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PM Harper talks to Fareed Zakaria about Afghanistan – staying the course?

March 3, 2009

Oh drama – Stephen Harper tells Fareed Zakaria that we’ll never defeat the insurgency in Afghanistan, but also implies that we might be open to staying there longer if Obama had a great strategy.

This makes somewhat more sense than it seems to once you watch the entire interview. I interpret Harper’s position to be: We (I guess he means NATO) will never defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan. An Afghan government, however, could be more or less well set-up to contain it. So if we might be able to leave the Afghan government in a better position by staying longer, that’s something we might consider.

This actually makes a lot of sense to me, and isn’t that complicated in theory (but Harper has opened himself up to criticism by being unclear and wishy-washy in the past). But it means that in practice we’d better be focusing our time and money on supporting good governance initiatives, not just counterinsurgency. I’d love to know how Harper’s (new?) stance actually translates into decisions about spending and tactics.

Also, our banks ROCK!

UPDATE: Damian from The Torch has commented here, to the effect that you can’t separate good governance initiatives from counterinsurgency. He’s also helpfully pointed us to the philosophy of the CF Counterinsurgency Manual. I couldn’t find the text on the CF website (though apparently there’s a draft on Steve Staples’ blog) but here’s The Torch’s blog post about it.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. March 10, 2009 7:03 am

    Good discussion and I learned something from reading the piece from the CF’s counterinsurgency manual that Damian provided.

    I too appreciated Harper’s candid assessment of the situation and when read with Lewis MacKenzie’s article in the Globe last week, it paints a more realistic picture for Canada. But what has been missing for me in our discussions about Afghanistan is the role of Pakistan. Ahmed Rashid’s article last Saturday in the Globe paints a very troubling picture of how much Pakistan is conceding to extreme Islamic movements in the Western frontier provinces. While I think we are getting better at understanding the challenges in Afghanistan, I think we are putting blinders on to the broader challenges of stabilizing the Afghan government within the region. Without a clear strategy for working with Pakistan, I think it is going to be impossible to create the conditions that would enable the Afghan government to contain the counterinsurgency movements.

  2. March 5, 2009 9:45 am

    “But it means that in practice we’d better be focusing our time and money on supporting good governance initiatives, not just counterinsurgency.”

    FYI, spending money on good governance IS counterinsurgency. From the new CF counterinsurgency manual:

    “The military role is to create the security framework to permit the legal and political initiatives required for a long term solution to the root causes of grievances. Although combat may occur, the primary strategic centre of gravity is the civilian populace. Only by drawing the civilian population to the government side and therefore creating a hostile environment for the insurgents can an insurgency be defeated. In other words, the military plays but one part of a COIN campaign that will involve a wide variety of other government and non-government agencies. It is these other elements of power that will bring about the enduring solutions to the situation.”

    One additional note: although the document that passage is taken from is new, the ideas in it are drawn in many cases from lessons already learned and applied in Afghanistan. In other words, this is the philosophy the CF has been bringing to the problem for awhile now.

    • March 5, 2009 10:21 am

      excellent, this is really good to know. as you may already be aware, i read your blog as often as possible, and often wish that the information in it was more accessible – as in, both more available in the mainstream media, and also easily understood by a non-military audience.

  3. reneethewriter permalink
    March 4, 2009 6:44 pm

    Reilly, thanks for posting the interview…and for the comments here…why hasn’t our Prime Minister, formally, in either a televised address to the Canadian people, or to us via the Canadian Parliament, given a serious and sustained policy presentation on the issues he chose to raise on American cable media and in the WSJ?

    Cor, i completely agree with your comments re the “evil” allusion…(in my post re Fisk and PM Harper).

  4. March 4, 2009 12:17 pm

    I too thought Harper’s description of the situation in Afghanistan was pretty accurate – but I don’t think most political leaders have really admitted or adapted to the implications of the fact that counterinsurgency doesn’t really “succeed” in the traditional sense. I hope that once we have fully accepted this reality, and planned for it, then politicians will be more comfortable being consistently honest about it. But the public is going to have to hear a lot of things they won’t like.

    On a related note, did you hear this year’s Munk debates on humanitarian intervention?

  5. March 3, 2009 6:07 pm

    Apparently the father of a slain soldier thinks Harper sounds lie a defeatist:

    • corsullivan permalink*
      March 4, 2009 11:49 am

      Sometimes there’s an awfully fine line between being defeatist and being realistic. I noticed that the article you linked to also quoted Lewis MacKenzie as saying that “victory is leaving with a security appartus that can control the insurgency”, which echoes Harper’s position.

      I’m not used to feeling proud of Stephen Harper, but I think his comments represent exactly the kind of gritty straight talk that Canadians need to hear more of. Hopes of completely defeating the insurgency, or (worse yet) of turning Afghanistan into some kind of model liberal democracy, were always an unrealistic recipe for disappointment. Now Harper seems to have his eye on a goal that might actually be achievable.

      On the other hand, Harper apparently told the Wall Street Journal that “NATO must succeed” in Afghanistan, which sounds somewhat less sober and reasonable unless he was using the word “succeed” to refer to reducing the insurgency to manageable levels. And in that same conversation he made some incredibly simplistic comments about Iran and its “ideology that is obviously evil”. So at least I don’t have to feel TOO proud of the man.

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