A gaffe is when a politician inadvertently tells the truth, and Stephen Harper did just that on CNN:
Western forces alone can never defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama better realize that in shaping his strategy there, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.
In an interview aired Sunday on the U.S. news network CNN, Harper said he’s “delighted” the U.S. president is sending more troops to the country in the short term.
Many of them will be deployed in the Kandahar region, where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers already on the ground can use the help.
But in the longer run, said Harper, it’s the government in Kabul that will have to run its own country and be responsible for its own security.
“We’re not going to win this war just by staying,” he told interviewer Fareed Zakaria.
“Quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had — my reading of Afghanistan history (is) it’s probably had an insurgency forever of some kind.
“What has to happen in Afghanistan is we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency.”
The Globe and Mail, smelling blood, jumps on the “we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency” comment:
Canada, allies will never defeat Taliban, PM says
Although Mr. Obama has made clear that he regards military success as only one dimension of eventual success in Afghanistan, he has never suggested defeating the insurgency can’t be done.
Rather, he has exhorted allies to do more militarily.
“We must renew our resolve to rout the terrorists who threaten our security in Afghanistan,” Mr. Obama said during his major foreign-policy speech in Berlin during the election campaign. “The Afghan people need our troops and your troops, our support and your support to defeat the Taliban and al-Qaeda.”
And just before his trip to Ottawa and the announcement he was sending 17,000 more soldiers to Afghanistan, Mr. Obama said the war in “Afghanistan is still winnable,” although he made clear that solving “the problem of Afghanistan, the Taliban, the spread of extremism” cannot be accomplished “solely through military means.”
However, with a NATO summit next month and Mr. Obama keen to secure more military commitments from increasingly reluctant European allies, Mr. Harper’s assessment that defeating the insurgency is impossible may reinforce the split in the alliance.
Canada is one of the very few allies so far willing to send soldiers to southern Afghanistan, heartland of the Taliban where the insurgency has been growing. For Ottawa to be taking the position that foreign troops can’t deliver victory may make Mr. Obama’s task harder.
For some Globe readers, Harper’s downbeat assessment of Afghanistan is proof that he’s a crazy Republican neocon warmonger. Go figure. How many Canadians realize that President Hopenchange is much more hawkish than their “right-wing” Prime Minister?
Update: more at The Torch, including an interesting comment from Terry Glavin. LGF readers are dismayed, but one commenter posts this excerpt from the CNN interview:
ZAKARIA: So, we are never going to defeat the insurgency. The best we can do is train Afghan forces that can take it on, and then we withdraw.
HARPER: Absolutely. Because I think, you know, a part of the calculation there is the fact that, ultimately, the source of authority in Afghanistan has to be perceived as being indigenous. If it’s perceived as being foreign — and I still think we’re welcome there — but if it’s perceived as being foreign, it will always have a significant degree of opposition.
ZAKARIA: Is it your sense that Karzai’s government has legitimacy and should be backed? What do your people tell you?
HARPER: There is no doubt that governance in Afghanistan has to improve, and has to improve much more quickly than what we’ve seen in the first — how many years is it now — almost eight years?”
Who can argue with that?