Why I said no to Manley

This confirms and gives plenty of evidence for my earlier post on the Manley panel. These people are mostly prominent cheerleaders in making Canada top helpmate of the US in advancing its foreign policy aims--always cloaked under the rubric of the war on terror. In Afghanistan there are even more colorful cloaks: Operation Enduring Freedom--originally Operation Infinite Justice! The original war itself was illegal as shown by articles such as those by Mandel.

Why I said no to Manley






>by Michael Byers
December 19, 2007


Earlier this month, I received an invitation to appear before the "Independent Panel on Canada's Future Role in Afghanistan," headed by John Manley.

My initial reaction was positive. For several years, I've worked hard to sound the alarm about flaws in Canada's counterinsurgency mission and our policies on detainees. Speaking to a panel set up by the government would, I thought, provide a useful opportunity for repeating my concerns.

But then I decided to do some research on the panel.

It quickly became apparent that the word "independent" was a misnomer. It would be difficult to find five people more likely to recommend an extension of the mission than Mr. Manley, Derek Burney, Jake Epp, Paul Tellier and Pamela Wallin.

Canada's mission is as much about Canada-U.S. relations as it is about Afghanistan. So it is probably not a coincidence that all the panel members are avowed supporters of close economic and political ties with the United States.

Mr. Manley, as foreign affairs minister, led the post-9/11 effort to convince Washington that Ottawa was serious about border security. More recently, he co-authored a report that advocates a full customs union between the two countries as well as a common security perimeter – supported by much tighter integration between the Canadian and U.S. militaries.

Ms. Wallin, who served as consul general in New York, played a central role in persuading American opinion-makers that Canada was fully supportive of the "war on terror." She now works as a senior adviser to the Council of the Americas, a free trade-promoting organization that counts some of the largest U.S. corporations among its members.

All five of the panel members have been captured by Big Business. Between them, they sit on 19 corporate boards including Nortel and CIBC (Mr. Manley), CTVglobemedia (Ms. Wallin), CanWest Global and TransCanada Pipelines (Mr. Burney).

The panellists seem to share the view that a strong relationship with our southern neighbour is the sine qua non of economic prosperity and therefore Canadian foreign policy, whatever the decisions of the U.S. administration of the day.

Two of the five panel members have close ties to the Canadian defence industry. Mr. Burney served as president of CAE Inc., the largest Canadian-owned military contractor. Mr. Tellier headed up Bombardier when it was heavily involved in training pilots for the Canadian Forces and other NATO countries.

Three of the five are linked to the Conservative party. Mr. Epp was a cabinet minister in Brian Mulroney's government. Mr. Tellier served as clerk of the Privy Council in the same government. Mr. Burney led the transition team after Stephen Harper's January 2006 election victory.

Most worrying, some of the panel members have already expressed clear views on the very issues they have been asked to examine. Just two months ago, in the journal Policy Options, Mr. Manley wrote: "We often seek to define Canada's role in the world. Well, for whatever reason, we have one in Afghanistan. Let's not abandon it too easily."

It cannot be denied that a clear-eyed assessment of Canada's future role in Afghanistan is needed. Seventy-three Canadian soldiers have died, hundreds more have been seriously wounded, and many billions of dollars spent.

But if Mr. Harper really wanted objective advice, he'd have modelled the Manley panel on the Iraq Study Group in the United States.

The ISG was created, and its two co-chairs selected, by a bipartisan group of U.S. congressmen. George W. Bush endorsed the group but did not choose its members.

The members of the Manley panel have been hand-picked by the prime minister.

Logistical and research support for the ISG was provided by an independent think tank, the U.S. Institute for Peace.

The Institute for Peace set up four working groups composed of non-governmental experts from across the political spectrum. It established a "military senior adviser panel" composed of retired rather than serving officers.

The Manley panel is inordinately dependent on the government. Its six-person secretariat is made up of some of the same officials who have been overseeing the Afghanistan mission. Prominent among these are David Mulroney, the current director of the government's Afghanistan Task Force, Sanjeev Chowdhury, the former director of the Afghanistan Task Force, and Col. Mike Cessford, the former deputy commander of the Canadian mission.

The ISG was charged with conducting "a forward-looking, independent assessment of the current and prospective situation on the ground in Iraq, its impact on the surrounding region, and consequences for U.S. interests." In other words, its mandate was drawn in such a way as to encompass all issues and options, including diplomatic ones.

The mandate of the Manley panel has been focused on recommending one of four set options, all of them featuring continuing roles for the military.

Alternative policies, such as negotiating with the Taliban, have been effectively excluded from consideration. So too have the opportunities for non-military responses to the crisis levels of opium production and the lawlessness in northern Pakistan. And little room has been allowed for serious consideration of whether NATO troops should be replaced with UN peacekeepers.

The ISG operated on its own timetable, and chose to delay its report until after the 2006 congressional elections.

In contrast, the Manley panel has been given a deadline of Jan. 31, 2008. This ensures the report will be released before the next election, when it can be used by the Conservatives to buttress their position of extending the counterinsurgency mission for another two years.

So why would Mr. Manley – a Liberal – play into Mr. Harper's hands?

My guess is that he'd feel duty-bound to answer any prime minister's call. Like the many well-intentioned individuals who have agreed to speak to the panel, or submitted written briefs, Mr. Manley wants to make government work.

I suspect it is this intrinsic loyalty to a democratic ideal that Mr. Harper seeks to exploit. He wants the legitimacy that Mr. Manley and other non-Conservatives can provide.

Well, he's not getting any legitimacy from me. Although it pains me to say it, the Manley panel is a sham.

This article originally appeared in the Ottawa Citizen and is reprinted here with the author's permission. Michael Byers holds the Canada Research Chair in Global Politics and International Law at the University of British Columbia.

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