I have never really paid attention to shoes, my own or those of the opposite sex. But the past year has taught me that one form of footwear seems to be most important: boots. Boots on the ground vs no boots on the ground. Politicians making promises about no boots on the ground were all the rage last year at this time–that the US, Canada, and the rest of NATO would meet the language of non-occupation in the UN resolution governing the Libyan intervention by not putting any boots on the ground.
What is lovely about this is that we now have essentially termed all ground-pounders (soldiers, marines) as a form of footwear. The irony is that these boots are made for, well, not walking in peace-keeping missions and actually draw a line in the sand (sorry, cannot help myself) between the less risky forms of intervention–naval embargoes, no fly zones, air strikes–and ground combat.
Of course, the idea of no boots on the ground would then set a clear distinction, right? Oh, but the Brits and the French (and perhaps the uncharacteristically quieter Americans) taught us a lesson in Libya: Special Operations Forces do not wear boots. Or at least, our image of them as bare-footed ninjas (thanks @cdacdai for that) or perhaps their use of secret sauce makes them an acceptable exception. Boots we cannot see or hear do not count against the “no boots on the ground” promise. Of course, that is one of the key reasons to use SOF–to cut corners in existing promises, regulations and even legislation. In Afghanistan, more than a few countries had SOF doing what their caveated conventional forces could not do.
Why the focus on the bare-footed folks tonight? Because the US has asked the Aussies and Canadians to stick around in Afghanistan past 2014 in a military capacity, something that the Canadians have foresworn. But the US request is chock full of guile–asking these two allies to deploy SOF. In the Canadian case, as my twitter-conversation partner Phil Lagassé is tweeting now, there are different norms for parliamentary involvement in deployments. With large conventional forces, there is a contested norm about submitting to parliament such decisions. With small SOF, there is not–they can come and go as they please. With the parliamentarians on the defence committee lacking security clearnances, the SOF and their management by the Minister of National Defence are even more invisible than the latest cloak of invisibility.
It will be interesting to see what Stephen Harper decides. Given the minimal risks (especially if these boots are only for training Afghans), that his current majority continues, and that Canadian customs and parliamentary limitations means that he can control news about the SOF pretty damned tightly, my guess is that Harper goes ahead with the US request.