Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Speaking of Speaking

Mark Sedra, one of Canada's experts on security sector reform, has some thoughts for reforming a different sector: the Prime Minister's communications office.  He is absolutely right that leaders in general and Canadian ones in particular should be clearer about what they are trying to do in Afghanistan. 

Mark is concerned that Harper is going to have to change his tune soon, since Afghanistan does not really need 800 Canadian trainers behind the wire.  What it needs is more trainers out in the field, mentoring and partnering.  I concur.  Where we differ is that I don't expect the Canadians to go out into the field.  I think Harper's marker about "behind the wire" will stick, even though he made a commitment without seeking real guidance from the military.  There may not be a need for folks behind the wire, but they will be there anyway.

This would not be the first time Canadian Forces faced serious restrictions about what they can do in a deployment.  Indeed, this used to be business as usual and not just in Bosnia.  In Afghanistan, the first tour of conventional Canadian troops spent more time guarding the Kandahar air base (2002) than going out precisely because they had to call home to do anything.  Perhaps the restrictions of the past were imposed by the top brass in the military.  This time, the restrictions will come from higher up and will almost assuredly stick. 

Of course, Harper can change his mind, but to do so again so quickly would be strange.  The funny thing is, that as I tweeted back and forth with Mark today, Harper has heaps of room to take risks.  Why?  Because the Liberals are pretty inept yet the Conservatives are still unlikely to pull off a majority anytime soon.  So, if a new election happens, we will get the status quo again.  So, why not take some risks and exert leadership?  Because Harper really does not care about Afghanistan. 

There are leaders who have cared spoke clearly and took some risks--the Danes when Rasmussen was Prime Minister, Obama actually on several occasions (I don't think he is as opaque as Sedra asserts), and a few others.  Funnily enough, where leaders actually lead, the mission gets more support.  But, of course, it could be the other way around.

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