Take your hosts for granted, leave only headaches - Macleans.ca

Take your hosts for granted, leave only headaches

The closing of Camp Mirage and Harper’s ongoing Afghan mission gongshow


Nothing better encapsulates the utter fecklessness of the Harper government’s handling of the Afghan mission than the fiasco over Camp Mirage.

Canada’s presence at Camp Mirage (officially the Al Minhad Air Base ) outside Dubai was never that big of a secret. It’s had its own Wikipedia page for years giving the exact location; high-end jewelry and carpet stores in downtown Dubai have long had prominent Canadian flag stickers on their doors. Yet all of the soldiers, civilians, and various visitors transiting through Mirage on their way to and from Afghanistan were always told to tell friends and family only that they were “Somewhere in Southwest Asia”. The official rationale was “operational security,” but the truth is that it was just to give the Dubai government a figleaf of political deniability. Plus the military just likes keeping secrets.

I’ve been through Mirage four times, and spent a total of about 7 days there. It’s ridiculously hot, the air is like cooking broth, and there’s nothing much to do. I loved it. There was a shuttle into Dubai where you could stroll around the souq and haggle like mad over two-dollar t-shirts; the road into town takes you past the Camelicious yogourt factory, and you could even see camels wandering in the desert. But mostly I enjoyed being around soldiers – hanging around military people is like visiting a foreign country, where the customs, language, and ideologies are all completely alien. Visiting the gym at Mirage was one of the most emasculating experiences of my life – I’ll never forget moseying about on the elliptical watching some ripped dude do four-count burpees with a 60 pound dumbbell in each hand.

The last time I was there was two days before Peter MacKay was denied the right to land at his own airbase. I actually asked a senior officer at Mirage what the quid pro quo was with the Emirate, whether we were paying rent or if some other arrangement was in place. When the officer told me that we were paying “nothing”, and that all Canada had to do was pay the full cost of the base’s footprint, I assumed that either a) I was being lied to, or b) Canada was being lied to. It struck me as completely improbable that the Dubai government was letting us stick a military base 20 km from its downtown out of the goodness of its heart.  It struck me as even more improbable that, even if it were true that so far we’d been given a free ride, the Dubai government would simply let us pack up and leave next summer, with maybe a few boxes of Timbits for the tip jar.

And so it was last month that Dubai named its inevitable price, and we balked. Now we hear that it will be $300 million in closing costs, though it would have cost a lot of money to pack up sooner or later. No, the real costs are more hidden: the longer flights, the new base in Cyprus (where the hosts will be asking for payment up front, no doubt), the unbelievable hassle of setting up a new logistics base four months before you’re about to start leaving the theatre of war.

And then there is the cost to our allies. It hasn’t been mentioned in any of the stories I’ve seen, but Canada wasn’t alone at Mirage. It’s also the logistics hub for the Aussies, Kiwis, and Dutch, and all four countries shared transport capacity (my last flight into KAF was on a Dutch Hercules). They also shared the mess hall in the Canadian sector at Mirage, as well as the gym. In fact, the mess hall was undergoing substantial renovation when I was there last month – what will happen to all of this is not clear, but what is certain is that our incompetence is giving our allies headaches.

And there’s really no other word for it but incompetence. Maybe the Dubai government was asking for too much in the way of extra landing slots (with more planes on order than all other world airlines combined, the two domestic carriers in Dubai are looking at a serious capacity glut). And preventing MacKay from landing was a pretty serious escalation.

But it is important to keep in mind that what they were doing was haggling.  And Canada, acting like a naïve tourist shopping for pashminas in the souq, declared that it was shocked – shocked! – at the outrageous sum, spun on its heels, and walked away. The Dubai government probably thought we were bluffing — after all, down in the sook, walking away is just another negotiating tactic.

But no, off we go, leaving yet another collection of pissed-off allies in our wake.  The closing of Camp Mirage is just another act in the ongoing gongshow that is Stephen Harper’s handling of the Afghan mission.

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Take your hosts for granted, leave only headaches

  1. Canada did the right thing. You don't let your so-called friends shake you down. UAE waited til Canada was settled in and then tried to extract concessions out of Canada.

    Canada was not there for fun. Canada was there to help make the middle east a safer place. It's not unreasonable to assume that the UAE would assist in this regard. The UAE doesn't put up a cent to ensure middle east security. We go there to save Afghans and the UAE wants to extract concessions out of the whole affair. How commendable.

    Potter is wrong. Canada did the right thing.

    • What a load of crap. Honestly, after nine years of essentially free use, asking for more landing permits is somehow unreasonable?

      I swear you partisans will say anything, take any position, as long as it results in your continued support of these incompetents.

      • I'm not the partisan here, you are.

        Yes, it was free use of a desert. Sand. Desert land that would be used for nothing else otherwise.

        Do you think the French and Dutch charged us for the use of the beaches of Normandy in 1945? How about all that Euro territory we held in the previous years? Were Canadians charged rent? Did we owe something to the French/Dutch and the rest of Europe in 1945? Did we thank them for the opportunity to sacrifice our lives in their region of the world to ensure their security?

        You liberals have no principles. You don't even know what a principle is. Try one sometime.

        • The French and the Dutch didn't control the 'beaches of Normandy'. The Germans did. We were helping our allies to remove the Germans at their request.

          Canada is 90% empty….China and India are overcrowded….should we let them set up camp here, for free, on chunks of snow not being used for anything else otherwise?

          The UAE didn't ask us to help anybody, not Afghanistan and not themselves. We 'assumed' they were on our 'side' and would be keen to 'contribute' to our war effort. Wrong assumption.

          You Cons have no knowledge of the world. You don't even know what that word means.

          And it just cost us $300M for a lot of ill will.

        • I'm sorry, I must have missed the part where Afghhanistan invaded and occupied large swaths of UAE territory such that we had to go in and liberate it on behalf of the people of Dubai.

          Did I just fall asleep at the wrong time?

          • It was around the same time the UAE joined NATO and the UN peacekeeping missions, and the time when they sent support to Pakistan and Afghanistan to ensure stability, and that time when they convinced Iran to stop their nuclear weapons program.

          • The UAE joined Nato? Really?

          • Yeah! The UAE was one of the four major powers at the treaty of Yalta that divided post-war Europe. The UAE saved the world. Many times. The UAE and the USA are the two world superpowers.

          • Just out of curiosity – what do you think UAE stands for?

          • ur an egghead

            You should be asking LKO about the Afghanistan invasion of Abu Dhabi. We can all teach you something.

          • Just as I thought. Please don't tell me you work at Foreign Affairs…

          • Who on earth gave a plus one to this comment? Anybody gonna cop to it?

        • You liberals have no principles. You don't even know what a principle is.

          Just so I'm clear then, fudging the definition of "torture" and not objecting when people are shipped to offshore prisons for indefinite detention without trial are acceptable compromises to our principles, but allowing Air Emirates the same landing rights in Canada as Air Canada has in Dubai would just be BEYOND THE PALE???

          • The nerve! How dare you not support our troops, er, Taliban LdKitchernersOwn!

            (Heh, um, would you mind shortening your name so I can insult you more easily? Thanks!)

          • "LKO"

        • You moron. And what about the hundred of millions of dollars saved because of the UAE. The lives saved because of the medical facilities housed by our CF for severely wounded. The beaches of Normandy? You're insane. Furthermore now in Germany and Cyprus we pay for every square foot and every plane that lands or takes off.
          The UAE were allies. Good allies because they also take the risk of reprises from terrorists for helping Canada and other countries. Furthermore HArper negotiated in bad faith, stalling and stringing the UAE along…he lied.


          HARper made it personals. Right. Personal. Do you know what means? He crazy. It was all about him and damn our troops, damn the blood and sacrifice…and HARPER HUNG OUR TROOPS OUT TO DRY…they are fighting a war and our political sociopath of a Prime MInister rather save face.

          • What about the hundreds of millions pumped into the UAE by the military, moron? The Canadians put up shop in the middle of the desert and pump millions into the local economy, and you're saying that the vast demand for desert-like real estate means that we owe them rent?

            You know what, I have a parcel of land in the middle of the Sahara to sell you. Dirt cheap! You'll love it!

            The UAE are allies? In what sense? In the sense that they have no military alliance with Canada? Or in the sense that they will continue to do trade with Canada in the exact same way as before?

            You need a valium.

          • Um….Canada isn't the only country on the base. Oz, NZ, Dutch, Brits….it's just we're the only ones being asked to leave…

            And buying souvenirs in the sook doesn't put hundreds of millions into their economy, not unless our military has had one helluva pay raise.

        • So you would allow the UAE to have an airbase in Canada for free? You would think that it was unreasonable of Canada to ask if it could have 7 airport slots flying to UAE?

          • ??? Why on earth would the UAE want an airbase in Canada?

            It was not unreasonable for them to ask for airport slots. It was also not unreasonable for us to say no. No harm in asking, though.

        • so how come we don't want Russians, for example, to set up a base in our north, on frozen snow — that will be used for nothing else otherwise?

      • "Honestly, after nine years of essentially free use, asking for more landing permits is somehow unreasonable?"

        Asking for more landing rights is not unreasonable, linking the request for commercial landing rights to the use of an multi-national military airfield is completely unreasonable. Chretien constantly, and rightly, rebuffed the calls from opposition parties to link energy exports to the US for some concenssion on softwood or some other file.

        I swear, anti-conservative partisans take the complete opposite position they once held, and even go so far as to support the commercial intersts of another country over their own, just to get dig in against Harper.

        • I swear, anti-conservative partisans take the complete opposite position they once held, and even go so far as to support the commercial intersts of another country over their own, just to get dig in against Harper.

          They do that on a daily basis. It's why Iggy is at 25% and dropping.

    • Ok everyone, new rule:

      When we propose a war in a region to ostensibly save it's peoples, and those peoples say "that will be $300,000,000, please" we don't go.

      • Afghanistan and UAE are not the same country.

        • Absolutely, that is why I was careful to use the term region.

          Ya gotta admit though, the country seems to not be in league with the terrorists, far closer to them, but not very cnocerned about them.

          • I doubt the UAE gives a damn about Afghanistan one way or the other….or us for that matter.

          • Exactly!

        • You mean it;s not just one big desert area we should be able to use at whim?

      • I don't think we're being charged anything by UAE – I believe it's for removing our equipment, moving it to multiple new locations and then paying seriously increased fuel costs to move stuff to and from.

    • Really?

      Even if we'd given them the landing rights, would the deal for Camp Mirage not still have been the cheapest deal for an air base on the planet??? Didn't they essentially just want their airlines to enjoy the same landing rights in Canada as Air Canada has in Dubai? Honestly, it feels to me as though the Conservatives threw away a super cheap airbase located pretty much EXACTLY where it's most needed, all just to protect Air Canada from the free market.

      • Yes, that 'free market' Cons claim to be so keen on.

      • Air Canada doesn't fly to Dubai. It flies to Frankfurt, you change planes, and someone else flies to Dubai.

        • Interesting, however, is it that Air Canada CAN'T fly to Dubai, or that the DON'T? 'Cause I think they have the same rights that Air Emirates wants in Canada, even if they're not taking advantage of those rights.

    • UAE didn't ask Canada to get involved in Afghanistan (not middle east, by the way). So UAE wasn't obliged to provide us free use of Camp Mirage.
      Harper screwed up on this issue. Period.
      $300 million plus extra costs is more than the supposed possible loss by Air Canada. If Air Canada is any good, it will be able to compete against Emirates and Etihad. AC isn't competitive. AC got one third of revenue from its routes to Asia, which are not that many. Goes to show that AC is not worth protecting from competition.

  2. This is being run by people who've never travelled, and know nothing about the world….but are quite convinced everyone shares our culture and our aims.

    They don't know from sooks….and they don't know from different points of view. They never even considered 'asking' if the UAE wanted us to 'save Afghans'. A display of arrogance on our part.

    It all adds up to sheer incompetence.

    • Well, we don't talk to ambassadors anymore – maybe we should get back to doing that.

      • But that would be like getting knowledge and expertise from, you know….elites.

  3. I can't fathom how people continue to believe that the CPC is competent enough to protect Canada's interests.

    They seem incapable of negotiating anything to our advantage, and their cost over-runs are getting out of hand.

    I guess that's what happens when you think compromise and consensus are dirty words.

  4. Desperately Seeking a Sound Bite:
    How do we awaken the somnolent voters and turn the long litany of Con failures (at home and abroad) into a ballot question?

    • Iggy already has. That's why he polls at 25% and dropping.

      • But for the prorogation, we might have had confirmation of those numbers.


      • Such an intelligent zinger!

        Actually Iggy's inability to find a compelling way to frame the Harper-train-wreck-of-a-government partly accounts for his low standing. That, and opposition leaders almost always have little popularity.
        But gov'ts defeat themselves and this will likely follow that route when some incident with a simple narrative finally highlights the death-of-a-thousand-cuts we are going through.

        • Indeed. I keep wondering what it will take. I suspect it will be something I casually disregard, as it seems the traditional standards of "what gets people mad enough" have shifted beyond my understanding.

          • To be honest, I think it's already been done.

            Oh there's not going to be any big swing to the Liberals or any of the other parties barring something exceptional happening between now and election time — there's just going to be a lot of former CPC voters deciding they'd rather watch America's Got Talent than bother to vote for Stephen again.

          • the traditional standards of "what gets people mad enough" have shifted beyond my understanding

            Here's a hint: just because you call something a scandal, doesn't mean it is.

          • Here's another: just because you call something a principle, doesn't mean it wasn't actually a fumble.

          • Here's another: if it was a fumble they would still be there. Which means it's only a fumble in your fevered imagination.
            And here's another hint: if everyday, ordinary Canadians don't care, it's not a fumble.

            No need to thank me.

          • if it was a fumble they would still be there.
            – Perhaps, had they fixed the fumble.

            No need to thank me.
            – And my pattern of agreeing with you roughly once a month continues.

  5. Nothing like dragging a critique of Canada's newspapers into an item on Afghanistan eh?

    Commentary on the G&M pages point out it has become more rightwing in the last few months.

    The Toronto Star is, and always has been, required by it's charter to follow the Atkinson principles. It is also the largest circulation paper in Canada.

    I dunno who all these 'progressives' are, but I've never met one.

  6. What principles was Stephen Harper defending? The principle of not allowing Canadians to chose an airline when they go to the middle east? Since when did Harper become a protector of Air Canada?

  7. So, protecting Canadian airlines from free market competition is a bedrock conservative "principle" now is it?

    Somewhere, I suspect Preston Manning and Andrew Coyne are softly weeping.

    • Wrong.

      Whether or not we should be opening landing slots to the UAE, to Timbuktu, to Atlantis or to Wonderland should have nothing to do with military operations overseas.

      That's called the free market.

      Is your idea of a free market a market that is dictated by the military? Seriously? Where are your principles? Will you now be advocating we open up the heroin market to help out the Afghani farmers? What's the difference? When our military is given a shakedown by a foreign government, you think it's a "free market" to give in to their extortion? How on earth is that a free market?

  8. I'm a little perplexed by the recent hurling of the term 'progressive' as an insult (I believe, in this regard, it is an import from the US). What exactly is the insult meant to be here? A general opposition to progress?

    I must be getting old, because I had always thought progress was generally a good thing. But then, I thought the same thing about education.

    • Oh good….I thought it was just me that was mystified….first by the term as a political one, and second by the idea it's supposed to insult people!

      I'm all for progress….so I'm not insulted. Finding a progressive party though…no-can-do.

      • I'm all for progressive, too…except for progressive rock. I draw the line there.

        Kinda' old school, I guess.

  9. And you're just a bag of wind for Harper.

    Pot, meet the kettle.

  10. "Potter is wrong"???


    There is some contra point to be made. Some…gulp…real debate on this issue. An actual other side to this story?

    How can that be.

    I thought this was nothing but "utter fecklessness". Not a decision or decisions based on complex facts and policy, but….

    Harper being evil. Nothing more. Nothing less.

    Doesn't it all come down to Harper being evil around here?

    • Feel free to defend Harper's latest adventure in a foreign country.

    • Alas, reality is far more nuanced than that.

    • An actual other side to this story?

      So stop whining and tell us the other side of the story. I'll wait right here.

    • Yep he is evil. Sciopathic, paranoid, and unfit for public office.

    • No, sometimes it's Harper being stupid. Nice of him to mix it up, though — keeps us libtards awake.

  11. completely tasteless and childish/spiteful "fat" article on Rob Ford …

    The same Rob Ford who ran a Youtube campaign portraying fellow Tory John Tory as a wimp and arranged for folks to phone in and harass Tory on his radio show so he wouldn't run for Mayor and win?

    I suspect manipulative bullies can handle being called "fat".

    • Don't forget his campaign manager creating a false Twitter account claiming to be a young, female, cat-loving Smitherman voter (complete with picture!) used to con a Ford constituent out of a damaging tape.

      This persona was then used as a sock puppet to undermine support for Ford's opponents (http://torontoist.com/2010/10/rob_fords_team_created_a_fake_twitter_account_and_this_is_it.php)

      I have trouble feeling sorry for a man so devoid of basic scruples.

  12. Which is why Britain is no longer an empire….just an island off Europe.

    The cost comes from moving equipment, personnel etc.

    • Yes, it's why they are no longer an empire….'white man's burden' and all.

      And yes, that's what it costs to move equipment and personnel….we aren't 'cleaning up' the base, there are other nations still there. Only we were asked to leave.

      • You are right about where the $300 million. Other sources confirm that it is for closing down and setting up in Cyprus.

  13. 'Juvenile' would be the kindest description for this column, it belongs in a high school newspaper.

    • I don`t agree, but if that were true it would be appropriate.

      High school journalism describing high school diplomacy.

  14. I was admittedly sceptical from the title but I will merit that Potter is likely correct on the shakedown that we overlooked that there would be a bill in the future and that they were haggling. Why Foreign Affairs wouldn't be taking point on this a head scratcher.
    Alas the article was Platinum in comparison to the comment board. Really? Drinking kool-aid and typing should be banned. Partisan hacks from both corners are tiresome.
    Can't anyone formulate a debate anymore?

  15. What's missing in the article is – what are the other western nations paying to use the base, and/or – what has the UAE extracted from them in the way of concessions lately.

    Without that knowledge – direct leaps to Harper incompetence are overwrought. But fun for most of the regulars I guess.

    It would also help frame whether the landing slot approach the UAE played out was reasonable or closer to extortionate. This would better inform some of us who are resolutely sure already which party was more in the wrong.

  16. It was naive of the government to think the base wouldn't come at a price, but I'm going to be all first-world Anglo Western Imperialist here and say that if the base wasn't offered for free, then be honest and name your price up front. Don't try to pull a fast one in the last year of our mission and suddenly kick us out because not enough of your commercial airplanes can land at Pearson. There's something to be said for being an Anglo boy scout, and in this case Canada got wrongly burned.

    • well said! the comments on this board are insane. And this Potter piece is one of the worst Macleans columns I've ever read. Devoid of context or nuance. Besides, Emirates and Etihad are predatory airlines run at a massive loss by a very dodgy emirate. They should be kicked out of Pearson entirely.

      • Well said. I agree with most of your points, although I don't agree that the Arab airlines should be kicked out, that would serve nobody. But they should not be given favoured status.

  17. Our Prime Minster hates Liberals and the NDP, he hates people who do not agree with him. He has not travelled and is wonderfully incurious about other cultures and ways of the world. In many ways he is the soul-brother of George W. Bush. He earns the wrath of allies and the disgust of neutrals but is so innefective that even Nato's smallest member Estonia is emboldened to speak out. His techniques have previously worked in both Germany and Russia, of course there were some adjustments along the way. Encouraging hatred is what he does best and good for Dubai for the putting the bully in his place. We'll be back to borrow money from them once this government is history.

  18. Well done Canada, do NOT give into this diplomatic bullying. The Government of the UAE is very big on expecting Canada to abide by the spirit of competition, but the UAE doesn't allow true competition in many areas of its home market; most notably telecommunications. And further, why doesn't Canada close their airspace to the two UAE national carriers, Emirates and Etihad. Then their entire USA operation would be closed down. That should encourage them to back off a little

    • Umm, Canada is great at allowing competition in the telecom sector? Nope…

  19. Now been confirmed that Canadians will soon need visas to visit the UAE.

  20. "But no, off we go, leaving yet another collection of pissed-off allies in our wake. The closing of Camp Mirage is just another act in the ongoing gongshow that is Stephen Harper's handling of the Afghan mission"

    I'd be interested to hear AP expand on that point. I hadn't noticed that much criticism of Harper's handling of the mission – perhaps i was dozing. You have my attention now Mr Potter.