Aides say that Biden will go to NATO primarily to carry out Obama's pledge to consult with allies before the administration's strategic review on Afghanistan is completed and sent to the president in mid-March.Sounds like that's coming directly from Biden's office.
But Biden may also be able to prevent two lingering problems from blowing up into showstoppers at Obama's debut on the NATO stage, the April 3-4 summit in Strasbourg.
The first involves achieving agreement on a new secretary general to take charge of the organization this summer. Washington would reward Canada for its valiant combat performance in Afghanistan by putting Defense Minister Peter MacKay in the job. But European countries feel that this is not the time to break a tradition of giving the post to a European (who would presumably have a surer feel for Europe's complex politics). The all-too-predictable catch: There is no European consensus candidate.
In terms of the politics here, from MacKay's perspective, this would be a smart move for MacKay personally. He would be leaving what can fairly be termed to be a sinking Conservative ship that is hopefully going to be put out to pasture in the next federal election. With a leadership race likely to follow. What better time for MacKay to depart and develop some leadership credentials for a future leadership run down the road. He'd be skipping the coming one as the NATO Secretary General term is four years. While MacKay has publicly said that he's not been actively campaigning for the job, if he's now being touted by Biden as a pick, that's got to say something counter to MacKay's protestations about his own efforts. Note from a February Star report as well the reminder of the fact that MacKay attended a "major security conference in Munich, Germany" in February at which both Robert Gates and Joe Biden also were present. Combined with the Post report, it suggests the U.S. looks at MacKay as its guy. Now whether MacKay as Defence Minister ought to be quietly campaigning for a position where he will likely be viewed as the U.S.'s man at NATO...that's a whole other question for us.
The departure of a significant minister would send the inevitable signals about the Harper government's future, you know, the sinking ship, see above. And word initially about the MacKay bid was reported to have set Harper off:
A government source said the first time MacKay's candidacy came up at a meeting where Harper was present, the Prime Minister appeared to pay it no attention. But when people close to MacKay tried to publicize his candidacy "all hell broke loose" in the Prime Minister's Office, the source said.It would be quite the thing to see MacKay with his exit strategy as going off to NATO as Secretary General while Mr. Harper faces a tough next election and perhaps political oblivion in the aftermath.
(see also ACR, Mound, D Wolk and last but certainly not least, great questions being raised at CanPolitico including about MacKay's quiet campaign for the position, assisted by taxpayer funded jets)