Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Harper: "What The Hell Does That Mean?"

Stephen Harper lashes out at the opposition, except for the NDP:
“But Afghanistan is a unique mission. It’s neither war nor peace-keeping. It’s a security operation that involves pretty direct combat with the enemy.”

Harper said he understands the NDP’s position - that Canada should not have sent its troops to Afghanistan and should withdraw now - better than any of his political opponents because at least this party has been consistent. But he suggested he has even less time for the two other parties.

“The Liberals and the Bloc tell me: rebalance the mission. What does that mean? I mean, what the hell does that mean?”


First of all, how can Harper say he understands the NDP position, given what he believes about Afghanistan? So, it is worse to want a re-think on the mission than to advocate immediate withdrawal? Come on. The fact that Harper purposely tries to extract the NDP from the other opposition parties is worrisome, and makes me more suspicious about the looming Clean Air Act. Mutual survival pact?

What the hell does "rebalance" mean? I take it too mean we are effectively losing the battle in Afghanistan, as every military assessment concludes. I take it too mean there is no military solution to the problems in Afghanistan, as O'Connor himself admitted. Rebalance in my mind simply means pragmatism, changing the objectives in a fluid environment. The Harper government has offered nothing except "stay the course" and "we will not be deterred". Great slogans, but dangerously stubborn, given the circumstances.

What if we tried to legalize the poppy trade? What if we poured massive amounts of money into training the Afghan army and police forces, instead of token gestures? Every independent analysis shows we spend the huge majority of our expenditure on the military. If there is no military solution, then why do we commit all our resources to an essential lost cause? I'm not suggesting that troops shouldn't defend themselves and protect people, but neither do I believe operations like the present one have any long term significance. As a matter of fact our mission resembles a tragic game of whack a mole.

When someone argues for "rebalance" they essentially say two things. First, we don't want to abandon Afghanistan. Second, we don't want our efforts to be wasted. There is no question that Afghanistan is slipping, so the question then becomes- do we stubbornly remain steadfast, in some ideological romantic view of righteousness, or do we make sober judgements that deal with practical realities? All "rebalance" means is an acknowledgment that the current path is flawed. Harper isn't the only "patriot" involved in the discussion.

17 comments:

knb said...

Jack Layton used that exact term yesterday, re-balance. He, like others, referred to us being too heavily weighted on the military and too light on investment and development.

They are all using the same word, why does he only understand Jack?

Jack's not a threat to him of course, especially in Quebec.

Harper is in full campaign mode, no two ways about it.

Olaf said...

Steve,

I have an altogether different interpretation up today (however without the benefit of the Harper quotes). I think the whole idea of "rebalancing", in so far as it suggests that we can just switch our troops into reconstruction roles will either protect our troops or provide reconstruction is wholly bunk. That aside, onto your more reasonable suggestions:

What if we poured massive amounts of money into training the Afghan army and police forces, instead of token gestures? Every independent analysis shows we spend the huge majority of our expenditure on the military. If there is no military solution, then why do we commit all our resources to an essential lost cause?

I see what you're saying, but aren't you contradicting yourself here? What is the point of pouring money into Afghan army and security forces, if there is "no military solution". How does that make sense at all? Is there a military solution for the Afghans, but just not one if NATO troops are involved?

SouthernOntarioan said...

Everyone understands the NDP position on Afghanistan. They want us to withdraw. End of story. Easy to understand.

Tell me exactly what the Liberal plan is. "Rebalance" the mission? First of all.. how? Are we going to stop fighting the Taliban? Are we going to set limits on how often we can fight the Taliban? (100 rounds/week?)

Hillier has stated clearly that the military aspect of the mission is necessary and any 'rebalancing' is foolhardy. (see Toronto Star) O'Connor's comments about no military solution meant simply you cannot expect to be able to kill kill kill and make everyone happy. That is why the current mission blends the military missions with reconstruction aid as appropriate.

And I don't know that many 'military' assesments that have said we are losing in Afghanistan. Far as I remember that was a bunch of reporters ruminating about the increased fighting between Taliban and NATO forces. The same reporters who stated that we couldn't win in Afghanistan even before we entered the country.

knb said...

I think you're on to something here Steve. I just heard Harper say, he's willing to listen to the NDP and ideas on the enviroment and hopes to work something out, but as far as the Lib's go, they have no ideas.

Interesting strategy, present a bill that does nothing on the environment, then suggest your opponent has nothing.

Layton and Harper,separated at birth.

ottlib said...

Olaf and Southernontarian:

The Defence Minister himself has stated that there is no military solution in Afghanistan.

The Soviets committed more than 100 thousand troops to fight in Afghanistan, the bulk of them in the Khandahar region, and they still went home with their tails tucked between their legs. And it should be noted that their puppet in Kabul was driven out within six months of their withdrawal.

Now the question is why do you expect the outcome to be different considering NATO has one third of the troops in country, of which less than of third of those are in the Khandahar region?

It seems to me that to believe pursuing the same strategy as the Soviet Army with considerably less resources and expecting a more successful outcome is wilfully stupid and downright insane.

It has been proven that the strategy being pursued by NATO at this point is going to fail. It is only a matter of time. So if withdrawal of NATO troops is not an option, as you two would probably assert, then a new strategy needs to be found.

Mr. Dion and Mr. Duceppe have put forward two proposals so perhaps Canadians of all political stripes should sit down and debate them without the usual hyperbole and rhetoric and see if we cannot come up with a strategy that will increase the chances of the Afghan mission achieving real success.

ottlib said...

As for Mr. Layton and Mr. Harper climbing into bed together I cannot think of any action that would bring about the destruction of the NDP more quickly than that prospect.

Mr. Harper and much of his caucus do not even believe Climate Change is a problem. They will not agree to any measure that might have a negative effect on the economy and they will certainly not agree to any measure that will have a negative effect on the Alberta Tar Sands. As a result, anything that Jack Layton gets out of Mr. Harper will be inadequate and all but the most partisan NDPers will realize that.

If Mr. Layton climbs too far into Mr. Harper's bed he will push all of those progressives who chose the NDP because of their disgust for the Liberals back into the Liberal fold.

lance said...

Comparing the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan to the Taliban ouster is hardly a fair comparison.

For one thing, Afghanistan didn't attack the Soviet Bloc.

For another the Soviet's weren't interested in rights and rebuilding but conquering. The Soviets were as dictatorial as the Taliban, the difference being that the Taliban were Afghani.

There is a world of difference between trading all your rights away to an invader, trading your rights away to a domestic dictatorship and realizing your rights to an invited military presence.

I think the Afghani are smart enough to realize that . . . unlike some here in Canada.

Cheers,
lance

ottlib said...

Lance:

I am not talking about the motivations of the NATO forces I am talking about the strategy to establish a stable government and to rebuild Afghanistan into something resembling a functioning country.

You are absolutely right about the motivation of the Soviet's but that is beside the point.

The point Lance is the NATO forces are pursuing the exact same military strategy as the Soviet Forces. As well, they are pursuing the exact same political strategy as the Soviet government pursued.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan they installed a regime that was friendly to Soviet interests. Unfortunately, this government's reach did not go much farther than Kabul. They bought off most of the warlords to the north and east of Kabul, they began building an Afghan national army and a national police force and the Soviets put most of their forces in the South where they could not buy off the warlords.

Sound familiar Lance? It should because except for some minor differences that is a description of the current situation, the key exception being the great power involved now is NATO instead of the Soviet Union.

The way the mission is set up now it will fail. As with you Lance I want the mission to succeed and I do not believe Canada or NATO should withdraw its forces. So as I said before Canadians of all political stripes should begin to debate how to change the mission to maximise the chances of its success.

ottlib said...

One other thing, if this mission fails because the some mission supporters refuse to show the flexibility of mind to adapt to changing circumstances I will blame them for the failure and the damage it will do to the Canadian Forces. I will not blame those who do not support the mission.

CfSR said...

It's simple.

The layton faction of the NDP are useful idiots.

And that's how Harper understands them.

It's no more complex than that.

Steve V said...

"And I don't know that many 'military' assesments that have said we are losing in Afghanistan."

Then you haven't been paying attention. Both the British and American military have conceded that Afghanistan is going backwards.

olaf

"What is the point of pouring money into Afghan army and security forces, if there is "no military solution"."

To be clear, there is no foreign military solution. The only hope for stability is empowering the domestic forces. So long as foreign troops occupy Afghanistan, jihadists will pour over the border from Pakistan and "freedom fighters" will have a cause.


The question for Harper, why does he consistently praise the party which is most distant philosophically? It doesn't make sense, unless something else is afoot. You can go back to the beginning of this parliament and see occasions where Harper purposely makes a distinction with regard to the NDP.

Dana said...

Jack Layton is Harper's willing stalking horse. Full stop.

Layton and the NDP are willing to subjugate everything regarding Afghanistan, the environment, national unity, national programs or anything else that should pop up in service to their delusion about displacing the Liberals.

Today's NDP is willing to watch almost everything it's ever believed in go down the toilet if only they can pick up some seats from the Liberals.

If along the way this happens to ensure a Conservative majority then so be it.

I don't say this lightly as an old time Saskatchewan CCFer.

Layton is the biggest and most dangerous goddamn fool we've seen since Diefenbaker.

lance said...

dana, that's the problem.

There is no CCF. I just wish more people in SK realized that.

Cheers,
lance

lance said...

ottlib:

The entire premise of your original comment was that the Afghani would rise up and turf the invaders.

As I stated, I think the Afghani are smart enough to see the differences in an elected gov't and dolls with bombs in them.

Afghanistan will not ever be a hotbed of terrorism again.

How do _you_ measure success?

Cheers,
lance

Scotian said...

Dana said...

"Jack Layton is Harper's willing stalking horse. Full stop.

Layton and the NDP are willing to subjugate everything regarding Afghanistan, the environment, national unity, national programs or anything else that should pop up in service to their delusion about displacing the Liberals.

Today's NDP is willing to watch almost everything it's ever believed in go down the toilet if only they can pick up some seats from the Liberals.

If along the way this happens to ensure a Conservative majority then so be it.

I don't say this lightly as an old time Saskatchewan CCFer.

Layton is the biggest and most dangerous goddamn fool we've seen since Diefenbaker."

12:45 AM, December 20, 2006

Worth repeating. This is exactly the same POV I have about Layton and the direction he is taking the NDP. He is the first NDP leader I have seen in my lifetime place the chance of increased electoral seat gains over the need to first defend the principles and policies the NDP have stood for throughout their federal history as a party. What has always really bothered me about this though is that I never saw Layton actually consult with his party as to whether they agreed with this fundamental shift in strategic approach, in other words he is doing the opposite of all his predecessors without actually consulting his party and its membership. Which when one considers how much many NDPers take pride in how theirs is the only party which listens first to their grass roots and is not a top down driven party is particularly telling about where Layton's approach to leadership really comes from.

Layton is gambling that his party's core voters will stick with him while he tries to appeal to more Liberal voters to come to the NDP instead of the Liberals next time out. He is gambling that they will not see his apparent lack of serious concern for the Harper CPC agenda as a betrayal of all the NDP have stood for. I think he is making a critical mistake that could not just place the nation in peril by creating enough vote splitting for Harper to get a majority by running up the middle of those splits but also could result in if not the destruction of the federal NDP as a party will severely weaken it for a long period of a decade to a generation in the wilderness again, just like in 1993.

This is not an outcome I would like to see personally. While I currently will not support the NDP regardless of how high quality their candidate is in my riding because of Layton's decisions I have always seen them until Layton as a positive element in our federal political dynamic. They have defended social justice ideals and aided in creating the social safety net in our society that so many of we non-CPCers take such pride in like Medicare. They have been an important voice and were a safe place for progressives to place their votes when they wanted to send a message to the Liberals yet not vote for Conservatives. The progressive voters could do that because of the track record of the NDP of placing their principles before all other considerations, and it is that Layton has taken away from the NDP with his games of the last year and a half. Indeed, my GP is hardcore NDP, voted NDP last time out but after this year has sworn to not vote NDP again until Layton is gone and the new leader demonstrates they are of the traditional NDP mold instead of the Layton one.

Harper sees all of this, and Harper is anything but stupid. He sees an excellent opportunity to replicate on the left what happened to the right in the 1990s if he can get the NDP to bleed enough Liberal votes to create massive CPC wins through vote splitting in traditionally progressive (as in Liberal/NDP seats traditionally) ridings. Layton is lusting after being the alternate governing party replacing the Liberals and appears to see that as the primary mission of the NDP these days. Harper would have to be a complete moron (Which he most certainly is not, if he were I would be far less worried about him...it is his strong intelligence and political capabilities that cause me to worry as much as I do. Ironically enough his main weaknesses are from his ideological blind spots and not from a more basic form of ignorance/stupidity) not to do everything he can to aid Layton in this goal without being too obvious about it. Too obvious meaning that not only do we political junkies notice this but also less politically focused/aware/obsessed voters do as well.

Harper is playing Layton and Layton is unaware of this (which demonstrates incompetence IMHO) or worse knows it but doesn't care since he thinks it will advance his goal of making the NDP supplant the Libs as the alternative choice for government after the CPC (even if it means the CPC get a majority at least once before this happens which is why many voters cannot support Layton because we all see Harper as the main threat and not the Liberals) falls from power whenever that may be. This latest bit regarding how Harper sees each party on Afghanistan underscores this goal of Harper's and Layton's apparent willingness to go along with it. So I think Steve V has a very sound basis for concern regarding what the Layton-Harper team up on the environmental issue could be in service of.

Thank you Steve V for some excellent work on this matter. While I have not been commenting as much lately I still have been reading as much as ever and your work still stands IMHO as good solid stuff.

Steve V said...

Thanks Scotian. I actually had high hopes when Layton first gained some concessions on the Clean Air Act. However, I have changed my opinion because I now see two desperate politicans who are engaged in a mutual survival pact. Harper's repeated public comments about the NDP, that attempt to seperate their intentions from other parties, is a worrisome trend. James Travers made an astute observation, Harper wants to give the NDP some credibility through concessions, so they remain a force, split the left vote in close ridings, and allow the Conservatives to win with slim support.

Miles Lunn said...

The NDP and the Tories are similiar in the sense that both are ideologically pure parties just coming from different ends of the spectrum. The Liberals and the Bloc Quebecois however are not ideologically pure parties.