As the debate around the future of the Afghan mission heats-up, I've been reading from my previously mentioned media friends how the Conservatives’ proposed motion extending the mission is designed to give Stephane Dion and the Liberals an out. I don't buy it.
There is enough in the wording for Liberal Leader Stéphane Dion to bend from his implacable position that combat operations must cease by February 2009, while still not losing face -- or more importantly, to not appear to be a weak, indecisive leader.
The Conservative motion calls for an extension of Canada's military commitment to Afghanistan to the end of 2011, under certain conditions. It calls for a gradual drawing down of combat and aspires to more emphasis on training.
While all of this appears to fall short of Dion's core position -- stop shooting at the Taliban exactly one year from now -- there is enough in the wording for Dion to hang his political hat on.
No, there’s really not. The fact is, training can’t be spun as not combat, because training IS combat. Manley commission member Pamela Wallin said as much during a recent speech at the University of Toronto (paraphrased form my notes):
*They want us to train them, and that’s a large part of what we’re doing there. But training is fighting, there’s no place to go shoot practice rounds. We train them while they fight with us, and them we start to move into the background as they take over.
And she’s right. Training is combat. It’s not like there’s a big training gound where we take the Afghan troops and play war games with practice rounds, with pretend Taliban as the enemies. There’s just real combat, on the job training if you will. With real live bullets and everything.
Training is combat. A change in wording isn’t going to change that essential fact, or satisfy the Liberal demand that combat operations cease in 2009. I think the Conservatives worded their motion to make it seem closer to the Liberal position, and to try to make us appear inflexible if we say no. But there is no real desire for comprise on Stephen Harper’s part, that has been painfully obvious for two years.
Indeed, take a look at the Conservative motion, the full text of which is available here. I’m going to skip over all the whereas lines as, essentially, they’re meaningless padding. It’s only the BIRT which counts:
therefore, the House supports the continuation of Canada’s current responsibility for security in Kandahar beyond February 2009, to the end of 2011, in a manner fully consistent with the UN mandate on Afghanistan, but with increasing emphasis on training the Afghan National Security Forces expeditiously to take increasing responsibility for security in Kandahar and Afghanistan as a whole so that, as the Afghan National Security Forces gain capability, Canada’s combat role should be commensurately reduced, on condition that:
(a) Canada secure a partner that will provide a battle group of approximately 1000 to arrive and be operational no later than February 2009, to expand International Security Assistance Force’s security coverage in Kandahar;
(b) to better ensure the safety and effectiveness of the Canadian contingent, the government secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high performance Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) for intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance before February 2009.
There are only a few specifics in here: if we get 1000 more troops, some choppers and UAVs we stay until 2011. The training line is a throwaway, and would have no force and effect. There is nothing on aid. Nothing on reconstruction. Nothing on the bureaucratic mess that is hampering our efforts there. Nothing on milestones or goals for progress.
Nothing of substance beyond extending the mission two years, if we get the choppers and the 1000 troops. Indeed, for all the Conservative rallying around the Manley report, the fact is they’re embracing only a very small portion of the report’s recommendations.
The rest, I suppose, we’re just supposed to take Harper’s word for. Give us a blank check, they say, for two more years. And don’t worry, we’ll look at that redevelopment stuff too, trust us. Well I’m sorry, but I don’t trust them even a little bit.
This is certainly not a motion that the Liberals can support. It’s not enough though to just say no. We need to provide an amendment, our own alternative motion that, while showing a degree of flexibility, puts forward our alternative, a balanced view with the specifics and goals and milestones the Conservative motion lacks.
There was word over the weekend the Liberals do have an amendment in the works:
The Liberal amendments fix the Canadian combat end date at February 2009; extend the military mission by two years for training and security duties; allow any military operation except "search and destroy" missions against the Taliban; and would give NATO notice immediately that Canadian troops will withdraw in 2011. They contain proposals for development and diplomacy.
If this is indeed what the Liberal plan is going to be, and I don’t think this is official yet, then I don’t like it. It reads as very similar to the Conservative motion in all but nuance. I’ll be interested to read the proposals for development and diplomacy, but on the military side I’d argue this amounts to an endorsement of the Conservative position.
Call it whatever you want, but the fact is, training IS combat. You can’t say we’re ending combat, and only doing training, security, and any military operation except “search and destroy.” Combat by any other name is still combat.
The only scenario under which I’d be willing to accept the above scenario would be if we were rotated out of Kandahar. If this were taking place in a quieter province, then training could actually be training, not combat. But even if rotation were likely, it’s not indicated that is even part of this possible Liberal proposal.
If this is the amendment they come forward with, I’ll be disappointed. We have maintained all along combat must end in 2009. We must actually stick to that bottomline, not just pretend to. Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers