Afghanistan - 2
And since we're now locked in until 2009, it's certain to be a major election issue in the next campaign. So I'm going to do what every politician does, but always self-righteously tell others not to do, and "play politics" with this issue.
From a purely strategic point of view, I think it would have made a lot more sense for the Liberal Party to come out strongly against to the extension of the mission. We've fulfilled our original commitment which was only agreed to on the understanding that we could open up our troops for deployment elsewhere. There's a very good chance that troops will be needed in the Sudan within the next three years and it's obvious that we won't be able to help there with ground forces because of the Afghanistan mission. The majority of Canadians oppose the extension of the mission and you can't beat a government in power by taking the exact same position as them (unless, you know, their party is under RCMP investigation and the subject of several corruption inquiries...). 70% of Quebecers oppose the extension and it's my opinion that Quebecers will be more likely to vote for a party which shares their values and policy opinions than one led by the leader with the most perfect French.
With that in mind, I think Michael Ignatieff (and Scott Brison, to a lesser extent) are going to be hurt by this issue if it becomes the defining issue of the leadership campaign (a la Meech 1990).
That's not to say that Michael Ignatieff was wrong to vote in favour of the mission. Voting "no" would have gone against everything he's ever believed in on foreign affairs. But by voting yes, he'll be tying himself up in the John Kerry knot if he takes a different position in the next campaign. With Ignatieff at the helm, the Liberal party would effectively be taking the issue off the table during the next campaign.
And this brings me to the one thing about the whole Ignatieff candidacy which really perplexes me. Given his background, I don't think it's a stretch to say that Iggy's policy expertise is in foreign affairs. That's what he's studied his entire life and that's what he feels most passionately about. Yet on foreign affairs, very few Liberals agree with him. He was for the Iraq war, he was for missile defense, and he's now for the Afghanistan mission extension. During the last election campaign, he wrote the following:
Ignatieff said that Republican foreign policy, focusing on promoting democracy, is better suited to the situation in the Middle East than what he termed the cautious, pragmatic neo-isolationism offered by the Democrats. "The times require real vision in the Middle East," he said.
I know very few Liberals who'd agree with this (but, then again, there aren't a lot of Liberals in Calgary for me to agree with). Given his lack of experience on domestic issues, I have a hard time understanding the paradox of how a "vision and policy" campaign which focuses on foreign affairs can be so successful when hardly any Liberals agree with the candidate himself on foreign policy.
I'm not trying to throw mud here because if there's anything which is fair game to criticize other candidates on, it's their policy positions. I'm just generally perplexed on this one.