Thursday, May 24, 2007

What was Stephen Harper thinking?

It has been widely reported that one of the reasons for Mr. Harper's trip to Afghanistan was to try to change the channel on what has been a dismal four to six weeks for his government. I happen to agree with that assessment.

He even went so far as to travel to a forward base.

At first I just dismissed the trip for what it was but then I thought about his excursion to the forward base some more and found myself first shaking my head in disgust and then getting rather upset.

That excursion is the most irresponsible thing Stephen Harper has done since he won the last election.

Although it always causes my gorge to rise when I say this out loud Mr. Harper is the Prime Minister of Canada. It is not his function to take such risks. By doing so, he did not just risk his own life but he risked a very serious and prolonged national crisis. If the unthinkable would have happened and he was incapacitated or killed while at the forward base, or traveling to and from it, Canada would have been left without a Prime Minister and it would have been left with a governing party that would have needed to scramble to find a permanent replacement for him. Any chance that such a party would actually be able to deal with the many important issues facing Canada would be nil. In short Canada would have been without an effective government for weeks and possibly months.

It is true that steps were taken to mitigate the risks, such as the presence of over a dozen JTF-2 commandos and the fact he flew to the forward base as opposed to going by road. However, that does not take away from the irresponsibility of his actions. He has much more bigger fish to fry than visiting a few dozen Canadian soldiers at this forward base.

Some of his supporters would contend that his actions showed courage. What silliness. Leaving aside the risk mitigation measures taken, strapping on body armour, helmet, and boss shades and then flying into the forward base for an hour is not courageous. True courage is doing what the soldiers he visited do. Living and breathing the stress of living at the forward base for days or even weeks at a time, undertaking patrols in hostile territory to suppress the Taliban.

In 2000 Jean Chretien called a election during the worst flooding experienced by Manitoba in a generation. Mr. Chretien visited the area during the election and he was roundly condemned (and rightly so) when he did a photo-op where he threw a sandbag onto one of the barricades. As if him taking a half-hour tour of the devastated area and throwing a sandbag onto that barracade could give him even an inkling the stress and pain the victims of that flooding were experiencing.

It is expected that the Prime Minister would do some politicking while on his trip to Afghanistan, especially considering recent political events. But it is the height of irresponsibility that he would risk a national crisis in order to do that politicking. It was an act of a desperate man and a gross misjudgment on his part.

For better or for worse, Stephen Harper is the leader of the Canadian government. He has the responsibility to make personal decisions that will not risk leaving Canada leaderless. He failed to live up to that responsibility during his recent trip to Afghanistan.

Then there is the logistical nighmare that he caused his security personnel and the very soldiers he went to visit but that could be a topic for a whole other post.


Blogger knb said...

Interesting take ottlib.

I imagine it was safer than is being reported, but all the same, you're right. Even if there was NO danger, to suggest that there was, in an effort to show how brave the "leader" is, was ill concidered, as most things seem to be with this government.

May 24, 2007 7:18 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...


You have to understand the nature of guerilla warfare.

There is no front line. Instead there is a fortified hub or series of hubs and connected to these are smaller fortified positions. It is at, from and around these smaller fortified positions where most of the actual fighting takes place.

The main hub(s) (Which would be the main Khandahar base) are way too big and way too fortified for the guerillas to attack, except maybe the perimeter. You can rest assured that Mr. Harper never made it within 500 metres of that perimeter so he was quite safe.

The smaller fortifications on the other hand are more likely targets because they are smaller and because they are not as well manned as the main hubs. Not that they are easy targets but they are easier to attack beyond the perimeter. So if the Taliban would have decided to launch some type of attack on the forward base while Mr. Harper was there the scenario I mention in my post had the potential to play out.

Then of course there was his mode of transportation in getting to the forward base. The Black Hawk helicopter has a history of crashes in war zones not attributed to enemy fire.

It is not the fault of the aircraft. It is the fault of the fact maintenance, crew rest and crew training standards often take a back seat to operational requirements in war zones. The Black Hawk is known to be unforgiving if the pilot makes a serious error and I believe that it does not react will if not well maintained. So there was a risk there as well.

There was no compelling reason for Stephen Harper to take the risk he did. There was more at stake than his own life and the political fortunes of the Conservative Party and I find it the height of irresponsibility that he still decided to take that risk.

May 24, 2007 8:22 PM  
Blogger knb said...

ottlib, I wish you would write to some of the major papers. Point it out.

Write to Scott Taylor, he'll get it published, or at the very least include your opinion in his articles.

I love blogs and opinion, but we have to get truth out there.

I'm at a loss. I can paint it, but I have no idea how to articulate it.

May 24, 2007 9:41 PM  
Blogger knb said...

Just to reinforce your point, the soldier who was killed today was apparently only a couple of kilometres away from where Harper was.

May 25, 2007 1:24 PM  
Blogger Crabgrass said...

CPC supporters would be hilarious on this. In the face of this question, I would expect them to argue that he of course took the appropriate precautions (no, not the kind the bible forbids), and was no doubt quite safe.

Unfortunately for them, they've been painting him as pretty gosh darn brave for the last few days.

At least one of those claims has to be bullshit.

May 25, 2007 5:11 PM  
Blogger ottlib said...


Just imagine the morale boost to the Taliban in particular and Islamic terrorists in general if the Taliban would have got lucky.

Irresponsibility of the highest order.

I know some would claim I am being partisan but I can say without a doubt that if Paul Martin would have pulled a stunt like this I would have immediately called for his ouster.

Prime Ministers are poltical in nature but they have to balance that with with what is best for Canada. Stephen Harper failed miserably in that duty this week.

May 25, 2007 7:48 PM  

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