Monday, February 11, 2008

Bob Rae Needs a Lesson in "Realism"

Liberal foreign affairs critic continues to peddle non-combat fantasies

The Liberal party's unelected foreign policy critic sounded off on Afghanistan today, demonsrating that even when it comes down to basic concepts of foreign policy, he simply doesn't get it.

"What we want to do is change the focus so the focus is really on training, so the focus is really on the reconstruction of the country, and it has to be on realism," Rae said.

"I think our position has been very consistent and that is to say we believe Canada's overall engagement in Afghanistan has to stay," Rae insisted. "We have to remain committed to the Afghan compact which goes to 2011, but we think the focus on counterinsurgency for Canada as the focus to stay there, is wrong."

While the Liberal party's suggestion that a set rotation be established for who assumes front-line duties and when actually remains perfectly reasonable, the idea that a shift toward the northern regions of the country will forego any combat during that time is, frankly, a fantasy.

Most of all, however, Rae's analysis of the mission fails to embody one key word: realism.

Realism requires that foreign policy creators recognize the harsh realities at work in various areas, and formulate a policy that measures and balances the various competing interests at play.

In Afghanistan's case -- and one wonders if Rae is entirely clear on this -- it's in Canada's best interests to ensure the Taliban does not return to power. It's in the Kabul government's best interests to ensure that the Taliban does not maintain a foothold in Kandahar and Helmand provinces.

Of course, it's in the Taliban's interests to gain control of the southern region of the country so they have a secure foothold from which they can launch attacks on the rest of the country, and eventually gain control of it. Considering that this is entirely adverse to the interests of Canada and our allies in Afghanistan, realism demands that Canada do everything it can to prevent that.

While Bob Rae spreads the fantasy that Canadian troops wouldn't face risks or have to occasionally engage the enemy while serving in the northern region of the country -- or even send reinforcements into the south in emergency situations, or for major offensives -- the sad fact of the matter is that all too many Canadians may not know any better.

As Michael Ignatieff (ironically, the top foreign policy expert in today's Liberal party somehow is not the foreign affairs critic) himself notes, Canadians still cling to the Pearsonian model of peacekeeping -- a model that has never been applied successfully in a failed state (or, in Afghanistan's case, non-state) scenario. As Ignatieff himself recently noted, modern peacekeeping missions are combat missions.

The idea that Canada can somehow practice traditional peacekeeping if we can somehow just get out of Kandahar is, sadly, an utter farce. While the Pearsonian peacekeeping model is proud Canadian tradition, the rest of the world rarely goes out of its way to adhere to Canadian traditions. We must be able to adapt, or watch our foreign policy flounder.

Rae clearly is not adaptable enough to recognize this reality.

As Defense Minister Peter MacKay notes, it is indeed irresponsible for Bob Rae to disseminate this fantasy policy, especially under the guise of "realism". And while some of the key concepts of the Liberal Afghanistan policy are indeed sound (once again, the aforementioned "rotation" policy), the lack of solid details (for example, when would Canada return to front-line duty? If ever?) make it less a coherent, realistic policy, and more a series of platitudes thrown together in the name of idealism.

In other words, typical Liberal foreign policy.

Which, as anyone who's paid attention over the past 13 years knows, is far from realistic.

Someone please tell Bob Rae.

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