Thursday, December 11, 2008

Canada Will Not Stay in Afghanistan Beyond 2011

Secretary of Defense Robert Gates visited the Canadian armed forces base in the Kandahar region of Afghanistan today. Gates said of Canadian soldiers, "They have been outstanding partners for us, and all I can tell you, as has been the case for a very long time, the longer we can have Canadian soldiers as our partners, the better it is."

Of course, as the Secretary of Defense is well aware Canada's Parliament voted to extend the mission from 2009 to 2011 earlier this year in the face of strong opposition to Canada's participation in Afghanistan. A spokesman for Peter MacKay, Canada's Minister of Defense, reaffirmed the Canadian combat mission in Kandahar will not be extended beyond 2011.

However, given President-elect Obama's desire to intensify efforts in Afghanistan I wonder if Gates remarks are the first salvo to put pressure on Canada to remain beyond 2011. I have a funny feeling Obama might at some point suggest Canada isn't pulling its weight in an effort to pressure it into remaining just as he had questioned the efforts of Australian soldiers in Iraq. For a guy who wants to improve America's image in the world he sure has a way of being disrespectful to our most trusted allies. Of course, there are NATO allies such as Germany have not been pulling their weight in Afghanistan except perhaps to say that theyhave been gaining it, at least according to a study recently presented to the German Parliament. (,1518,539202,00.html)

An interesting wrinkle in all this will be what happens if the Liberal-NDP coalition comes to power next month. On one hand, new Liberal Party leader Michael Ignatieff (unlike his predecessor Stephane Dion) supports Canadian efforts in Afghanistan and as I stated in my Ignatieff article in 2006 he brought aboard two dozen Liberal MPs to support the Conservative government in extending the mission to 2009 before it was extended again this year. Prime Minister Stephen Harper crossed the floor to shake Ignatieff's hand for his efforts. Ignatieff is also close to Obama foreign policy adviser Samantha Power from his days at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government.

On the other hand, a majority of Liberal MPs oppose the mission in Afghanistan. The NDP has never supported the mission to Afghanistan. In fact, NDP leader Jack Layton has publicly called for direct negotiations with the Taliban without preconditions. Forget about the Bloc Quebecois and for that matter Quebec. La Belle Province was anti-war in WWI, WWII, Korea, the Gulf War and again in Afghanistan. If Ignatieff alienates Quebec he can kiss being Prime Minister goodbye. Of course, it depends on how strongly Ignatieff supports the mission in Afghanistan. Remember he once vigorously supported the War in Iraq before he vigorously opposed it. I sense that domestic political considerations would outweigh pressure from the United States even with Barack Obama at the helm.

But whether it is the Tories or a Liberal-NDP coalition in charge of Canada I believe if the incoming Obama Administration continues to pressure Canada to remain in Afghanistan beyond 2011 that Canada-U.S. relations will be at their lowest point in nearly half a century.

No comments: