The Third Way
1. It's a major stand on a hot button topic which differentiates Kennedy from the other candidates.
2. I managed to catch a quick flight back from Budapest for the day so I was lucky enough to be at Ryerson for his speech he gave on it. (and, yes, I did get to meet the one and only Jason Cherniak)
3. I really like what GK is saying. And, no, I'm not just saying that.
Since the beginning, I've had mixed feelings on the Afghanistan question. This has been because of the black and white either or argument which it had degenerated to. The question has always been phrased in such a way where the choice is either to stay in Afghanistan crossing our fingers that a hopeless situation will somehow get better, or to pull out and leave. Because of this, anyone who opposed the extension has been accused of "cutting and running" or of "not supporting the troops". Some have tried to dance around the question by arguing semantics on the snap vote but, at the end of the day, it's always come down to an "in or out" question.
So when Liberals I know kept telling me we should get the hell out of Afghanistan, I was left a little uneasy. If NATO pulled out now, we'd be leaving the country in terrible shape and it would probably descend into civil war before long. We made the choice to go into Afghanistan so we owe it to the Afghanis to stay until the situation improves.
But, on the other hand, the situation hasn't been improving. In fact, from a casualty perspective, things are getting worse. We've spent four billion dollars on the mission and have tied our hands so that we can't help in other parts of the world where we might be needed. It's become abundantly obvious that little has been done to improve the living conditions of the Afghanis and that peace isn't coming to that part of the world anytime soon.
What Kennedy is proposing makes sense. As a leader of this mission in NATO, we have some real influence in the direction it takes (so, no, we would not be renegotiating the mission mandate with the Taliban as a certain columnist suggests - it's obviously NATO which sets the mandate). And, as Gerard has said, the mission should be about rebuilding Afghanistan, something which isn't happening. The reason the Taliban still has support is because of the illegal opium trade and because of the abysmal standard of living conditions in the country. We'll never succeed unless the abject poverty that exists in Afghanistan is eased.
After World War 2, Europe was rebuilt by investments in infrastructure and aid. Time and time again, history has shown that the best way to return stability to a region is by improving the standard of living, infrastructure and economy. We can fight the Taliban in the hills, spending billions and losing dozens of lives for ever and ever but if we actually want to leave Afghanistan in respectable shape, I think it's time the parameters of the mission were overhauled. Anyone who argues otherwise needs to offer up some sort of argument for how we can possibly hope to reach the end game in Afghanistan under the current plan.
(for balance, Paul Wells offers up the opposing viewpoint here. But he does make the point that the other seven probably need to get off the fence on this one and use more than the "parliamentary tactics" defense)