Monday, October 09, 2006

NATO Commander Supports Kennedy

When Gerard Kennedy took the bold position that Canada was engaged in a longterm "losing strategy" in Afghanistan, he took considerable heat from mission supporters. Gerard's central thesis:
The biggest failure in Afghanistan to date has been the way the international community has alienated the Afghani people. We cannot win the hearts and minds unless we are helping to fill stomachs and creating a sense of trust in future stability...

The basic needs of the local population are not being met and, as a result, the population is returning its support to the Taliban and other local power-holders.

The international coalition should focus on the immediate and long term economic needs of the local communities and any use of force should be balanced with extensive, visible and effective development efforts. Sustainable peace in Afghanistan cannot be achieved by military operations alone: comprehensive and long-term development efforts are desperately needed. The success of the international mission in Afghanistan relies on convincing the Afghani people that development will provide for a better future than the Taliban offers and on the realization of these promises.

The argument that Canada needs a better balance between re-construction and military objectives, if it hopes to succeed, finds support from NATO's Afghanistan commander:
NATO's top commander in Afghanistan warned Sunday that the war is "at a tipping point" and more troops are needed to defeat resurgent Taliban militants.

Gen. David Richards, a British officer who commands NATO's 32,000 troops in Afghanistan, warned in an interview with the Associated Press that Afghans could switch their allegiance to the Taliban if daily life doesn't visibly improve during the next six months.

"If we collectively … do not exploit this winter to start achieving concrete and visible improvement," then some 70 per cent of Afghans could switch sides, Richards said

The Kennedy position is ahead of the curve, more realist than defeatist. The fact that military leaders now agree that drastic changes are needed if the international community is to be successful, puts the Kennedy view into the mainstream. I think it important for Liberals to offer a clear alternative to the Harper view heading into the next election. It is obvious that Harper's stubborness provides an opportunity for the Liberal Party to move the discussion forward in a way that is increasingly acceptable to Canadians. Kennedy's position puts the Liberals squarely between the immediate pullout position of Layton and the stay for eternity view of Harper.

People can question Kennedy's international experience, but it is relevant, that on Afghanistan, he appears to have accurately assessed the situation. The question for Liberals, do we go into the next election with a clear alternative or do we embrace a similar position to the Conservatives? In my mind, Afghanistan will be a central talking point during the next campaign, and Liberals would be well served by adopting the Kennedy position, because with each day his analysis looks far more reasonable and accurate. Kennedy's view isn't reckless, it's pragmatic and offers the best chance to counter the Harper/Bush view of the world. What was considered bold, now begins to look like an electoral winner with each passing day. Do we cede this issue to Harper, or do we offer a clear alternative view?

Former Foreign Affairs Minister Lloyd Axworthy echoes the belief that Afghanistan will be key in the next election, and why it is folly to voluntarily cede the issue:
"Afghanistan is going to be the wedge issue in the next election," Axworthy said. "Mr. Ignatieff has shown horrible, bad political judgment on that issue. And he wasn't just a supporter of the war in Iraq, he was an outspoken apologist and advocate for it. It would make it impossible for a Liberal party to provide an alternative to the Conservative government if he was leader."

Another point of view.


Anonymous said...

So true.

Anonymous said...

Ah, this isn't and wasn't originally just a Kennedy idea so giving him unearned kudos is a little premature.

Anonymous said...

Not that this was an original thought by Kennedy - the NATO commander wouldn't even know who Kennedy is so why the misleading caption?

Walrus said...

You did read all of what Richards said, didn't you? He advocated 10,000 more troops in order to get the war won. He didn't say it was any lack of developmental aid that was the problem, but the ongoing, inconclusive hostilities. Quite frankly, there's not much point in building schools and clinics if they will be blown up the next day.

So, if this post of yours is honest, you're saying that Kennedy supports increasing the military involvement and then following up with aid. But somehow, I don't think so. This post reads like pure spin. Please correct me if I'm wrong.

BTW, I sincerely doubt that Richards has ever heard of Kennedy, so it's highly unlikely he's expressed support for him.

Steve V said...

Oh come on. The title wasn't literal, merely showing the fact that a NATO commander has admitted that we are failing to win "hearts and minds" and this can only be done through re-construction. As an aside, I have heard through reliable sources that this commander intends to endorse Kennedy for the Liberal leadership at a press conference in Laval tomorrow.

Janet said...

My bad, he said 2500 troops, not 10,000.

Steve V said...

He said 10000 troops would be needed if we didn't address the problem now.

Anonymous said...

"the title was literal" - OK, but it is certainly deliberately misleading.

Should it have read the Kennedy agrees with NATO commander or something?

Actually, you have it all wrong anyway.

Spinning yourself dizzy here.

Steve V said...

Yes, I was trying to imply that a British General was endorsing Kennedy. And, yes it clearly is spin to suggest that Kennedy's stance finds comfort when the top dog in the field admits that we need to do more on re-construction or risk losing support. I'm dizzy too.

sir john a said...

Kennedy is the only one who has taken a position that is clearly at odds with Harper. I don't know where Rae and Dion stand except on a convenient fence. Ignatieff can't attack Harper because he is Harper on this issue. Kennedy has the most sensible approach.

wilfrid-L said...

I think Kennedy needs to get more air time to restate his position. If he's ahead of the curve here, the main trouble is that few --ok, many bloggers but outside this bubble few -- now of this stance. Perhaps they didn't understand his french?

Olaf said...


I'm not so sure that Kennedy's position is in contrast to Harper's. Everyone tries to suggest that Harper's only objective is to militarily destroy the Taliban, but this isn't the case (I cover what Harper has actually said in this post, if you're interested). Harper has explicitly said that "success cannot be measured by military means alone".

Perhaps the Harper hasn't been doing enough on development, however, thats what the majority of NATO troops are doing, while Canadians, Americans, the Dutch and the Brits are engaged in fighting in the south, to try to ensure that they have the security to act on humanitarian efforts.

That being said, Kennedy's position could very well be helpful, but would be even more helpful if he'd outline how he would propose Canada does this. How much money would he be willing to contribute to Afghan aid, while still maintaining the necessary military commitment in the south? I mean it's hard to argue that Afghan's would be better off with more aid and reconstruction, it's really quite obvious.

However, a "rebalancing", so much as it implies that we should divert military funds to humanitarian efforts, could very well be counter productive, as walrus points out.

Steve V said...


Thanks for the thoughtful response. While Kennedy hasn't put a dollar amount on his position, he has said:

"Despite being the world's main front in the war against terrorism, Afghanistan has so far received less per capita reconstruction and security assistance than all other recent post-conflict countries. In Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and East Timor, donors spent an average of $250 per capita per year in aid. In Afghanistan, only $75 per capita has been pledged for this year, sliding down to $42 per capita for the next five years. While Canada has spent more than $4 billion by some estimates on the military mission in Afghanistan, it has spent less than $100 million in aid since March 2005."

Reading between the lines, I see Kennedy allocating additional funding for re-construction. I agree there needs to be a fleshing out on exact expenditures, however I don't see how this position is analogous to Harper's. Afterall, this current disparity between military and re-construction has been endorsed by Harper, now and in the future. Harper, O'Connor and the like do say we need to better on re-construction, but they seem to delay it until security is guaranteed. What has become apparent, if you wait until security is absolute, you will have lost anyways, because the population will have grown tired of lost promises. This position is largely a catch-22- you create more instability by waiting as you alienate the population, which makes re-construction impossible while you deal with the instability. It's a vicious cycle, the only chance lies in a MASSIVE infusion of money to directly benefit Afghans.

Jeremy Kirouac said...

Honestly, when I first read this quote from Kennedy I was elated. Good on him. His thoughts are clear and well articulated. I am a Dion supporter as you know. But this is very impressive indeed.

Gerard-who? said...

This would be far more impressive if:

a) there wasn't already a guy named Jack Layton who has provided far more consistant leadership against the mission in the face of far worse criticism from the Conservatives, and

b) if 25 percent of the Liberal caucus hadn't voted with Stephen Harper to extend the mission.