within its own military and intelligence service – not to mention rising tension from the assassination of former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto – is outright irresponsible of the Liberal leader. While President Musharraf is a reluctant ally, or at best one who must walk a fine line to maintain a delicate order, the very suggestion that Canada is ready to introduce a destabilizing element into the mix is enough to tip the balance there in an unpredictable way. The nuclear nation with a thick streak of radicalism that permeates its power structure and that has elements sympathetic to the Taliban and al Qaeda, is not the foreign policy sandbox for a Canadian opposition leader who is constantly refining (or rather redefining) his position on international security.

Could Pakistan be doing more to help the UN mandated NATO mission in Afghanistan? In a hopeful and unrealistic world where dreams come true, this could happen. Then again, France, Germany and Italy could be doing more to support our operations in that country wedged between Pakistan and Iran. However, the political systems of our European allies are not on the verge on catastrophic collapse. In the past, Mr. Dion has been critical of Canada doing all of the heavy lifting in Afghanistan. However, if NATO were to expand the theatre of operations to Pakistan, wouldn’t this further test our soldiers by spreading NATO assets even thinner?

Frankly, while Dion’s position is under-developed, it is surprisingly bellicose. However, it comes as no surprise that the Liberal leader has changed his position again this time after just recently visiting the nation on which he has so inconsistently opined.

After all, as a member of Chretien’s cabinet, Dion voted to authorize the use of Canadian force in that country. Dion has expressed unambiguous support for the mission in the past:

“It’s a very important mission and we want to be there” — Stephane Dion, March 2006

“We will succeed in Afghanistan if we show a lot of determination … We need to be resolute and to succeed.” — Stephane Dion, March 2006

“We need to be there. Canada is a good citizen of the world. We are very courageous. We have been in Yugoslavia. We are ready to be in tough situations.” — Stephane Dion, 2006

“There is no way that Canada will be an occupying force. I’m supporting the mission because I’m still convinced that most of the people of Afghanistan want our protection.” — Stephane Dion, October 10, 2006

Dion however voted against extending the mission in May 2006 and continues to oppose the current mission believing Canada should do less fighting. Dion has explained that our troops must withdrawal “with honour”. Further, it has recently been Dion’s position that “The combat mission in Kandahar must end in February 2009.”

As you can see here, Dion’s many positions on the Afghan mission have been dizzying.

Unfortunately for Mr. Dion, there is no room for on-the-job training when it comes to foreign policy positions that a Prime Minister must take.

The only federal leaders who have been consistent in their positions have been Stephen Harper and Jack Layton. With a mission started by Chretien’s cabinet, moved to Kandahar by Martin’s cabinet, and which is now receiving on-again-off-again support from a hapless Liberal leader who now suggests escalation and expansion into Pakistan, Canada would be rudderless internationally under Prime Minister Stephane Dion.

Will Stephane Dion one day be in a position to make a critical decisions regarding Canada’s deployment of its military?

Decoding Harper’s Political Strategy on Afghanistan

This article by Campbell Clark of the Globe and Mail describing Defense Minister Peter MacKay’s comments on Afghanistan on CTV’s Question Period this past Sunday, left me a bit unsettled and confused.

OTTAWA — Canada has made it clear to its NATO allies that they cannot count on our troops to fight on the deadly battlefields of southern Afghanistan after February of 2009, Defence Minister Peter MacKay said yesterday.

“The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009,” Mr. MacKay said in an interview on the CTV television program Question Period.

“Obviously the aid work and the diplomatic effort and presence will extend well beyond that. The Afghan compact itself goes until 2011,” he said. “But the way the mission is currently configured, with respect to our presence in Kandahar, there is an expiration date that has been set.”

This is a clear step forward from the Prime Minister’s earlier assertion that a consensus in Parliament would be needed to extend the mission – in it’s current state – past February 2009.

So, what is going on here? Is this what it seems? Is this surrender by the Conservative government on a key conservative principle?

The more I thought about it, the more I started to think about this announcement in a strategic way.

So, here’s my prediction:

Afghanistan is going to be the wedge issue during the next election to take place when the government puts the mission to a vote in Parliament. The vote will fail, the opposition will indicate its majority intention to withdrawal from Kandahar and the government will fall, because Harper will make it a confidence vote.

Why? Numbers.

As it stands, 50% of Canadians support the current mission in Afghanistan while 50% of Canadians do not. Harper needs about 40% of the vote to get a majority government.

MacKay’s announcement on Sunday does a few things. First of all, it indicates an utmost respect for Parliament as the mission and extension will still go to a vote (as indicated in Clark’s article). Secondly, it makes the opposition put down their guns on the Afghanistan issue for a while (continuous shelling of the mission puts it in a weak position in the forum of Canadian opinion). The opposition looks foolish when continuing to whine about the issue when the government has indicated that the mission (in the current parliamentary climate) cannot continue past February 2009. Third, it allows the government to prepare behind the scenes to sell the mission. The governing party has an advantage over the opposition parties in that it has two forums to spread its message, the House and outside of it. By indicating that the government recognizes that it is unlikely to win the Afghanistan mission vote, this disarms the opposition from consistently bringing it up in the House. Meanwhile, the government (the Conservatives) aim to sell it as an issue campaign across the country.

While the government recognizes it is unlikely to win an extension in Afghanistan, the Conservative Party will still maintain the position that an extension is in Canada’s interests and will advance that position up to the vote. There is a bit of a dichotomy here: Minister MacKay concedes the realities of the government’s minority position on the policy, while the politics of Conservatives will continue to lobby for an extension. By playing government minister, MacKay disarms the House (because the House checks the government, not the Conservative Party).

The Afghanistan extension is a perfect wedge issue for Harper. Only the Conservatives and the NDP have a clear position on the issue and only one can form government. The Liberals are bitterly divided on the issue. Ignatieff supports the mission in Afghanistan and Rae has indicated a tough on terror position in the past. Dion’s position is weak, somewhat against but certainly not for the mission. In fact, he has flip-flopped so many times in the past on the issue of Afghanistan. Of course, this plays into the Conservative narrative of weak leadership regarding Dion. Both Ignatieff and Rae are looking to topple Dion after an election, but concerning an extension as far away as 2009, this might be a wide enough window for both Rae and Ignatieff to act sooner rather than later. Harper’s strategy is to both create both a stronger NDP and a Liberal Party bitterly divided.

What other issue creates these winning conditions?

Afghanistan is a perfect issue to rally the conservative base, a reluctant group that has become angry over income trusts and only came out to vote in their champions in the wake of the biggest corruption scandal in Canadian history.

Regarding Quebec, I’m starting to think that the media’s read on Quebec voting intention regarding Afghanistan are overblown. I think that more Quebeckers would get out to vote for the mission than get out and vote against it come election day. Quebec remains a puzzle though despite Harper’s continuous attention to that province.

Speaking of which, Harper has also taken hits among the base for increased spending. Where, however, has this government spent? Childcare cheques, the military and transfer payments (fiscal imbalance) have been the shifted spending priorities of Canada’s New Government. The latter of which should help buffer some of that anti-military sentiment that the Toronto press believes that exists so pervasively in la belle province.

Back to leadership, this issue favours Harper in an electoral footing. Because he has a better control of the timing of an election, he will obviously define a ballot issue that favours his government and personal leadership. Afghanistan is a red meat issue while the environment is assorted mixed greens. Defining the election on Afghanistan favours Harper’s strong grizzle-laden leadership style, while the weaker Dion will be left sitting in vinaigrette. Harper is not going to willingly contrast himself in an election on any other issue. The only thing green that the Conservative Prime Minister hopes to talk about during the election is Dion’s leadership and that Dion “doesn’t have what it takes”, “isn’t a leader” etc.

Conservatives will also ask, “If Dion is a weak leader with an ambiguous stance on Afghanistan, is he ready to be Prime Minister?”

I believe that Conservative strategists are counting on a majority coming from NDP gains (hoping to catch that unambiguous 50% against the mission) and the bottom falling out on the Liberal party on Afghanistan and Dion’s leadership.

Harper continues to embrace Afghan mission

Pollsters and media analysts alike have been warning the Conservative government that as we head into the spring and summer of this year, Afghanistan will become the Prime Minister’s true Achilles heal as more fatalities are likely to occur during the NATO mission in that country.

As bad news mounts alongside the good, it is the bad that becomes entrenched within the Canadian mindset as details emerge about alleged claims of torture from Afghan-detained detainees, the setback faced whenever one of our heroes falls, and the parallels that some dishonestly draw with the American conflict in Iraq.

However, Canadians have a history of shouldering the heavy burden of the responsibilities met in the hills and on the shores of foreign lands. Indeed, as Canadians we have always supported the fight for what is right and the common thread of this struggle has always been the establishment of the rule of law, peace abroad – which begets security at home – and the liberation of those who could not speak for themselves.

Today, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a visit to Kabul to emphasize the reconstruction and humanitarian efforts that currently underway in Afghanistan. Just over one year ago he made a similar yet different trip to visit soldiers that country’s southern tumultuous province of Kandahar. The Prime Minister has gone to underscore the part of the mission that can only succeed with the success of the other; Harper is promoting humanitarian efforts which can only come from the efforts of establishing civil order.

Canadians are understandably wary of seeing ramp ceremonies televised on our national news networks but it appears that enough of us appreciate (if we can never fully comprehend) the results that come from sacrifices made.

Support for the mission usually hovers at about 50% (granted, that means that 50% are either opposed or ambivalent), and Harper generally polls at about 42% while the party (and Harper) sit at about 30-35% (depending on the poll). Generally this means that Afghanistan is not a liability for the PM and that if the NATO mission starts to define this Prime Minister’s tenure, then he actually has a deficit to make up between his own numbers and that of the mission.

Thus from a communications standpoint, the Prime Minister should never act ashamed or himself wary of the mission if Afghanistan; at the end of the day, Canada is doing the right thing and the majority of Canadians understands this. Everytime the NDP captilizes on the doubtful among us, Harper is able to take a firm and rationed stance while leaving Liberals to flop around on the issue to the point where Canadians won’t trust them on any position. When Jack Layton talks about the ‘confusion’ over the Afghanistan issue, Harper can clearly enunciate humanitarian benchmarks reached. When Layton asks about the human rights of Taliban detainees, the Prime Minister can announce that the aggregate sum of rights in that central Asian country has increased x-thousand percent.

In fact, the Prime Minister has taken some of Layton’s more rational concerns and has focused them through his own lens. Take today’s trip to refine the Conservative government’s messaging on Afghanistan. The end goal of the mission has always been to help that country stand on its own with the base ideals that Canada can reflect in an emerging democracy. While security must be realized before reconstruction can be successful, if Harper is to message on all fronts and to embrace the good that has always been the Canadian mission there, he can assuage doubters of the mission while focusing some of the broader spectrum of Canada’s ideals along his own message.