Saturday, February 09, 2008

Having Your Cake and Eating Too, All for the Sake of an Election

Stephane Dion's position on Afghanistan has been well known for a year. In spite of that, right wing journalists have been using the Con line they were fed. That is, that they cannot figure out where he stands. All that really said to me is that the Conservatives know that their lines will be faithfully reported by those journalists and that the journalists are either unwilling or unable to think for themselves.

What has been written about Dion's position and what the Con's have repeated ad nauseum, is that he doesn't have one or that he keeps changing his mind, he's flip flopping, etc etc. Of course that wasn't true so now they have the reverse spin going on. He should change his position, he should compromise his position, etc, etc. Same position, being spun 2 ways. His position is either too weak for your liking, to the degree that you can't even discern it or it's too strong and should change. Guess what? You can't have it both ways!

Most recently we have Peter Van Loan popping up on every media platform we have in Canada, (a disconcerting prospect in itself) shaking his pudgy fist and threatening Dion to compromise. Sigh. He calls him a weak leader because he doesn't take a stance and when Dion makes clear that he has, Van Loan continues to calls his leadership into question.

Confused yet? Don't be, the bottom line is that the Con's want an election at any cost and they will use any means to achieve one, even if it means turning your logic inside out. They need an issue that they can get behind you see, rather than being on the defensive constantly. They appear to have realised that the agenda isn't theirs when the House is sitting, which is alarming when you think of it. Part of the problem of course is that they seem to be out of ideas, but they'd rather blame the Lib's than face that reality. So Afghanistan joins the list of issues that we may go to the polls on. Last count would include idle juvenile threats to the Senate, the Budget (fair game of course), and now Afghanistan.

Here's the thing though. I don't think it's a good idea to go to the polls on Afghanistan. Not for partisan reasons and not for fear of losing on the issue (indeed more Canadians favour Dion's position to date). No, the reason I think it's a bad idea is because fighting an election about a war while we have soldiers in the field feels wrong to me. No matter what you feel about this mission, (and in it's current configuration I'm no supporter), to add campaigning to the incredibly complex issues that affect a soldier's fate everyday seems beyond unseemly, indeed it seems crass.

Add to that the down and dirty partisanship that Van Loan and company put out there, while in the same breathe say it shouldn't be a partisan issue, it's better argued in the HoC, imo. If you've missed some of Van Loan's comments, here's a couple uttered just this week.

Van Loan insisted that Canada’s controversial mission should not be a partisan political issue.

Then he went on to say:

You can't have your soldiers in a dangerous part of the country tie their hands behind their backs and tell them they can't shoot back at the other guys until their buddy just got killed beside them," he said. "They have to wait until that grenade lands under their LAV and kills them before they start fighting back. That is not fair to our troops. If you are going to have them in the field, you have to give them the ability to do their jobs."

An utter and ugly distortion, but illustrative of how he will use our troops as his pawns during a campaign.

Then in the House on Friday:

Government House Leader Peter Van Loan accused the Liberals of sympathizing with the Taliban when he was asked about the policy of Canadian soldiers transferring captured prisoners into Afghan hands.

"What we will not do is what the agent for the Taliban intelligence agency wants us to do over here, which is release to them information on detailed operations in the field."

I don't for a minute think that things would get better during an election. That kind of rhetoric seems to be in their DNA, or at least that seems true for some of them, including their dear leader.

What Con's have put forward has room for ammendments. From what I'm reading and hearing, the Lib's will come forward with some next week. It is my hope that they will be accepted and the stand off will end.

What might those ammendments look like? Well that of course is for people much smarter than me, but I would like to seem more detail re' accountability and reporting, some change of strategy, planning and measurements of effectiveness and importantly some sort of Pashtun strategy.

I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Update: MacKay is on the attack too:

“Let's be frank: Development and security go hand in hand,” he told the audience.
“To suggest, as some have, that we can do one without the other is nothing short of pure folly, and in fact it's dangerous.”

Dion has always included security in his comments and he has also said that this too is dangerous work. The continued attacks and the foolish desire to link the NDP and Lib's on the Con's part, may indeed backfire. Indeed, there may be a way to work this out.

Hmmm, this is going to lead to another me thinks. What's really going on in Afghanistan? What are we being fed? What are the motives? Sunday afternoon musings perhaps, trying to sort out the nonsense on all sides.


Anonymous said...

The media in the U.S does the same thing-- only remember when they want to. There is so much the media knows about but won't tell the public.

Karen said...

Indeed anon. I think some are honest, but many in the end are more concerned with what will push their story forward.

That does not serve us well.

They have ther own plight, "news, now" seems to be the mandate, but we have to find a way to change that.

Personally, I want real news when it happens and if an opinion piece is thrown in there, it's all good.

Throwing opinion behind or on top of news is bad, imo. Bad for all of us. That's what is happening though.

How do we change that?

ottlib said...

LOL, I love the picture of PVL. The blank stare, very much like that of his boss, only goofier

You hit the nail on the head. The Afghanistan motion is all about engineering their defeat.

As for the media, ignore them. Being consistant and fair ceased being a requirement of journalists a long time ago. I figure it happened when large media/entertainment corporations took over the news industry. Once you accept that reality it becomes so much easier to take their BS.

Incidentally, that feature of the media is why I believe Mr. Dion should start his own blog. But I digress.

The media establishment in this country decided a long time ago to push this war. I believe it happened when Jean Chretien defied them and kept Canada out of Iraq. So they are going to take whatever line they can to facilitate that position. If that means misrepresenting the Liberal position sobeit. It is annoying but it is unavoidable.

Thankfully, despite their pushing of this mission, Canadians have seen through them and realized that we have been getting the crappy end of the stick for some time and they want it to stop, which is why there has been a steady decrease in support for this mission.

Mr. Dion's position is closest to that of broader public opinion and the Conservatives and the media will probably fail to sway that enough in the next few weeks. After all that is what we are talking about now. The election is just weeks away. If they could not bring more Canadians on side in the last two years I doubt they will sway enough of them to really matter in the next 6-8 weeks.

As well, Afghanistan is still down in the list of priorties for Canadians so even if they were able to sway public opinion, the issue is not important enough to a sufficient number of Canadians to really help or hinder any political party.

Afghanistan will probably only be a ballot question to a small portion of the electorate and most of them have already made their decisions on who to vote for anyway. The vast majority of the rest of the electorate are more concerned with the environment and the economy. The one the Conservatives are really weak on and the other the Conservatives fear, which is why they are setting all sorts of election triggers.

The fact it will be a political football during an election is also inevitable. Remember that during both the First and Second World War the handling of those wars, particularly conscription, were big political footballs.

Of course Canadian of that era did not have to deal with the likes of Mr. Harper, PVL and their Rovian tactics of smear and fear.

Gayle said...

I have said this elsewhere and I will repeat it here - I believe the reason Harper is choosing Afghanistan to take a stand has more to do with the perception of a split within the liberal party than it does with anything else.

You hear the pundits on MDL talking about it, and you hear the NDP and the Cons talking about it. So far it has not really been picked up by any other media that I have seen except for Robert Fife, but Harper is hoping it will gain traction.

Some may say this is a test of Dion's leadership. I say it is a test of the party as a whole. So far they are holding together just fine. Duffy even tried to make mischief by bringing Keith Martin on his show yesterday, but all he really managed to do was allow Martin to make mincemeat out of Van Loan. It was beautiful to watch.

ottlib said...


The media had a great time with the Dion is not a leader and the Liberals are divided narrative last year. So you cannot blame them for trying to breath new life into it.

It is BS of course. The Liberal position is not Dion's position it is what the party hashed out about a year ago. He is just voicing what was decided by caucus a long time ago.

Of course, their opponents and some in the media are going to take the different statements of folks and spin them as disagreement and division. However, when the time comes the Liberals will vote as one and there will be nary a peep of disagreement.

I wonder how the media will spin that?

Raphael Alexander said...

The media is saying Dion backs away from election on Afghan mission, and yet you're right that Mr.Van Loan and Mr.MacKay are making it more difficult to make that a reality for the Conservatives. It seems counter-productive to me, from a partisan standpoint, to at once invite cooperation from the Liberals, and then to impugn their motives in Parliament, and to imply they are aiding the Taliban.

Aaron said...

"I wonder how the media will spin that?"

They will say the Liberal caucus was whipped and don't in fact agree with their own position.

Today, Jeffrey Simpson was trying out the line that Dion's taking a stand on Liberal foreign policy is in fact a sign of weakness because only weak leaders are not willing to re-negociate their firm principles. Whatever Dion does the Conservatives and their shills in the media will find a negative adjective to describe it.

(I am a little surprised though by Simpson's fatuous mind games in today's Globe. Normally, he seems much more level headed. Perhaps he has a cold and has been hitting the cough medicine too hard. When he wrote that article, he was totally in Fantasyland)

Anonymous said...

Everyone knows Dions position on it.....sit back like unionized employees and watch the junior guys work sums it up pretty well.

RuralSandi said...

I've come to the conclusion that whatever Harper/Van Loan, etc say - it's really the opposite.

They take ONE line of a statement out of context and make that Dion's position.

Dion has said from the start - not beyond 2009, but to be there in some other capacity. He wants rotation from NATO - what on earth is so hard to understand about that? Harper doesn't want Canadians to understand. If Harper had a majority I bet we'd be there for years and years and years.

The Germans are doing it - peacekeeping, etc.

Reporters/journalists are to report and some opinion - BUT where are they experts on any of the issues? They are reporters - not scientists, economists, military experts.

Anonymous said...

Having your cake and eating it too - so true - Van Loan has had far too much cake.

Karen said...

Good points all ottlib. I know you are right, but it still irks me to read and hear the nonsense.

Apoint that is made over and over, even by Manley, is that we chose Kandahar. Well I can't help but think that Hillier chose Kandahar and convinced Martin. The buck obviously stops with Martin, but I really wonder just how much we knew about that region. It's history, etc. It strikes me as a mission that suited his purposes well in terms of $, equipment, etc. Too cynical? Maybe.

As for the PVL pic, he looks like Dr. Evil or more appropriately, Mini Me, with hair. It's that eyebrow.

Karen said...

gayle, your right. The pundits have picked up that meme again.

I caught some of the Martin interview and was worried at first. He's reported to be one that is off side. Could have fooled me.

Come to think of it, that's good strategy. Get the reported dissenters out in front of this.

Karen said...

Exactly raphael. It's counter productive and counter intuitive in my view and that's because they are playing games.

I know it's politics, but I resent it on this issue.

Karen said...

aaron, Simpson bashes Dion whenever he has the chance. He's level headed when his speaking of a fairly neutral subject, but he's happy to carry water for the right on most issues concerning Dion.

Karen said...

Well said Sandi. It would be nice to read more from the experts and I don't mean military hawks.

PVL called the Manley panel experts the other day. I take exception to that. Studied individuals perhaps but hardly experts on Afghanistan.

Omar said...

I do not want the upcoming election fought on the back of Afghanistan, the economy, violent crime (which I believe the fear of is a social ill in itself) or Senate reform. What I want the Liberals to focus on in the next election is the obvious incompetence and tyrannical nature of this Conservative government. The bent of this laughable movement is no longer funny and like you KNB I am completely perplexed by those who buy into it.

wilson said...

'..He wants rotation from NATO - what on earth is so hard to understand about that?..'

Other NATO countries have refused to send ANY troops to the south to 'assist' Canada;
how reasonable is it to demand another country 'replace' Canada?

To replace Canada would be asking for 2300 troops.(plus the extra 1000 commanders need)
How hard is that to understand?

If Canadian soldiers are only allowed to defend themselves after being attacked,
who are the Taliban going to actively pursue?
Soldiers who will hunt them down before/after they attack, or soldiers who 'have to' stand there and 'take it' like sitting ducks.

Easy targets, take afew out and head for the hills before rescuers is can get there,
or worse, set up ambushes for the rescuers?

Replacement or reassignment is highly likely in 2011, when the Afghanistan Compact expires, as the Afghan army will be at the targeted numbers and performing their own offensives.
That was the plan, as set out in the Afghanistan Compact.

here's progress, (not picked up by msm):

Afghanistan Defense Minister, ABDUL RAHIM WARDAK said that the target was 70,000 Afghan troops by 2011, they are ahead of schedual and:
" we hope that April-May this year we will achieve that number and we are hopeful
we would reach 80 000 by March-April by 2009."

Karen said...

wilson, with all due respect, you clearly do not understand the issue. I understand your need to parrot your party's current line, but it's completely inaccurate.

If Canadian soldiers are only allowed to defend themselves after being attacked,

No one has suggested this except PVL. It's obviously a ludicrous position and not one that the Liberals are promoting. Providing security for a PRT for example means preventing attacks. This is not passive work, it's dangerous.

Like your leader, you seem to believe if you say something often enough, it will come true. In my world that is called lying.

As to the troop numbers, how many of the 2300 you cite are actually on the front lines?

ottlib said...

wilson asked:

"Other NATO countries have refused to send ANY troops to the south to 'assist' Canada;
how reasonable is it to demand another country 'replace' Canada?"

Very reasonable I would say. This is a NATO mission so I would expect the other NATO countries to pull their weight.

And that is the major flaw in the Conservative arguments. It is truley astounding that they are willing to let our allies shirk their responsibilities and allow Canada to be the patsy in all of this.

I have argued elsewhere on these blogs that a mission where only four countries do the bulk of the heavy work, with some token assistance from others, is unsustainable for any length of time. The Dutch have already said they are out in 2010 and the Brits are having the same argument as we are about their committment.

So Wilson, if your concern really is the success of the Afghan mission and ensuring that Canadian lives have not been lost in vain you should be agreeing that Canada demand NATO pony up the troops and material in a long-term way. And the idea is setting up a rotation would be a very good solution to that.

Otherwise the mission will fail.

Of course Wilson, I do not believe you or the Conservatives really give a rat's ass about the mission or Afghanistan. For you it is all about the Liberals and nothing more.

wilson said...

knb '...Providing security for a PRT for example means preventing attacks. This is not passive work, it's dangerous...'

Then you are right.
I do not see the difference between 'preventing' an attack, and, going out actively seeking out the Taliban before they attack.
Other than how you phrase it,
both are pre-emptive strikes, both are combat roles.
You will have to give me examples of the differences.

In Dion's vision of training, can Canadian commanders help the Afghans plan for combat? Go along on missions, give direction and assistance?
Or do they stay in camp, asking 'so how did it go'?

No comment on the training of COMBAT READY Afghan soldiers being 2 years ahead of schedual, ready in 2009?

That is exceptional, measurable progress by any standard.

That means with an 2 year extension, Cdn troops will largely be mentoring Afghan troops, taking a supporting role.

Dion must know this. He is demanding what already is.

If you read the transcript I linked to :

' Afghanistan has accelerated training for army recruits and expects
to have a combat-ready force of 80,000 troops by early 2009, well ahead of
initial targets (70,000 in 2011), the country's defence minister said on Friday (February 8.)'

wilson said...

'As to the troop numbers, how many of the 2300 you cite are actually on the front lines?'

If I remember correctly, about 1000. However, for every thouand you have in the theatre, you need replacements, I think our troops rotate every six months(??)

So asking NATO for 1000 troops for the south, I am assuming that means boots on the ground.
If that is the case, we are actually asking NATO for 1500-2000 troops(??).

Karen said...

wilson, I did not mean to ignore your link, I was just in a bit of a rush.

If true, that is hopeful news and I have seen a similar story elsewhere. It doesn't address all the other issues however. For instance, training troops is one thing, but as of yet, those troops have no infra-stucture. By that I mean the elements of a military that support it; Medical, Legal, Police, Logistics, etc. Churning out troops is useless unless they literate and educated.

There are so many levels to this that just aren't being discussed and I find that disturbing. In this day and age, we seem not to have the patience to really examine the complex. We seem to demand an answer in a 30 second sound bite then contentedly go our merry way.

Sadly, I see the Harper government play to that and reduce every issue to a ridiculous level of simplicity. It may be clever campaigning, but I see Canadians much the poorer for it.

As to what else will come from Dion, I'll wait to see the ammendments. There's no real point in debating his stance until we see the wording that will come out this week.

As to our NATO ask, every country has there own rotation schedule, which is another cock-up in my view. There is no coherence to this mission. Every country has their own rules and views and there seems to be no grand vision. So I don't know how many we are actually asking for.

BTW - General Ray Henault, Chairman of the NATO Military Committee favours the rotation concept, lest you thought all military were against it.

RuralSandi said...

Jeffrey Simpson's the one that doesn't make sense. He feels that if Dion doesn't compromise it's a sign of a weak leader? Ah, Harper doesn't compromise on anything - it's my way or the highway and has the opinion that he's never wrong.

So, in essence, Simpson is saying both Harper and Dion are weak leaders isn't he?

If NATO doesn't pull together NO MATTER what the mission is - they are in trouble because that is not the purpose of NATO.

Dame said...

I even question of the legitimacy of this war it is no more legitimate then when the Russians occupied the land >..
The Nato and via Nato Canada sucked into this war by the follow up of 9/11 events...
This war was flippantly left in The Nato' hand by Bush he had More Interesting ideas to go we all know..
The Reasons diminished for occupying Afghanistan after 6 years or so no one knows what we are there for exactly with arms,,,, and everybody knows it is unwinnable tragic waste from our side .. We are providing a backdrop for Bush's Grandiouse Surge for domination of that Region...

Live them alone . Eventually Afghanistan is a sovereign state
Can't we all agree on that?

The "Independent Panel " was a pure farce one of Harpers manipulation to divide and "confuse "the Liberals .
When a Country wages a war the PM can't deflect his responsibilities this way..
Why would a few man pulled out of some Political Dustbin know better then the Government Figureheads and the Head honcho what to do and why???
It is ridiculous from the start..
We MUST leave ASAP.. what Means by end of 2009
We should offer great Humanitarian help/with all savings on our troops withdrawal/ IF ONLY with some strings attached... Bribe them to be Civilised ..

My opinion ...marta