The work of the Manley Commission has received generally good reviews -- largely because Manley and his fellow commissioners have refused to carry anyone's water. Tom Axworthy, one of Pierre Trudeau's principal advisers, wrote in The Toronto Star that their report "will make uncomfortable reading for everyone in Ottawa." Axworthy continued: "Perhaps the most depressing of Manley's findings is that the 'government from the start of Canada's Afghan involvement, has failed to communicate with Canadians, with balance and candor about the reasons for Canada's involvement or about the risks.' There can be no more serious indictment of a country's political system than going to war without telling the citizens why, or the severity of the risks involved."
It is that essential failure which undercuts Manley's recommendation that Canada remain in Afghanistan past February 2009, the scheduled date for the withdrawal of Canadian troops. Manley recommends extending the mission, providing that two caveats are met: that NATO deploy another 1,000 troops to the Kandahar region of the country; and that Canadian soldiers be provided with new and better equipment. NATO pledged today that it would find the troops. We shall see what comes to pass.
Manley has concluded, along with James Travers -- also writing in the Star -- that to withdraw from Afghanistan "might wreck NATO as well as Canada's reputation." One should not forget, however, that it was Donald Rumsfeld, with his distinction between "old and new Europe," who started to dismantle the alliance. The silliness about "freedom" -- as opposed to" french" -- fries didn't help.
And those developments point to the elephant in the room. What lies at the heart of NATO's reluctance to commit itself to Afghanistan is George W. Bush's decision to remove strategic assets from that country in order to invade Iraq. The Second Bush administration, in NATO's view, switched focus from the business at hand to what Mr. Bush, Mr. Cheney and Mr. Rumsfeld saw as unfinished business, left over from the administration of Bush's father . NATO was left high and dry; and Osama Ben Laden was left to roam the mountainous no man's land between Afghanistan and Pakistan.
And now NATO is awaiting the results of the American election. The alliance will make no significant decisions until it knows who will succeed Bush the Younger. Until the members of the alliance know that the next president makes better decisions than The Decider, there will be no real movement on Afghanistan.
That is a insight which apparently has eluded Stephen Harper, whose foreign policy continues to echo that of the Bush administration. His current claim that his government does not make changes in policy regarding Afghan prisoners -- the military does -- sounds remarkably like Bush's assertion that politicians shouldn't decide what happens to the nation's troops, the generals should. George W. Bush is a tragic example of The Peter Principle played out on the world stage. It may not be long until Canadians conclude that Mr. Harper, like Mr. Bush, was not the right man not to lead his country.