In his memoirs and in interviews related to the book launch, Rick Hillier spends a lot of time criticizing the federal public service. Having served time in Ottawa, I can attest to the fact that seldom has there been such a juicy target.
That said, inter-departmental competition and debate in Ottawa was designed precisely to keep in check strong, articulate individuals such as General Hillier. Ministers, the thinking goes, need to be given all the options and all relevant information before being asked to make decisions.
As we watch President Barack Obama attempt to fashion Afghanistan policy in the face of intense pressure from U.S. Generals, that's an objective worth keeping in mind.
We still don't know for sure what role Mr. Hillier played in getting us into Kandahar, and how much of the decision was politically driven. We do know, however, that when he made his most famous comment about "detestable murderers and scumbags," most of the media and virtually the entire political class in Canada, saluted. Including NDP leader Jack Layton (you could look it up).
Here, as a reminder, is a report on General Hillier's full comments back in 2005:
"'These are detestable murderers and scumbags. I'll tell you that right up front,' said Hillier. …
'It doesn't matter whether we are in Afghanistan or anywhere else in the world. They want to break our society. I actually believe that,' he said.
If Canada is attacked, he says, it will be only because it is a free country.
'They detest our freedoms. They detest our society. They detest our liberties'," he said."
As we follow the discussion in Washington and on U.S. op-ed pages, it's unfortunate that General Hillier's assertions were not debated more vigorously in Canada at the time - both within government as well as in Parliament.