Tag Archives: John Manley

The Problem with the Manley Panel on Afghanistan

Last Friday Michael Byers wrote this opinion piece entitled “Why I Said No to the Manley.”

As some of you know, I believe – with numerous reservations – that the Afghan mission is important. Moreover, I don’t always agree with Michael Byers. Although I think Canada’s work in Afghanistan should continue (under the right circumstances) I hope Byers op-ed is widely read. It is the most damaging critique of the Manley inquiry I’ve seen to date. In short, it is extremely well written and brings together all the criticisms in one place and delivers them with tremendous force.

The most stinging critique for me was about the panel’s independence. As Byers notes:

The Institute for Peace (which coordinated the Iraq Study Group in the United States) set up four working groups composed of non-governmental experts from across the political spectrum. It established a “military senior adviser panel” composed of retired rather than serving officers.

The Manley panel is inordinately dependent on the government. Its six-person secretariat is made up of some of the same officials who have been overseeing the Afghanistan mission. Prominent among these are David Mulroney, the current director of the government’s Afghanistan Task Force, Sanjeev Chowdhury, the former director of the Afghanistan Task Force, and Col. Mike Cessford, the former deputy commander of the Canadian mission.

Byers is bang on. There is something deeply problematic about having the same people who worked on Afghanistan and helped shape the strategy and plan, reviewing themselves to determine if they’ve taken the right course of action and if the country should continue along the same course. This is akin to allowing students to grade their own work and determine if they should continue on to the next level. While it is possibly they will conduct an objective review, the incentives, temptations and interests (for example, one’s public service career could be on the line) create powerful doubts about there ability to do so.

This is neither in the public’s interest, the Afghan mission’s interests, or our soldiers interest.

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.