Friday, February 16, 2007

Update: Star print story on Bush Afghanistan speech

“Snub” allegation from yesterday’s Star P.M. not repeated

A lengthy report on Bush’s Afghanistan speech appeared in today’s print and internet edition of the Toronto Star, entitled “Bush promises more soldiers for Afghanistan, seeks help” (see the “World” page). The print story is closer to my take on the speech (see post below) than it is to the brief item in yesterday’s Star P.M., headlined “Bush snubs Canadian troops.”

There was no comment from the White House in the Star P.M. story (their reporter's call had not been returned in time for the electronic Star P.M., which goes out mid-afternoon). Washington bureau chief Tim Harper has now obtained comment:

A National Security Council spokesperson told the Star that Bush wanted to publicly thank Prime Minister Stephen Harper and Canadian troops for their dangerous duty in the south, and said Ottawa's contribution was crucial to the success of the mission.

"The lack of a specific reference to Canada was an oversight," said council spokesperson Kate Starr.

However, in a sign of the sensitive nature of the subject, the White House later amended its statement, saying "oversight" may be too strong a term and noting other contributing nations were also not mentioned.

Exactly. As I said in my blog post last night: Canada has made an extraordinary commitment and suffered painful losses. But this is a NATO effort and, in singling out one country for praise, Bush risks alienating or insulting other countries who no doubt have media outlets that are equally prickly or prone to trouble-making.

The story has further Bush administration comments:

"The success of the NATO mission in Afghanistan is dependent on member nations like Canada," Starr told the Star. She said Canada has provided leadership, as well as troops and equipment needed to complete the job.

"Canada is a clear ally in the war on terror and the president appreciates Prime Minister Harper's leadership. The president would like to thank Prime Minister Harper and the Canadian people for dedicating Canadian military personnel and support to NATO and its efforts in leading a multinational brigade responsible for southern Afghanistan."

Harper also makes a point I made in my post last night, that in his speech Bush took up the cause of the Harper government, in asking NATO countries for more help in Afghanistan:

Bush was largely parroting the Ottawa point of view in calling for more troops and fewer restrictions on NATO nations already stationed there, a message largely aimed at France and Germany, so the alliance can launch its own "spring offensive" against the Taliban.

"We've been saying this for some time," [Peter] MacKay said, adding he hoped Bush's entreaty would encourage other allies to commit to a heftier role. "We want to see other countries with greater capacity come into the south whether it be more troop deployments, more training, more equipment."

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