What is state failure? See my conceptualisation of state failure on the right flank below.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Canadahrrr politics

MStFB's promised repeated side-glance in the direction of Canada/Kandahar
This is the article in the Globe and Mail that I read carefully last week to be up-to-date on the issue of Canadian politics. It included worrying signs. Canada's Liberals, who back at the time had decided for starting Canada's mission in Kandahar by the way, apparently decided they would torpedo the possible extension of the mission beyond February, 2009. Since the current conservative Harper government made it clear that it would want a broad consensus in support of an extension, the Liberals' indication that they "hold Harper irresponsible for not yet telling NATO allies that they can't count on Canada in the current role beyond that date" and so on, set the prospect of any such consensus-seeking as doomed. Liberals promised to field a motion in parliament to call on the Harper government to tell NATO that Canada will end the Kandahar mission in 2009, and while that motion could have perhaps been defeated, that doesn't matter much in light of Harper's need for a consensus. For without such consensus Harper might lose too many voters in Québec for his, and his party's, political health, it seems.
Theoretically the crucial moment could have been a so-called Throne Speech to be given by the Harper government in October, which would have been followed by a confidence vote in parliament. That confidence vote could have in principle given Harper the consensual support on a number of issues, including the Kandahar mission, even if the Bloc Québécois had actually already stated they would vote against the speech. So, with the rather distant possibility of a supporting vote in mind, I have even bothered to look up what a Throne Speech in Canada means. This site here offers a popularly simple description of the thing:
"The Speech from the Throne is the speech at the opening of a session of parliament. Although usually read by the governor general or on very rare occasions by the Queen when she is in Canada, the Speech from the Throne is prepared by the prime minister's office, and outlines the priorities of the government for the coming session of parliament."
But the Liberals' stance obviously changed the equation regarding plans for that Throne Speech to a degree. Liberals were given the advice by their chief pollster, Michael Marzolini, that they needed a clearer message on several issues to appeal to voters. And this is what already seems to have had an effect on their Afghanistan issue strategy, as well as the government's thinking, as the Globe and Mail published an article yesterday with the title: "We're out by Feb. '09: MacKay." Since Peter MacKay is Canada's current defence minister, that sums up everything, doesn't it?
Well, not everything. MacKay's words to be quoted: "The signal that has been sent already is that our current configuration will end in February, 2009." A current configuration changing may not mean that Canadian Forces might leave Kandahar altogether in 2009. That is an implicit possibility therefore that some troops may stay with, say, another country taking the lead there. It may also refer to Canada switching to an emphasis on aid/reconstruction/construction/whatever, with which it may keep up a commitment to the Afghanistan Compact (which includes ambitious benchmark goals to be reached beyond 2009). So much was indicated even explicitly by minister MacKay.
And then this talk of leaving was all even taken back to a degree. "A spokesman, Dan Dugas, said later that the minister hadn't meant that a new signal was recently sent to allies, but that NATO allies are aware that the current mission will go to 2009 'and that there will be a vote in Parliament to decide the way forward after that.' " Some deliberately ambiguous signals, apparently.
This all came just before three by-elections in Québec on September 17, by the way... I'll quote Joshua Foust here, indirectly related this issue: "Domestic political concerns, and not the interests of Afghanistan itself, are dictating the West’s counternarcotics policy; similarly, the manpower and money shortfalls caused by the Iraq War are dictating the American commitment, and other domestic concerns are similarly constricting European choices. The one question no one in the West seems to be asking themselves when it comes to Afghanistan is: what is best for the Afghans?."
Even this "we are out by 2009, I mean, we will change configuration by then, I mean he said not that we are out but that we might be out" sort of fluidity in the Canadian government's stance probably doesn't mean Canada will be able to sustain its leading role in Kandahar after 2009. This may make the Harper government's Afghanistan policy an easier game for the opposition in the long run, for in return winning perhaps a few votes at these upcoming by-elections. My guess is that one of the reasons for only an ambiguous caving in to domestic political concerns for now is the concern over possibly affecting, by any clear indication of eventually leaving, the domestic political game in other countries currently pondering their future commitment in Afghanistan.

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