Prime Minister Stephen Harper has tapped a surprise source for advice on the Middle East: a Liberal MP of Muslim faith.Perhaps it's my American background, but I can't see this as anything but a shrewd political move. The recap: Israel rains bombs on Lebanon (also killing some Canadians) - Harper unequivocally supports Israel - more Canadians die in Afghanistan - Harper takes a hit in the polls, especially where he most needs support - Harper appoints a Liberal, who is Muslim and ethnically Arab to shore up that support.
In a move apparently aimed at quelling criticism that he's been too ideological and too pro-Israel in his approach to the Lebanese conflict, the Conservative prime minister announced Tuesday that he's appointed Wajid Khan as his special adviser on South Asia and the Middle East. Khan, the Liberal MP for Mississauga-Streetsville, was born in Pakistan, where he served as a pilot in the air force.
Calgary MP Jason Kenney, Harper's parliamentary secretary, said the prime minister wanted "independent" advice from someone with intimate knowledge of the region.
Kenney said Khan could also help Harper build bridges to the Arab and Muslim communities, which have been furious about Harper's unequivocal support for Israel's bombardment of Hezbollah guerrillas in Lebanon.
Khan is "somebody who has credibility with some groups of Canadians that might be skeptical about our mission in Afghanistan, for instance," Kenney said.
While supportive of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Khan voted against a rushed government motion last spring to extend the mission for two years. He said Tuesday he opposed the haste and lack of debate surrounding the motion but is strongly committed to Canada's "democracy-building" role in Afghanistan.
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Polls suggest Harper's stance on Lebanon is out of sync with the majority of Canadians, who prefer to maintain a more balanced, neutral position in the Middle East. Support for the Afghanistan mission has also slumped as more Canadian soldiers return home in coffins.
The Conservatives' fortunes have slumped at the same time, particularly in Quebec, where opposition is greatest to Harper's decisions to extend the Afghanistan mission for another two years and to unequivocally back Israel in the Lebanese conflict.
Khan dismissed suggestions that Harper is using him to help restore his political fortunes or quell anger in Arab and Muslim communities.
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Before accepting the assignment, Khan said he got approval from interim Liberal leader Bill Graham and encouragement from Liberal leadership hopeful Joe Volpe, for whom Khan is Ontario campaign chairman.
Volpe was vehemently opposed to the extension of the Afghanistan mission. Despite disagreeing over that policy, Khan said he remains a strong supporter of Volpe's leadership candidacy.
The surprise appointment also makes Harper appear flexible and non-ideological, countering two of the standard criticisms of him. Is he more flexible and less ideological than we think? Maybe. Maybe not.
Meanwhile, although Wajid Khan (who hails from Mississauga, by the way) voted against extending Canada's presence in Afghanistan, note the above quote:
While supportive of Canadian troops in Afghanistan, Khan voted against a rushed government motion last spring to extend the mission for two years. He said Tuesday he opposed the haste and lack of debate surrounding the motion but is strongly committed to Canada's "democracy-building" role in Afghanistan.So although Khan is a Liberal, he may not differ very much from Harper when it comes to foreign policy - as indeed, their two parties do not.
So while perhaps I should think praise this appointment as creative and foward-thinking, I criticize it as politically motivated - and fear it as potentially effective for the Conservative's strategy of gaining a strong majority in the next election.