Second Thots

Sometimes one has to step back, take pause, and have some "second thots"

Wednesday, June 27, 2007


Harper's brilliant 'J-turn' on Afghanistan, I hope

Harper in Afghanistan
The National Post's Andrew Coyne writes a fascinating piece in today's edition. Essentially, Coyne argues that Stephen Harper has not reversed himself on extending the mission in Afghanistan. Instead, the prime minister is engaged in a brilliant ploy to focus the spotlight squarely on the policies of the opposition, and most prominently on that of the Stephane Dion Liberals. So argues Coyne.

First, Harper sure fooled me. It sure sounded like he was climbing down from his previous positions.

Second, as much as I've been harshly critical of Liberal leader Dion, it would seem that he in fact wasn't fooled by Harper. Dion spent most of his response to Harper's position disbelieving the notion that the prime minister has done a U-turn. As Coyne tells us, it's more like a J-turn: pull back, then steamroll your opponents.

The problem with Dion is that he seemed more intent on voicing anger over being snookered on this issue than he was to offer a sober and consistent critique of our government's policy. That might be because he's changed his own mind on the mission in the last year more than Paris Hilton has gone through the front door of a prison in the last week.

Third, if Coyne is right, I'm still not sure how Harper himself parlays all this into a consistent vision on the role Canada should play in Afghanistan. I mean, what's he going to say in the next election: "Ask the opposition what my policy is?"

Having said that, I think Coyne is right to suggest that what the prime minister has done is take some of the burden off himself and place it squarely on the shoulders of Dion. There is nothing more serious in matters of state than war. Yet Dion has taken every opportunity to undermine the mission for pure political theatrics.

Going forward, he might not be able to do that any longer — at least not as much. Harper has now suggested that the Liberals are partly responsible for creating foreign policy in a minority government. They may be even more responsible in the unlikely event they form the government soon. So, every development on the war will now not only reflect on the government, but also on the other players involved in shaping the direction this country takes in Afghanistan.

If Coyne is right, and this is what Harper has set out to accomplish, then the J-turn strategy — which Coyne says it taken straight out of former Prime Minister Jean Chretien's playbook —might go down as being responsible for turning around the current prime minister's image domestically.

Just one more thing. I hope Coyne is right. My eventual response to Harper's stance was extreme disappointment. I did tend see it as a victory for those, mostly on the left, who essentially mislead us about fighting good fights with UN approval under the authority of multilateral organizations like NATO.

These people want us to lose. They want us to surrender. Maybe the prime minister doesn't. I like that.

The PM has been very clear all along that a) he wanted to see the mission through to success, and b) that any extension past 2009 would be put to a vote in the House, something no other party has ever done. This has been completely ignored by both the MSM and the Opposition, who have produced a lot of noise and hot air to say very little of actual substance.

Harper's comments last Friday finally got some attention, and I think the aim was to smoke out the Liberal position, which now seems to be "we want to stay but we don't want to fight any more". And doesn't that make a lot of sense.

Harper has been consistent in saying he would put any extension to a vote, and I think this is just the opening shot in the campaign leading up to that vote. It means that people will now really have to think about what would be best, and the opposition parties will have to come up with real alternatives. It also means that Dion has about a year to tie himself in knots before the actual vote is taken.

I suspect that PM knows that at this point in time he likely would lose the vote, but he is at least going to give it his best shot, and unlike his predecessors is unwilling to force the issue in a minority government. I suppose to some people this is seen as a sign of weakness, but I feel that for most of those ilk, they would be more than happy for Harper to self-destruct on the issue of Afghanistan.

While I think it is very important to him, I think continuing a strong and stable government, and hopefully a majority is also important, not just for the power itself, but also to the ability to change this country in the way he wants.


The Liberal Party wants what it has always wanted... to be recognized by The World Community as having done important and vital things while never doing anything to deserve the recognition.

The Liberals were cool with the Afghan deployment as long as we were -- like the Germans, Spanish and French -- 200 miles behind the Front Lines and, possibly, 200ft underground. That would have let them stand up in Parliament and say things like "we're doing our part" or "Canadians are making a difference" or "there's nothing to see here, look over there".

Just like Kyoto.

I'm sure M. Dion doesn't want us "to fail" in Afghanistan... the Liberal Policy, as expressed by M. Dion, would keep us in Afghanistan but tucked away in a Camp until the "Bastard" Americans made the country safe for reconstruction. Mr. Harper, by putting some pressure on M. Dion to admit this has once again proved he's a much better Politician than TV Spokesperson.


It also gives Harper the opportunity to say "give us a majority - that's the only way to keep Canada from running from Afghanistan with the job partly done". Remember, they only need 40% of voters to get a majority.


It's an interesting point, MarkCh. Much of it depends, of course, on how Dion responds to this latest move by Harper.

I think Coyne is right when he says that one of the goals of the PMO is to shift some of the burden away from the government and towards the opposition.

In other words, instead of there being a referendum on Harper's handling of the war, there will be a debate about what the next step should be.

No doubt that, whatever Harper does end up recommending, it will be about not abandoning our goals in Afghanistan.

As to what this specifically means, I guess that's the million dollar question.

If Harper intends on extending the combat mission, will he do so without major changes? I don't know about that. I guess we'll have to wait and see.


Timing is everything in politics, and Harper is playing the game perfectly.

If the troops are pulled out in February 2009, and then we have an election later that year, Harper will look like a hero .. and the Afghanistan mission is forgiven and forgotten.


The Liberals thought that they could have the "fun" of creating Canadian government policy (see Kyoto) from opposition, with the collusion of the other opposition parties, without having the responsibility that goes along with it. I think Harper has just cured them of their delusion.


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