Friday, July 27, 2007

"Neutralizing" Afghanistan, Harper The "Waffler"

CBC's, The National, had an in-depth discussion last night about the mission in Afghanistan. I found the roundtable (min 30) particularly interesting. Harper's morphing position on the war, was characterized by Mansbridge as an attempt to "neutralize", ala the Conservative strategy on the environment. Allan Gregg articulated the real risk to Harper in changing his position:
"There's a risk for Harper, but not the obvious one. Changing his position ...appeal to those that most oppose him... The real risk for him however, what he has been able to establish over the last year and a bit, is even those that don't like him, and those that don't agree with him, which is the wide majority, they don't dispute the fact that he has the attributes to be Prime Minister. Harper is confident, he is decisive and he has a vison. If he looks like he is "cutting and running", he runs the risk of damaging those attributes, that are really the cornerstone of any strength he has."

A great perspective- even though Harper often has trouble on the issues with Canadians, he generally fairs well on questions of leadership and decisiveness. These "attributes" are even more important within the current political landscape, where his main rival looks decidedly weak on the same points. Harper enjoys a substantial leadership gap, which makes commentary like this very concerning:
David Bercsuon (U of C professor):

"I think Allan is right and he runs the risk of looking like a "waffler" on an issue that is so important. You might be doing considerable damage to the mission itself."

Don Martin reported from Kandahar that the soldiers had expressed some disappointment and confusion over Harper's mixed messages. That fact is a clear warning sign for the Prime Minister. If, Harper comes off looking like a "waffler", in his attempt to "neutralize", then he has lost his remaining advantage. Any contrast between Harper the leader, and Dion as lacking leadership will be lost, which then brings the conversation more squarely onto a simple discussion of issues. On that score, Harper is challenged, whereas the Liberals find a more natural argument.

In trying to distance himself from the mission, Harper could effectively undercut his advantage. In attempting to expand support, move with public opinion, Harper could hurt himself, because he looks weak and unsure. It will be fascinating to see how this all plays out, but it could very well be that the Conservatives have out-strategized themselves, reaching, which causes a fall from the leadership pedestal.


Calgary Junkie said...

There are so many variables involved in Afghanistan, I think we have to let more of them play out, before being able to properly analyze what Harper is doing.

My take on his most recent comments is that he was elaborating on his long-held position that Parliament will decide on the nature of the mission beyond Feb, 2009. It's obvisous that there will have to be some kind of consensus from the Tories and at least one of the Opposition Parties, in order for a Tory motion to pass with enough votes. The other possibility is that the three Opp Parties will get together and pass a motion using THEIR wording.

Its just too complicated right now. Plus Harper could be putting pressure on other NATO countries to help out more in southern Afghanistan. And lets see how the Dutch vote on the extension of their mission.

Harper obviously knows more than anyone about what is going on. But he's not inclined to reveal information that can help his opponents--including the Taliban.

Karen said...

The key to me though is, in neutralizing his positions, he's not garnered any support. He's stuck in the polls. Why? Surely they are scratching their heads, perplexed as to why Canadians aren't lining up behind him.

Even if he changes the messaging, people see through it.

To me, he has a, "fooled us once" aura about him now and the opposition should work with that.

The environment is a great example. Anyone serious about the issue, see's right through the new message. So it will be with Afghanistan, particularly if the opposition speak to it.

You know, the ad's that the Martin team ran, have all come to pass. (Trolls, don't bring up the army in the streets that didn't run.) I'm not suggesting using them again, but Harper's vision for the ideal Canada, have not changed. All that has changed is his strategy to to achieve it.

Thankfully, that seems to have fallen flat too.

Steve V said...

I think Harper will have a harder time neutralizing this issue, because of the way he claimed it with such vigor. I have a feeling, that when people look back, Harper's unilateral embrace of a mission, that he could have easily pawned off on the Liberals, will be seen as one of his greatest mistakes.

As an aside, for all the talk of neutralizing the environment, the last poll I read showed only 21% approved of the government's handling of the issue. When you think about the billions Baird has thrown around, the propaganda campaign, the world leader rhetoric, it all translates into a complete failure.

"Harper obviously knows more than anyone about what is going on."

I'm not putting my faith in Harper's reasonings, or initimate knowledge, because it so clearly seems politically motivated. Only a blind partisan can reconcile he gung ho commentary of the spring and the new consensus talk today. There is a certain pleasure in people accusing Harper of "cutting and running", given his own divisive banter since taking office.

Karen said...

Plus Harper could be putting pressure on other NATO countries to help out more in southern Afghanistan.

That obviously, if it's been going on at all, has gone nowhere.

The whole NATO mission, imo, needs to be re-thought and I cannot figure out why it hasn't been, save the US influence on it's design. That's the key to me.

Harper obviously knows more than anyone about what is going on. But he's not inclined to reveal information that can help his opponents--including the Taliban

Yeah, the Taliban and their rag tag illiterate supporters, or the illiterate farmers who are faced with supporting their family or not, are picking up the Globe and Mail in the morning.

Sorry for the snark, but honestly, this idea that the Taliban, is following Harper's comments just makes me laugh.

Anonymous said...

At some future date, unknown to us today, there will be clear eyed, hard headed adults in charge of this fiasco and it's bloody twin in Iraq.

Until that day arrives we'll just keep pouring blood and gold into the sand hoping something grows from it that isn't malignant.

In the meantime NATO has become a US foreign policy proxy.

All you need to examine is the qualitative strategic differences between the previous British commander of ISAF and the present American one.

Richards, the Brit, emphasized economic development, local armistice initiatives and such.

McNeil, the American, just likes blowing things up from a great height, kicking in doors and refusing to talk much about peace initiatives to locals. Just like the US is doing in Iraq to such resounding success.


Anonymous said...


I love your crisp analysis.

Just remember: having Harper in a *minority* government is a LUXURY Progressives cannot afford to squander...

So why do we let THIS shit happen??

"TERMS" of Endearment: Harper Tories primed for fresh policy as 'first term' nears end: Mulroney

Be afraid, these freaks are getting too uppity for OUR own good.

RCMP & U.S. Army block public forum on the Security & Prosperity Partnership

"'Flagged down': Activists arrested in row over protest flag, allege abuse by Buncombe deputy"
This week & AP brings new evidence of Pat Tillman's *Murder* in Afghanistan: "Sex, Lies & Cover-ups"

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