The polls do show that Canadians want this mission to end, in it's current configuration. However, there is also a sense of some responsibility, the majority of Canadians are not in favor of abandoning Afghanistan. You could argue, and I've prescribed to this view earlier as well, that the Liberals have struck the right balance between demanding change and further commitment with their nuanced stance. That said, what has happened over the past month may have eroded that ground for the Liberal position, as the government has moved with vigor.
We can argue about Manley until the cows come home, but the bottomline, that panel has provided this government with a backdrop, a set of requirements, that if met, suggest "success". Harper is armed with Manley, a public relations exercise, that achieved the goal of setting out parameters that everyone can focus on. Should the government meet those objectives, it then presents a more attractive argument for extension.
At this very moment, the government is involved in intense negotiations with the French to secure the required troop increase, "demanded" by Manley. While this is occuring, word comes of Poland helping us with our helicopter requirement, not to mention MacKay suggesting there would "be more news" on that front in the coming days. Fast-forward to securing commitment from other NATO allies, you then have to wonder if it is realistic to then argue that Canada's combat role should end. Think about the optics, we have secured more troops and helicopters, others have stepped up to help Canada, then Canada turns around and says we are leaving the front, for less risky terrain. The spectacle of that diplomatic hypocrisy is something every Liberal should keep in mind.
Here is the Conservative motion, introduced yesterday:
Canada should build on its accomplishments and shift to accelerate the training of the Afghan army and police so that the government of Afghanistan can defend its own sovereignty and ensure that progress in Afghanistan is not lost...
House supports the continuation of Canada's current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces expeditiously to take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole so that, as the Afghan National Security Forces gain capability, Canada's combat role should be commensurately reduced...
The Conservatives leave room for a combat role, but put emphasis on a shifting mission that focuses on training and re-construction. The Liberals are essentially arguing the latter aspects, while stubbornly insisting that the combat portion be eliminated. The simple facts, if Canada remains in the volatile south, there will be casualties, there will shots in anger. It is almost naive to think that Canadians can remain this region, without the Taliban attacking the invaders. Common sense assumes that there will be some combat, maybe not offensive operations, but clearly a "security" component. I think it folly to dismiss the opinion of Hillier, when he says it is unrealistic to think we can entirely eliminate the military component, not in the south.
The government will emphasis the shifting emphasis on the mission, armed with Manley and the powerful commitment of other nations to "help" Canada. Where are the Liberals, if they demand an end, just when the conditions of Manley are met. Other countries, willing to fight with us, then we say "this isn't for us", we will do other things. I see that as a hard sell for the Liberals, given that Harper only needs 40% of Canadians to get on board. Harper has moved onto the Liberal position, maybe the best course for the Liberals is too jump on board, eliminate the issue entirely. Otherwise, the Liberals risk arguing the margins, while the thrust is mostly consistent, a stance that isn't necessarily the advantage many of us saw earlier. Right now, at this moment, Harper is out-flanking the Liberals.