2011 if necessary, but not necessarily 2011

Lawrence Cannon, bless his heart, has been steadfast on what Barack Obama’s election means for Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. “The U.S. interest,” he said the other day, “won’t change our opinion or intention to withdraw our forces in 2011.”

Peter MacKay, bless his jawline, has been no less stolid. “Canada is carrying its fair share of the load,” he says, “and 2011 is the fixed date.”

Steadfast and solid are they. But also, apparently, quite speculative.

From the Prime Minister’s new, and strangely Ignatieffian, interview with the Sun.

Q: Still on Obama: He is planning to move a lot of extra troops into Afghanistan. Canada has a fixed exit date of 2011 right now. If he asks you if that date is flexible, is there any chance Canada could stay in place beyond that date, are you open to some wiggle room with that date?

A: My position is the position of the Parliament of Canada. We went to the Parliament, we got our extension to 2011 and that’s what we will do. I will certainly not be making any commitments without the consent of the Parliament of Canada. I do believe it’s important to our NATO and international allies that we have an end date to this mission. What we want to see is responsibility transferred for security, day-to-day responsibility, transferred to the government of Afghanistan. That remains our objective. I’m not going to speculate on what President Obama may or may not ask me. I know he’s committed to putting a great deal more effort into Afghanistan, a great deal more troops, and he’s committed to the success of the mission and working with Canada. Beyond that, I don’t want to speculate.

Q: Is there a possibility, though, that you could present an extension to Parliament?

A: I’m not contemplating that right now. I think it’s important we stick to the game plan we have. And quite frankly, my major priority right now is the economy. I think it would be highly speculative, the scenarios you’re putting forward.

Q: If he did ask, your answer would be no?

A: I don’t have any plans to make any change. But obviously we’ll see how things unfold. In fairness, we know very generally President Obama’s priorities but I wouldn’t want to speculate on what he may or may not intend to do in Afghanistan or anywhere else.