'We have yet to debate the shape of engagement' - Macleans.ca

‘We have yet to debate the shape of engagement’


A month after stating that he was “longer talking about Afghanistan,” Conservative candidate Chris Alexander emerges to talk about Afghanistan with this magazine. Here is his explanation of the Canadian mission after 2011 and what differentiates Liberal and Conservative policy on that mission.

Q: The judgment has already been made: our troops are out of there in 2011.

A: Last time I checked, that’s two years away. We have yet to debate the shape of engagement. What I believe, after speaking with Canadians, is that they’re very interested in further analysis. Why haven’t we succeeded yet? What is the relationship between what’s happening in Pakistan and the success of the mission in Afghanistan? What is the Obama administration going to do? There is a great appetite for more information and for completing what we set out to do, to protect the achievements that have been made up to now and support Afghanistan on the shortest and least painful path to peace and stability. But what finishing the job might entail—that debate still has to happen.

Q: It’s been reported that you decided not to run as a Liberal because you disagree with the party’s stance on Afghanistan. What specifically do you disagree with?

A: The Liberal party has not laid out its policy particularly clearly. Ignatieff says different things, Bob Rae says various things. Many in the party think our military should only be used for peacekeeping, not combat. But the reality of Canadian history is that we’ve been willing to do the important things the world demanded of us: fighting in World War II, in Korea, in the Balkans, where we were involved in offensive military operations, and in Afghanistan, where we have made disproportionate contributions.

Q: But both parties have agreed that our military engagement in Afghanistan ends in July 2011. So what’s the difference between their policies?

A: I think it’s the difference between having a clear policy of engagement, and having a lot of uncertainty about and unwillingness to make any military commitment at all on the Liberal side.


‘We have yet to debate the shape of engagement’

  1. It seems to me Chris Alexander sums it up pretty clearly Wherry. It's gonna be tough to try and spin this one, but I am sure you'll give it a try.

    • "I think it's the difference between having a clear policy of engagement, and having a lot of uncertainty about and unwillingness to make any military commitment at all on the Liberal side."

      Ok Dakota, let me give this a try. Here's my best spin. I'm getting warmed up. Focus.


      In other words, he tries to draw a distinction where the facts are actually exactly opposite what he said.

      Whatever candidate training the CPC have put him through obviously worked.

      • Calm down, fella.

        It seems pretty clear that he's talking about the level of engagement going forward, after 2011. Sounds like he's still hawkish, in a vague kind of way and is objecting to the Liberals being dovish, in an equally vague kind of way.

        No one is forgetting that it was the Liberals that got us into Afghanistan in the first place. The question now is whether or not the Conservatives are planning to get us out. It sounds like this candidate wants to stay "engaged".

      • Focus – they made the commitment in 2001 – Jean Chretien. Since then, Liberal policy has been vague and constantly shifting.

        For instance, the Canadian commitment was to end in February of 2007, but Prime Minister Stephen Harper led a narrow victory in a vote that spring to extend the mission two more years, to February 2009. In April 2007, the Liberal party introduced a motion in parliament to end the Canadian engagement in February 2009.

        Get a grip – Alexander has more credibility that you do.

    • To me it sounds like Chris doesn't know what the Conservative policy is as he makes zero mention to it. A clear policy of engagement that involves no clarity or attempts at articulation is the status quo.

      We can agree that Canadians are giving up on status quo in Afghanistan as it is not working and soldiers are still dying for it.

  2. I thought way back when I read this the first time that it was pretty strange to say the Liberals hadn't articulated their plans, inferring that the Conservatives had, or were any more definite than the Liberals. In fact, I'd say that the differences between what McKay and Harper say beat differences of Ignatieff and Rae by a mile on this file.

    And hands up those who knew back when it passed, no matter which of the two parties was in government, that this 2011 thing was going to be revisited.

    • Giving a date when you're going to pull out, regardless of the situation, is simply stupid. Any party that does it should be condemned on that front. It gives your enemies a goal to shoot for — "If we can just hold out until..", it reduces the options available to your own troops, "No, that project wouldn't be complete fast enough, shouldn't bother starting it then..", and it tells your allies that they can't rely on you for a longer haul. It's dumb all around.

      If we're going to pull troops out, the way to do it is to say, "We're done with this. As of today, we're starting to pull people out," and until that day the message is, "We're there until we feel there's no more we can reasonably achieve."

  3. Funny.

    Here is how you spin a question in a biased manner, you ask a question, then you get an answer you don't like (the reasons Alexander disagrees with Liberal policy), then you ask another question with spin to try to get the answer you want:

    Q: But both parties have agreed that our military engagement in Afghanistan ends in July 2011. So what's the difference between their policies?

    Notice how the question is worded to attempt to identify something that is the same, and then insinuate that this means they have the same policies.

    Here is how you would ask that question fairly:

    The two parties have both identified July 2011 as the date when the military engagement ends. Are there other issues that differentiate between the Liberal and Conservative policies?

    • Actually, it's saying flat out that the policies seem the same, and then.. and here's the important part.. asking about what the difference is.

      That's not biased, that's identifying the situation as it appears.

      Your version, however, with the use of the words "other issues", attempt to insinuate that the two parties *are* different in how they've both identified the same time as the date when the military engagement ends. That's the spin, I'm afraid.

      • The spin is trying to wrap up the entire comparison in a single statement that identifies them as the same. In other words, the questions says the currently identified pull-out date is the same, and insinuates that this means the entire history and content of the parties' policies must also be the same.

        That is spin.

    • LOL!!!

    • How is it "fair" to point out an issue where the parties agree and then ask for "other" differences in policy? Wouldn't you have to cite one difference before asking for others?

      • Possibly. So in fact the question would be most fair by not insinuating that there are either differences or similarities, just ask the question, "what are the differences or similarities in liberal and conservative policies?"

        • The question was for a magazine article, crikey, not a volume of Britannia… I'd have to agree with lgarvin's response. While neither party has given a well-versed and open policy descriptive on what's to happen or how it will happen (whether because they are hiding it or don't yet know), the central difference is the hawkish and dovish sentiments that are assumed of each party. Seems to me that in all the conflicts Alexander's mentioned but one, the governing party of the time was Liberal.

  4. This is the same war that has been described with such glowing insights as "something we just can't win."

    In order to even talk about further troop commitments – peacekeeping or actively engaged or reconstruction, or otherwise – I suspect a reasonable plan would have to be formulated that turns such insights on their head and punts them out of the field.

  5. "To me it sounds like Chris doesn't know what the Conservative policy is as he makes zero mention to it."

    Exactly what I was thinking. The Tories have a "clear policy of engagement?" Since when?

  6. Perhaps as part of the hidden agenda?

  7. Oops, re-reading Alexander's comments I notice he didn't mention WWI so i can safely say that those examples given were from Liberal-led governments…

  8. ERRATUM alert, Aaron. I believe you are missing a very significant "no" as the eighth word in your post, here.