Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Forcing consensus

While I couldn't disagree much more with the tone of Andrew Coyne's column on Deceivin' Stephen's Afghanistan plan, he figures to be right on the mark in substance. Contrary to how Thomas Walkom, Lawrence Martin and others have painted Harper's "consensus" comment, there's little reason to think that the Cons are really interested in allowing the views of other parties to influence any plan to extend Canada's combat role any more than they can avoid.

Instead, Harper's goal seems to be to try to develop the type of elite consensus that now dominates the U.S., where the pro-withdrawal message supported by a majority of the population is consistently dismissed as a "fringe" position. And what better way to marginalize the majority than by conflating flowery-sounding talk of a "consensus" with the oft-heard talking point that anybody who would even consider pulling out is against freedom, democracy, the troops and Canada as a whole?

If there's any good news, it's that the misreading from Walkom and Martin suggests that such a plan has backfired. Rather than strongarming anybody into supporting indefinite combat, Harper may only have made a 2009 pullout from Kandahar appear to be the default option.

But as Coyne notes, that could still be dangerous to the extent that the pro-pullout side may let its guard down. Which means that there's no less need now than ever to make sure that Harper can't pretend that his desired "consensus" in any way reflects the views of either most MPs or most Canadians.

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