Wednesday, February 13, 2008

What Is Cherniak Saying?

I don't mean to pick on Jason, everyone has an opinion, but I read his Afghanistan post today, and it leaves me scratching my head.

According to Jason, everyone is wrong, there is no compromise, it's just words:
Mr. Dion does not need to get the wording right to get his policy on Afghanistan...

The exact words of a wishy-washy Parliamentary motion are all but meaningless.

This isn't word play, this isn't politics, this is the Liberal position, which Harper has deemed acceptable on certain levels. Ignatieff said the following yesterday:
"This is not a negotiating document. We put this motion together in the full expectation that the Liberal Party will be the governing party of Canada, and we will have to have responsibilities with respect to the mission. So we thought, how would we run the mission, how would we change it and how would we run it. I think the public should understand it in that sense."

There it is, according to Ignatieff our amendments are the Liberal position, which is something they will "run" on. Jason tries to argue that we have to wait for the other shoe to drop, we will only really learn if Dion want to end the combat mission in an election. Someone should tell Ignatieff, because those amendments are clear and they are now official policy.

Jason then holds on to this illusion, that Afghanistan is "our" issue, using Kinsella for backup. In trying to rationalize why Dion agreed to work with the government Jason offers:
The only reason I can think of for doing what we did, was that there were too many divergent opinions in caucus.

Jason acknowledges that the party was somewhat divided on how to approach Afghanistan moving forward. Nothing says "our" issue, something that could catapult us to an election victory, like a disjointed, divisive caucus. That reality undercuts any fantasy that the Liberals could effectively dictate the debate on Afghanistan, in fact I'm willing to bet Harper was counting on exploiting internal Liberal divisions, armed with a barrage of contradictory quotes, from various figures. Afghanistan was never "our" issue, it was always a minefield.

Proof of the Conservatives fear of an election over Afghanistan is offered in the timing of the various confidence motions. The budget vote is scheduled before the Afghanistan motion, which somehow means Harper was hoping to go down on the budget, and not have to deal with Afghanistan. Remember, the government moved up the budget date, earlier than previous years, which speaks to intent, a strategy. Think this through for a moment, you have the country plunged into an election on the budget vote. What issue is sitting there, unresolved, unknown, demanding clarification? Afghanistan the unknown is a far more powerful election issue than Afghanistan the largely resolved. It is for that reason that I think Harper, while wanting a resolution, purposefully placed the Afghan motion after the budget, because they had calculated they could fight the Liberals on this score. At the very least, not much worry that the Liberals would "own" the issue. Now that the Liberal position is clarified, there is less room for Harper to twist the ambigious to his advantage, there is a coherence which forces him to reaccess.

There was a compromise, that seems pretty clear, everyone isn't wrong. I know there has been movement because I now understand the Liberal position, whereas a few days ago it seemed an incoherent tight rope. Everyone moved somewhat, I would suggest the Conservative much more, if you look at the evolution over the course of the last year. That said, the fact it took Harper all of 30 minutes to react positively to the Liberal amendments speaks to their assessment that the Liberals did move closer, enough to move forward. It's okay to admit it, afterall who cares about the politics, isn't this supposed to be about trying to get it right in the end?


Anonymous said...

There is a lot of confusion surrounding the Liberal motion (unlike the Conservative motion which was clearly a continuation of our current combat mission with a review in 2011 but no fixed end date.) I haven't had time to look into it more, but I wonder what is implied by the reference to the UN rules of engagement?

It is my understanding that the UN rules do not allow "search and destroy" in the usual sense, but do allow offensive action if the threat is imminent. It is a rather subtle point for non-military types like myself. Many of the US troops are in Afghanistan not under the NATO/UN banner and thus can carry out real search and destroy. I know other countries have also had some of their troops join the US effort and consequently take part in more offensive actions. What I don't know is whether Canada does this or whether we are strictly following the UN rules or whether these rules are not really enforced.

Meanwhile, a Liberal MP has come out and said there is still lots of room between Harper and Dion because the Liberal motion ends the combat mission in 2009 and the Conservative one does not. Dion himself has said similar things. Certainly one difference is the emphasis given to training and development in the Liberal motion, but from what some Liberal MPs are saying, it seems they think there is more than that.

Kris said...

This has been a sticking point in my understanding of the Liberal position since the release of the amendment. Dion's oft-stated position had been for the combat role to end completely in 2009. At the time it seemed to imply that after 2009 only combat as self-defense would be allowed, leading to all sorts of howls of irresponsibiltiy (can't fight back until your buddy's dead and the like).

With the amendment, the Liberals are still contending the combat role will finish in 2009, but that doesn't seem to be entirely true, in that they've left the decision up to the military leadership whether or not to use force. It's this point that seems to bring on the comparison to the Conservative position.

So given this amendment could be interpreted as a reversal or at least a modification of the Liberals' position, it seems a test of the government's intentions will be whether or not they decide to use this "switch" as political fodder against the Liberals.

The Mound of Sound said...

Dion's Afghanistan position is set out in his speech of February, 2007. The "compromise" needs to be read in the context of that speech. Then it becomes apparent that the current Liberal position is actually a capitulation. No firm commitment for assistance from other NATO countries, no assurances from Pakistan to seal the border, no assurances from NATO to have others available to replace us when the extension expires. These terms were Dion's bottom line in his speech of a year ago. Now he apparently considers them irrelevant.

MarkCh said...

Cherniak is saying that the Liberals' signing on to the motion is simply false, and that they might well rip it up after an election win.

The motion does not translate directly into law. If the motion does not pass, we will head into an election, and the voters will decide which party to put in charge of Afghanistan. If the motion does pass, and there is no election, then the motion becomes an ongoing hostage to fortune. The Conservative government will run the mission however they see fit. But any Liberal criticism of the mission ongoing will be judged against the motion. If the government obviously diverges from what is agreed on now, then criticisms will sting. If the government conforms, but the Liberals criticize them anyway, those criticisms will be defused when the government says "but you supported this course of action." If either party makes it clear, through their ongoing action, that they voted in favour of the (amended) motion insincerely, they may pay a political price for it.

But of course no amount of Liberal insincerity would cause them to pay a price with supporters like Jason.

Steve V said...

I think the "leaving it in the hands of military commanders" and "not wanting to tie the military's hands" are clear indications of accepting a combat role, if a need arises. The objectives are clear, the focus needs to change, but to my mind, it just acknowledges the reality of operating in the south.

Steve V said...

"Cherniak is saying that the Liberals' signing on to the motion is simply false, and that they might well rip it up after an election win."

Then somebody better tell Iggy, because he said these amendments were months in the making, involving all the party heavyweights. This is not a "gambit" as he described, this is the platform. Besides, to back away now, just provides easy fodder for the opposing side.

slave4clarice said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
northwestern_lad said...

Steve... "I think the "leaving it in the hands of military commanders" and "not wanting to tie the military's hands" are clear indications of accepting a combat role, if a need arises."

In my opinion, this is the crux of the matter. As Catherine stated above about the nuances of the term "search and destroy, I would argue that the nuances around "combat" mission are just as muddied by this motion. Most people would think of "combat" as open fighting, which is what this motion would allow. But Dion's definition of "combat" seems to be a different one.

So for Dion to try to say that the "combat" mission will be over in 2009 is very misleading because he's also saying that he won't micro-manage the war and he will leave it to the commanders on the ground to decide what they will do, leaving "combat" as an option. You're right on one point Steve, and that's that Dion, Ignatief and Rae all are onside with this and this is now the Liberal position.

One thing that I think that Jason is overlooking is the fact that this motion is the House isn't just some random policy statement. It formalizes the position of the government of the day. That makes it rather important, and nothing to be trivialized.

Steve V said...


If we are being truthful here, I think the Libs have moved to accept combat, without overtly using the word. I can see it in the language, it is pretty clear. There is still a nudge and wink, and that mostly has to do with not expliciting backing down from the original position, which was never tenable.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...


Not to overly simplify it, but is the position not basically, "don't go out looking for trouble, but don't wait until it's on your doorstep either"? It seems to me that the Liberal position leaves "combat" only for "self-defense", but then wisely leaves it up to the commanders on the ground to determine what's needed for "defense". It's a subtle distinction, true, but I'm not sure it's not a workable one. It seems to me that the plan is that the military not engage the enemy in a "combat" sense of going out and closing with and destroying the enemy for the sake of destroying them, but that if defending your position (or a re-construction site, or a school) necessitates that you go and attack someone, then that's OK. In other words, that the emphasis is more on the rationale rather than the act. In this sense, "because our job is to destroy the Taliban (/alQaeda)" would not be a valid rationale for a combat operation, while "because the Taliban (/alQaeda) was threatening X, Y or Z" (where X, Y or Z are actual things, i.e. bases or schools, not "democracy" or "freedom") would be.

I suppose it could be argued that this amounts to a distinction without a difference, but I'm not so sure.

lance said...

Steve, two days ago: WTF is the Liberal position?

Add Rae, Ignatieff, Dion and Harper.

Steve, one day ago: Okay, now I get the Liberal position.

Add articles of diverse opinion + Cherniak and Pablo.

Steve, today: WTF is the Liberal position?

But Canadians are supposed to understand, eh?


Steve V said...


I'm not saying WTF today, merely WTF to Cherniak's spin. There needed to be clarification beyond this "search and destroy" idea, I'm satisfied that the Liberals have now laid out the focus, but they have also acknowledged the realities of the terrain.

BTW, I think Canadians will have no trouble making sense of the amendments. Harper didn't ;)

wilson said...

Ah, but ''it isn't a Liberal mission, nor a Conservative mission, it's a Canadian mission'' said PMSH.
Therefore a 'new' consensus motion (with 'most' of the Lib ammendments) will be 'The Canadian Position on the Afghanistan Mission',
and that is what PMSH will campaign on.

So what if ...the 'new' motion includes most of the Liberal ammendments, except the 2009 reference is only to the change in focus, an increase in recon/training/diplomacy, plus no mirco managing of the military (no caveats on combat), with an end date...?
Will it pass?