General Andrew Leslie’s new job

For several weeks rumours have swirled surrounding Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie’s next move.

It’s been widely reported that the UN asked that Leslie take over leadership of the peacekeeping mission in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Others speculated that he might leave the Canadian Forces to accept a diplomatic appointment. There was even a brief, weird moment when his name as mentioned in wider discussions about who might be the next Governor General.

Instead, Defence Minister Peter MacKay announced today that Leslie will take on a new role as “Chief of Transformation,” starting June 22. What the heck is a Chief of Transformation, you ask. For what it’s worth, here’s what MacKay says about it:

“The development of a Chief of Transformation position builds on the Government’s commitment to modernize the Canadian Forces, as laid out in the Canada First Defence Strategy. Lt.-Gen. Leslie’s breadth of experience and knowledge place him in a unique position to guide the Canadian Forces with addressing the new challenges in the months and years to come.”

His official statement goes on to describe the COT boosting the Forces’ efficiency, driving organizational change, and so on. In other words, it’s impossible to figure out  from what MacKay says what his most interesting general will actually be up to. Whatever it turns out to be, he’s worth watching. Among the top brass of recent years, Leslie has served as the polished foil to Rick Hillier’s populism.

I first recall taking note of Leslie in the fall of 2003, when Sgt. Robert Short and Cpl. Robbie Beerenfenger were killed just outside Kabul by what we still called a land mine, the term IED not yet having entered the media lexicon. It was Leslie, serving then as the top Canadian officer in Kabul, who described the place they died, rather laconically, as “bad guy country.”

We’ve learned how bad in the years since. And it was Leslie who, at the annual Couchiching Conference in Orillia, Ont., in the summer of 2005, warned that the mission in Afghanistan was shaping up as a two-decade struggle, a perspective on the magnitude of the challenge that was badly needed at the time. Maybe still is.

Describing the Afghanistan situation, he spoke of “patterns of behaviour and beliefs about sovereignty, economics, national interests, national values, social development, the willingness to help others, a drive towards democratic institutions and representational government, the rule of law, quality of life, human rights and national culture.”

You’re right—not much chance of mixing up this guy and Hillier.

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