Tuesday, February 9, 2016


I have been hearing a certain refrain lately--that folks should not politicize national security.  Um, what does that mean?  To be clear, I am critical of politicians too when they get too, um, political, as the Queens folks will learn today in my talk about my new book.

To be clear, anything a government does is political, as politics is about making decisions to allocate stuff for the political system (close enough to the standard definition).  But we tend to think of someone playing politics with an issue when they take a public stand in favor or against a particular policy in ways that are seen as playing to the audience rather than focused on the merits of the policy.

This is a really hard distinction that I tried to figure out as part of a paper on legislative oversight on the Canadian military: is the oversight effort mostly about scoring points in the larger political game or is it about trying to criticize government policies in order for the country to do better?  Sure, the folks in the mix will have their strong opinions about this, making it hard to judge, but there are clues.

How about switching policies just because one loses power?  The Liberal opposition to the war in Afghanistan after it started that mission and then lost power reeks of politicization rather than sincere oversight aimed at the national interest. 

Canada's Conservatives calling the new Iraq/Syria policy incoherent is not far off.  Making a bigger deal about running out on allies is more about point scoring since the Conservative government fled Kandahar in mid-war, so just a wee bit of hypocrisy here.

Is the oversight effort focused on individuals or on the activities of government? In the US, the Benghazi hearings can be juxtaposed with the various mid1970s hearings that revealed much about what the CIA had been doing.  I am not sure how to come up with a good measure of heat vs. light generated by oversight, but the contrast is pretty sharp.

This is something I am just getting into and I need to do more reading, but the key point today is that the label "politicize" is pretty meaningless on its own.  It is ok and normal for the various parties to take issue with what the government of the day is doing, even on national security issues, if the claims/concerns have merit.  Arguing that Canada's current stance is puzzling is not reckless politicization (or else I would be guilty too).  Just opposing for the sake of opposing, akin to the classic argument sketch, is politicization that does not advance things much.

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