Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Hillier cuts bait. Is politics next?

Back in February Rick Hillier tried to mute debate on the Afghanistan mission by saying, “"I'm not going to stand here and tell you that the suicide bombings of this past week have been related to the debate back here in Canada, but I also cannot stand here and say that they are not."

At KCR, they laughed when I said that sounded like a man running for office. But doesn't it have that ring? Now “Canada's top soldier” is hanging up his spurs.

If he seems to be quitting while he's ahead, that may be attributing more success to the mission in Afghanistan than it deserves. That same month, Manley recommended that Canada ask for 1000 troops and some helicopters to help with operations in the south. Easier said than done.

Still, Canada brought its request for an additional 1000 troops and some helicopters to Bucharest and tried to sell the unpopular war with a self-righteous tone. We just want everyone else to pull their weight.

This against the background of testimony by NATO commander US General Dan K McNeill before the Senate Armed Services Committee (Stout and Shanker NYT Feb 6 08), that official American military counterinsurgency doctrine would require well over 400,000 allied and Afghan security troops in Afghanistan – eight times more than were on the ground at the time.

Australia joined Canada in declaring that it was doing more than its fair share. More recently, Bulgaria offered an indeterminate increase in troops, Denmark agreed to provide 3 or 4 helicopters. South Korea pulled out engineering and medical units in December 2007 and has been resisting an American request that they deliver a 200-300 member Provincial Reconstruction Team, an accompanying security unit, and a police unit to train local police. Canadian media pundits have decided that 700 is close enough to 1000 to declare success.

Hillier is no dummy, which means that he is not fooled by this hyperventilated PR bluster. Or by the line that extension of the mission to 2011 was a success. He probably also noticed that Russia will be providing what is arguably the most reliable supply line into Afghanistan albeit for non-military goods.

Something red may have been wrung from the NATO turnip, but the blood is coming from real soldiers, of which there is no possibility whatever of there ever being enough. Nor has the debate back home been silenced.

Canadian troops in Kandahar, it now seems, will be reinforced with Americans, likely from the 101st Airborne. Greater involvement of the US in the south means more civilian casualties, more prisoner abuse, greater corruption in the justice system, and whole hog pursuit of the unpopular, unsuccessful and unnecessary poppy eradication program.

These are difficult times for people who have seen the US as a beacon of democracy and human rights.

With discussions about sending troops into Pakistan and Iran likely beyond his influence, Hillier may try to “sell the mission” at home for a while. But I'm still betting that he will try to use his charisma where it is in shortest supply.

It's hard to imagine a shorter supply of charisma among the celebrity class than right there inside the Canada-US-Israel-NATO imperial alliance where Sarkozy is what passes for someone really sexy. Al Capone would probably get higher approval ratings, and he's dead. The time comes in any career when that is an advantage.

But Hillier still has some juice. His departure from this august company will create that “giant sucking sound” we hear about when a vacuum suddenly becomes the inescapable reality.

My guess is that he will run as a Conservative from Nfld. Good thing for Harper there probably won't be a leadership convention before the Liberals finally fail to avoid an election. Maybe the Liberals...
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Foster Karcha said...

I very much doubt a man as straight forward as Hillier will ever enter politics.

Jim Terral said...

Some said the same of Preston Manning.

Charles said...

A general in politics, in Canada? Now that would be, for me, one of the surest signs this nation is becoming more like the American one. It has just not been in our, nor the British, tradition, but it has been very much an American and French habit, trusting government to a man of military reputation.
I am not betting on Hillier trying for leadership but running as an MP, yes, and maybe aiming to be a Minister of Defence.