Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Stéphane Dion -- Straight from the Horse's Mouth

Most of what I've heard about Stéphane Dion has come through the media. I saw him "directly," so to speak, on the Rick Mercer Report, but in true RMR fashion, that wasn't a sustained serious interview. I was reminded this morning why it pays to listen to politicians directly, rather than through the filter of a biased and tending-to-leave-out-a-few-facts media lens.

I caught most of the interview Bill Carroll did this morning with Dion on CFRB. The first thing I noticed was that Dion's answers were nuanced and well thought out. He refused to fall into the black-and-white world of the media, where easy answers and sound bites predominate. Instead, he explained clearly his position and didn't fall into the what-if game. As Dr. Phil says, what-ifs are useless and don't get you anywhere. Yes, you have to think out all your possibilities, but a leader must also know when to stick to his guns. I can see Canada being in Kandahar for years to come while the other NATO countries swan around in Kabul because it hasn't stuck to its guns.

Dion's position on Afghanistan is different from what I was led to believe by the media I've watched and read. I'd been criticizing him in my head for doing a 180 on the Liberal policy and talking as if it was the Conservatives who decided to go into Afghanistan -- Not! It was the Liberals -- and Liberals had always been against it. I had been led to believe he wanted out of Afghanistan or was flip-flopping around. Not true. Dion wanted to adhere to what Paul Martin had agreed to, namely that NATO would take over the Kandahar region from the US and that NATO countries would rotate through the area, not that Canada would do all the work for time infinitum. Stephen Harper changed the mandate, from a NATO responsibility to a Canadian one, quite neatly I might add. He banked on the media not doing their homework, having an attention span shorter than a gnat, and on Canadians not understanding what Martin had committed us to.

From listening to Dion, I went from highly critical of his stand on Afghanistan to understanding much better the situation and coming round to his point of view, namely that ALL NATO countries need to share the combat mission and that Canada cannot disproportionately carry the full NATO load in that area. In Afghanistan, there are many NATO countries larger in population size yet much smaller in military commitment than us. I first realised this watching CBC's Test the Nation. It boggled my mind that we, the small country that we are, are second in size to the US in number of troops. Did anyone else notice that?

I'm with Dion, it's time other NATO countries stepped up to the plate to take over the combat role, while we take advantage of our military's strengths and train the Afghan army and work with the Afghanis in rehabilitating their country.

Radio talk shows need to do more of these kinds of interviews, and they need to give the politicians time to be interviewed (a half hour) and to take questions from listeners (second half hour). And CFRB needs to put more of them up on their website as podcasts, like they just did with the Dalton McGuinty interview.

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