Remember this quote, when a slight majority still supported the Afghanistan mission:
"If we need further efforts or a further mandate to go ahead into the future, we will do so alone and we will go to the Canadian people to get that mandate," Harper said in May 2006, following the vote.
Harper posited the Afghanistan mission as a moral necessity, that he was willing to stake his political fortunes on. This type of strong rhetoric remained into 2007, there was never a hint of "consensus", in fact others were chastized and Harper seemed to be positioning himself as the only Afghanistan defender. The pro-war vote was more than enough to justify a hardline position, in fact isolating the rest as doves, left a considerable base of support for the loner Conservative view.
Fast forward to today, and we see the same pattern with Harper that we saw with Iraq. A review of the various Harper quotes, over the years, as it related to the Iraq war, show a distinct co-relation between public opinion and position. A moral war-hawk, to hesitation, to distancing, to outright rejection, all follow the downward curve in support in a way that is striking. I'm not suggesting Harper will ultimately abandon the mission, but his recent "softening" is clearly politically motivated.
The directive from the PMO is circulating, with all the surrogates now singing from the same playbook:
Calgary Southeast MP Jason Kenney said Saturday the Conservative government has not made a decision on whether it wants to extend the mission.
"We need the support of Parliament if we were to seek to extend the mission and the government hasn't decided whether or not it wants to do that yet," Kenney said Saturday.
"This current mission will terminate in February 2009, and whether there's an extension depends on whether there's parliamentary consensus."
But Indian Affairs Minister and Calgary MP Jim Prentice, who hosted his own breakfast, echoed Kenney's comments that opposition parties deserve a say in whether to extend the increasingly deadly mission.
"We respect the House of Commons and the other parties will have a point of view on this," Prentice said.
We respect the House of Commons, okay sure. I guess we can expect the Conservatives to re-introduce the revised Clean Air Act then? Wonderful.
Last year we "go it alone", now we need to join hands with others to justify. It's normal to see some pragmatism within a fluid situation like Afghanistan, and one could praise the lack of rigidity. However, given all the pius, morally superior rhetoric, this new position is decidedly unattractive. In trying to deflect responsibility, Harper has shown all his previous pontifications to be empty words, with a finger in the political wind. If Stephen Harper truly believes in the mission, fundamentally and absolutely, as his past speeches imply, then there is no reason to soften. Take it to the people, like you bragged when the Conservatives were high in the polls and support for the mission was relatively firm. Aren't the Conservatives now undercutting the mission by creating this future uncertainty, emboldening the Taliban? Such is life when opinion trumps supposed principle.