Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hot Potato

The most curious of all the Harper positions, was his unilateral embrace of the Afghanistan mission as the Conservatives own. Initiated by the Liberals, Harper could be a proponent of the mission, while still enjoying political cover, through lack of direct responsibility. Instead, Harper immediately seized on Afghanistan, wrapped himself in a militaristic nationalism and seemed to determine to cast the Conservatives as the pro-war option. Politically, Harper's zeal has always been questionable at best, because he relinquished an escape route without prompting, for no payoff.

Yesterday's press conference represents the Harper wakeup call. For the first time, Harper has suggested that the opposition will determine the direction of the mission. A far cry from the rhetoric heard just last month during the visit to Afghanistan, Harper essentially attempts to wash his hands and place the onus elsewhere. With support for an extension waning badly, this new posture is pure political calculation, which is noteworthy given the previous "we will not look at the polls" stance.

"Building consensus" means abdicating responsbility, neutralizing the issue as partisan consideration. Probably a wise move for Conservative fortunes, but one that deserves a cynical reading. I am willing to bet that internal polling shows a lack of appetite for open-ended combat even amongst soft-Conservative support. Make no mistake, despite the cries of principle, this seismic shift in tone is a finger in the wind scenario. Harper is trying to distance himself from the perception that this is his mission, which is where he was initially, prior to his self-annointed, misguided declaration as defender of Canada and the world.


Dana said...

When the International Assessment Staff of the Privy Council Office reports that the handbasket to hell is on the track and ready to roll even the blind, deaf and dumb acolytes of military adventurism are prone to sit up and blink.


Dana said...

Maybe this will work better.

Olaf said...


Just to clarify: if Harper had said "I don't care what the other parties think, I'm the PM, and I'll keep the troops there as long as I want", you'd be calling him an anti-democratic authoritarian contemptuous of the will of parliament.

However, since he's seeking "consensus", he's "abdicating responsibility".

Is that about right?

Steve V said...


The first option isn't an option unless he gets a majority so I don't have to take the bait with your question. Why has Harper changed his tone is the only question you need to ask to get you answer. You honestly don't believe this new tactic isn't tied to polls do you?


I can't access the link.

knb said...

Olaf, he already did that during the last debate remember? How'd that work out for him?

He hasn't changed his tone, he's doing what public pressure has forced him to do.

I don't think he's trying to share the ownership of the war either. I think he's cleverly put himself in a place where he defend himself to his base, by saying, "look, I think we should stay but the opposition outnumber us", while seeming more reasonable to his dissenters.

This statement made by him, is not an example of extending a hand to the opposition.

"I would want to see some degree of consensus around that. I don't want to send people into a mission if the opposition is going to, at home, undercut the dangerous work that they are doing in the field," he said.

rabbit said...

Actually, I think Harper is setting the war up as an (even bigger) campaign issue.

If the Liberals vote against continuing the Afghan mission, Harper can say that the Libs are abandoning the Afghan people to the Taliban, and won't finish what they started.

If the Libs vote for continuing mission, it neutralizes Liberal criticism of the mission.

So which way will the Liberals vote, should it come to that? Or will Dion make it a free vote?

knb said...

rabbit, Dion has been very clear on the Liberal position, (in spite of the NDP and con's saying otherwise).

The Liberal position is to honour our committment to 2009, then rotate out of the combat role. Stay in Afghanistan to do other work and whatever troops are not needed there can be deployed elsewhere in the world.

Free vote or not, I can't think of any member of the Lib caucus who has said anything different than that.

Steve V said...


Harper might be attempting to wedge the Liberals, but if that is his intention he will fail miserably. Dion and others are already musing about the mission after 2009, which entails some presence that is not offensive in nature, coupled with training and re-construction. If Harper is genuine, he will find the "meeting of the minds" as he claims, even Layton isn't necessarily advocating complete withdraw, for all duties.

rabbit said...

If I read you correctly, then, the Liberals will almost certainly vote not to continue the military portion of the Afghan mission beyond 2009.

Harper will be able to use this as a political tool if NATO is not able to provide a suitable replacement for the Canadian troops, and as a result, Afghanistan is lost to the Taliban.

That is the danger that the Liberals face in this.

Steve V said...


There may be a military component, like shoring up the border or tours in less volatile regions. Harper can say what he wants, but Canadians overwhelmingly say we shouldering too much of the combat and NATO has failed. I doubt Harper will get much mileage about "Afghanistan is lost" if we keep the re-construction, training and limited military presence. Actually, I think the Liberals are positioning themselves quite nicely on this issue.

knb said...

Harper will be able to use this as a political tool if NATO is not able to provide a suitable replacement for the Canadian troops

That is why Dion is pushing Harper to advise NATO now.

rabbit said...

Unfortunately, the reconstruction effort, as worthy as it might be, comes a distant second in importance to actively fighting the Taliban. Indeed, reconstruction is impossible without someone taking on the combat role.

I think Harper will get a lot of mileage out of "Afghanisan is lost" if Aghanistan is indeed lost, no matter what efforts were made in a non-combative role.

And I think Dion realizes this. Dion may well be praying that suitable NATO replacements are indeed found, so he is not put in the awkward position of having to vote in favour of continuing the combat portion of the mission.

I don't think the Liberals are positioned well at all on this. Harper's position is much more straightforward.

Steve V said...

"I don't think the Liberals are positioned well at all on this. Harper's position is much more straightforward."

Then why exactly is it that Harper is backtracking?

knb said...

rabbit, the fact is, our military is too small to sustain itself with the number of casualties we are taking.

This will become more and more apparent as time goes on and if Harper maintains the position you suggest, he'll be on the losing side of the issue.

Believe what you like, but I think Dion has the only logical position at the moment. It's a position of honour and that's what the Canadian military is all about. We've done our shift and we've done it well. We cannot spell off the rest of NATO forever and goodness knows that this combat is not about to end any time soon.

Steve V said...

The prudent position is too acknowledge that we are simply playing a sick game of whack a mole.

knb said...

Quite right Steve. As well, I just posted on Karzai's reaction to the mission's in his country.

It's time to take stock and take a position. Dion has done that, and while Harper is being touted far and wide, :), for having done the same, he has not.

Steve V said...

You can't defeat an insurgency militarily, at least if you use the countless historical examples for context. I would argue we are better off doing re-construction in "safe" areas, demonstrate concrete result and in that way win hearts and minds, undermining the Taliban.

rockfish said...

"harper's position is much more straightforward."...

Eh Rabbit, you've been into that lookingglass water again? Harpor and straightforward don't match, from his posture to his positions and statements that come out as mini-dictates or psuedo-olive branches with mega thorns. This is a guy who has two positions of reason to attach to each poll-driven act he's taken. He's so wedded to his focus groups and republican-atic warfare strategy that he wouldn't know a straightforward position if it jumped out of his hamburger.

Anonymous said...

Seems to me the bottom line is that, as with the vote for the extension, Harper can do whatever he pleases with or without consensus. He stated that no matter the debate, no matter what Canadians thought, he was going to push through the extension anyway.
Looks to me like Harper is just trying to make a cushy landing spot.
I would prefer that a Canadian Prime Minister stood his ground instead of looking for cushy landing spots. But then, Stephen Harper is the accidental PM, isn't he? He's Canada's revenge on the Liberals. Him and O'Connor, making war all about retribution. Won't that look nice on the history pages?

Steve V said...

"He's Canada's revenge on the Liberals."

I like that.

Scotian said...

Steve V said...

"He's Canada's revenge on the Liberals."

I like that.

10:32 PM, June 23, 2007

It also underscores the old adage about revenge: "He who would seek revenge must first dig two graves, one for his intended victim and the other for himself." Given the damage Harper is doing to Canada as a nation I think it fits also.