Crawl Across the Ocean

Monday, April 10, 2006

Harper Doesn't Support Our Troops

If you think this post has a stupid title, I couldn't agree more.

So here's a quote from Stephen Harper prior to tonight's debate on Canada's role in Afghanistan,
"The Canadian government supports our troops," he said. "I know the governing party does. I believe the official opposition, other members of this House and Canadians do, and I would urge the NDP to get behind our troops in Afghanistan."

Anyone who follows U.S. politics at all will instantly recognize this as a well-known Republican tactic of trying to stifle debate on military matters by suggesting that anyone who disagree with government policy 'doesn't support the troops'.

It's immature, divisive, and the kind of phony debating tactic I'd rather see left in the U.S.

As far as debating and having a vote on our role in Afghanistan is concerned, I am reminded of Vancouver's Olympic bid. Mayor Larry Campbell and the (at the time) ruling COPE party took a lot of criticism for going ahead with a referendum to determine whether the residents of Vancouver supported the bid or not.

But once the vote was held and the vote was strongly in favour, the criticism faded away, and in a very close IOC vote, I suspect that the people of Vancouver having publicly expressed their support for the bid may have been a deciding factor in Vancouver's favour. Besides that, the fact that Olympic opponents know that they were given a chance to get their vote out and have their say, does a lot to smooth the way forward, while still allowing criticism of the implementation of Olympic preparations.

I'm glossing over lots of details in that recap, but the basic point is that rather than hampering the Olympic bid as many feared, the referendum ended up consolidating support. I'm not suggesting that we hold a referendum on our mission in Afghanistan, but I do think that it would strengthen support for the mission, rather than weakening it, if parliament was to hold a vote on the issue. People who have been given a fair chance to have their say are typically much less implacable and effective foes, in my opinion.

As for the mission itself, I find little to disagree with in this post by Dave at the Galloping Beaver which argues that our military presence in Afghanistan is fully justified.

But at the same time, I am fairly skeptical about our ability to bring about long term change in the country. Which is not to say that there is no value in providing short term benefits, as I'm sure our troops are doing. But no occupation lasts forever - there are declining returns the longer one stays in a country. So I wonder how we will know when the time has come for our troops to return home.

I also wonder about the nature of what we are trying to accomplish. Perhaps I am just ill-informed but it isn't clear to me whether our mission is purely strategic (install a regime that won't attack us or disrupt the region), humanitarian (end the oppression of women, provide food, shelter and schools, ensure freedom of religion) or some combination.

Where do we stand with regard to opium production? Indifferent? War on Drugs? How does this square with domestic policy on drugs?

Lots of questions, but what it comes down to for me is my (uninformed) feeling that our best course of action would be to try and get into power the best (according to whatever mix of strategic and humanitarian interests we are pursuing) people who can retain that power and prevent the country falling into civil war or anarchy, and then depart within a relatively short timeframe (under 5 years).

But when any dissent is categorized by our Prime Minister as 'not supporting the troops' it not only stifles the debate which should be occurring, it also puts the government in a position where it is unable to change course without being hoist on the petard of it's own shrill rhetoric - which in turn introduces an unwelcome political element into future decisions about the mission.

And if there's one thing I feel with certainty on this topic, it's that our troops will be best served when the decisions about the mission are made strictly based on the merits of the mission, not based on partisan politics.


  • Perhaps if all the MPs showed up (58 CPC, 8, count'em 8 NDP for the debate, you might get answers.

    Did your MP show up? I don't know if mine did, I will ask (although he's ex-military & CPC so I suspect he did, and if not, I'll ask why not).

    By Blogger Candace, at 11:20 PM  

  • What's more cowardly than sending somebody else into harms way for political purposes?

    Using them as a political shield as you do so!

    I don't like to jump to conclusions, but I think I'm beginning to see a trend of cowardice in this government.

    Afraid to debate Canada's role in the war on terror.

    Afraid to meet the challenge of emissions reduction.

    Afraid to raise even a squeek of protest over US border regulations.

    Afraid to confront anti-sealing protests.

    Afraid to implement a meaningful daycare policy.

    Coming soon! Afraid to protect healcare against privatization. I hope I'm wrong on this one...

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:35 AM  

  • You can tell famousringo is stretching on those last few - good try buddy, but that was a fairly lame comment as far as they go.

    The Martin government defined fear of action in government - hence PM the PM being named Mr. Dithers. Trying to sling that on Harper at this point is more than a little silly.

    By Blogger Andrew, at 4:24 AM  

  • Coming soon! Afraid to protect healcare against privatization. I hope I'm wrong on this one...

    It already came. He ran away from the fight with Klein and only 6 or so weeks later sent him a letter.

    Harper is clearly becoming the cut and run Prime Minister.

    By Blogger Robert McClelland, at 11:21 AM  

  • That's odd, I thought we were discussing the policies of Stephen Harper. At no point did I try to defend the Paul Martin government. If your only defense is that somebody else was an even more cowardly lion then you have a pretty spindly defense.

    I forgot to add one to my list: Afraid of media scrutiny of the government.

    I suppose the whole Emerson fiasco took some guts. On Emerson's part at least.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 11:21 AM  

  • All 29 showed up when Layton spoke Candace.

    After O'Connor spoke, 40 of the 60 Conservative MP left..there were less than 20, out of 125 Conservative MP.

    Stephen Harper did not attend, again (he did not attend the last one either).

    So, tell me again how your little numbers game relates to patriotism and "supporting the troops?"

    I still support te mission, BTW, for the reasons Dave at the Galloping Beaver suggests and more.

    By Blogger Mike, at 12:24 PM  

  • "As far as debating and having a vote on our role in Afghanistan is concerned, I am reminded of Vancouver's Olympic bid."

    A very good analogy, Declan. Except that even Larry was smart enough to call for the Olympic Referendum before the bid was submitted. Holding it -say- now wouldn't be quite so clever, would it?

    "So, tell me again how your little numbers game relates to patriotism and 'supporting the troops?'"

    Umm... maybe that the guys demanding the debate have a higher obligation to show the relevance than the ones who opposed it as a meaningless distraction?

    By Blogger deaner, at 2:34 PM  

  • The Liberal position on the Afghanistan vote is a sound one. Harper has taken a leaf from the Bush Book, inspired by Frank Luntz and ghost-written by Karl Rove, and tried to set a trap for the opposition parties. Harper is trying to divide the MPs into two camps of his own choosing: those "for" the troops (meaning those who will give Harper a blank cheque by voting for the extension for 2 years without any discussion or any qualifications), and those who against Harper and therefore against the troops.

    This dog won't hunt. Canadians understand politicians who try to pull fast ones like that, and expect their MPs to watch out for them and for their nation and its troops.

    Bush has bungled the Iraq war and is bungling Afghanistan, because there was and is too little planning to "win the peace".

    We need a proper debate on what Afghan needs from Canada, so that we can decide what peacekeeping steps to take in addition to what peacemaking steps we should take.

    What are our objectives? The leader of our country should spell that out. What must we do, in the short term and long term?

    Harper asks for a blank cheque, and frames the discussion as being for or against the troops. The troops are better served by a country which knows what it is asking them to risk their lives for, and to die for if necessary. Let us not put them in jeopardy because we could not spare more than six hours to discuss why they should risk all.

    Let us take the time to have a full and proper discussion. And let us postpone the vote until that takes place.

    Harper is playing politics and the matter is too serious for that to happen.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 2:23 PM  

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