Friday, March 17, 2006

The Case for the Debate on Afghanistan

As strange as it may seem to some, as a supporter of our mission in Afghanistan, I am also a supporter of a debate of that mission in Parliament. I could go into the details of how I think such a debate would actually strengthen support for that mission and our troops rather than harm it. I could tell you how I think stiffling debate and wrapping it American-style jingoism and "cut and run" strawman attacks on the opposition will actually erode suppor and divide the country.

No, I will simply point out two things:

1) The NDP has been consistent in calling for this debate since before, and indeed during, the election campaign

"If Paul Martin wants to involve Canada directly in a war in Afghanistan, then he must spell out what our goals are, what our commitments will be, and when and how we will get out.We then require a real national debate, and a
clear democratic decision taken by Parliament."

Jack Layton, Dartmouth Nova Scotia, December 8, 2005

2) Notice the first line of that press release:

"In Brussels earlier today, foreign ministers from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries agreed to expand the presence of the alliance's troops in Afghanistan. NATO proposes to deploy some 6,000 additional troops to the south of the country." (empahsis mine)

From NATO itself:

"The revised operational plan for the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) provides strategic guidance for increased NATO support to the Afghan Government in extending its authority and influence across the country." (empahsis mine)

In other words, NATO revised and updated its plans. The mission changed. The mission changed after the so-called "informational debates" conducted in Parliamentary Committee in November of 2005. It changed in the middle of an election campaign, when the House was not sitting. These changes, therefore, have not been debated in Parliament or committee, since Parliament has not sat since those changes to the mission were made.

All of which begs the questions like:

How does this affect the current mission?
Does Canada need to supply more troops?
Do our troops have the correct equipment, training and logistical support for this?
Does this change affect the long term plans? How?
Is this change a good idea?

In short, we need a debate in Parliament (not committee) . That is what happens in a free and democratic society. These are important quesions that the public at large needs answers to so they can continue to support the mission. We are, after all, still a democracy. Perhaps someone should remind the Prime Minister of that.

I think the case for our continued presence in Afghanistan is a strong one and can easily withstand debate. I think the morale of our troops on the ground is not so fragile that it cannot withstand a debate - after all, we are exercising our democratic rights which is why they are there in the first place.


At 3:13 PM, Blogger McGuire said...

Fair questions however I posted some questions of my own on my blog for people like you & Jack!:

1) Why are you only raising concerns about the nature of the Afghan mission now & not when the Liberals committed Canada to this more robust mission??

2) Contrary to your protests to the opposite, there was a take note debate in the HoC on this mission. Why were you & the vast majority of you caucus absent??

3) Canada is there under a NATO mandated, UN sanctioned mission. Why do you insist that this is somehow "Bush's war" that you & the other moonbats in your caucus like to call Afghanistan??

4) If soldiers who have served in Afghanistan say that this mission is indeed a worthwhile commitment, would it change your tune??

At 3:50 PM, Blogger Mike said...


I suggest you read my post again. I will help you.

1) As I pointed out, the NDP has been calling for this kind of debate consistently. They called for it back in 2004 and they called for it during the election. That the Liberals ignored it and you conveniently forgot about it is hardly the fault of the NDP.

2) That "take note debate" was in a committee, not in Parliament, thus members who were not part of the committee did not attend. It was also taking place in November when all the pre-election shenanigans were going on. I don't remember Stephen Harper being there either. Besides, the mission clearly changed in December 2005, AFTER the debates to which you refer. Noone has had any chance to debate those changes. Jack Layton immediate, on the same day the changes to the mission were announced, said their should be a debate.

3) What are you talking about? I full well know the madate of the mission, since I support it. About 1/2 of the NDP caucaus supports the Afghanistan mission. Which NDP caucus members have called this "Bushes War?" I will happily disagree with them. Calling people "moonbats" is immediately disqualifying you from rational discussion, but I will play for a bit more.

4) No, because I ALREADY SUPPORT THE MISSION. I made that clear in the first sentence of the post. I made it very clear in the previous post, you know, where I actually try to make a case for the mission to Afghanistan and then link the a bunch of Blogging Dippers and Progressive Bloggers that think the same thing. Do you have a reading comprehension problem?

So in short, mcguire, you are so caught up in your idiotic, pre-concieved straw-man notions of what a Prog-Blogger or a Dipper might believe, that you didn't even bother to read my post, or any other the other posts I linked two in two consecutive postings?

Ok, I'll try to make it simple for the weak-minded who can't get it:

I support the mission. I also support having a debate on the mission, because the mission has changed and since we live in a democracy, debating these things is what we do. It is totally conceivable to support both, since clearly I and a great many of the left do.

Oh, and for the number 5 on your blog - the only one play politics with this is Stephen Harper and the Conservatives - pretending there is a party who wnats to "cut and run" when no party is adviocating that. Debate does not equal "cut and run". Only Harper and the CPC are trying to use the troops to stiffle legitimate debate and to deflect attention away from the scandals like Emerson and Fortier.

At 2:58 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think blog Tattered Sleeve has it succinctly summarized and the real causes for invasion explored. No doubt the UN is supporting contraband and profits for same for export around world.

Read Tattered Sleeve and be informed of another agenda.

At 2:04 PM, Blogger Scott in Montreal said...

In the post referred to by Anonymous above, I don't think I intimated the UN is "supporting contraband and profits", and I certainly don't pretend to know and "real causes", but I invite people can drop by and draw their own conclusions.

Mike, I agree a Parliamentary debate would serve us well.

At 1:37 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

YAY, mike is posting

Overall great post, although as you know our opinions differ a little. I think debate is fine, but what do we then do if the debate turns to the anti-involvement side, which with our current setup is likely, and a vote on involvement is demanded. My faith in objectivity on all sides is somewhat tainted here, as our recent past shows all sides of our government more than happy to use various things as political wedges instead of looking at things objectively.

At 2:49 PM, Blogger kevvyd said...

Like Mike, I support the mission and a debate on the mission; not as much of a contradiction as many would like to think.

dazzlindino asks a great question - what happens if we have a debate and it gets all anti-involvement? Simple - we finish this rotation and get the hell out and consider any embarrassment and diplomatic costs the terms for not going to Parliament with this in the first place.

Just to reiterate so guys like mcguire won't get all confused - I support the mission and if I was in Parliament for a vote on it would vote accordingly. However, this is a democracy and where we send my brother and his buds to go to fight in our name is a decision we all have a right to have an informed say in.

And no, saying "no" is not cutting and running if you didn't get a chance to say "yes" in the first place. Though seeing the pictures of Harper last week I would suggest a little running wouldn't do him any harm, cut or no.

At 7:15 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

Kevvyd - You can't seriously want to turn Afghanistan into another Desert Storm, where people rallied behind the US, the US left, and the people were identified and murdered by Hussein?

At 8:07 PM, Blogger kevvyd said...

No, and that's why I support the mission, but our elected officials cannot seriously think that we are going to "back the troops" on this mission until we've said "uh, okay". And that means that they have to take the risk that we say "no way", otherwise the debate we have is mere rhetoric.

I would like to see a little more "definition" to the mission so we know what to expect, even if we prove to be wrong in that analysis because it's still early days. I have a suspicion that there is no way that Afghanistan as a nation will or can exist 10 years from now, so our focus should be on making a peaceful transfer to whatever form the country takes, and not to promise support to the Mayor of Kabul like we have.

However, the cards have not been laid out clearly on the table for us to make those orders, and the opportunity is there for us to fuck up royally; both to our detriment and to the people of Afghanistan.

At 5:50 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I would also like to see the mission defined. Hopefully that definition won't include "stabilizing" the right of fundamentalists to kill people of other religions. I'm sure you have seen the AP story today reporting on the possible death sentence for an Afghan man in Kabul (that's right "stabilized Kabul) who converted from Isalm to Christianity. Apparently that's a hanging offense in Afghanistan.

At 7:59 PM, Blogger Mike said...


That is absolutely part of the debate.

At 10:54 PM, Blogger HearHere said...

Check Hansard: There was a debate in the house in November 2005. All of this about the revisede role of our military was laid out clearly and plainly by the Liberals and numerous Liberal MP's spoke to the issue. It was a "take note" debate. Any MP could speak to it. The BLOC did not bother. The NDP did not bother.

In fact, Jack Layton was SOOOO concerned about this issue then that he did not even attend. neither did Alexa, the NDP foreign affairs critic.

This is pure unadulterated partisan politics. The NDP/BLOC/Liberal politicos still thinks we are too stupid to check their record.

The media who spin about "needing a debate" think we are too stupid to know there already was one OR the media is too lazy and stupid to check their facts and are just regurgitating NDP speaking notes to make headlines.

At 11:18 PM, Blogger Mike said...


Last time I checked a calander, December was also AFTER November.

So why is it that idiots like you have a reading comprehension problem...its only the point of the whole post.

At 8:21 PM, Blogger John Murney said...

Good column, Mike.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger CoteGauche said...

My feeling is that the terms of the debat should not why we are there, or if we should continue (on the current mission), but what should our policy be for future missions. Clearly NATO is committed long term to Afghanistan. Escallating committments can be dangerous if they are not as each new step is taken.

At what point does Canada say - "someone else needs to take on this role", or "The Afghans need to step up and take on this role".

If we are going to be there on subsequent missions, is our current defense policy well alligned with this type of committment? Are we equiped, trained and prepared for it? Can we recruit enough soldiers to replace those fatigued by mulitple tours of combat duty? These are important questions that do not undermine the current mission.

At 1:02 PM, Blogger CoteGauche said...

I meant to say:
"Escallating committments can be dangerous if they are not examined as each new step is taken.

At 8:57 PM, Blogger WeWillWin said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

At 9:00 AM, Blogger Mike said...


Who the hell are you? And I'm not "Scott".

Now, if you are too dense to follow the right link to the right blog, you don't deserve to comment, especially if it is off topic.

Now, I don,t know what your fight with Scott is, but I will not play host to your Anonalogue-esque rantings and idiocy. Get you own blog for that.

I will give you 4 hours to delete that comment and apologize to me, at which time I will delete it myself. If you continue with this, you will have every comment deleted.

The clock starts now....

At 10:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

apology refused. Your site also advocates anti-American bigotry.

At 10:50 AM, Blogger Mike said...


At 3:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hey Mike, sorry about notadhimmi. This is the first I've been to your blog, not sure why he'd be going off about me here. (actually, not exactly sure why he would have singled me out in the first place). Maybe he identified me as NDP?

Nice blog - yet another bookmark.

At 3:14 PM, Blogger Mike said...


Yeah, I figured as much. Like I said, he sounds a little like Anonalogue and about as stable.

BTW, he's in Montreal too. I can get you his IP address and his Videotron host name if you like...

Anything I can do to help you out.

Note to are never really anonymous on the internet, when someone knows what they are doing.


At 7:06 PM, Blogger DazzlinDino said...

Ruh Roh, the anonymous (ologue) strikes again.....wonders never cease.....

At 1:21 AM, Blogger WE Speak said...

Actually Mike, you need to do some more research on this subject as well as learn more about how militaries plan, prepare, train and deploy.

All that happened in NATO on the 8th of December was the endorsement of the 'revised' operational plan for Afghanistan. This change had been in the planning stages since it was first announced in May of 2005.

Revised operational plan for
NATO‚’s expanding mission in Afghanistan

On 8 December, NATO Foreign Ministers endorsed a revised Operational Plan, prepared by NATO's Military Authorities, which will guide the NATO-led International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) to assist the Afghan Government to extend and exercise its authority and influence across the country.

This plan was exactly the one that MPs were debating in the 'Take Note' debate in November of 2005.

With the provincial reconstruction team and the February 2006 deployment of a 1,500 strong task force and brigade headquarters, Canada has positioned itself to play a leadership role in southern Afghanistan and provide an enabling environment for Afghanistan's institutional and economic development.
Hon. Pierre Pettigrew (Minister of Foreign Affairs, Lib.)

This is the exact same mission that was first announced by Defence Minister Bill Graham to a joint sitting of the Defence and Foreign Affairs Committee in May of 2005.

Second, we will be deploying a Provincial Reconstruction Team to the city of Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, for a period of about eighteen months beginning in August of this year.

This team will bring together approximately 250 Canadian military personnel, civilian police, diplomats, and aid workers to provide an integrated ‘3-D effort to reinforce the authority of the Afghan government in, and around, Kandahar and to assist in the stabilization of the region. This PRT will conduct security patrols, assist local reconstruction efforts, report on governance issues, and to facilitate reforms to the security sector.

Finally, in early 2006, we will be deploying an army task force of about 700 Canadian Forces members and a brigade headquarters of approximately 300 military personnel to Kandahar for a period of between nine and twelve months. These forces will conduct operations to strengthen the security situation in the country. They will also play a key role in completing the transition from Coalition to NATO leadership in Afghanistan.

The only thing that has changed about this mission was the addition of further logistical support troops identified as necessary by Canada during the planning process.

News Release
Canadian Camp Julien in Kabul Closes

NR-05.098 - November 25, 2005

These deployments in February 2006 will bring Task Force Afghanistan in Kandahar to about 2,000 personnel. The mission of TFA will be to improve the security situation in southern Afghanistan, and play a key role in the transition from the U.S.-led multinational coalition to NATO leadership. In the southern provinces, this change is scheduled for the spring of 2006.

The only other thing that has changed is Jack Layton's postion. In the spring and fall sessions of Parliament the NDP was propping up Paul Martin's government. While the 'Take Note' debate was going on, Layton was attempting to extract further concessions from Paul Martin in order to continue propping him up. In the spring and fall sessions the NDP was virtually silent on the Afghanistan deployment. With the change in government, Jack Layton is trying to reframe the issue to his benefit. That's to be expected and it's certainly part of politics. Unfortunately for him, the facts don't back him up.

At 9:07 AM, Blogger Mike said...


Thanks for the comment and clarifications.

I would also like to point out that Jack brought this up during and election campaign, before the change in government, so that takes a little wind out of you idea that he was doing this now because the Tories are in power - he was calling for the debate long before the Tories were even considered a threat to form the government, at a time when it appeared the Liberals would still form another minority (this was before the RCMP investigation of Goodales office).

Also during that debate, which occured from 7:00 PM to Midnight on a Thursday when most MPs would be travelling back to their constituencies for the week prior to the non-confidence debate, the NDP did raise questions and issue that were not properly answered by Bill Graham.

Bill Blaikie raised concerns about what Canada will do with prisoners, since handing them over to either the US or Afghani forces where they may be tortured could violate Canadian and international law (from your link BTW):

"Mr. Chair, very early on in January 2002, Canadian soldiers did capture suspected Taliban and al Qaeda fighters and they handed them over to the U.S. forces. This was in the context of U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld having publicly refused to convene the status determination tribunals required by the third Geneva Convention of 1949 to investigate whether individuals captured are in fact prisoners of war.

In addition to some of the stories about what has happened to prisoners at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay, we have an open repudiation of the extent to which the Geneva Conventions, in the minds of the American administration, actually apply in this situation. It is one thing to say we want them to do it, but on the other hand, there is some evidence that even by their own understanding, it is not something they feel obliged to do, at least in this particular instance


"There is a perception in the country that this is somehow in keeping with our traditional sort of peacekeeping role, at least our post second world war, post Korea role in world of peacekeeping. In fact, what we are doing in Afghanistan is quite different than that. I do not think the government has been fully upfront with Canadians about the difference in the rules of engagement and the difference in the situation to which Canadian troops are being sent, not only in Kabul but particularly now in Afghanistan.

This is certainly not peacekeeping. It might be called peace building, but it is more like war fighting. It is more like fighting the Taliban and al-Qaeda and trying to maintain that state which has been established in the wake of the U.S. overthrow of the Taliban regime through the military activities of a coalition of the willing, of which Canada was a part. I do not think we have paid sufficient attention to the departure or the significance of the change in the role of the Canadian military that our activity in Afghanistan represents."

"Madam Chair, I first want to second the words of admiration that the Minister or National Defence expressed for the work that Canadian troops do in Afghanistan and have done in many other difficult situations, such as in the former Yugoslavia and many other missions that they have been sent on.

It is precisely because Canadians do such good work and it is precisely because the Canadians do their work differently that it is so important that the government pay attention to anything that might threaten the differences that other people see between the way Canadians do things and the way other forces do things."

All legitimate concerns that were not satisfactorily answered by Bill Graham and the Liberals. They have not yet been answered by Gordon O'Connor or the CPC either.

And so, during the elction, Jack Layton and the NDP called for a debate on our role in Afghanistan and how we acrry it out. And the NDP and Jack still call for that debate.

Now, remember, I am a supporter of the mission. I think we have very good reasons to be there, though supporting a government that thinks its ok to execute a man for changing religions it certainly amking the cas harder to make. But there are many unanswered questions and missinformation among the public about this mission that need to be adressed before support falls away.

And in a free and democratic society that means a proper debate with the full House, so that Canadians can get the information they need to make the correct descision. I think, as I have said many times, NOT having the debate will be worse for the mission than having it.

This is about openess, accountability and transparency. Hiding behind the "support the troops" canard doesn't cut it. Pretending that someone is call for us to "cut and run" when no one is, is "reframing the issue for political benefit" at a far higher level than Jack Layton has ever done. And the facts don't back up Stephen Harper - show me in this debate where the NDP or the Liberals have said we should pull out? Nowhere.

You may disagree but I think that Parliament can and should have a debate about major military issue like Afghanistan anytime MPs want. that's why it is called democracy. If we can't have that in Canada, exactly why are our guys dying in Afghanistan?

At 8:13 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am just worried that a debate will undermine the mission. If we pull out like some want, the soldiers have truely died in vain. I would leave the debate alone until we are asked for a new mandate by NATO

At 7:47 AM, Blogger Mike said...

How will it undermine the mission? Right now support for the mission is wavering and, like it or not, it is a political reality that it will get worse when more of our troops come home in body bags.

"If we pull out like some want, the soldiers have truely died in vain."

Who, exactly, wants to pull out? It is neither the stated policy of the NDP, Liberals or Bloc to pull out. No leader, including Jack Layton, is calling for us to pull out. There are certainly those in the blogsphere that are calling for it, but not the MPs or parties calling for a debate.

Dying in a far off land with no public support because the government refused an open, honest and democratic debate is dying in vain.

And just so you know, I support the mission.

At 11:06 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

I respect your opinion Mike. I just did a post about this very subject. You say that the NDP was vocal about the mission before it began. I honestly don't recall that but I'll take you at your word.

I truly beleive that Canadian soldiers are there right now to defend a buergeoning democracy and to provide security to people that have known nothing but war and bloodshed.

As a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces who served through UN failure after failure (Bosnia, Somalia and the Rwandan geonocide), and who has friends in Khandahar right now, I know that we are doing the right thing by being there.

My friends write and email me about what they are doing is worth the sacrifice. I wish I could be ther right by their side if I wasn't so old and busted.

At 8:12 AM, Blogger Mike said...


I hear ya. No surprise you don't remember the NDP saying ay of this, since they were pretty much ignored until they made the complaint to the RCMP about Goodale - but I have linked to the release.

Just so you know, most of the NDP caucus also supports the mission, but needs it clarified and explained to the public. I think Canadians will consent to our mission, but an honest debate will make it an informed consent.


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