Thursday, June 15, 2006

Ignatieff and Rae on Afghanistan

Bob Rae / has adopted the NDP line that the problem with Afghanistan is that our role has supposedly changed and we have moved from being peace keepers to peace makers. "The unilateral extension of the combat mission is a departure from Canada's traditional role of peacekeeping and reconstruction. Bob believes Canada could have instead focused our military, aid and diplomatic resources on reconstruction and rebuilding that war-torn country . . ." This is kind of idiotic reasoning born of focus groups and polling. Such polls show that Canadians have a high opinion of peacekeeping, but a low opinion of offensive missions. So the NDP says give the people what they want. The thing is, though, that Peace keeping means what it says. It involves keeping the peace between two identifiable warring factions who want peace and have invited third party in for that very reason. (Ignatieff says that Rwanda was peace keepings death nail. I disagree. Rwanda was never suited to be a peace keeping mission. Indeed, in many ways having peace keepers in Rwanda lessened the chances of the needed military intervention. The killing of Belgium peace keepers made intervention far harder politically and the prospect of more dead UN peacekeepers also probably played a role. The two groups were not geographically separate. That said, just because you can not use a hammer as a screw driver does not mean that hammer is useless. A hammer is only useless only in so far it no longer serves any purpose and that might just be happening with peace keeping. As guerilla war supplants state on state violence as the dominant form of conflict, peacekeeping missions have become less and less useful. In this sense Peace keeping is indeed dying.) Despite what Rae, Volpe and Layton might say, Canada was never doing this in Afghanistan nor could it ever hope to. The Taliban and Al Qaeda are not so kind as to distinguish themselves from the rest of the population and they simply do not recognize the distinction between a foreign military force focusing on peacekeeping and reconstruction and those focused on peacemaking. (Some have suggested to me that a focus on reconstruction and peacekeeping would result in fewer causalities, would make us less susceptible to terrorism and would produce better results. This is bullocks. The Auzzies took on an offensive role in Iraq and Spanish took on the role of nation builders. The Auzzies lost far fewer soliders than the Spanish, spent far less than the Spanish and it was Spain and not Australia that was attacked by terrorists for their role in Iraq. If Canada signs on to some furture American adventure, I hope they have the good sense to at least to take on a short term offensive role (special forces air strikes), a la Austraila in Iraq, and not a nation buidling role, a la Spain in Iraq. ) What changed is that we went from a region where the insurgency was weak to one war it was strong.

Ignatieff employed his own focus group and poll driven talking points with regard to Afghanistan during the recent leadership debate and unlike Rae's Ignatieff’s went down like a Led Zeppelin. Incredibly Ignatieff claimed that death of a Canadian soldier meant that if Canada did not vote to extend the mission her death would have been in vain and by implication that the mission had merit by virtue of her death. "I supported the extension of the mission because that very day a brave soldier from Shilo, Manitoba, gave her life," No one wants to die for a mistake, but it is incredible that Ignatieff would imply that a mission is validated if soldiers have died carrying it out. That was not the worst of it though. He went to say suggest that voting against an extension meant that one did not “support our troops”. "I couldn't in good conscience stand up in the House of Commons and not vote for the extension of a mission when our soldiers' lives were on the line." Chantal Herbert rightly jumped all over him:

"Last month, Ignatieff was one of only two leadership candidates to support the Prime Minister's decision to extend the Afghan mission for two years beyond next February. Saturday, he said he felt he would have let the Canadian soldiers who had put their lives on the line in Afghanistan down if he had voted differently. The notion that support for our troops should mean support for the government's decisions on the deployment is one of Stephen Harper's most demagogic arguments. In a rebuttal to Ignatieff, Bob Rae was right to point it out."

Rae “I disagree quite profoundly with Michael [Ignatieff] on this issue," Rae said, adding that "it's most unfair" to suggest that "if you vote against the resolution you are not supportive of Canadian troops overseas."

Liberal Bloggers, even the pro war ones, made the same point as Hebert and Rae.

Calgary Grit “For Iggy, he couldn't vote against the motion because Nicola Goddard had died that same day. That answer just blew my mind. Here we have a world famous intellectual who has written about international conflict his entire life and his answer was that we had to extend the mission because someone had died. If Ignatieff is going to name drop Trudeau twelve times in his opening statements, then he should at least follow the "reason over passion" mantra Pierre lived by.”

A Bcer in Toronto: “I was disappointed at Ignatieff's poor showing defending his Afghan vote on Saturday though. His saying he couldn't vote no because a soldier had died that day doesn't fly. He's a smart man and even in the limited time allotted he was capable, or should be capable, of making a far better argument than that. Because I do agree with his vote on that issue, and it was the right thing to do.”

Cerberus: “It is utterly asinine to say that supporting or opposing an extension of our mission is tantamount to supporting or opposing our troops.” Ted did not direct this comment towards Ignatieff but rather Stephen Harper. However as both held the same “asinine” view it is applies to both.

Just as bad Ignatieff has still not addressed the concerns many people have with the Afghan mission. Indeed, his arguments so far add up to little more than good intentions and moral obligation guarantees success. What is more, Ignatieff has not acknowledged that the same arguments he used to say that Canada was justified in staying out of Iraq can also be used against the Afghan mission. For one, polls suggest that the mission has no better than support of half the population and polls showed at the time of the May vote that most Canadians were opposed. Ignatieff said that support of the population was vital. For another, a terrorist attack, inspired by Canada's presence in Afghanistan, could spilt the country apart, especially if Quebec is the victim. Currently the Afghan mission is opposed by what 60% of Quebecers. If Quebecers die as a result of us being there, the separatists will use it as a reason why Quebecers need their own country with its own foreign policy. Given what has just transpired in Ontario and the fact that the accused were said to be motivated by Canada's role in Afghanistan, Ignatieff can not very well claim that chances of such an attack or not insignificant. Ignatieff claimed that a potential national unity crisis was reason enough for staying out of the Iraq war.

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