The Mission Messaging Mambo Continues…

Well, it’s pretty clear what the CDS is working on:

“The parliamentary motion directs that it will be the end of the military mission in July of 2011. I mean those are the words that are there.”

And what’s the latest the politicians have to say?  This from CBC.ca (with a h/t to Mark at The Torch for spotting it quicker than me):

MacKay said Natynczyk’s interpretation of Parliament’s instructions to withdraw from Kandhar was “reflective of what everyone from the prime minister on down views as those instructions.”

But MacKay was unclear on what direction the mission would take after 2011 and whether it would involve regions of the country outside of Kandahar.

“The military mission is changing. It is obviously transitioning at 2011 to emphasis on reconstruction, development, things that we are doing now but we’ll be able to do more,” he said.

“And clearly, there is discussion as to how this is going to take place. We’re tasked with that now.”

Translation:  we’re preparing to pull the stuff we have in Afghanistan out, but we’re still sorting out if we might need them again.

Still we wait…

Mission Messaging Mambo: Post-2011 Depends….

…. on what Obama decides, and how the run-off election goes, according to Defence Minister Peter MacKay speaking to the Toronto Star:

“Canada is waiting for an election decision in Afghanistan and a U.S. strategy review before setting a course for a post-2011 mission in the country.  Defence Minister Peter MacKay said a run-off presidential election set for Nov. 7 and a decision on sending more American troops to the country expected around the same time must occur before the government pronounces on what future role Canada will play in Afghanistan.”

In other words, still we wait in the latest steps in the Mission Messaging Mambo.

Latest Steps in Mission Messaging Mambo ©

Oh my, it doesn’t get clearer quickly, does it?

The latest, from the PM speaking to Global News in Edmonton:

“We are very much planning to have the military mission end in 2011 …. The plan is to move to a civilian, development, humanitarian mission.”

Does this mean the PM’s spokesperson mispoke, then?  If he did, I think we would have heard about it pretty damned quickly.

OK, this is getting old.  With all the reporters asking people about this, you’d think we’d be at least starting to get a bit closer to some clarification, no?

How’s this for a clarifying question to get answered:

Will there be any Canadian Forces troops left in Afghanistan after 2011?  If so, what will they be doing?

Will someone please ask these questions and put us out of our misery?  Please?  Would that be so hard?

Then again, there could be one reason or another why we’re NOT getting clarity on this issue.

UPDATE:  Gotta agree with Mark’s take at The Torch.

Yet ANOTHER Motive Behind the Mission Messaging Mambo ©

You’ve seen my read (as well as another more finessed, tug-of-war model) of why the government’s messaging on the future mission in Afghanistan has been so Jello-like.

In addition to thanking Brian Platt at the Canada-Afghanistan Blog for the mention, I have to share his even shorter, sweeter assessment of the Mission Messaging Mambo:

Canadian politicians are feverishly avoiding as many details as they can. Vagueness means votes–or so their demented thinking goes.

Good one.

An Interesting Read of the Mission Messaging Mambo ©

You’ve seen the tea leaf reading here and elsewhere about how Canadian politicians have been weasel-wording their way around what the task will be in Afghanistan post-2011.

I chalk it up to two things:

1)  Nobody knows exactly what the new, improved mission will look like.

2)  Poor communications about what little is known.

E.R. Campbell over at Milnet.ca has an interesting, maybe more elegant theory (emphasis his):

I’m guessing we are watching, in all these contradictory statements from official Ottawa, a few of the symptoms of a very intense battle for the foreign policy soul of the Conservative Party of Canada.

On one side, on what I will call the activist/internationalist (or, maybe, the Liberal St Laurent/Martin) side are, I think, Peter MacKay and a few Alberta and Ontario MPs including e.g. Jim Prentice, Jim Flaherty and Peter Kent. On the other side, on what I will call the domestic/isolationist side are Stephen Harper and his closest political advisors.

The activist/internationalist position is fairly easy to describe, and Paul Martin did so, quite well, in the link above.

The domestic/isolationist view is a bit more complex: at its roots it says, “Trudeau was on the right track; we have too many problems of our own; we cannot afford to go swaning about, all over the world, helping or fighting all and sundry. We are not going to back away, completely, but we are going to focus on our own backyard, basically the Caribbean. And we will be joining with the Americans, in military mission, now and again, when helping them advances our national interests. Our strengths are economic and we must play to that strength by leading in e.g. the G-20. We are not a significant military power and Canadians do not want to be a military power. We recognize the need for small, but very flexible and effective armed forces and we will spend what is necessary to have them. We will, occasionally, use our military ‘tools,’ but only when other means of advancing our national interests fail.”

It is not clear to me that either side has the political capital to win its position. This war, which has, from day one, been seen as an American war, into which we were dragged – how soon we forget the national mood in the late summer of 2001 – has damaged the activist/internationalist side, but it has done so without strengthening Harper’s position. Canadians remain, very broadly but not too deeply, wedded to a variant of the St Laurent/Martin, Liberal position, but they want to be Pearsonian “helpful fixers” without paying the price in lives or treasure that Mike Pearson so clearly foresaw.

Political food for thought.

CF Troops to Train (Not Mentor) Afghan Forces

If CBC.ca correctly quoted Prime Minister’s Office spokesperson Dimitri Soudas, there’s more detail here about the post-2011 mission (highlights mine):

Dimitri Soudas, a spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office, told CBC News there will be Canadian troops in Afghanistan after parliament’s mandate expires, though “exponentially fewer.”

“I would caution you against saying dozens or hundreds or a thousand, there will be exponentially fewer,” Soudas said.

“Whether there’s 20 or 60 or 80 or 100, they will not be conducting combat operations.”

Soudas said the government would shift focus from combat operations and in-the-field training of Afghan police and soldiers to a development and reconstruction mission.

The military’s training mission will continue, but it will take place in the safety of protected facilities, he said.

The combat-mentoring role currently undertaken by Canadian troops would end, according to the plan.

“You can do training in training facilities,” Soudas said. “And when I say training, I mean Canadian soldiers will not be doing combat training of Afghan soldiers in harm’s way.

I’m certain our troops will do a first-rate job delivering any training, no matter where it’s done, but what will this do to the relationship between the trainee and the trainer?

How about the potential for Taliban Info-Machine messaging to the effect of, “they come to help, and send you to die?”

I’d love anyone who’s been there, done that to share their ideas on this one.

The “Mission Messaging Mambo”© Continues

More speculation fodder from Prime Minister Stephen Harper, speaking to reporters about the future of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan, from the Agence France-Presse wire service:

Prime Minister Stephen Harper reaffirmed Friday that Canadian combat troops would leave Afghanistan in 2011, but vowed his country would then focus on boosting development and humanitarian efforts.

“Canada’s military mission in Afghanistan will end in 2011,” Harper told reporters. “And we will not be extending the military mission, period.

By the time the deadline is reached, “we will have been in Afghanistan longer than we will have been in both world wars combined,” added the prime minister.

I think it is time to transform that mission towards development and humanitarian efforts. That’s what we’re already doing.”

So, if AFP quoted the PM correctly, the PM’s words suggest zero CF troops in Afghanistan post 2011.

At least for now, anyway.

CAN Foreign Affairs Minister Double-Messaging on Afghanistan

I know the details of Canada’s post-2011 mission are still being sorted  out.

Mixed messaging by Ministers of the Crown during Question Period (QP), the most public (and probably least representative) portion of House of Commons business, doesn’t help, though.

This from Hansard during QP 8 Oct 09 (highlights mine):

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, my question is for the Minister of Foreign Affairs.  There is some confusion on the government’s position with respect to the military mission in Afghanistan post-2011. For the second time in as many weeks the Minister of National Defence has talked about this. I would like to get the minister again on record. I tried to get him last week on this question.  Could the minister confirm that the Canadian military mission in Afghanistan will be over in 2011, yes or no?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, it seems the only person who is confused is the hon. member on the other side of the House.  Let me be perfectly clear. Canada will end its military mission in 2011. Do I have to repeat it to him in French?

Hon. Bob Rae (Toronto Centre, Lib.):  Mr. Speaker, I am not the one he needs to repeat it to. He needs to repeat it to his colleague, the Minister of National Defence. The problem is that when he speaks in committee or elsewhere, he says the exact opposite, and that is important.  I will ask the minister the question again. How will the government ensure that the House of Commons is consulted before any changes are made to the military mission in Afghanistan?

Hon. Lawrence Cannon (Minister of Foreign Affairs, CPC):  Mr. Speaker, let me quote the hon. member who said, this week, in the House:

I do not believe that Canada’s commitment to Afghanistan can, in any way, shape or form, end in 2011. I do not believe our commitment to the region can end in 2011.

Then he went on to talk about development.

Our position is clear. The military combat mission will end in 2011.

Funny what a difference that one word “combat” can make…

More Mission Tea Leaf Reading

So far, it’s still only initial versions of stories from CBC.ca and the Canadian Press, but things are getting a touch clearer (but only a touch) about Canada’s future mission in Afghanistan:

Defence Minister Peter MacKay told the House of Commons defence committee today Canada will not be leaving Afghanistan even after the combat mission expires in 2011. The role will change from war-fighting to a development and training role. MacKay says the Tory government will respect a motion passed in March 2008 to withdraw the country’s battle group until a new motion is tabled in the Commons …. MacKay side-stepped the question of how Canada will carry out a development mission with the Taliban insurgency continuing to rage throughout many parts of southern Afghanistan.

Another tidbit from the CP article:

His remarks echo Conservative MP Deepak Obhrai, the parliamentary secretary to the foreign affairs minister, who told the Commons in an impromptu debate on Afghanistan earlier in the week that the future mission will be brought before MPs.

led me to hunt through Hansard for a few snippets on these tea leaves.  Here’s some of what Hansard says Mr. Obhrai said during debate in Monday’s session in the House of Commons (32 page 1.3 MB PDF of the Afghanistan portion of the debate also downloadable from here):

Mr. Speaker, I can tell the hon. member that when the mission is debated after 2011 by Parliament, he …. will have an opportunity to fully participate in that debate. The (Special) committee (on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan) will participate. Canadians will participate to indicate how the mission after 2011 should go, while taking into account the strong values and past contributions.  I can tell the hon. member that we are looking forward to that debate.

Notwithstanding the word-for-word implication that the debate will happen post-2011 (I’ll chalk it up to not having a grasp of every single word during debate in the house), it appears, indeed, that it will come back to Parliament.

It’ll be interesting to see how “Canadians will participate to indicate how the mission after 2011 should go”.

A sidebar:  The most worrisome part of the 5 Oct 09 exchange in the House is when the Mr. O said this to an NDP colleague about the job being done in Afghanistan:

This is not a war. We are providing a secure environment in a country in which there was a complete loss of security. Let us get it very clear so the NDP can understand what a secure environment is and what a war is.  A war is between two nations; a war is between two parties. There are not two parties there. This is a different kind of war. We are facing a terrorist organization that does not respect any rules of engagement.

So, it’s not a war, but it’s a different kind of war?

Someone’s FINALLY Looking Into Canada’s Next Steps in AFG

Ever heard of the House of Commons Special Committee on the Canadian Mission in Afghanistan?  The over-simplified description of the group is a team of MPs who meet to discuss Afghanistan stuff.

I just checked out the minutes from their 30 Sept 09 meeting, and looky what they’ve agreed to (highlights mine):

“1. That meetings of the Special Committee on Canada’s mission to Afghanistan now take place on Wednesday afternoons from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m., in order to accommodate the changes made to the rotational committee schedule covering the period from September 2009 to December 2009.

2. That the Special Committee review Canada’s development effort in Afghanistan with a focus on the six priorities, political reconciliation and the status of women; and that members of the Committee submit to the Clerk, as soon as possible, their lists of suggested witnesses for the study.

3. That all members of the Special Committee travel in 2009 to Afghanistan and Pakistan, and possibly to Europe; and that the Clerk, in consultation with the Chair, prepare a travel budget for approval by the Committee and the Board of Internal Economy prior to seeking permission to travel from the House of Commons.

4. That the Hon. Stockwell Day, Minister of International Trade and Minister for the Asia-Pacific Gateway, be invited to appear before the Special Committee on Wednesday, October 7, 2009, for the full two-hour meeting, in order to discuss the fifth quarterly report on Canada’s Engagement in Afghanistan that was presented in the House of Commons on Tuesday, September 15, 2009.”

My initial observations:

1)  Good to see SOMEONE at least looking like they’re thinking about next steps down the road.

2)  Looks like a lot of Air Miles to be racked up before the end of December for the august Special Committee members.

3)  It’ll be interesting to see what the final list o’ witnesses will look like.

4)  I note the Minister of Defence hasn’t been invited to talk about the latest quarterly update, and that the Special Committee is reviewing  “Canada’s development effort in Afghanistan” – more signs of the civilianization of the mission.

More, as I find it…

UPDATE: Here’s a bit more about what’s being said around the House of Commons about the mission.