Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Tyranny of Numbers and Simplistic Politics

It is far easier for politicians to point at numbers and scream rather than ask and answer substantive questions about the state of a mission, how to achieve one's goals, how to pursue the national interest.

For example, Stephen Harper drove me slightly crazy by not considering cutting some of the numbers of troops in the Canadian Armed Forces because the mythic number  of 60000 (if I remember) stood for standing strong on Canadian defence and 59000, for instance, meant he was weak on defence.  With personnel being 50% (roughly) of the defence budget, you would think that it would have gotten consideration when thinking about economizing on defence.  But no.  And last spring the Liberals ruled out personnel cuts before the Defence Review, which seems silly given that a defence review might establish a need for spending to go elsewhere (cyber/space being the usual nominees).  But again, cutting numbers of troops = weak on defence.  Why?  Because Canadian political dynamics--yelling at question period--does not lead to any kind of discussion of substance.

Why am I talking about this now?  Because I am anticipating a new numbers thing: that when the battle for Mosul is over, the question will turn to what is Canada doing in the counter-ISIS war?  Given that the Special Operations folks will be done with their main mission, it might make sense to bring them home.  But the government may fear that ending that part of the mission will give the Conservatives something to yell about: "hey, Trudeau is weak on defence because we will have fewer SOF in Iraq!!"  And the sad thing is that the Liberals would be right.  Because  that is exactly what the Conservatives will do.  Instead of asking: what are the next steps?  How do we help (Canada can't do anything alone) to defeat the ISIS menace?  What would helping in Syria look like?  What are the risks?  Where else should we go?  Is the SOF overtaxed?  Maybe they should be given some space and time to re-charge since Special means small, which then also means being exhausted?

But Canada won't have that discussion because  it is easier to focus on numbers even if they don't really mean much.  Because anything else would require work (knowing stuff, asking hard questions) and would require respect for the Canadian public, who might just comprehend something more than: tis, tisn't

1 comment:

Jim Parker said...

Why do peeps always ignore the Rserves when discussing the size of the Canadian military? There aren't 60K CAF members, there are approximately 85-90K, with the Reserve components being an important component. That being said, 60K regular force member is an embarrassingly small number for the second largest country in the world and a population of 36 million!