Friday, August 11, 2006

Harper's certainty worrying Canadians

VICTORIA - Maybe decisiveness isn’t such a great thing in a prime minister.
Critics complained Jean Chretien put off decisions until they didn’t matter anymore and Paul Martin was dubbed ‘Mr. Dithers’ for his indecision.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper offered a new style, quick, decisive, with no wavering.
It worked for a while, when  the issues were simple. But the action-man pose is starting look like a liability as more complex issues emerge, like Canada’s role in Afghanistan,  the current fighting in the Mideast or even the softwood lumber dispute.
Decisiveness and certainty are generally seen as good things in leaders. But in Harper’s case, they seem to be making many Canadians nervous. It’s not even that they disagree with his positions. But they’re worried that Harper’s certainty reflects a mind closed to reasonable self-doubt.
Harper’s attempts to rally support for the Afghanistan mission highlighted the problem. Canadians don’t “cut and run,” he told troops in Kandahar in March, choosing to echo George Bush. "It's not my way, and it's not the Canadian way. We don't make a commitment and then run away at the first sign of trouble,” Harper said. “We don't and we will not, as long as I'm leading this country.”
But Canadians do cut and run. The term comes from naval history, when ships facing a surprise attack would cut their anchor lines to escape quickly. It’s a common-sense response to imminent danger when fighting makes no sense.
Even Canadians who support the mission in Afghanistan - and there are many - want a thoughtful, worried approach from the prime minister, not slogans.
Our lives aren’t simple. Every day, we fret about choices at work, or our children. Living is complicated and we only rarely sure if we’ve done the right thing. (Or I am, anyway.)
Our elected leaders face choices that should be even more daunting, ones that affect the lives and well-being of millions. We want our leaders to have difficulty with them, to struggle with uncertainty.
But Harper isn’t showing uncertainty or doubt, even on the most difficult decisions. Canada has joined the U.S. in arguing that Israel should be given time to eliminate Hezbollah before any ceasefire is imposed in Lebanon.
That’s defensible. Hezbollah is a political movement and military force, with strong support in Lebanon and backing from Iran and other Arab countries. It is committed to the destruction of Israel and wages a small, deadly war. A delayed ceasefire was supposed to give Israel time to invade Lebanon and wipe out Hezbollah. That would save Israel from future attacks.
But there’s a cost. Israel has bombed roads and buildings in Lebanon; people with no connection with Hezbollah have been killed; civilians have been warned that staying in their homes may mean death.
There are endless arguments about the dispute. But for now, for Canada, the problem is deciding how to balance the costs of each day’s fighting against the hope for future peace. How many families should we allow to die in the interests of long-term stability? The toll so far is about 1,000 Lebanese, and 100 Israelis.
Harper hasn’t really blazed any new policy directions. Past governments may have been more equivocal, but ultimately would not have taken a much different position on the conflict. (Not that Canada’s view much matters.)
What’s mostly different is Harper’s tone, his certainty in supporting the war and accepting the civilian deaths as necessary for a greater good.
Many Canadians would ultimately accept that analysis. But they would struggle with it. They would expect their prime minister, faced with the real life-and-death decisions, to struggle as well. It should not be clear cut or easy to decide on a course that means death and destruction for civilians.
Certainty and decisiveness are over-rated. Canadians know the world is a mass of greys, not black and white. We know our leaders have to make hard decisions.
But we want them to struggle with those decisions, just as we would.
Footnote: Harper's approach is not playing well. A Strategic Counsel poll found 45 per cent of Canadians disagreed with Harper’s support for allowing the conflict to continue until Israel achieves its military objectives. About one-third supported his position. Three-quarters of those surveyed said Canada should be neutral in the dispute.


Anonymous said...

Harper didn't bat an eye when a Canadian family was massacred by the IDF (Israel Defence Forces) in Lebanon.

Nor did he raise a whisper when the IDF precision bombed a UN observation post killing four UN observers (including a Canadian) except to say the soldiers shouldn't have been there - way to support the troops Steve!

When evidence of IDF precision targetting of Red Crescent / Red Cross ambulances surfaced - where was Steve? Talking about the 'fog of war' and 'collateral damage'.

Most Canadians support Israel's right to defend itself. We do NOT support the repeated targetting of civilians with precision guided weapons.

We expect our leaders to stand up and rally against any nation that targets our citizens... not the parroting of Steve's American Idol.

Anonymous said...

A simple way to get rid of a simple person who seems to decide things with little long term thought on the outcome of his media clip. As soon as possible turf him from office. He is there by a thread as it is. People are dying , Canadians and others who simply don't deserve such treatment with the support of our elected official. If George backs the Israeli's in their killing of civilains, blowing up bridges, and roads and a few ambulances, well Steve things that quite OK. The obvious fact that with the infrastructure gone the citizens can't be fed or get serious wounds fixed. Gosh a bit of cllateral damage( killing kids) is just Isreal's way of defending them sleves well inside another countries borders.
Maybe " Steve " is trying to show us he is like Trudeau during the FLQ event How far will you go PET. "Just watch me" It sold well. Steve's attempt isn't doing as well.

Anonymous said...

Steve was on the news today telling us the position he took on the Isreali invasion is still the right thing. Should be good news for the folks who will be killed in the next two days as Isreal continues to storm into Lebanon.
His buddy George will be pleased as the Isralies will now have to buy a lot more things like ammunition and of course more smart bombs. The world was upset when Hitler got a lot of training in the war in Spain. Lots of equipment paid for by the US gets tested, somewhere else.
War is hell no doubt about it. As the death toll rises in the reconstruction of Afganistan maybe Steve and his External Affairs guy Peter, not that often heard guy ,might start working on a exit stragegy but not until the next polls are in.

wstander said...

Why are we in Afghanistan? The WTC was attacked by Saudi-Arabians. I was opposed to the American invasion of Afghanistan as a response to 911 before the Americans started the bombing. At that time I knew very little about al Qaeda. After I read about al Qaeda I conceded there was a case to be made for a response that would have meant sending forces into Afghanistan to capture bin Laden and destroy the al Qaeda training camps, but I never thought that ridding Afghanistan of the Taliban and establishing a friendly government was a realistc, or even desirable goal given the Russian experience in particular, and the idea of respect for national sovereignty in general. As we know, the invasion was botched- too many bombs and too few American soldiers on the ground. bin Laden escaped and is still free. Americans set the place on fire, and have now left it to the rest of the world to try and put it out. Canadians appear to be bearing the greatest burden. We have had 26 fatalities in Afghanistan. By comparison Australia, which got so much mileage out of signing up with Bush as part of the 'coalition of the willing' has suffered 1 (one) fatality in Afganistan and 2 (two) fatalities in Iraq to date.

Anonymous said...

Air bombing is rather easy if the ones you are bombing have no real means of shooting you down. So by bombing a few countries basically back to almost the stone age makes you look powerful but usually doesn't solve the reasons you got there in the first place.The jury is still out on carpet bombing in the second world war. It's supposed to make the folks on the group lose the desire to carry on. End result was a lot of dealths , lots of infrastrucure to be rebuilt. WE obviuosly havn't changed our collective mind set about ways to solve problems.Lebanon is just the latest casualty of the theory that it will resolve things without having too many of our own troops killed. If the folks who set up these operations didn't expect some retaliation, they were dreaming. So take over three or four aircaft and , take some basic flying lessons in the good old USA and see if you can keep it in the air long enough to hit something big. If that doesn't work pick up some old weapon stores littering the roads and blow yourself up along with the hated westerners. The brits stopped an attempt to go back to killing amercians by blowing up aircraft, not by jumping in with guns blazing but by some on the ground intelligence gathering. A good article in the New York Times today, compaired the Brit methods and the US ones, and as a number of terrorist specialists in the article stated, show the differences between methods of the two countries law enforcement agencies.

xaviero said...

Harper has created this image of 'decisive' yet he is not above reading the polls to tilt for his end goal. Take the code dialogue he gave to the Quebec interviewer on the Middle East. He tempered his pronounced 'measured' remark, but virtually restated it in the english media. Take how he backtracked on the 'banning media from the repatriation of Afghanistan casualties', where he essentially blamed someone else for a 'misunderstanding' and then laid a little slap to one father of a dead soldier who made a remark at her funeral.
His direction on foreign policy has taken the air out of his support in polls, yet as we see from the US, questionable judgement abroad is no where near as damaging as dumb decisions at home (where Bush has at least mastered the mystique of hiding the bad news -- record deficits -- behind a revolving door of phony or inflated issues).
Decisiveness is one thing, but appearing to bond our reputation abroad to one of the most despised american administrations is political suicide. I expect Harper to try and deflect his red-white-and-blueness by making more faux pronouncements like 'protecting our sovereignty in the north' and 'solving the provincial fiscal gap'... But don't forget, he's already quietly replaced one of his 'five priorities', while muddying up his 'accountability' one. It's what he will do without the constraints of a minority that is worrying some people, including some who voted for him.

George S said...


Why are we in Afghanistan? Because the world community decided that we had to overthrow a rogue regime that was not only oppressing its own citizens, but was allowing others to use its territory as a base to launch attacks on other countries. Several of the 9/11 bombers were Saudi Arabian, but they were trained by Al Qaeda in Afghanistan. Al Qaeda was also a significant component of the Taliban government. Frankly, I was disgusted by the way the world turned a blind eye to the human rights abuses in Afghanistan under the Taliban in the 1990s, which was apparently justified by some simple-minded notion of moral relativism. Under UN policies, though, countries generally don't meddle in the "internal affairs" of other countries. However, when the problems within a country spill across borders, particularly in the form of a premeditated attack on another country (i.e., an act of war), it's pretty clear that something has to be done. You raise the issue of national self-determination: I'll support that when a people have a genuine opportunity to freely choose their government, not when it's thrust upon a war-weary population by a group of religious fanatics. The Soviet experience during the 1980s is a rather flawed interpretation as well: they were seeking to impose a Communist dictatorship, not support a democratically-elected government.

wstander said...

George S- I won't waste the board's time and space going through a detailed rebuttal, but suffice it to say the US bombing of Afghanistan was a unilateral decison of the US- not authorized by the world community. On the other hand, the UN did not, as you say, "turn a blind eye" to the Taliban abuses, but did authorize three resolutions condemning the Taliban between Oct. 1999 and Sept 2001. And it is dishonest to suggest that the term "several" does justice to the fact that 15 of the 19 911 terrorists were Saudis. As to your faith based opinions- you are entitled to them, but Us- good, Them- evil: and "Dictatorship" bad,- "Democracy" (whatever you mean by that) good: is just that- an opinion, not an argument. I happen to prefer democracy to dictatorship- or divine right of kings-, or whatever. But democracy elevated Hitler to the position of German chancellor, and torure in Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib is no less evil than the torture in the Soviet gulags just because it is administered by a democracy, so democracy is not without its flaws! But most importantly- you do not answer my question- why are we in Afghanistan in 2006? And how long will we be there?

Anonymous said...

In my humble opinion using words reportedly said by the Chief of the Canadian armed forces, up to ten years. Our PM says we don't cut and run so I guess the 10 year number is as good as we can get. Now if the polls keep showing Steve dropping, well that's a very different thing. We could be out of there in a couple of weeks, especially when we end up buying a few C17's from our best friend, the US government, and wihout a bidding process I might add. But Steve is in a hurry. Today he was saving the arctic. Busy fellow, and too busy to drop in at the huge AIDS conference in Toronto. Bill Gates and Bill Clinton and a host of other big names did show up. When we get our act together and toss out Harper hopefully he will sort of disappear making Canada a better place.

Anonymous said...

Seems the Taliban and the Canadian officers are negotiating with the Taliban today. Our original reason for being there was for rebuilding and to defend oneself when needed. at least that's what I heard was the reason for being there, and as a side bar because we didn't jump into Iraq looking for" weapons of mass destruction"
Maybe somebody should tell the Taliban that we are really nice folks who only want to see western democracy in place, as in Iraq. It's our way or the highway.
Come to think of it, maybe that's what our military folks are talkinmg about with the Taliban, but I sort of doubt it.