Saturday, October 13, 2007

Trouble with Hillier

Our relations with the US are obviously a big part of our commitment in Afghanistan. Most reports about the mission hardly even mention this. Instead of helping out in Iraq we agreed to take a leading role in Afghanistan. Hillier obviously pushed this in spite of resistance by Martin. Now it has become a mess but Harper certainly supports his role as a partner in US attempts to become world hegemon.

Trouble with Hillier
Defence chief may stand between Harper and majority government – and PM can do nothing about it
Oct. 11, 2007
Is Chief of Defence Staff Gen. Rick Hillier staying or going?

CTV News Ottawa bureau chief Robert Fife recently said an undisclosed source had told him that Hillier was not long for his job. Hillier, Fife said early in October, would be gone by February '08.

Fife implied that Hillier was getting his walking papers because he had undermined his political bosses and had failed to change public opinion on the war in Afghanistan.

But in a press conference on the Hill on Oct. 3, Prime Minister Stephen Harper said the reports were wrong and he gave Hillier a ringing endorsement as "an outstanding soldier."

"I just approved a pretty good rating for the Chief of the Defence Staff," Harper said.

The next day, Fife was back with his Hillier story. Then on CTV's Question Period, Craig Oliver could not stop talking about the Hillier story.

Eugene Lang's and Janice Gross Stein's book, The Unexpected War: Canada in Kandahar, sheds some light on what exactly is happening.

Lang, a former chief of staff for two Liberal defence ministers, and Stein, director of the Munk Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto and one of Canada's top academics, paint quite a portrait of Rick Hillier. Hillier, they say, is the main man responsible for the present mess in Afghanistan.

Stein and Lang say in the first weeks of Hillier's 2005 appointment as the new chief of defence staff, he "had secured from Martin's government the largest funding increase in a generation."

"Hillier had also persuaded the Martin government to set Canada on the path to a war in Afghanistan which no one, least of all Paul Martin, wanted or expected," Lang and Stein also say.

Hillier had been in office for only one month when he developed a plan for what he thought should be the nation's top defence priority — Afghanistan. He wanted a deployment that would get Canada deeper and deeper into the most troubled parts of the country, Lang and Stein say.

Martin did not want to fight in Afghanistan. That was Chr├ętien's war and Martin wanted no part of it. Martin wanted Canada in Darfur and Haiti. Hillier and the Defence Department thought that was a dumb idea and a waste of resources.

Martin was a strong proponent of the "responsibility to protect" doctrine of the United Nations. Martin also believed in peacekeeping and felt that Hillier's combat tactics in Afghanistan would make Canada lose the hearts and minds of ordinary Afghans.

The Department of Defence and Hillier fought Martin on Darfur and the "responsibility to protect" all the way. Defence and Hillier wanted combat troops in Afghanistan.

Hillier told Martin that when Martin said no to the ballistic missile defence scheme, he had ticked off the Americans, already unhappy about Chr├ętien saying no to a Canadian military operation in Iraq. Hillier said the Pentagon and the Americans would like his plans for Afghanistan.

It seems that Lang and Stein are saying that Canadian history will designate Hillier as the father of the Afghanistan mission. Hillier made a one-man push for an Afghanistan mission, Lang and Stein say. Hillier's charm and charisma gave him the tools to make Martin cave in to the U.S. military and give up on Darfur and Haiti.

Hillier outfoxed Martin on Afghanistan. Hillier didn't have to outfox Harper. Harper was pro-Pentagon and pro-Bush. Stephen Harper agreed with Hillier.

Now, says Lang, Hillier has turned Afghanistan into a bitter war with no end in sight. The heavy Canadian casualties in Afghanistan will continue because of Hillier, Lang and Stein say.

Rick Hillier as the father of the Afghanistan war is a pretty important thesis. It's plausible. It also makes the war in Afghanistan an even trickier problem for Harper than it already appeared.

The war in Afghanistan is the only thing standing in the way of a majority government for Harper. Quebec wants no part of the Afghanistan war, nor do Ontario, nor Canada's big cities. The Hillier story is not really helping Harper with Afghanistan.

It is fair to say that Hillier has wielded too much power in the Harper government. Hillier does not know how to respect his political bosses and Hillier undermined former defence minister Gordon O'Connor. This same O'Connor was recently praised by J.L. Granatstein, the historian, as the defence minister who revived the Canadian armed forces. This lavish praise for O'Connor was a Granatstein rebuke for Hillier.

It's interesting to note that when Martin said Canada wouldn't support the U.S. ballistic missile defence system, Hillier came up with his Afghanistan plan to make the Pentagon happy. Martin wasn't worried about the Pentagon, but Hillier was. If Harper is the most pro-American prime minister Canada has had in years, Hillier is the most pro-Pentagon chief of defence staff Canada has ever had.

Harper has to be careful with Hillier, who is loved by the troops in Afghanistan and the media. A wrong move by Harper could pull the whole Afghanistan mission down.

This Hillier story is the most remarkable story to come down the pike for Harper in years.

Hillier refuses to talk to the media about the Fife story. Hillier is not granting any interviews. The father of the Afghanistan war is unusually quiet.

Hillier is too popular to be touched by Harper — the soldiers and the public like Hillier far more than they like Harper. That could explain the new quirky relationship between Hillier and the Prime Minister. Letting Hillier go on the brink of an election campaign would be real folly. Hillier's popularity could stop Harper from getting a majority government.

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