Friday, November 12, 2010

Is Stephen Harper a Weenie?

Yes, but not for the reasons folks are likely to guess.  I spent earlier today driving to and from Ottawa (hence no blogging until now) to talk to Dutch and Belgian representatives as part of my preparation for a trip to their countries early in the 2011 and missed much of the news about Harper, the training mission and so on.  That didn't stop me from doing a radio interview on the topic, of course. 

I did not say that I thought Stephen Harper is a weenie.  I did give a hint or two.  Specifically, I think Harper could have done more or less.  True, the current parliamentary resolution says that Canadian Forces would no longer be doing combat in Kandahar, so doing training in Kabul is not prohibited.  Whether it warrants a new parliamentary motion passed is something about which Phillipe Legass√© has far more to say (and check out his tweets today as well).

But what I am referring to is that Harper has basically said, no, we (see, I can identify with Canadians!) will leave Kandahar and all of the relationships and valued added behind and go somewhere safe and fill out NATO's requirements in the least risky way.  We still don't know what kind of training the CF will be doing (insert Bill Murray's "Army Training, Sir!" from yesterday's Stripes video), but it might be basic training (reading maps, shooting guns, whatever).  It will not be out in the field with the Afghan National Army.  And that is the weenie decision.

When Canada was going out the door, I was hoping that it would keep a commitment to some of its efforts--the OMLTs and Provincial Reconstruction Team in Kandahar.  This would have meant a number somewhere near the one being bandied about now, but would have meant the following:
  • There would be a significant risk of casualties although lower than the past several years.
  • The relationships and lessons learned over the years would be maintained.
  • Canada would still be doing some heavy-lifting that NATO needs.
  • and, yes, probably a vote in parliament would have been unavoidable.
It would have required (dare I say it? yes, I do) leadership.  Hence, PM Harper is a weenie.  The trainers inside the wire near Kabul are actually the easy decision, succumbing to US/NATO pressure while stealing the position of the Liberals, making the Bloc and the NDP more apparent how marginal they essentially are.  I have been arguing in various places that this is actually a pretty good time to exert some leadership.  Harper is not going to win a majority in the next election, as the voters are too split.  But the Liberals are .... feckless?  Ignatieff is a lousy candidate, so Harper can be pretty sure of yet another Conservative minority government.  So, why not do the right/Right thing and maintain Canada's current investments going with less risk rather than pissing most of it away with no risk?

I guess that is why folks in Montreal think I am a hardliner.  Oh well.

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