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Afghanistan debate: the odd angry shot

I caught some of the take-notes debate on the Canadian mission in Afghanistan last night and was frankly really impressed with Jack Layton and not very impressed with the Defense Minister. I have mentioned in conversation with friends and likely in these pages that Layton's tendancy to play for the cameras doesn't sit well with me, but last night he seemed to be the only leader to say something other than "I support the troops, and oh look, a flag to wave!"

I particularly liked the little exchange, covered in today's G&M article linked above, in which Layton asked a series of questions of Chief Defense Lobbyist Minister Gordon O'Connor that O'Connor himself asked in the fall:
What are the goals and objectives of the mission and how do they meet our foreign-policy objectives? What is the mandate, what is the defined concept of operations, what is the effective command and control structure, what are the rules of engagement?

These are good questions, regardless of who asks them, and they were not answered, instead they were responded to with snipes about his "support of the troops". To quote directly from Hansard, O'Connor's response (page 284 of the Hansard PDF (page 84 in the PDF) - sorry, the HTML is not up as I write this (update - html link here)) to these questions and the others asked by Layton:

I wonder if the hon. member basically supports our effort in Afghanistan or not, because it is not clear to me. That is the party that opposed our being in NATO until a few years ago.

How low! Instead of answering good questions with a substantive answer, or even a clever evasion, he responds by challenging his patriotism! I won't say what that reminds me of because I'm sick of seeing arbusto's name in print. It is unsurprising, but a shame nonetheless, that the courage to ask questions in Opposition is not often met with the same to answer them when in government.

In fairness, I did not watch all of the proceedings, but I do not feel any more assured that our elected officials really know what is going on in Afghanistan and that they do not have enough information to make informed decisions. It's a good thing decisions aren't being asked of them, I suppose.

Is this the new governanment strategy for Canada - keep 'em dumb and then complain that they're too dumb to make important decisions?

[Updated with html link to Hansard]

First thing: Kev there seems to be a bit of a problem with your comments section. If my previous response comes up please delete it. No point in having two that say the same thing.Second thing:I've said it before, and in the hopes of winding up any conservative knuckle-draggers who happen to wander by I'll say it again. Any politician who waves a flag and starts emoting about his or her support for the military has their own image in mind above any other consideration, regardless of their party.In fact I trust the conservatives less than the others because if past conservative govt's have shown us anything, it's that they'll cheerfully ignore the military and rape its budget if that's what will get them up a point in the opinion polls. The defense ministers comments during the debate did nothing to answer the questions, which as Kev points out he's already asked, but seemed instead to be intended to attack the patriotism of the asker.If this pointless debate(with lots of flag waving on all sides) was intended to do anything other than defend the conservative party from changes to the status quo could someone please tell me what that might be. Because to me it really looks like they think that there's things about our involvment in Afghanistan they'd prefer weren't brought up and I'd like to be convinced otherwise.

The problem seems to have sorted itself out. Feel free to delete whichever response you think has the least vitriol.

Hey Doug,

Thanks for the comments. I deleted your comment as requested. It just takes a little while sometimes for the comments to go online. And sometimes Blogspot, the site that kindly hosts this little endeavour, has to go offline for maintenance. Not sure if that happened this morning or not.

I didn't watch the debate, sadly, but I did flop by at one opportune moment. Layton asked that there be a vote on the role, at one point. It's in the Hansard Kevvy linked, page 85.

Hon. Jack Layton: Mr. Chair, first, I will say that there should never be a requirement for unanimity. After all, there are some legislatures, so called, where unanimity is required. I do not call those democracies.

However, there was a serious proposition put before us in that question. Let me phrase it this way with two answers. First, parties presented themselves in an election not too long ago. The majority of Canadians voted for parties who said that we should vote on the deployment of troops. In fact, the seats in the House are now held in the majority by parties that told Canadians that if elected, they would make sure there were votes before we sent our troops into harm's way.
Unfortunately, that promise is being broken by the government.

Our request, respectfully placed earlier in question period and repeated again that we have a vote on future deployment beyond the agreements we have already made up to February 2007 was not only rejected, but it was suggested that anyone who would even propose such an idea was somehow not backing our troops. That to me is not an acceptable approach here. In a mature democracy, one ought to be able to have a discussion and a vote
about the deployment of our service personnel, the investment of those resources and the initiative that represents that Canada is taking in the world.


One main question that went unanswered is this: What is the main role of the Canadian military in Afghanistan? Is it the protection of a civil society there or a purely combat role, or some mixture of the two? That question was never really answered, probably because nobody knows the answer. Nobody outside the Pentagon, anyway. ;)

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