Thursday, February 21, 2008

Conservative Party Joins the Liberals for Lunch

Conservatives accept unfeasible Liberal amendments to Afghanistan motion

In an apparent bid to help avoid an election that the Liberal party likely doesn't want any way, the Conservative party has apparently decided to take clues from the oddly clueless Liberal party in regards to Afghanistan.

In an amendment to the Tory bill to extend the Afghan mission into 2011, the Conservatives have seemingly embraced a Liberal party amendment that would see Canadian troops withdraw from Kandahar in 2011 (albeit six months later than in the Liberal proposal) and focus on reconstruction on training instead of combat.

This right in the middle of a region that is, by all practical accounts, a combat mission.

Apparently, politics has come to trump practicality in regards to the war in Afghanistan, and Canadians should be very concerned about that.

One can only imagine the effect a shift of Canadian efforts to reconstruction and training in the midst of a mission in which the Taliban will not decline to attack them will have on the number of casualties suffered in Afghanistan, but one thing is for certain: it will not be positive.

Liberal Defense Critic Denis Coderre, in particular, appreciates the apparent agreement on an approximate end date for the mission. "There's progress that there's an end date," he said. "It seems that if they're taking our own wording it sends a clear message that we've been doing our homework and now there's room."

Well, not so much. Not really. The problem with time-oriented exit strategies is that they rigidly enforce a time frame on the mission in which it may not be possible to accomplish it. A task-oriented exit strategy could still include a time frame in which goals are expected to be accomplished, but at least would still allow Canadians to stay until the job is done.

Not to mention the critical questions of who will take over Canada's role on the front lines in Kandahar. The Manley report called for an additional 1,000 combat troops in Kandahar. If the Liberal party plan is put in motion, NATO will also need to replace Canada's 2,500 troops just to maintain its front line.

In a mission in which getting certain NATO members to contribute combat troops has been like pulling teeth (and heightened tensions in the Balkans certainly won't help in this regard), this could prove to be the straw that broke the proverbial camel's back.

The adoption of the Liberal party's unfeasible Afghanistan plan could lead not only to the end of the Afghanistan mission, but also to the end of NATO.

As with the Liberal plan, the devil will be in the details. If Prime Minister Stephen Harper can manage to make this plan work, Canada may yet still manage to succeed in Afghanistan.

If not, Harper will have to learn with the reality that he and his party have effectively thrown away the mission in Afghanistan in exchange for another year in power.

That's an awfully high price for Canada -- and the world -- to pay.

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