Friday, March 06, 2009

Strange foreign affairs leadership

Looks like Cannon and Harper are on different pages in the Afghanistan "super-envoy" department. Cannon's at the NATO foreign ministers meeting and he's getting all psyched up to have one appointed, yet Mr. Harper's played it down to date, even though all the NATO allies have done so:
U.S. President Barack Obama's appointment of prominent diplomat Richard Holbrooke to the region was followed by similar appointments by France, Britain and Germany.
But paranoia seems to be what's holding Harper back from doing so. The angle in the Globe report is that he thinks we may not be invited to the U.S. Afghanistan summit at which such envoys would figure:
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton yesterday called for an international summit on Afghanistan on March 31, in a bid to focus the world on stabilizing the country - and concerns about Pakistan are expected to have a role in the talks.

"I did read the comments made by Secretary of State Clinton," Mr. Harper said in the Commons yesterday. "We have no details beyond those comments. Obviously Canada would be delighted to participate in any such gathering."

That conference might also spark a move toward naming a so-called contact group for Afghanistan and Pakistan - a handful of countries, usually a mix of world and regional powers, who will steer global efforts, like the group created for Bosnia talks in the 1990s.

It's not clear, however, whether Canada would have a place in such a group.

Some experts believe that might be why Mr. Harper has so far dismissed calls to appoint a regional envoy: It could be an embarrassment to name an envoy only to see that person left out of the group handling the talks. (emphasis added)
Read on in the piece for possible reasons for Canada's exclusion.

Now, if you read the NY Times report today on this Afghanistan summit, it's hard to believe that Clinton, who will be running it, would exclude Canada given her favourable disposition generally toward us. We're clearly an actor there, now, albeit an exiting one, and our role there to date would seem to dictate that we shouldn't be ignored. Here's the Times overview with the parts that would seem to speak to Canada's inclusion:
Setting up the prospect of its first face-to-face encounter with Iran, the Obama administration has proposed a major conference on Afghanistan this month that would include Iran among the invited countries, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Thursday.

“We presented the idea of what is being called a big-tent meeting, with all the parties who have a stake and an interest in Afghanistan,” she said at a news conference here after a meeting of NATO foreign ministers. “If we move forward with such a meeting, it is expected that Iran would be invited, as a neighbor of Afghanistan.”
...
The proposed conference would give the United States a forum to present the results of its Afghanistan policy review to its NATO allies. The review is expected to be completed by the middle of March, State Department officials said.
...
There is debate about the scope of the guest list, administration officials said, with some countries arguing to include only those with troops in Afghanistan, as well as Japan.
That last part is what makes it seem likely that we would be in fact invited.

It is funny though, given that Cannon was just in Washington to meet with Clinton, and Obama was here meeting with Harper, that a high profile summit on Afghanistan to occur at the end of the month never seems to have come up. These meetings may be many, but the relationship is not as close as the Harper crew would like it to be. And it's also funny that other principal NATO countries have gone ahead and appointed envoys...yet Harper hangs back with his wait and see approach. You'd think with all the wisdom and historical lessons he has to impart, as he told Fareed Zakaria, that he'd be seeking a leadership role while the ground is clearly shifting.

Talk about foreign affairs leadership of which we can be proud...