When Stephen Harper established an Independent Panel on Canada's Future in Afghanistan and appointed former Liberal deputy Prime Minister John Manley as the chairman of it, people knew the results would not be pretty.
The Manley report has become every bit as politicized as the war in Afghanistan. As such, it's provoked responses ranging from approval to cautious optimism to sheer disdain, and, in some cases, even intellectual dishonesty.
The report has made a number of recommendations.
The report has called for more military hardware in Afghanistan (including addtional helicopters and unmanned aerial drones), as well as renewed focus on training the Afghan army.
The report has also suggested that CIDA focus its aid efforts on projects that will provide immediate and tangible benefits to the Afghan people, an idea the former director of CIDA rejects.
Most promisingly, the Manley report has dismissed the Liberals' proposed 2009 withdrawal from combat as an "artificial deadline" with "no operational logic."
In other words, Canada's exit strategy should be based not on chronological considerations, but rather on accomplishing goals in the field. This is precisely as it should be.
However, the report has suggested Canada's combat mission in Kandahar should end unless more of our NATO allies contribute troops to that mission, probably for reasons made evident by Jonathon Kay vis a vis the free-rider principle:
"A quick, back-of-the-envelope calculation helps illustrate the larger inequity at play. At 33-million people, Canada’s population represents less than 4% of NATO’s 880-million total. Yet our forces constitute about 8% of the total combat troops actively engaged with the Taliban. Like the United States (34% of NATO population, 73% of engaged troops) and Britain (7% of NATO population, 19% of engaged troops), we are doing more than our fair share.
An even greater discrepancy applies in regard to fatalities. Canada has suffered 77 KIA in Afghanistan, 10% of NATO’s total. This is an extraordinarily tiny number of dead by historical war-time standards. Still, compare the 77 figure to, say, Germany, which has a population two-and-a-half times ours, but has suffered only 25 dead. This is mostly because Germany’s substantial force of 3,500 soldiers is operating mainly in the largely peaceful, northern part of Afghanistan."
While one does wonder who Manley believes will replace Canadian troops in Kandahar should they be withdrawn (not necessarily more British and American troops), one must recognize the lop-sided effort being put forth. That needs to change.
The report has called for 1,000 more NATO troops in Kandahar alone -- a fairly modest assessment compared to analysts who suggest the current troop level should be doubled.
Manley himself has also had a few tough questions to answer, and has taken them all in stride.
When asked earlier this week whether or not his report was in touch with Liberal party traditions, Manley insisted it is.
"Absolutely this is in the Liberal tradition," Manley insisted. "I think that countries like Canada have an important, meaningful role to play in protecting our values, standing up for the rights of individuals [and for] the human security of people whose government can't protect them -- that's something we as Canadians have talked a lot about."
"We're a rich country, we've got to do some of this stuff ... The world isn't a pretty place but I happen to believe that the people who came before me in the Liberal party believed in a strong role for Canada on the international stage and would say there are times when we have to be counted, times when it matters."
Naturally, not everyone agrees. Green Party leader Elizabeth May, rarely one to shy away from borderline religious bigotry in order to score a point, had the following to say: "The Manley Report fails to consider that the recommendation of more ISAF forces from a Christian/Crusader heritage will continue to fuel an insurgency that has been framed as a ‘Jihad’. This, in turn, may feed the recruitment of suicide bombers and other insurgents."
(Of course, never mind that the Crusades very much were a religious war, while the war in Afghanistan very much is not.)
The debate over the Manley report will likely continue for a long time, as will debate over the war in Afghanistan. This is actually precisely how it should be.
But like the war in Afghanistan, the value of the contributions to that debate should be assessed based on its recognition of the facts of the case (in this case, the content of the report), not on its rhetorical quality.