The Harper government has changed the language, in an effort to make the mission more palatable, but this seems more about perception than principle. Today, Harper unveiled some of his new, focus group tested, rhetoric. In his comments, Harper reveals that is more interesting that his primary concern is "selling" the mission:
One thing became crystal clear at last week's NATO summit in Bucharest: the old rhetoric about the fight against the Taliban being a blow against terrorism has been officially jettisoned.
In its place was an understanding that, in order to win the hearts and minds of Canadians, the political message would have to be phrased in terms that were less - well, less American.
The mantra almost from the time the Conservatives took office had beent that Canada had a responsibility to ensure Afghanistan didn't revert to the status of a failed state that could serve as a launching pad for terrorist attacks against North America.
That rang hollow in the ears of many Canadians, a fact that Harper has apparently come to appreciate.
"What we've actually found is: when you argue our self interest, that's actually less appealing to Canadian public opinion than the argument that we are actually concretely helping the Afghan people with their lives," he told a panel discussion of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, an American policy group, in Bucharest.
"Success sells, and the perception of failure is what causes problems."
There is honesty, and then there is telling Canadians what they want to hear, to curry their continued support. Liberals need to contrast the new language, that language with the past rhetoric, and how exactly the Conservatives got there. Remind Canadians, that the Conservatives used taxpayer dollars for focus groups, with the sole goal of finding ways to sell the mission. The Bushisms weren't dropped because the Conservatives don't believe the same, they were dropped because Canadians weren't "buying".
Afghanistan is a product, an issue that must be seen within the wider narrative of retail politics. There is plenty of evidence to weave a coherent story, which demonstrates that the words are cynical, the real priorities masked by cushy language, which ultimately leaves a question of trust. Moving forward, who do Canadians want as stewards of the mission? Which party really understand where the mission must go to be successful, and who is packaging Afghanistan to offset any political damage.
Afghanistan is still on the table, there are still contrasts available. Who should guide us for the next three years?