Harper moves to overcome partisanship regarding Afghanistan war
The need to define the war in Afghanistan for the future took a huge step forward today, as Prime Minister Stephen Harper appointed a five-person commission to review and issue recommendations about the war.
The commission will consist of five members: Paul Tellier, a former Privy Council clerk, Jake Epp, formerly a PC cabinet minister, broadcaster Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, formerly Canada's ambassador to the United States, and commission chair person John Manley, once a deputy Prime Minister under the Liberal party.
The commission will explore four options. Option one entails training the Afghan army so it can take over pending a Canadian withdrawal in 2009. Option two tentails focusing on development work in Khandahar, while ceding combat and security operations to other NATO forces. Option three entails shifting Canadian operations to other regions of Afghanistan, while the fourth option is a complete, unconditional withdrawal.
"In carrying out our work the panel will be cognizant of the sacrifice Canadians have already made in helping the Afghan people, as well as progress achieved and challenges remaining," Manley announced.
Manley, for his part, has previously made his opinion regarding Afghanistan publicly known. "Mounting insecurity, violence and a civilian casualty and death toll that is paralleling the initial days of the war are undermining hope for a more positive future," he wrote in an essay. "Both the insurgents and NATO itself have come under repeated criticisms for failing to stem the tide of civilian casualties. Opium and criminality have soared in the new democratic Afghanistan and it is said that some in Karzai's cabinet are more interested in retaining their own power base and regional control than in seeing the apparatus of the state take hold in their home areas."
“There is no possible way to separate development and the humanitarian mission from the military one.” he concludes. “We often seek to define Canada’s role in the world. Well, for whatever reason, we have one in Afghanistan. Let’s not abandon it too easily. But let’s use our hard-earned influence to make sure the job is done right.”
In other words, Manley favours Canadian involvement, but not under the status quo. By recognizing the value of the mission while also recognizing the social and political nature of the situation on the ground, and its oft-detrimental effect on the mission, Manley has positioned himself to make an assessment of the mission that is implicitly honest and non-partisan.
While many Liberal partisans have already begun to circle Manley, prepared to cannibalize him in the name of politicizing the mission, the fact is that Manley, with Harper, has moved to depoliticize the war (which shouldn't be considered a partisan issue in the first place).
Many would be quick to dismiss the appointment of this commission as a political stunt. However, they are overlooking the amount of risk that Harper has assumed by appointing it.
Should the commission issue recommendations that contradict the Harper government's policy plans for Afghanistan, Harper will find himself in a very tenuous situation. Having appointed this commission, it wouldn't be unreasonable to expect Harper to follow its recommendations.
In other words, a significant amount of organizational impetus will exist to strongly support the implimentation of its recommendations.
In appointing the comission, Harper has done what other leaders would not: he has chosen to rise above the partisan rhetoric being flung about over the war in Afghanistan, and in doing so, has taken an important step in continuing to define the war for the future.
Considering the crucial junction the mission has reached, he couldn't have possibly done so at a better time.