Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Manley's Musings

I have been perusing John Manley's report on Afghanistan. Manley argues that the Afghan mission is important for four reasons:

1. Counter-Terrorism
2. Bolster the UN
3. Support NATO
4. Help the Afghan People

I get point 1 and point 4. The middle two are a little bit of a stretch. The United Nations is not going to live or die by the Afghan mission. While the mission is UN authorized, this is NATO's baby. If the UN wanted to help Afghanistan it could try to get more troops from non-NATO countries. The third point bothers me because outside of the United States and occasionally the UK no one else in NATO cares enough about this mission to risk lives. France, Germany et al. are content to let Canadians die. I support an active Canadian presence in NATO. However, there is a major difference between participating in a mission and getting the proverbial shaft. Canadian troops right now are getting the latter. Canadians should be equal partners not cannon fodder. Mr. Manley recommends that we make our extension conditional upon getting more assistance from our NATO allies. If the mission is important and worthwhile our extension should be unconditional. If not, we should pull out. Our European allies will not change their minds because of a Canadian ultimatum. For the Germans and French (the two most capable armies), such a change would mark a major shift in foreign policy. We simply do not have that kind of power.

Manley then argues that Canadians should stay in Kandahar past 2009 because there is no strategic reason to exit earlier. Mr. Manley is confident that the Afghan National Army will at some point be able to step up so we can step down. I can not share his optimism. I do not foresee the day when Hamid Karzai is going to call up the Prime Minister and say, "we've got this now, you guys can head home." The insurgency is strengthening year by year. The poppy trade grows exponentially. All this, and the Afghan government remains little more than a Kabul based neighbourhood watch.

Seventy-seven brave Canadian soldiers have lost their lives in Afghanistan. This fact is barely mentioned in Mr. Manley's report. This remains the crux of the matter. To quote, "How many deaths will it take 'til he knows that too many people have died?" I am reminded of The Simpsons episode where Homer is slowly sinking in tar and attempts to extricate himself. Mr. Manley's recommendations are akin to trying to get your arms out with your mouth. While it would be tragic to leave Afghanistan again to its own decay and devastation, it is simply not within our military powers to help. Our soldiers may be able to pacify one area for a few months as long as they maintain a presence. However, it is simply not reasonable for our troops to try to hold down the fort forever. We can and should help Afghanistan in other ways. Our aid agencies are at work on the ground and should continue that work. Canada has a good reputation in assisting fledgling democracies with the institutions requisite for effective government and we should play that role in Afghanistan. We should assist the UN in its health and social development projects. The only way to end the insurgency is to make it clear that a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Afghanistan is not only the inevitable future but also in the clear best interests of all Afghans. We cannot achieve that goal with bullets and bombs.

I commend Mr. Manley and his team for many of his recommendations. I agree that we need to be pushing for more help from our NATO allies and other partners. I am weary, for the reasons noted above and others, of the chances of our success. I agree that more effort should be placed on development. However, on the crucial question Mr. Manley has bought into the false promise of state-building and imperial counter-insurgencies. To quote Ogden Nash, "Man is a victim of dope, in the incurable form of hope." Mr. Manley is no exception. It is tragic that Canadian soldiers will die for his false optimism. At the end of the day, the Government of Canada must act in the best interests of Canadians. Our duty as a people and a government to aid others around the world does not extend to instances where the Canadian national interest is being sacrificed. The lives of our citizens must come first. Seventy-seven deaths are too many, the cost has become too high. It is time to leave Kandahar with our heads held high, knowing that for the past six years we have fought for the people of Afghanistan and given them a chance for a better life.

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