If you are a bit confused by the Conservative government’s views on keeping our troops in Afghanistan, you’re not alone. I’m confused, too.
If it’s any comfort, I can tell you the Liberal Party of Canada’s position on Afghanistan is just as confusing.
Neither party is being straight with us about what will happen in 2011, when Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan was slated to end. Among other things, that doesn’t help Canadian taxpayers and, more particularly, it is unfair to the Canadian Armed Forces members who are over there, risking their lives to fight terrorism.
Some background is in order. Last September, U.S. President Barack Obama received Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the Oval Office. While the president looked on, the media asked the prime minister whether Canada planned to end its military mission in the war-torn country after July 2011.
At the time, Harper’s Defence Minister, Peter MacKay, had been making none-too-subtle noises about our troops staying put.
Here’s what Harper said, from the official White House record: “Canada will be transitioning from a predominantly military mission to a mission that will be a civilian humanitarian development mission after 2011.”
Pretty clear, right? The Americans seemed to understand what he said.
Asked to react to the Canadian position, Obama said: “We are tremendously grateful for the extraordinary sacrifices of the Canadian military. They have fought. They have had staying power. They have absorbed losses that we all grieve for. And so I’m not worried about what will happen post-2011.” Back home, in that same week, the Liberal Party’s leader gave a big speech on foreign policy, and what it would look like under a Liberal government. Here’s what he said: “Our Canada will play a role in Afghanistan after 2011. A different role focusing on a humanitarian commitment to help rebuild the country and strengthen hard-won gains.” That’s a bit more pugilistic than Harper had been, but you get the picture. Both the Liberals and the Conservatives were saying that, post-2011, our troops wouldn’t be in Afghanistan in a combat role. Fine.
Then, strange things started to happen. To the astonishment of many, many Liberals – who, like many, many Canadians, felt we had done our bit in Afghanistan over the past 10 years, and it was time for other Western nations to step up to the fight – Ignatieff declared in the spring that Canadian troops now needed to stay. Said he: “We think that there is a justification for some continued mission in Afghanistan after 2011.”
Canadians didn’t seem to feel that way. Polls published at the time suggested that most Canadians felt that a decade at war was enough.
But Ignatieff’s reversal gave the Conservatives the cover they needed. Tory strategists were delighted by the Liberal leader’s apparent flip-flop.
Shiny new toy
After all, they were the party that called Canada “cowardly” for declining to participate in George W. Bush’s Iraq invasion and who always seem intent on giving the generals any shiny new toy they demand, notwithstanding the cost.
Thus, we come full circle: Headlines this week in which the defence minister says, indeed, Canada is “now considering” staying after all.
I’m the proud son of a military man. I desperately wanted to go to military college. I fully support our troops, without qualification.
Our politicians, though, not so much.
Kinsella is a lawyer, consultant and Liberal Party spin-doctor. He blogs at warrenkinsella.com