Friday, October 05, 2007

It's OUR war and we're not letting anyone else look at it.

At least that's the way the Conservatives see things. Red Tory picks up on Don Martin's column describing the attempts by the Harper government to prevent anyone but their people from visiting Canadian operations in Afghanistan.
Mr. [Denis] Coderre [Liberal defence critic and member of the Privy Council] has tried for two months to secure government permission to make a fact-finding trip to Afghanistan ahead of Parliament's return in two weeks. Liberal leader Stephane Dion has his application in the system for a visit in November.

But Mr. Coderre was stonewalled and his calls to the Defence Minister unreturned until he was finally told to buy his own ticket and catch a commercial flight.

Why not, he decided. Mr. Coderre's solo adventure started on Thursday, although he called from London to say he'd been officially warned the military base is off limits and that he will be denied protection by the troops.

Officially warned by whom?

Mr. Coderre says he will piggyback on charitable and humanitarian groups to ensure he sees the wilds of Kandahar up close. If it's done safely, he may well leave with a greater appreciation of the situation than any cocooned minister or parliamentary secretary. Being confined to the airfield gives you no more insight into southern Afghanistan reality than studying the situation from Bay Street.

But it will be very dangerous outside the base and the optics of Mr. Coderre getting hurt or worse for the want of a military babysitter would make the partisan protectionism of the Conservatives appear unforgivably petty.

Lest we forget, Canada's enemy in Afghanistan are extremists trying to stifle free speech and deny women basic human rights -- not Liberals trying to have an informed debate.

Well, there are a couple of things that need to be mentioned here.

First, because Kandahar is a "hot" theatre, people not directly involved in the mission do require clearance to be there. Where does that clearance come from? The Canadian Forces - not the government. If the Minister of National Defence stuck his nose in this he has just made the good offices of the uniformed command of the Canadian Armed Forces little more than his political hacks.

Once there, however, the decision to provide security and protection rests with the commander on the ground in Afghanistan. If orders have been transmitted to him such that he is not to offer security to Coderre, that order is interfering with the authority of the expeditionary force commander. It is also unlawful.

So, who issued it?

Secondly, there is every good reason to limit the visits of so-called VIPs in theatre. I can speak from personal experience that they are an incredible pain-in-the-ass and suck up resources better used elsewhere. But if Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier is going to be there anyway, it would have been more efficient to have Coderre visit at the same time. Since there has to be a "personal protection team" effort made anyway, it is easier to get it all over at once. If Coderre gets caught out in the open without a PPT another problem develops and will require contingency action by Canadian Forces.

Red Tory pulled out a nugget which tells more about how the Conservatives operate.

Sure it's an organizational headache. But officers tell me cabinet ministers are the mother of all migraines. In the case of former defence minister Gordon O'Connor, officers confide his final visit ended with his flacks ripping into military brass for failing to set up suitable camera backgrounds for media scrums.
Yes, well. It brings to mind an incident during another event late in the last century. Having been saddled with a cabinet minister in the middle of something relatively hot, one of the "aides" suggested a photo of the minister and members of my team. It went this way:

- Get rid of the friggin' camera. This is an operational area.

- Just one, maybe two pictures.

- Sure. When all this shit is over and my men and I get home, give me a call.

No photos were taken but the minister did get back at me for my lack of cooperation. Medal presentations were held in the minister's riding and we were required to attend, photo ops and all.

If the Conservatives are so hot on getting Canadians to "support the mission" they had better start learning that we need to know what's going on from someone other than them. If they're not letting other party MPs take a look for themselves, it means the Conservatives are trying to hide something or they're lying about any supposed progress they say is being made.

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