I've been mulling over whether to do a full post on the now-defeated Coderre resolution that would have purportedly brought an end to Canada's combat mission in Afghanistan in February 2009. After looking at it more closely, I've decided to go ahead on the grounds that the Liberals, for all their claims of seeking "clarity" on Canada's commitment to Afghanistan's reconstruction, would have further muddied the waters. First, the resolution's active clause (for the preambulatory clauses, go here:
this House call upon the government to confirm that Canada’s existing military deployment in Afghanistan will continue until February 2009, at which time Canadian combat operations in Southern Afghanistan will conclude; and call upon the government to notify NATO of this decision immediately.
I am not a linguist by trade, nor am I a lawyer. Nonetheless, I know that the wording of this resolution is deeply flawed if the Liberals truly want to bring an end to all Canadian combat missions in Afghanistan at the current February 2009 deadline. I don't know whether they purposefully or unintentionally left the clause vague, but nonetheless this resolution left open the door for the government to continue military operations beyond February 2009. Allow me to explain.
First, the resolution speaks of the "existing military deployment," which can be interpreted to mean the current operation and not the mission itself. Suppose Canada order a fresh military deployment to another region of Afghanistan, either by sending in new forces or a re-deployment of current Canadian Forces already in Afghanistan. How would such a new deployment relate to this resolution? What if the government were to order a new deployment scheduled to begin in March 2009? These are important questions that the failed Liberal measure does not address.
Second, the resolution calls for "Canadian combat operations" in "Southern Afghanistan" to conclude. It doesn't call for an end to "all Canadian combat operations in Afghanistan" in February 2009. This can allow for the Canadian Forces to deployed in Afghanistan for designated non-combat operations, and it can also allow for them to be re-deployed to another region of Afghanistan for combat operations. Most importantly of all, it doesn't call for all Canadian combat operations to end. The addition of the word "the" before "Canadian combat operations" would make it more restrictive, but worded as it is, it is still left vague and open to interpretation.
This brings to mind something which I read in Alan Dershowitz's book, The Case for Israel. In it, Dershowitz examines the language of UN Security Council Resolution 242, which calls for the return of "territories" to a future state called Palestine. It does not call for "all territories" or "the territories" that have been occupied by Israel, though that is the position which most hardliners and the terrorist organizations have claimed to be mandated by the UN. Under that language, Israel will be obligated, and is readily prepared, to concede some territory that will form the nucleus of a Palestinian state. But it is not obligated to return all of the territory.
The Liberal resolution relies upon similar wording, so it is entirely reasonable to interpret it in a similar fashion. By calling for "Canadian combat operations" to end, the resolution does not call for a withdrawal of all Canadian Forces from Kandahar nor does it call for the end of all combat operations in "Southern Afghanistan." Thus, Jack Layton had a point when he said that the resolution opens the door for extending the mission, a point which the Liberals' star blogger has missed, which is something totally anathema to the NDP's desire for immediate withdrawal of all Canadian Forces personnel from combat operations in Afghanistan.
The Liberals' failed resolution did not bring clarity. I am astonished that their leader, who prides himself and refers to the Clarity Act (1998) as a highlight of his career, allowed the resolution to go as far as it did. Had it been passed, it would have done the opposite of providing clarity to Canada's mission in Afghanistan. The serious unresolved questions that I raised above, combined with the horribly bad wording, would have left the status of Canada's Afghanistan mission with even less clarity, and subject to the interpretation of the governing party.