News Highlights – 14 Nov 11

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 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.