Where are We Now?
“[S]oldiers will seek to resolve every complex situation through military means. Add to this their martial spirit and professional pride that preclude them from ever admitting defeat or questioning their own ability to achieve ultimate victory and we’ve set the stage for a long, drawn-out, bloody campaign.” This is what Scott Taylor, writing in The Chronicle Herald
on 30 April 2007, says [story “Military ‘Victories’ Don’t always Add Up” posted at http://thechronicleherald.ca/Opinion/832497.html
]. This is a very important observation, and Taylor also notes the way military personnel are supposed to behave with and around detainees in Afghanistan is changing, rapidly. This is Canada’s problem in Afghanistan. When handling prisoners, basic human rights must be respected. Even if Canadian soldiers do not abuse detainees, and all accounts stress Canadian treatment is humane and above reproach, our military must take time to ensure those being brought to justice are treated with respect even after they are handed over to local authorities. To act in any other way might put Canadian troops or members of the military in the position of having to face accusations of war crimes, would it not?
It is over the issue of treatment of detainees that Defence Minister Gordon O’Connor is continuing to take heat, from reporters and members of the opposition parties. And all this is because of what has happened to any notion of a realpolitik-defined foreign policy. In the world that Canada inhabits, any practice of geopolitics and realpolitik must include not only the notion, but practices around, human rights. But how well do human rights and realpolitik mix? For the Tories, this is what they must worry about. The opposition parties have the luxury of attacking O’Connor and PM Stephen Harper by pointing out how the government is failing to uphold human rights.
At this point, what has slipped under much of the media radar is the fact the main opposition party, the Liberals, may not be in fundamental disagreement with the Conservatives over the big geopolitical, realpolitik questions posed by and in Afghanistan. Michael Ignatieff, Deputy Liberal leader, has been among the most vocal calling for O’Connor to be dismissed. According to Ignatieff, O’Connor has completely bungled the issue of how prisoners in Afghanistan are being treated. But, and perhaps more importantly, the Defence Minister seems to be in the position of having lost the confidence of the PM: “He should be fired because he no longer has the confidence of the prime minister...We've got troops in the field and the prime minister is leaving this man to twist slowly in the wind. At a time when we've got soldiers in combat, you have to have civilian leadership that's working together, and they're clearly not. They muzzled him [O’Connor] in the House...” Ignatieff said [Cited in “Ignatieff: O’Connor ‘Should be Fired’ Over Detainees,’ CTV News, 27 April 2007. Story posted at http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20070427/ignatieff_afghanistan_070427/20070427?hub=Canada
So why does Ignatieff really think O’Connor needs to go? Would Liberal policy in Afghanistan really look very much different from what the Tories currently offer?
Posted by Stan Markotich
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