So, what's behind this new attitude of cooperation on the Afghanistan file by Liberal leader Stephane Dion and Conservative Prime Minister Stephan Harper? Well, the question would be better phrased as "what's going on in Dion's head"? Either it's a slick way to avoid an election or he genuinely feels that he is doing the right thing.
Certainly Dion is an intelligent, articulate man...well articulate might be a stretch (at least in English), but intelligent is certainly a good adjective to describe him. So, with that in mind why did he give up on the out of Afghanistan by 2009 policy that he's been so proudly talking up since taking over the leadership of the Liberal party?
Could it be that Dion is simply searching for a way to avoid an election without damaging his already damaged credibility? Alternately (and a far less cynical way of reading the situation), he could be taking the issue out of play because he actually believes that the mission will need more time than the 2009 deadline would allow.
Either way, it appears that the only real winner in this debate is Harper. According to CTV (http://www.ctv.ca/servlet/ArticleNews/story/CTVNews/20080221/afghan_motion_080221/20080221?hub=Canada) Dion is now likely going to vote for Harper's motion to extend the Afghanistan mission to the end of 2011.
Yes, the new motion has been influenced by the Liberals position on the matter. After all it does call for the mission to be primarily focused around "training and reconstruction" (and that could easily change by the time the current mandate runs out), but that is not what people will remember about this debate. People will remember that Dion threatened to bring down the Conservative government over Afghanistan (along with the Bloc and the NDP) and then caved in to Harper's position to remain well past 2009 in order to avoid an election.
Dion may very well have done what he considers to be the right thing, but that is not what most Canadians will remember when voting.
Harper certainly benefits from this more than anyone. The issue will no longer be a wedge which the Liberals could use to pry away swing voter support and Harper will be seen as the stronger of the two in leadership quality.
As the only two parties (with seats in the Commons) who are against the motion, the Bloc and NDP could also stand to pick up some extra support from Liberals who are against the extension.
Whether or not we have an early election, (which is seeming less likely after this news) will likely be clear sometime next week when the government introduces the budget to the House of Commons.