Sunday, September 03, 2006

Layton's Mistake

Pardon my cynicism, but I can't help but see Layton's call for immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan as anything but politically motivated. At first blush, Layton's stance looks like a blatant attempt to out-flank the Liberals, who are becoming increasingly vocal in their opposition for an open-ended engagement. Is Layton trying to get out front of the other parties?

The problem with the Layton view, it has a reckless quality that lacks practicality. Does anyone really see a scenario where Canadians begin immediate withdrawal? Whether you agree or disagree with the mission, it is simply logistically and diplomatically impossible to extract ourselves immediately. Layton denies reality and in turn makes his view look more a stunt, than a careful policy position.

The NDP generally does an excellent job in presenting a united front, but in this instance Layton is faced with a fellow NDP MP quoting Liberals in disagreement:
The Nova Scotia MP represents a military riding and says his own views are more in line with those expressed by Liberal defence critic Ujjal Dosanjh, who said the mission should be refocused but Canadian troops should remain.

“To be honest with you, Mr. Dosanjh got it right the other day when he said just to extend the mission for two years without a proper debate and a plan is wrong, but to do an immediate pullout, or a very quick pullout, is also wrong,” said Mr. Stoffer, his party's veterans affairs critic.

“Without a comprehensive plan, what are you pulling out for? What are you leaving behind?”

Layton's view that the mission is flawed and failing has validity, but his call for withdrawal creates a vacuum that he doesn't reconcile. Layton's view has the ironic effect of ceding the "sensible" path to the Liberals. What conditions can we put in place, what initiatives can we take and what emphasis should we have that will allow Canadian forces to leave? These are the questions many Liberals are asking, while Layton leaves a clear hole for opponents to claim abandonment. The harsh reality, we did commit to Afghanistan, so getting out requires some balance. While Canadians are split over the mission, Layton's view comes across as extreme and I doubt it finds much widespread support.

Layton's inaccurate reading of the landscape puts him on the fringe of this debate and positions the Liberals right in the middle. The Tories are steadfast and stubborn, now the NDP is equally rigid in its view. The real debate about goals, objectives and timeframes resides in the Liberal Party. I don't think Layton thought his postion out, it reeks of kneejerk politics and it cements the NDP position. Politically motivated, I think Layton has miscalculated the general view of Canadians and opened the NDP up for easy criticisms. I say this as someone who agrees that the mission is massively flawed, and in its present form, destined to fail.


Mike said...

I agree with Peter Stoffer. I am troubled by this, though I admit that the mission as it exists now is doomed to fail. We have to change or get out, but I'm not quite ready to get out now. Lets try different tactics. If we can't convince NATO to change, then get the hell out.

leftdog said...

Actually I don't agree with Peter Stoffer. Here is snippet from this weeks Macleans:
"Lt.-Gen. David Richards, the British officer who now commands all NATO troops in Afghanistan, has been far blunter. He openly speaks of the possibility of the Taliban winning.. "If it doesn't visibly improve soon," Richards said, "people are going to say we'd rather have the certain security -- albeit the rotten life that goes with it -- of the Taliban than go on fighting forever."

Afghanistan is quicksand. I do not for a minute believe that Canada's thin little forces can succeed militarily where the USSR failed and the Americans 'cut and ran' leaving the entire mess in Khandahar province to us.

It is not appeasement. It is realizing that we are in over our heads in an insurgency that simply cannot end in a military victory - stalmate is the best we can hope for - and how many years will that take?

What is the plan? Define the goals? What will be considered success?

Until the bullets stop flying by way of a ceasefire or some kind of talks, creation of institutions and public services cannot progress. As long as the conflict meanders along, the Taliban are ultimately winning.

Steve V said...

I don't dispute the "Taliban winning" argument, which is why we need to change gears. Canadian troops could help train Afghan forces, keep security in the already held areas and the government could give a massive infusion of money for re-construction and arming the Afghans. What we need to recognize, all these offensive operations aren't accomplishing our goal, but that doesn't equate to no Canadian presence.

eugene plawiuk said...

Train Afghan forces? Which are those? The Gangsters and warlords? Afghanistan is a fragmented by sectarian violence as Iraq. And its army and cops are corrupt.
And what Jack said was that withdrawl of Canadian Forces should be done by February 2007 when the vote would have been to extend their stay or not.
Of course there will be some in caucus who will shot themselves in the foot like Stoffer. Who is a right wing social democrat. Perhaps he will jump ship for the Liberals.

Steve V said...

"right wing social democrat."

That's a new one.

Anonymous said...

We already gave the chance for us to define the mission and we failed. No point of us being there while we got our thumbs up our asses. GET OUT!

Koby said...

The NDP drive me around the bend. I wholeheartly agree with Layton: we should leave. However, Layton should hammer home the obvious, namely that the mission is doomed to failure, is horribly expensive and makes us less safe. Instead he adds so many qualifications and red herrings about Bush that people wonder if maybe we should stay after all.

Stephen said...

I'm afraid I have to disagree here.

Why is Layton off-base in calling for a withdrawal to be completed by Feb 2007, given the reality of the situation in Afghanistan?

Many countries have ordered withdrawals from Iraq, including Spain, which ordered a fairly quick pull-out once a government in line with majority opinion on the conflict was elected.

Maintaining security in areas where ISAF forces are welcome by the local population, coupled with massive increases in development funds (which should be understood as reparations, not aid, for the most part), has been suggested by some: but that's not what we're in for right now.

Rather, we're participating in a military-centric counterinsurgency effort while having little to no plan to deal with factors like opium production, Pakistani support for insurgents, etc., etc.

Layton is pointing out among the more obvious points, and deserves to be listened to, and certainly more so than people like Dosanjh, Graham, Ignatieff, Brison, etc., who have little to offer us but slogans.

Steve V said...


I don't think the Spain analogy fits, simply because we have a leadership role in Afghanistan. There is also the NATO entanglement which demands a careful path. We're in this mess, and it isn't as easy to extract ourselves as Layton suggests. Layton may be right in his diagnosis, but his solution doesn't mesh with the reality. I would love to hear him flesh out the exit strategy.