Thursday, February 21, 2008

Harper Offers Revised Afghanistan Mission Motion

Keeping Canadian troops in Afghanistan until 2011 is pretty much a done deal now that Harper has revised the government's previous motion to compromise with the Liberals' position.

Here's where things stand now:

- the newly proposed end date for Canada's mission is July, 2011. The Conservative motion had originally stated the mission would conclude at the end of 2011 while the Liberals had suggested February, 2011 (with troops withdrawn by July, 2011). Technically, in terms of the completion of troop withdrawals from Kandahar, that is now projected to be completed by December, 2011.

- "It also says the mission will focus on training and reconstruction, as the Liberals have demanded." However, avoiding combat in a place like Kandahar seems virtually impossible. During Harper's press conference, he redefined peacekeeping as "imposing peace" (by force).

- Harper announced a proposed annual increase in the defence budget and said that Canada's government will now purchase or lease the military equipment (drones and helicopters) it had originally requested from other NATO countries in order to continue the mission.

- on the issue of the detainees, via the Globe & Mail:

The motion does not adopt the Liberal language on detainees, which would require continued suspension of transfers. Instead it commits to "meeting the highest NATO and international standards."

That's not good enough but I'm sure the Liberals will sacrifice their principles to support this motion anyway.

Harper made his announcement at the Conference of Defence Associations on Thursday. And, as the CBC noted, "a prime minister hasn't appeared before them since the 1970s." So why the sudden change? As Amir Attaran revealed in Thursday's G&M:

he Department of National Defence is intruding on academic financing, spending millions of dollars sponsoring think tanks and scholars to offer up agreeable commentary. When these intellectuals comment, they are not always quick to disclose that the military funds them.

Take the Conference of Defence Associations, a think tank that got $500,000 from DND last year. That money comes not with strings, but with an entire leash. A current DND policy reads that to receive money, CDA must "support activities that give evidence of contributing to Canada's national policies." Apparently, if CDA's activities were neutral and unbiased, or even-handedly supported and questioned government policy, DND would refuse to pay!

Attendees at CDA's annual conference, which begins today, will hear speeches by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Defence Minister Peter MacKay and MP Laurie Hawn, a retired lieutenant-colonel. Curiously for an organization that calls itself "non-partisan," no opposition politicians will speak. The agenda includes a session titled "Contemporary Security Concerns" -- a discussion on Russia and Iran.

Now consider: If the Prime Minister staged a government event and declared Russia and Iran "contemporary security concerns," some Canadians would be made uneasy by the signal that sends. But if the government finances CDA, which stages an "independent" event where the Prime Minister rubs shoulders with military officers, weapons company executives and intellectuals addressing those same security concerns, it might just pass without Canadians noticing. CDA gets away with shilling because it is so discreet. Nowhere on its website does CDA disclose its half-million dollars of DND sponsorship.

So, while Harper pretends that he's getting more honest with Canadians about the Afghanistan mission - as he was urged to by the Manley report conclusions - he's busy hobnobbing with the titans of the defence industry to assure them that big bucks will still be flowing their way until 2011 - while paying their association at the same time for pumping out proposals to defend him in the form of "op-eds to the press". Nice work if you can get it.

But it doesn't end there, as Attaran points out. Several universities are also receiving hundreds of thousands of dollars to express favourable opinions on DND operations. These types of tactics are straight out of the Pentagon's psyops playbook and ought to be a cause for major concern to Canadians.

So, what will happen now that the Liberals have received this compromise motion? I have no doubt they will pass it through parliament with only the necessary grumblings while the rest of us will be fed happy shiny stories from the war front for the next 3 years so we can sleep at nite with assuaged consciences knowing that we are spreading freedom and democracy (pay no attention to all of those civilians NATO is killing over there). Meanwhile, the US powers that be won't threaten us with economic extinction if we don't play along, Canada will have saved NATO, and those defence contractors and opinion-shapers whose pockets are being filled with bucket loads of taxpayer money will be laughing all the way to the bank. But fear not, this is all about the troops and the Afghanistan people, right?



According to the latest Strategic Counsel poll, the Conservatives now have the support of 39% of Canadians while Liberal support has dropped to 27%, so there's no way the Liberals (unless they're completely foolish) would risk trying to bring down the government now over the Afghanistan mission or the budget. After health care, the Afghanistan mission is currently the second priority of Canadians. When it comes to who Canadians think is "best able to manage the war", Conservatives sit at 36% and the Liberals are at 21%.

The Harris-Decima numbers are not quite as devastating for the Liberals:

A Harris-Decima poll released to the Canadian Press late on Wednesday put the Conservatives at 35 percent, six points higher than a survey done by the same firm at the end of January. The Liberals were up one point to 33 percent.

Federal Liberals are backing the wrong horse

Canadian TV Network Seeks Release of Afghan

Afghan farmers earn about $1 bln from opium- IMF

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