Friday, January 18, 2008

Dion and Pakistan: Where's the gaffe, pray tell?

I hadn't read the papers or watched the news much the past few days, so all I'd read about these supposedly controversial comments Stephane Dion made about Pakistan was mainly headlines on news sites and blogs.

Based on those headlines, you'd think he's proposed carpet bombing or something. D-Day Part Deux. When I heard yesterday that the Pakistani Embassy was getting into the game, I thought it was time for me to find out what the heck is going on here.

And the best way to do that is to go past the spin and look at what was originally said. Here’s Dion’s original comments, in the context of making a point about Taliban insurgents slipping across the border from Pakistan into Afghanistan to attack NATO forces, then slipping back to their safe havens:

"If [Pakistani leaders] are incapable of doing it themselves, it is something that we could envision with NATO forces — how to help Pakistan help us bring peace to Afghanistan," he said during a news conference in Quebec City Wednesday.

I just have missed where he talked about invading a nuclear state, as invasions usually come without the permission of the country you’re, well, invading. What Dion said is really quite logical. If Pakistan can’t control these insurgents themselves, these insurgents by the way that are killing Canadian soldiers, then NATO should explore ways of HELPing them. Makes sense to me. Not invading. Helping, in whatever way Pakistan wants/needs.

Last night Jason explored where things began to go off the rails; it would seem when the Conservatives decided to try to reframe Dion’s comments as plotting an invasion or something, a meme then picked up by the media and the blogger hordes. Once again, the Conservatives decide to distort reality and use Afghanistan as a political ping pong ball to score partisan points.

Every step of the way though, from a snap vote on a mission extension, from refusing to lower the flags, to banning the media from repatriation ceremonies and lying about it, to misleading the HoC on detainee abuse, to denying information to the public, to releasing confidential information that put the lives of Dion, Michael Ignatieff and the soldiers protecting them in danger, crass politics has been the game of the game for this government when it comes to Afghanistan.

And once the government egged the media into distorting Dion’s comments, they’re portraying his correction of their distortions as somehow “backing-down” from his original position.
But in an interview with the CBC's Peter Mansbridge Thursday night, Dion backed away from the suggestion that NATO forces be deployed to Pakistan, emphasizing instead a need for greater diplomatic effort.

"It was diplomatic intervention with an effort that must be more concerted between Canada and our NATO allies," Dion said.

"Part of what we are doing in the south of Afghanistan, in the province of Kandahar, is nullified by the fact that the insurgents, they cross the border. They ignore the border, and when we provide security in that area, they may come back any time from Pakistan."

He’s not backing away from anything, he’s nearly repeating and further discussing his original position. The Pakistan insurgent havens are a problem, if Pakistan can’t handle it on its own we should talk with them about how NATO can help.

Perhaps the government would do better to actually look at the issue Dion raised. And it’s not exactly a new issue; it has been raised by many, within Canada and out, within NATO and out. It’s an issue that directly concerns not only the success of the mission, but the safety of our troops. Is anyone denying this is a serious problem? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but I do know a problem when I see it.

And I do a political smear job when I see one too. This was no gaffe, and anyone that actually reads the original comments can see that clearly. Let's not let the Conservative spin machine divert attention from a serious discussion on the Afghan mission.

I'll leave the last word to Garth Turner, who I think puts it well:
For the record, the Liberals are not invading Pakistan.

I heard Dion has stabled his white stallion, sheathed his sabre and holstered his pearl-handled S&W. We won’t even send any soldiers. But, as government, we’d likely stop playing footsy with a pampered dictator who has enough troops to suppress his own millions of citizens, but not the balls enough to kick Taliban butt on his own borders, thus endangering Canadian troops.

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900ft Jesus said...

that's how I read Dion's original comments as well, but people keep going on about working with NATO on this as tantamount to an invasion. I disagree. Thanks for the clarification.

What got me was how people jumped all over this so quickly - the invasion angle - despite nothing Dion has said previously that would fit with such a stretch.

ALW said...

Distort reality? What reality? It’s obvious from his comments that Stephane Dion does not inhabit any place remotely resembling ‘reality’.

NATO is a military alliance. “Working with NATO” is diplomaspeak for some use of force. Dion said it - and ironically, the only reason it’s been jumped on by Tories everywhere is because it flies in the fact of the party’s dubious position on Afghanistan. If the Liberals had the nads to stand up for their own mission, then it’s more likely the government would have given it a pass. But because the opposition intends on asserting an Afghanistan position purely for the purposes of domestic consumption rather than the best interests of that country, you’d best believe Dion is going to be called out on his loose lips.

I am not sure how many Liberals realize it, but if there is one issue that Harper, his government, and most partisan Tories would go 100% to the wall for, it is Afghanistan. Essentially everything else is negotiable. But I for one would rather fight an election on Afghanistan and lose than budge from a total commitment to that country, in whatever capacity is necessary, for as long as it takes.

Oxford County Liberals said...

"But I for one would rather fight an election on Afghanistan and lose than budge from a total commitment to that country, in whatever capacity is necessary, for as long as it takes."

I'd have thought this was some of George Bush's disciples (all 25-30% of them) or John McCain saying the same thing about Iraq (let's stay there 100 years!) if ALW hadn't put his tagline on it.

For the record, no one is saying we abandon Afghanistan - at least, not on the Liberal side. We ar saying we have served the mission well and with honour, and it's time for some other NATO countries to pull their weight in the south.

Besides, according to Secretary Gates, Canadians don't know how to fight an insurgent war, so if he thinks his country does, or there are other NATO countres that do, let him supply the troops or get those countries to put in their own troops, since he thinks so little of ours.

Bailey said...

I agree with you Jeff. I read the comments today for the first time and that's what I initially thought as well. It seems like to me he wants to help secure the border between the two countries and work with Pakistan on doing such a thing.

Gayle said...

When I first heard this reported the media were saying this was a gaff in that Dion did not say what he meant. No one believed he was advocating NATO invade Pakistan. No one who is objective COULD believe that. IF there was an error (and I am not saying there was one), it is that Dion's statement implied something he did not mean.

That is why the conservatives, whose cause is taken up by alw here on this blog, are so obviously spinning this to mean something it does not.

Are people really going to believe Dion wants us to invade Pakistan? I don't think so.

As for the way in which Dion's comments were twisted, I am with you Jeff.

incidently, so is Andrew Coyne and Chantell Hebert. When is the last time you heard her agree with Dion on anything?

Bailey said...

For what it is worth, the Senate Committee On Defence last year wrote "To effectively stop Taliban infiltration, the Government of
Canada, with its NATO partners and Afghanistan, establish a
defensible buffer zone in Afghanistan on the Afghan side of its
border with Pakistan"

Click for .pdf report

That seems to go much further than what Dion may have suggested.

Also, John Kerry (December 5th entry) suggested that support is needed at the border.

Same with these two articles in Foreign Affairs talk about the issues of the border. So it's not like Dion was entirely wrong about discussing the issue of the border and helping to secure it.

Jeff said...


What got me was how people jumped all over this so quickly - the invasion angle - despite nothing Dion has said previously that would fit with such a stretch.

I'm not surprised that the Cons are making crap up, but the media has surprised me.


You talk about reality, and yet you ignore what he actually said. And whatever he said, you and Harper et al. also ignore the issue of the porus Pakistan border and Musharaf's inability to secure it. The reality is that is costing lives, Canadian lives, so ignoring it seems like a bad idea.

NATO is many things. At its core, yes, it is a diplomatic alliance. It was also formed to defend Western countries in the North Atlantic. Afghanistan is a long ways from the North Atlantic, isn't it? The point is, things evolve. And since it is a NATO mission, NATO would be the logical organization to say to Pakistan hey, we want to help you with this thing.

I am not sure how many Liberals realize it, but if there is one issue that Harper, his government, and most partisan Tories would go 100% to the wall for, it is Afghanistan.

You're trying to pick a fight here (the Cons) unecesarily for political reasons. Just what the heck is the moral your want to go to the hustings for here Aaron? The moral of ignoring the Pakistan issue and the treat posed here to our forces and the success of the Afghan mission? Because that's what Dion was talking about here, the reality you're ignoring.

So if that's the issue you want to fight for then go ahead. Otherwise, maybe you could zip up your pants and have a rational discussion.

Oh, and this comment:

But because the opposition intends on asserting an Afghanistan position purely for the purposes of domestic consumption...

Projecting much? I think you meant government, not opposition. Case in point? THIS STORY. Dion makes a legitimate point about Pakistan, the Cons ignore it and cast him as a crazy invadeamonkey for domestic political reasons.

But hey, reality shmeality...

Jeff said...

*opps, that should of course At its core, yes, it is a MILITARY alliance.

Steve V said...


He didn't say NATO, he said NATO "force". How does that jive with diplomacy? I admit some confusion here, because that word is pretty transparent.

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

The big words were NATO force, vice NATO Countries which is what he should of said, NATO force is actually what it implies, Military Force. NATO Countries, implies the Govt of those NATO countries. What made this whole thing fucking laughable and is allowing the CPC and the MSM to jump all over the LPC and Mr.Dion is the inability of Mr.Dion for whatever reason to go directly to the media and Canadian People and say,,opps, I meant to say countries, Sorry about that.

Jeff said...

For more on what the NATO 'forces' actually are, I went to the NATO faq. Says NATO:

Q: What does NATO do?

A: The North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) is an alliance of 26 countries from North America and Europe committed to fulfilling the goals of the North Atlantic Treaty signed on 4 April 1949. In accordance with the Treaty, the fundamental role of NATO is to safeguard the freedom and security of its member countries by political and military means. NATO is playing an increasingly important role in crisis management and peacekeeping.

Emphasis mine. And from NATO's Afghan mission Web page:

NATO’s engagement is three-fold:

* through leadership of the UN-mandated International Security Assistance Force (ISAF), an international force of some 41,700 troops (including National Support Elements) that assists the Afghan authorities in extending and exercising its authority and influence across the country, creating the conditions for stabilisation and reconstruction;
* a Senior Civilian Representative, responsible for advancing the political-military aspects of the Alliance’s commitment to the country, who works closely with ISAF, liaises with the Afghan government and other international organisations, and maintains contacts with neighbouring countries.
* a substantial programme of cooperation with Afghanistan, concentrating on defence reform, defence institution-building and the military aspects of security sector reform.

Emphasis, again, is mine. So, clearly, the NATO forces in Afghanistan, and NATO itself, includes a strong diplomatic component.

Burton, Formerly Kingston said...

BCer, No one is arguing that fact of what you posted, I was stating if Mr.Dion had said Countries vice Force his intent would of been clear and there would be no story. Force equals Force equals Force in the minds of most people. Thats is, that is the only point I am trying to make, this is only a story because he used the wrong word and the LPC went into instant protect mode vice just saying,,Opps, meant countries there.. sorry about that.

Jeff said...

Kingston, actually lots of (other) people were arguing that NATO has no diplomatic component.

And as to the countries/forces thing, while I think his original meaning was perfectly clear (anyone who actually would think Dion would propose an "invasion" of Pakistan as Mckay and the Con spin machine would haVe us believe is high on something, the sort of clarification you speak of was issued by Denis Coderre the same day as the original comment, mere hours later. And was ignored by those with their own agendas.