Monday, March 13, 2006

Harper's Dodge and Weave On Afghanistan

Instead of defending our mission in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper takes no responsibility:
"The previous government made an important decision to help the people of Afghanistan and to support our troops in a very dangerous mission, and this government has no intention of questioning this mission while our troops are in danger," Mr. Harper said last week. "In such a debate, such a lack of strength by any Canadian party would weaken our troops, and possibly place our troops in more danger."

Honoring the commitments of the previous government, that's all. Okay, assuming that logic is valid, then how can Harper scrap the previous government's commitment to daycare? Doesn't that commitment deserve Harper's support too? Harper is just using a convenient argument to dodge and weave so as to not implicate his own government, should the mission go astray. I expect to see Harper fall back on this argument everytime there is a question about Afghanistan.

When the daycare debate comes back to the forefront, I hope the opposition parties, particularly the Liberals, use Harper's own justification on Afghanistan to show the hypocrisy. If you honor commitments, you honor commitments. Period.


Scotian said...

I am not sure one can fairly equate international military commitments with a domestic program like the daycare program so as much as it pains me I have to disagree with you on this point. While I do expect this type of rhetoric/language to be used at least for the duration of this mission I have to say it is valid, this is after all directly tied into our most important international security framework (NATO) and once our government has formally committed via Parliament which it did last year it is the stance of the government of Canada and not just a Liberal commitment. The daycare program while certainly well advanced in setting up the agreements between the federal and provincial levels of government had only just begun to be implemented and was not as far along as the military mission is.

However where I do fully agree with you on this is that he should be providing a far more detailed position for him and his party than simply claiming it was because of the prior government, especially when discussing something he so strongly endorsed in today's speech in Afghanistan. He obviously has strong emotional reasons to support this war it comes through clearly enough in his presentation and demeanor. So what are those reasons? It can't be because he thinks so highly regarding the Liberal foreign policy thinking, to seriously believe that notion would require keeping one's brain from imploding from the vacuum created by the black hole required to forget his contempt for all things Liberal.

If he also keeps trying to portray any discussion of the Afghanistan mission and our long term role there as people wanting to "cut and run" he will be making a fatal mistake I suspect. Canadians have heard that far too often applied to shut dissent/discussion in America down by the Bush Administration and its supporters, and any PM that would chose to emulate that would be so branded with Bush taint it would be a serious problem. Harper though is particularly susceptible to this tainting thanks to the questions that are already present regarding his admiration of America/Americans and his apparent desire to replicate their culture/social beliefs into ours. Then though Harper and many Conservatives really do not see all that much difference between the two countries that way to begin with, which is of course for many of us that worry about Harper and the CPC only underscores how little they do not really understand this country.

Normally I would tend to be opposed to a discussion/debate in Parliament during a mission. However it is clear that none of the opposition parties are at all interested in questioning continuing through to the end of this specific deployment/mission, but rather are more interested in what comes next. Although they do also want to educate the public more about what is the current mission and what it means in reality and the difference in the nature of the mission from our usual commitments. It is for that reason I think it may be a good idea this time to have this debate, although I am not sure I think a vote should be taken, at least not unless it is spelled out that it is solely referring to post this mission. I also think to have the public able to have an informed opinion for the future would require this discussion of the current mission.

Harper had better watch his step with this file in how he deals with it domestically. If he is willing to have a real discussion about our long term mission and the other implications of expanding our military capabilities significantly (You do not do so simply to keep them around doing nothing, they cost too much) then I think he can make this work for him over the long term and enhance his credibility with Canadians. If however he decides to try to use it for short term political gains by shifting to this type of binary rhetoric I think he may well seriously damage himself and likely his party with him. The downside of being saturated by American media is that we become whether we want to or not sensitized to the rhetoric used in American political discourse and tend to react poorly to any politician that decides to import it, at least at the federal level. Not to mention how poorly jingoism tends to play in this country.

Steve V said...


Points well taken. I realize a domestic policy and a international committment aren't entirely analogous. My point is Harper's use of the Liberals legacy to absolve his own responsibilities.

I agree about with you on the need for a debate, minus a vote. Even the military admits that Canadians need to be informed on this issue, so a non-partisan discussion of our long-term goals would be useful. Hillier mentioned our involvement lasting "decades", which I'm pretty sure wasn't part of the previous discussions. This situation is fluid, Canadians must be continually consulted, otherwise public opinion will surely turn.

Dana said...

Yes and...if the amount of media coverage that this effort has already received hasn't done anything to inform Canadians a Parliamentary debate won't. It'll ultimately just be more media coverage, which apparently a fairly large percentage of us aren't paying much serious attention to anyway.

It's been made very explicit in all media reporting and analysis since the beginning that the Afghanistan mission was assuredly not about peacekeeping. That so many think it is anyway is an indication that they're not reading/watching the news or their comprehension levels are lacking.

Of course these might be the same people who sleep walked Harper and the Cons into government so there's not a lot to expect.

CBC National featured an interview with a defence analyst last night who said he was in favour of some kind of debate as well. I can't recall his name and I can't find an online reference to the story but he said something else rather interesting too.

Apparently we are alone among western democracies in having all war making powers vested in the PM.

Everything else has to be placed before the House. But not war making, that's for the PM to decide and he is under no obligation whatever to consult. Historical examples were given from St. Laurent sending troops into Korea during a recess to Mulroney doing the same in '91 and Desert Storm One.


Steve V said...


The media tends to focus on Iraq, at the expense of Afghanistan. I say media, because even in Canada more coverage surrounds Iraq(up until the last couple weeks anyways), both domestic media outlets and the obvious American influence. If you watch the American news, everytime an American dies in Afghanistan it is treated with a "oh ya, that war" attitude, that quickly fades after each violent episode.

Dana said...

Steve, I'm talking about Canadian media, Afghanistan, our deployment there and the changing nature of it. I think the first I recall reading/hearing/seeing might have been back in November, maybe even late October.

You have to remember that when you talk about Canadians generically and in aggregate you're talking about a group of people who qualify as well informed if they know where the local Tims is.

I've spent the last decade and a bit doing analytical work for polling companys. Due to confidentiality agreements all I can say about it is that I am as opposed to direct democracy as I am to ... to .... I am more opposed to direct democracy than anything else.

Steve V said...


Good points. I share your lack of faith in the "informed" electorate. The Tim's crack made me laugh :)

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