the manley inquiry into Afghanistan

Rudyard Griffiths has been calling for a blue ribbon commission into the future of Canada’s role in Afghanistan for a while. The good news is that the Prime Minister started listening to him. The bad news is that the Liberals are unhappy about it.

To date, the Conservatives have not had an inspired foreign policy. Indeed, they seem to lack confidence on this issue – something that may spring from the fact that this government is built around the old provincial Harris team who obviously didn’t have to think much about the subject. This insecurity – along with a desire to take a politically sensitive issue off the table in time for a possible fall election – has however forced them to adopt Griffiths’ advice.

This is good news for Canadian foreign policy and Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. The current debate on the Afghanistan mission has been mired in partisan battles shaped more by who can exploit the situation for political gain than by assessing what is the best option for Canada. On an issue this sensitive and important a blue ribbon panel can help establish a baseline of facts and set the terms of debate in a manner that hopefully elevate the level of discussion. This will help ensure that the country’s best interests – as opposed to those of a given political party – will be the first and foremost criteria of evaluation. In principal this should make it harder for the NDP and those like Michael Byers who advise them, to continue to call for a unilateral withdrawal without discussing the full consequences of such a choice.

In short, if the panel (John Manley, Pamela Wallin, Derek Burney, Paul Tellier and Jake Epp) does its job it can help ensure that Canadians make the best choice for Canada.

John_ManleyThe bad news is that Liberals are in a huff about the fact that John Manley’s appointment as the head of this panel insulates the conservative from a sticky issue in the lead up to an election. I can understand how one would lament the loss of a potential “wedge issue” that might have undermined Conservative support, especially in Quebec. But veiled attacks on Manley paint the party in a bad light. And for good reason. Liberals should be proud of Manley – or any Canadian – who attempts to bring coherence, clarity and a basic level of consensus to a debate of national importance.

Liberals are only mad at Manley because they know that although this commission shows the Conservatives are desperate (they are), it also exposes the shallowness of their own policy on the issue. And let’s be clear, the Liberals don’t have a coherent policy on Afghanistan. The current Liberal position of pulling our troops out after 2009 simply plays off the public’s fears. It does nothing to address the actual goals of why Canada is in Afghanistan. It’s odd to watch the party that championed Human Security and R2P argue for getting the military out of a country where the previous government had a complete disrespect for human rights, marginalized women and generally terrorized its own population. Nor is the notion that “it’s somebody else’s turn” inspiring the public. Either a) this mission is important and so if no one else will do it, we must or b) it’s not, and we should get out (and, by the way, if this was the case why did you get us in in the first place?).

Moreover, let’s talk about the costs of leaving – there are people whose lives will be in significantly greater risk if Canada pulls out and the risks of Afghanistan becoming an operational centre for global terrorism are real. Conversely, let’s talk about the costs of staying – such as the fact that Afghanistan is going to be further destabilized this winter when the Americans start spraying Opium crops with pesticides. If this is the way the US is going to behave, maybe we should leave.

But this is the type of nuanced discussion neither the Liberals nor the Conservatives (it’s not worth mentioning the NDP) are willing to have. All that has happened is that the Conservatives realized that this superficial discussion would hurt them more and so they got smart.

So rather than getting mad at Manley Liberals should start coming up with a coherent policy on Afghanistan.

17 thoughts on “the manley inquiry into Afghanistan

  1. Fotis

    You say:
    “The current Liberal position of pulling our troops out after 2009 simply plays off the public’s fears.”

    I think this is a gross understatement and is a particularly patronizing comment towards the judgment of Canadians. There are many litigate reasons which would cause Canadians to eschew a continuation of a combat role in Afghanistan: some of which include:
    – On going and persistent government corruption which is going unchecked; the ISAF mission is explicitly a Security and PRT effort which explicitly keeps them from emphasizing reform of the Afghan government
    – Disorganization and ineffectiveness of the ISAF response; With 7 separate chains of command in Afghanistan and hobbling Rules Of Engagement by many of the member nations it is currently impossible to create an effective unified front from a military perspective,
    – Humanitarian violations including torture, and the use of the death sentence. Also note that the Karzi government will be using Sharia law, so much for the human rights of women everyone has been ballyhooing.
    – As of yet, there is no plan for success in Afghanistan it is strictly a maintenance of the status quo. Furthermore, success in Afghanistan is also undefined so working towards success becomes nebulous.
    – Armed militias are steering the political will of the country and mass murderers currently have a solid block of power in the government.

    The military/security portion of the mission is a black hole. Until we get definition of success, unconditional support of all ISAF members, support for proper governance which includes human rights guarantees, and the removal of all armed militias, I feel the best role Canada can play in the country is a mission which focuses on non-combat options.

    Canada is currently being held hostage by ISAF and the other nations involved in Afghanistan. It’s time they provide the required support. This is an ISAF failure not a Canadian issue.

    This is the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. Public concern is ground in reality.

    Reply
  2. Scott Tribe

    This is hardly a non-partisan commission, David. We have 3 Conservatives on it, 1 Liberal hawk, and Pamela Wallin, whose most famous public statement to date was how she believed Canadians really did support signing up to the US missile defense program (even as polls stated otherwise).

    The fact there is no eminent left-leaning person on this panel – say Ed Broadbent or Stephen Lewis for starters – shows perfectly well that a) Harper designed this panel to get an answer he likes, and b) he’s going to use that panel’s conclusion for partisan purposes to attack the opposition with.

    Manley was either duped into participating on this, or he doesn’t care, because he agrees with Harpers Afghanistan position.

    Reply
  3. Fotis

    You say: “The current Liberal position of pulling our troops out after 2009 simply plays off the public’s fears.”I think this is a gross understatement and is a particularly patronizing comment towards the judgment of Canadians. There are many litigate reasons which would cause Canadians to eschew a continuation of a combat role in Afghanistan: some of which include:- On going and persistent government corruption which is going unchecked; the ISAF mission is explicitly a Security and PRT effort which explicitly keeps them from emphasizing reform of the Afghan government- Disorganization and ineffectiveness of the ISAF response; With 7 separate chains of command in Afghanistan and hobbling Rules Of Engagement by many of the member nations it is currently impossible to create an effective unified front from a military perspective, – Humanitarian violations including torture, and the use of the death sentence. Also note that the Karzi government will be using Sharia law, so much for the human rights of women everyone has been ballyhooing.- As of yet, there is no plan for success in Afghanistan it is strictly a maintenance of the status quo. Furthermore, success in Afghanistan is also undefined so working towards success becomes nebulous. – Armed militias are steering the political will of the country and mass murderers currently have a solid block of power in the government.The military/security portion of the mission is a black hole. Until we get definition of success, unconditional support of all ISAF members, support for proper governance which includes human rights guarantees, and the removal of all armed militias, I feel the best role Canada can play in the country is a mission which focuses on non-combat options. Canada is currently being held hostage by ISAF and the other nations involved in Afghanistan. It’s time they provide the required support. This is an ISAF failure not a Canadian issue.This is the reality on the ground in Afghanistan. Public concern is ground in reality.

    Reply
  4. Scott Tribe

    This is hardly a non-partisan commission, David. We have 3 Conservatives on it, 1 Liberal hawk, and Pamela Wallin, whose most famous public statement to date was how she believed Canadians really did support signing up to the US missile defense program (even as polls stated otherwise).The fact there is no eminent left-leaning person on this panel – say Ed Broadbent or Stephen Lewis for starters – shows perfectly well that a) Harper designed this panel to get an answer he likes, and b) he’s going to use that panel’s conclusion for partisan purposes to attack the opposition with.Manley was either duped into participating on this, or he doesn’t care, because he agrees with Harpers Afghanistan position.

    Reply
  5. brenton walters

    Scott Tribe is right: Griffiths called (and you echo it) for a non-partisan panel, and we did not get one. It is then difficult to understand your support for this move, though I understand your sentiments. The debate around this issue is frustrating and, like any debate about health care, far too quickly descends into predictable platitudes and media one-liners.

    As you write, we need a discussion about the consequences of leaving southern Afghanistan. I don’t think the NDP, advised by Dr. Michael Byers, has really thought their position through, which is rather odd. How can they think that intervention in Darfur would be any easier? It’s an idealistic and even admirable position, but not a practical one.

    Perhaps the panel will be able to get past their partisan backgrounds and fashion nuanced policy recommendations. I’m hopeful, but I am not optimistic.

    Reply
  6. brenton walters

    Scott Tribe is right: Griffiths called (and you echo it) for a non-partisan panel, and we did not get one. It is then difficult to understand your support for this move, though I understand your sentiments. The debate around this issue is frustrating and, like any debate about health care, far too quickly descends into predictable platitudes and media one-liners.As you write, we need a discussion about the consequences of leaving southern Afghanistan. I don’t think the NDP, advised by Dr. Michael Byers, has really thought their position through, which is rather odd. How can they think that intervention in Darfur would be any easier? It’s an idealistic and even admirable position, but not a practical one.Perhaps the panel will be able to get past their partisan backgrounds and fashion nuanced policy recommendations. I’m hopeful, but I am not optimistic.

    Reply
  7. David Eaves Post author

    Hi everyone,

    First off, I agree with some of the concerns, I think this panel is going to have to tread carefully. They run a real risk of getting sucked into the debate vortex as opposed to staying about it.

    That said, having had concerns about my piece pointed out I wanted to respond to a few items:

    I’m not sure that we got 3 conservatives on this panel… Is Paul Tellier a conservative? He was a public servant who Mulroney made Clerk… does that make him a conservative? Wallin? I’m fairly certain she is a liberal, same with Manley. I agree there are no NDPers, but what I think unites this group is that none of them have a public position on Afghanistan (Manley’s position from 4-5 years ago is no longer valid, the situation has changed sufficiently) and all are thoughtful people. Can someone suggest a hard left candidate who isn’t categorically against the Afghan mission? One who could be persuaded that we should stay if they thought the facts supported it?

    The quick judgment that Manley was either duped or already agrees with Harper is an unwarranted swipe at a man who has been nothing but thoughtful and principled in his leadership. Moreover, Manley himself said that he would not be restricted by the terms Harper laid out…

    As for my comment about the Liberals “playing on the publics’ fears” I completely stand by it. My fear is that a real debate on Afghanistan will show how shallow the Liberal position is.

    The Liberals’ “Line in the Sand” approach is ultimately self-defeating. Something the public is going to pick up on…

    Ultimately they are saying, this mission is not important enough for us to dedicate more time and energy. Because if it was critical we’d be willing to stay, even if our allies weren’t willing to contribute as much. But you can’t have it both ways. The mission can’t be critical, and we want to leave. Either this is critical, or it is not. If it isn’t critical, we should be letting our military men die over there. (I position I sense Fotis and Tribe agree with)

    To make it worse, the Liberals are saying “we’ve done our bit.” But the conclusion to this argument is that ultimately, we were only doing this to be a good team player. And then people will say… so the only reason the Liberals spent billions and sent Canadians to die in Afghanistan was to be “a good team player?” That argument is really going to come around and slap them in the face. Its uninspiring, problematic, and leads a trail of bread crumbs back to us…

    Do I think we should remain in Afghanistan. Yes, but only if we think we can play a real role in addressing the many valid concerns Fotis outlined. If the panel believes those issues cannot be addressed and that this mission is not essential to Canadian security, we really must contemplate leaving altogether.

    Indeed what really scares me is the plan to spray the Opium crop this winter. If we can’t reign the Americans in on issues like this we need to ask ourselves: Do we have enough influence on this mission to ensure the right decision necessary to ensure its success are being taken?

    If we can’t, we should leave. However, I’m not sure that question has been asked and/or answered.

    Reply
  8. David Eaves

    Hi everyone,First off, I agree with some of the concerns, I think this panel is going to have to tread carefully. They run a real risk of getting sucked into the debate vortex as opposed to staying about it.That said, having had concerns about my piece pointed out I wanted to respond to a few items:I’m not sure that we got 3 conservatives on this panel… Is Paul Tellier a conservative? He was a public servant who Mulroney made Clerk… does that make him a conservative? Wallin? I’m fairly certain she is a liberal, same with Manley. I agree there are no NDPers, but what I think unites this group is that none of them have a public position on Afghanistan (Manley’s position from 4-5 years ago is no longer valid, the situation has changed sufficiently) and all are thoughtful people. Can someone suggest a hard left candidate who isn’t categorically against the Afghan mission? One who could be persuaded that we should stay if they thought the facts supported it?The quick judgment that Manley was either duped or already agrees with Harper is an unwarranted swipe at a man who has been nothing but thoughtful and principled in his leadership. Moreover, Manley himself said that he would not be restricted by the terms Harper laid out… As for my comment about the Liberals “playing on the publics’ fears” I completely stand by it. My fear is that a real debate on Afghanistan will show how shallow the Liberal position is.The Liberals’ “Line in the Sand” approach is ultimately self-defeating. Something the public is going to pick up on…Ultimately they are saying, this mission is not important enough for us to dedicate more time and energy. Because if it was critical we’d be willing to stay, even if our allies weren’t willing to contribute as much. But you can’t have it both ways. The mission can’t be critical, and we want to leave. Either this is critical, or it is not. If it isn’t critical, we should be letting our military men die over there. (I position I sense Fotis and Tribe agree with)To make it worse, the Liberals are saying “we’ve done our bit.” But the conclusion to this argument is that ultimately, we were only doing this to be a good team player. And then people will say… so the only reason the Liberals spent billions and sent Canadians to die in Afghanistan was to be “a good team player?” That argument is really going to come around and slap them in the face. Its uninspiring, problematic, and leads a trail of bread crumbs back to us…Do I think we should remain in Afghanistan. Yes, but only if we think we can play a real role in addressing the many valid concerns Fotis outlined. If the panel believes those issues cannot be addressed and that this mission is not essential to Canadian security, we really must contemplate leaving altogether.Indeed what really scares me is the plan to spray the Opium crop this winter. If we can’t reign the Americans in on issues like this we need to ask ourselves: Do we have enough influence on this mission to ensure the right decision necessary to ensure its success are being taken?If we can’t, we should leave. However, I’m not sure that question has been asked and/or answered.

    Reply
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  11. Horst Sauerteig

    I agree with Fotis (15 Oct 2007)
    The Senlis Afghanistan Report of Nov 2007 mentions government and police corruption and the opium cultivation but except that they propose some heroin use for medical purposes their remedy of a worsening situation is to double the ISAF, including the Canadian contingent, and spend as much money again on development as on the military. We certainly could use all this money to improve our own crumbling cities and infrastructures. Why do we have to impose a western democratic system there? We do not want Sharia law here!
    If the training of a national Afghan army will take 10 years, according to Hillier, get German trainers. It took them from 1934 to 1939 to create the Wehrmacht and start WWII. If Afghanistan does not have similar war ambitions they should have a functioning army and police in less than half that time (provided the government is purged of corruption).
    WWII has shown that irregular fighters can not be defeated by regular soldiers.
    It becomes a dirty war without end having a demoralizing effect on the soldiers. The solution has to be on an Afghan political basis. The Mullahs will have to have their say, not only the American Ambassador.
    Canada should be asking the Afghan people, not Mr. Karzai, how we can help. If their suggestions are also in our own interest we should try to help, and if our soldiers are needed for this they should stay in Afghanistan. Otherwise they should come home, even if it hurts the Karzai or USA governments.

    Reply
  12. Horst Sauerteig

    I agree with Fotis (15 Oct 2007)The Senlis Afghanistan Report of Nov 2007 mentions government and police corruption and the opium cultivation but except that they propose some heroin use for medical purposes their remedy of a worsening situation is to double the ISAF, including the Canadian contingent, and spend as much money again on development as on the military. We certainly could use all this money to improve our own crumbling cities and infrastructures. Why do we have to impose a western democratic system there? We do not want Sharia law here!If the training of a national Afghan army will take 10 years, according to Hillier, get German trainers. It took them from 1934 to 1939 to create the Wehrmacht and start WWII. If Afghanistan does not have similar war ambitions they should have a functioning army and police in less than half that time (provided the government is purged of corruption). WWII has shown that irregular fighters can not be defeated by regular soldiers.It becomes a dirty war without end having a demoralizing effect on the soldiers. The solution has to be on an Afghan political basis. The Mullahs will have to have their say, not only the American Ambassador. Canada should be asking the Afghan people, not Mr. Karzai, how we can help. If their suggestions are also in our own interest we should try to help, and if our soldiers are needed for this they should stay in Afghanistan. Otherwise they should come home, even if it hurts the Karzai or USA governments.

    Reply
  13. Nick D

    Ten or so years from now, the United States will decide that it needs its army somewhere else and they will withdraw from Afghanistan, taking us out with them. At that point, the Taliban or the warlords we are fighting will return to power and the country will be forgotten for another generation. In the meantime, hundreds of Canadians and tens of thousands of Afghanis will die in this forgotten war.

    How much misery have we brought to this country already? We think that the British failed because they were imperialists and the Russians failed because they were communists, but NATO will succeed, because we are democrats. The people we are fighting, the citizens of Afghanistan, draw no distinction between the invading Europeans with their differing ideologies.

    Unfortunately, we will probably draw no lessons from our failures in Afghanistan and in ten years time or earlier we will be posting comments on some other war in some other place and how must fight and must win in whatever poor country we have invaded.

    Reply
  14. Nick D

    Ten or so years from now, the United States will decide that it needs its army somewhere else and they will withdraw from Afghanistan, taking us out with them. At that point, the Taliban or the warlords we are fighting will return to power and the country will be forgotten for another generation. In the meantime, hundreds of Canadians and tens of thousands of Afghanis will die in this forgotten war.How much misery have we brought to this country already? We think that the British failed because they were imperialists and the Russians failed because they were communists, but NATO will succeed, because we are democrats. The people we are fighting, the citizens of Afghanistan, draw no distinction between the invading Europeans with their differing ideologies.Unfortunately, we will probably draw no lessons from our failures in Afghanistan and in ten years time or earlier we will be posting comments on some other war in some other place and how must fight and must win in whatever poor country we have invaded.

    Reply
  15. MoS

    It’s interesting to read this in mid-2011.  There’s no question now that the Manley Report was a bit of bad political theatre.   Had Harper wanted a legitimate opinion on the efficacy of Canada’s mission he would have had plenty of military expertise on the panel.   It was no accident that their report overlooked virtually every relevant aspect of the Afghan war.  Harper could have done as well by asking five cab drivers at any Canadian airport.  At least the loss of life and limb wasn’t huge which is about the best that can be said for our Afghan war.

    Reply

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