Tuesday, September 4, 2007
Since Canada stepped into Afghanistan there has been little room for full-scale political debate, at least from the two major parties. It was Jean Chretien and Paul Martin who made the primary commitments, always with the criticism from the right that it was almost an apology for not joining Bush's War On Terrar in Iraq. While Harper lambasted the Liberals for their failure to follow loyally into that quagmire, he remained sullenly committed, in his own way, to Afghanistan.
When he took over as PM, the CONserfative leader asserted a different messaging from the military -- that we were there to kill some butt, not just alleviate a horrible situation brought on by the Taliban.
Canadian soldiers were there for the long haul. Harper even positioned the 'debate' on extending the mission -- one he adamantly said wouldn't happen, but changed his tune once he saw the kind of corner he could put the Liberals in -- with the caveat that he'd extend it anyways, no matter the end result.
The casualties became a troubling problem for Harper, and he tried to follow Bush's lead by limiting, even banning, the media's coverage of the soldiers' bodies being returned home.
When that didn't work, he shifted gears. Made the war and the soldiers his own personal prop for re-election photos, making 'surprise' visits, wearing bulging vests and 'talking hockey'. The Governor General's request to visit was denied and put off until nearly every important cabinet minister had gotten into the photo.
Harper pitched and pitched, making his big 'Canada doesn't cut and run, it's not my way and its not Canada's way' speech. The polling however showed that Afghanistan, despite the various achievements like women now able to participate in the society with increasing equality, girls being able to go to school etc, remained a touchy topic, no more unpopular than in Quebec.
So this summer he finally removed the starchly left-footed Minister of Defence with a more skilled dancer, Peter McKay, and replaced him in Foreign Affairs with rookie Maxime Bernier, hoping that the pair would be able to massage the message better in english and french.
More than 55 Canadian soldiers had been killed before Quebec's Van Doos crossed the Atlantic and hit the Kandahar soil. The message from the PM's office, however, remained the same. We were there for the long haul, he said. The government showed its intention by spending BILLIONs on military investments, much of it geared towards war in the sandy, hot conditions of the region.
After the Van Doos arrival, the media started reporting on how casualties from that troop could affect Canada's will to carry the burden. That the opinion of Quebeckers may be 'turned' by the loss of their own.
And when the Van Doos suffered casualties, the question became a live wire.
Suddenly, the government is now stating that the mission will change as of late 2009, when this extension will have expired.
It isn't Harper saying this, and that's because it would go against his 'pro-war, Theo Roosevelt-ic image of carrying a big stick' kind of leadership image.
But to the voters, er people of Quebec, the message is clear: We are withdrawing from Kandahar and removing our troops from the toughest battle grounds at the end of this tour.
It didn't take long into the Van Doos tour for that turn to occur, but let's not pussy-foot around, Harper is once again using the military and our soldiers for political gain.
Call it wise politics, label it a back-flip of herculean proportions. The supporters of this government must do another contortionist shift in direction, like the Income Trust twist and the Accountability (is for them, not us) shuffle.
But this one should strengthen his chance at winning in Quebec. And the price for a majority? Priceless.