Since the Afghanistan vote, there has been much discussion of the "divided" Liberals and the consequences for the party. Pundits and editorials debating how Harper has effectively exposed the fractures within the Liberal ranks. I must confess, I don't see the negatives, nor do I see the Harper advantage, in how the Liberals voted on the extension. In fact, unlike the other parties which voted in lockstep, it is the Liberal Party that most accurately reflects Canadians views on Afghanistan.
Recent polling shows that, while Canadians support the Afghanistan mission, they oppose Harper's two year blank check extension. Those opinions seem entirely consistent with the "internal struggle" that supposedly handicaps the Liberals as we move forward. The Conservatives are strong hawks, the NDP and Bloc the doves, while the Liberals are clearly in the middle, just like Canadians. The mission in Afghanistan is a complicated question and the free vote for the Liberals reflects the nuances.
I don't think Ignatieff is mortally wounded by his vote, because this isn't Iraq and his viewpoints have merit that people on all sides can appreciate. Much was made of Harper's post-vote handshake, as though it were the kiss of death, but I see it as inconsequential. For arguments sake, lets say Ignatieff wins the Liberal leadership. You could just as easily cobble together an argument that shows Ignatieff's vote as a positive, in that it effectively blunts any Harper criticism that the Liberals don't care about terrorism or national defence. If support for the war sours, the issue becomes a draw with two men who share similar views. Ignatieff's position may well cost him support for the Liberal leadership, but it might also solidify his core support as he contrasts with the majority that voted against.
As for the people that voted against, or expressed similar opinions, the nature of this vote allows for a forceful rebuttal. The blatant politicism of this issue, the lack of a formal debate and a timetable, gave the vote a lack of legitimacy. Liberals that voted against are provided hard facts to turn around any criticisms. There is a way to argue that voting against the Harper resolution doesn't equate to voting against our troops or the goals of the mission. Harper can claim hypocrisy, but the situation is so fluid that opinions demand a constant re-examination. This mission is already largely different than what the Liberals first envisioned, so a pragmatic viewpoint may look attractive, as opposed to Harper's rigid ideology. Again, Canadians opinions allow for lots of space on this issue, so I don't buy into the argument that Harper has scored a political coup with his Afghanistan vote. Yes, the Liberals are divided, but this condition merely mirrors the people who will ultimately cast votes- hardly a concern.