Stephen Harper and Afghanistan -

Stephen Harper and Afghanistan


The Globe puts forward a rather remarkable account of Stephen Harper’s thinking on Afghanistan.

Though it’s widely believed that public opinion is all that keeps Mr. Harper from extending the military mission, the Prime Minister is in fact an Afghan skeptic, according to one person who has worked with him on the issue. Many in his government and the military favour extending the mission, but not the PM – and not just for political reasons. He wants results.

For almost two years, Mr. Harper has harboured deep doubts about the Afghan mission. He worries that extending it would mean throwing good money after bad, and, more importantly, lives with it. After years in which progress has been elusive, he doubts the impact Canada can have.

The Prime Minister’s last major speech on Afghanistan—as noted by John Geddes yesterday—was delivered May 7, 2009 in Kandahar. If, as the Globe reports, he was worried then about progress and purpose, he did not let on. A few excerpts.

In the seven years since our work here began, incredible progress has been made – progress that continues each and every day. The foundations of democracy have been laid; basic human rights and freedoms are being restored; private enterprise is growing; millions of children are going to school; basic medical care has improved; and the infrastructure of a viable economy is emerging…

Yet, as we all know, these achievements have not come without cost. Canada has paid dearly for this mission with our most precious asset – our brave sons and daughters…

Theirs is a legacy we will build on. Because even in our shared sorrow, we know why we are here. As part of the family of civilized nations, we have a national obligation to do our part to contribute to our peace and security. As a prosperous and free country, we have the moral duty to share our good fortune, our freedoms and our opportunities with the citizens of the world who have too long had to endure violence, oppression and privation.


Stephen Harper and Afghanistan

  1. I have mixed feelings, I can 100% agree with the PM but also I wonder what if staying a little longer would make a difference.

    • wait, which PM are you agreeing with? The actual PM (i.e. the second quote) or whoever the first one is quoting?

      • Harper, I also think it is a no winning situation but at the same time perhaps if we stay a little longer, it could turn around!

        • I get what you're saying, so please don't mind my bit of snark, but if it's a no win situation, then one can't actually win. If you can win by staying around a little longer, it's not technically a no win situation, it's just an "it will take longer to win" situation.

          You can think it's a no win situation, or you can think that it might turn around if we stay a little longer, but I think you'll need to choose.

          • That's why I have mix feelings because I don't know what's the best choice, so I can see both points!

  2. His (appropriate) ripping of Karzai is a precursor to a clear exit. I personally saw merit in the Afghan mission but given Karzai's overall posture I have joined the ranks of the skeptics.

    • I also thought like it seemed a reasonable idea at the time, although I became jaded far earlier than you.

      I'd like to think we'll learn from this, but I'm sure next time it will seem different and unique.

      • There is often a presumption about conflict that a winning solution is alway available. (True it worked for Captain Kirk.) However, I suspect that most of these propositions are lose-lose. My personal belief is that not to go into Afghanistan would have been a horrible mistake over the long haul, both in terms of outcomes in that country, but also the ability of Canada and its allies to deal with aggressive rouge states. The conversion of Afghanistan into a functioning modern democracy is almost certainly hopeless.

        My largest gripe about Chretien has nothing to do with envelopes, or even his sabatoge of Martin. Rather, he should have made the acquisition of necessary hardward (helocopters, mineclearing equipment) a requirement of Canadian participation from the onset. Harper has been better with respect to supporting the troops although his use of them as a political shield is at best idiotic and at worse kinda creepy.

        • On what basis, other than his own spin, is Harper better in supporting the troops?

          Martin increased military spending by 11%. Harper has been riding Martin's five year spending plan until now and recently cancelled the purchase of required tanks that he had announced with great fanfare and great digs at the Liberals. And the recent budget cut over $2B in military spending. Harper promised not to cut and run, but then suddenly announced our exit just before the last election.

          Other than their usefulness in photo ops and vote-getting and hiding behind when the political heat gets turned on, on what basis can we say Harper even likes soldiers or supports them? And I ask without too much sarcasm, because if there is evidence beyond photo ops and empty rhetoric.

          The way he uses them for political gain or, as Rick Mercer puts it, uses them as political props "Perhaps, a new low in Canadian politics":

          [youtube kCadyzQ4w1k&feature=player_embedded… youtube]

          • Harper's epitaph: He loved the smell of photo-ops in the morning.

        • I suppose it's always easy to draw up hypothetical "it could have been worses".

  3. I've heard this about Harper. It makes sense. It is one area where he can let natural cost-benefit economist instincts kick in (actual economic policy is more constrained by politics). I hope it's true. And if it's true, I hope Iggy doesn't think this is the time to differentiate himself by reverting to "empire lite" mode and saying we have to invade Pakistan. And then Kashmir. And then Tibet. And on and on and on.

    • PS. Pity about all the dead and wounded Canadians who paid for this folly. Reading/hearing/watching/ talking to people go, "oh, yeah, I was totally in favour, but like, now it sucks/lotsa sacrifice, so we should go/so we've got to stay forever" makes me think how stupid they were/are, and how many Canadians suffered uselessly because of it. War & foreign policy is not some hyper-real Stratego or Risk video game. Modernity = Mass visual media = alienation from reality = desensitisation. Terrible effect on foreign and war policies. 10-15 years from now, the fatherless children, become adults, will ask, "what was it all for?" What will we answer?

      • NB. Took Harper long enough to come around, from original ridiculous Bushian "never cut and run" position. Learning on the job. Dangerous.

  4. Some Statistics For The Torture-Rendition-War Crimes Crowd
    April 7, 2010 — Adrian MacNair
    The prevalent theory about accusations that Afghan detainees are being tortured after Canadian troops make the formality of motioning them over to the Afghan authorities riding along on patrol, is that it undermines the public confidence in the ISAF mission and brings support to the Taliban. Which is true, apparently, if you read the Canadian media. But here's an interesting fact. The Canadian media has no idea what it's talking about. Usually, anyway.

    From a 2009 International Red Cross Survey that compares results to a 1999 Red Cross Survey:

    • Reported incidents of ‘combatants taking food away' are down from 49% to 27%;
    • Fewer people have had their homes looted: down from 51% to 33%;
    • Reported conflict-related deaths in respondents' families are down from 53% to 35%;
    • Those having to leave their home is down from 83% to 60%;
    • Those who report having been tortured are down from 43% to 29%.

    • So our side engages in about 30 per cent less torture than the Taliban.


      • Interesting take on the findings of the Red Cross Survey.

        It could be contrued that your side wants to improve Torture by 30% by the Taliban. Funny that!

    • Yeah, I'm not sure what these numbers have to do with "media not knowing what they're talking about., your argument, or sense.

      Please explain. Maybe leave out all the attacks and the hyperbole next time.

      • Not sure why your obsession is about classifying facts from the Red Cross illustrating the improvements as an attack but from the perspective of the Taliban I imagine the UN actions, ISAF deployment of troops has been a setback.

        Perhaps you can start a facebook group to demand we provide more comfort for the prisoners in Afghanistans jail.

    • So, we've been fighting in Afghanistan with our allies for eight years, and still, 29% of Afghans report having been tortured???

      You'll excuse me if I don't think reducing reports of torture from 43% of Afghans under the Taliban, to 29% of Afghans today is some great advertisement for our success. Especially given that the number of Afghans being tortured after being handed over to local security forces by NATO troops has gone from 0% in 1999 to something significantly higher than 0% today. At least the 43% of people reporting being tortured in 1999 had no reasonable expectation that NATO would try to stop it.

      I'm sorry, but after eight years of fighting/reconstruction/democratization, I'm just not impressed by a 14% reduction in the reports of torture. That people are being tortured 14% less with us there than they were under the TALIBAN doesn't suggest to me that Afghans should have confidence in ISAF. I'd certainly not be impressed by an operation that only managed to reduce reports of torture by 1.75% a year. I'm not naive enough to believe that we can eliminate torture entirely in Afghanistan, but A) we ought to try, and B) we ought to be doing a lot better at it after more than eight years there.

      • LKO,

        who gives a damn about YOUR satisfaction in the reduction in harm? Those women, children saved as a result of ISAF being there is more important than your Report Card.

        • Has it occurred to you that maybe fewer people are reportiing torture because more people are being tortured to death and thus are unable to report? No, I figured it had not.

          • Do you have names or evidence? More opinion, is this a make work project?

      • Wow, you don't care if 14% have avoided torture. So considerate. I'd say those 14% would disagree.

        • Oh, I care, I just think it's pathetic that eight years of war against the Taliban has apparently only reduced torture by 14%. Also, I don't think I care too little about the 14%, I just thing we should focus our consideration on the 29% still reporting torture.

    • This is good news. We are having a positive effect in the region. Excellent.

      Now, how, exactly, does this excuse that our own policies might be enabling that 29% of torture that remains? That's still one out of four people. Better than nearly one out of two 10 years previous, I'll agree, but do you feel it's in any way acceptable that over 1 out of 4 detainees report being tortured? Do you think it's acceptable that Canadian soldiers are ordered to hand them over into a situation where it is likely they will be such, in direct violation of the Geneva Convention?

      Yes, it's good news, but if that's the best you believe we can do, you really have very poor thoughts about Canadians and our soldiers.

      • Just curious how many missions and prison visits have you conducted?

        This is not Disney, this is a very bad place, we have saved lives, continue to make things better with our contribution on the ground.

        You and your internet posters have clearly demostrated the concern for comfort of Taliban prisoners being abused in their own country.

        In the last 8 years how many posts have you posted for the plight of the women, children suffering in Afghanistan? Just curious.

        • "You and your internet posters have clearly demostrated the concern for comfort of Taliban prisoners being abused in their own country. "
          – CanadianSense

          “Many were just local people: farmers; truck drivers; tailors, peasants – random human beings in the wrong place at the wrong time."
          – Richard Colvin

          • Can you list the number of personal interviews he confirmed farmers,truck drivers were rounded up?

            Please link the number and the names of these victims rounded up by our military. Thanks

          • Can you refute Colvin's claim with links? Tanks.

          • Nice try, where is his list of names? He has already testifed two or three times and has offered supporort for his opinion.

            Still no list of farmers…. why is that Sherlock?

            Too funny you want to refute an opinion on what has taken place that has not been proven.

          • Isn't the whole point of this controversy that we turned over God Knows who to God knows who to have God knows what done to them?

            You do realize that he fact that we can't accurately account for what happened to many of the people we turned over to the NDS isn't actually evidence against the argument that we turned people over to the NDS without keeping proper account of what happened to many of them.

          • Interesting …

            We arrive Red Cross survey demostrates less suffering

            1) Complaints not enough of less suffering
            2) We need a more robust accounting of missing people


            1) Taliban Camps sent any more Airline Crews into New York?
            2) We have helped women and children through many programs.


            Or we could demand we talk about the comfort of those Taliban being allegedly rounded up by our military treated poorly by the NDS….

            Note to self: Taliban, Warlords, bad guys are killing women, children in smaller numbers….sounds like a trade off I can accept.

        • Please, I've got no concern for the Taliban, that's a revolting ad hominem that I know people like you with little integrity like to trot out. I could similarly argue that you've clearly demonstrated your racism in wanting brown people tortured, and it'd be just as true.

          I've no concern for the Taliban whatsoever. My concern is with our forces being ordered to violate the Geneva Conventions — and their conduct under those orders. I have a strong hope and belief that they conduct themselves to higher standards than their orders would suggest, and am vehemently in favor of any who do not being brought up to the proper authorities — and that this should go right up the chain to Harper, Hillier, Martin, and anybody who was aware of the dangers of the agreement they were setting up with the Afghan forces while setting it up.

          • Where are those numerous posts about the plight of the women, children from you?

            From my point of view it is rather a simple matter. I have ZERO on the prisoner comfort policy of the Taliban.

            Bad things happened before, during and after we leave. I have no qualms about a few mistakes or won't lose any sleep when these mistakes are investigated, reported.

            Again you are free to suggest violations of G.C. regarding the treatment of the Taliban and spend resources chasing those mistakes.

            Clearly my priorities are not yours.

          • Interestingly, I have zero on any prisoner comfort policy of the Taliban as well. However, I have numerous on making sure that our troops and our government are making sure that Canadians are acting to the highest of standards.

            You are free to suggest that we allow our government to order our soldiers to commit war crimes and let the chips fall where they may.

            Clearly my priorities are not yours.

          • Where is your proof? Sad how you suggest the gov't can be held responsible without implicating the men in the field. Great logic. It won't hold up in the hague. Nice diversion.

            You don't give a hoot about the farmers, or the women and children. Clearly you want to blame the gov't.

            Different priorities I guess. Best of luck with your Taliban Prison Comfort Agenda.

  5. You ask: what was it all for?" What will we answer?

    My answer will be that this was a war without merit from start to finish. It was caused by an unwise U.S. president, blinded by revenge, reacting foolishly to an attack on his country. During this long war there were acts of bravery and personal sacrifice by soldiers, and there was also the usual shameful brutality and profiteering. And there were the usual wartime patriotism parades so loved by politicians, and the usual attempts to silence critics of the war. It was no more or less inglorious than most wars.

    And sorry about your dead father. I truly regret that he and many others died, and that so many soldiers and their families were crippled emotionally and permanently by participation in this war. I am ashamed that I did not personally do more to keep our country out of this war, and to end it earlier once it began. I hope to be less selfish and more brave next time the warmongers start banging their drums.

    • I'd disagree with your first part. The world, pretty much as a whole, agreed with America on the initial invasion of Afghanistan and the destruction of the terrorist training camps.

      Problem is.. that was over in the first week. Beyond that, and especially with the US's gallivanting off to destabilize Iraq, was when it got dicey.

  6. Wait a minute, where is the usual gaggle of commenters claiming that this isn't a story, that no-one cares about it, and branding anyone who reports on this an opposition shill?

    Oh right, Harper spoke on it, so I guess it's okay to report the story this one time.

    Once they have filed their story on the PMs comments, however, reporters should get on with covering real news, like the stuff you find in press releases from ministers.

  7. Ah yes, the torn Prime Minister! One day, he is in full military uniform, simling broadly for yet-another-photo-op with the troops, and the next day, he is in his office, brooding over the hopelessness of the Afghan mission.

    Loves the troops, but don't think they can succeed.

    Canada can defend the Arctic against the Russians and the Americans, but not Afghanistan against a bunch of camel-riding Taliban.

    No wonder his book on hockey remains, to this day, a work in progress. So much to do, so little time to do it in.

    Plus, there is Helena Guergis.

    • Our very own LBJ it would seem ;)

  8. Thanks to Aaron for pointing out that the G&M has been duped into starting a new meme that will cast a light on the inner genius of Stephen Harper.

  9. Harper has ALWAYS said that training Afghans to take over is the main objective of the last mission extension.

    OTTAWA — Canada is reportedly sending 90 additional soldiers to Afghanistan to help train that country's army and police forces.

    Defence Minister Peter MacKay made the announcement Thursday, while on a surprise and unannounced visit to Kabul.
    ..The 90 additional training soldiers will reportedly be sent to the NATO training centre in Kabul, as well as Kandahar, where they will help strengthen current training operations there…

  10. Canada should invade Tibet.

  11. The problem is that you cannot believe anything Harper is saying, at the moment. There's always something else going on – he is never straight with the Canadian public. He can't be trusted to be honest. While listening to any of his public broadcasts, I'm always aware that there's something else going on – somewhere, and that he's just saying what he needs to say at the moment – whatever will take him in the direction he wants to go in; at the moment.

    • Yes, and some 33% of Canadians say that they will vote for him and his party. Bet you at least quite a few of those would tell us that we cannot trust politicians. Moral of the story: we get the govt we deserve, eh?

  12. The new EKOS poll tells many interesting stories. It's remarkable how support for extending the Afghan mission is so low even in Alberta, where the mission itself is still popular.

    Yet the number for the Liberals are looking worse and worse. Their support among the key 25-44 demographic is especially alarming. Read more at

  13. The joining the Taliban comment, if true, is beyond the pale that I think the West should feed him to the wolves. The troops will get out of the country, and like Clinton did in Iraq in the 90's, the US will just bomb targets from the air constantly.

  14. I think perhaps SH has had some time to read a few history books on Afghanistan and "The Great Game", and realizes that the situation is now, and has always been, intractable. If the British, at the height of their empire, couldn't bring Afghanistan to heel, if the Russians, while still strong, couldn't defeat Afghanistan, how is it possible for ANYONE not suffering a severe case of hubris to think that NATO will be successful?

    There has been significant success with the tactic of economic isolation for "rogue" states…South Africa with apartheid comes to mind…and this might be the best approach in the future. It won't be "nice" for civilians, but it does bring things to a head, so that outstanding issues MUST be resolved. If one has any respect for the sovereignity of a people, one must allow them to make their own decisions.