His second line in the sand makes it that much more unlikely.
"Our position is that in 2011 the mission is over," Dion told reporters Monday.
"And we need to make that clear otherwise NATO and the government of Afghanistan will assume . . . that Canada is setting for a never-ending mission.
The National said that several Liberals responded positively to the news, an encouraging sign there could yet be a deal.
At the very least, this concession does suggest the Conservatives are willing to try and find a compromise, how far that goes is anybody's guess. The government may be calculating it is better to get an agreement, than leave the question open-ended heading into a campaign.
As for the other line in the sand, I found these comments from a Liberal MP telling:
"If you're out there with some people that are building a road and suddenly you're attacked with mortars or whatever but people are hiding somewhere away from the road, what do you do?" asked Liberal MP Roy Cullen. "Do you just sort of stand guard and put on your helmets or do you call for the ‘search and destroy' people?"
I think Harper may have blinked here, which means there is room for the Liberals to ask for firm commitments, hard numbers for allocations, percentages devoted to what priorities. If Harper is throwing the Liberals a sizeable bone, chances are he is willing to go further, because this move reveals a genuine want. If the Liberals accept a combat component, without strings and protocols, they might just find they get the "re-focus" they have argued for, for the better part of a year.