Sunday, February 18, 2007

Why We're Losing the War on Terror

Paddy Ashdown, the international community's High Representative in Bosnia and Herzegovina from 2002-2006, examines where it all went wrong:

"Since the Cold War ended, the UN has, on average, intervened in the territory of one of its members every six months, and six of the last nine interventions have been in Muslim countries. That is, in Somalia, Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Bosnia. What's more, around 65 per cent of the interventions prevented a return to conflict. Overall, the world is safer because we have intervened. It will be much more dangerous if we stop doing so. Our staying out of Darfur has only resulted in spreading the conflict, first to Chad, with other nations to follow if we cannot stop it.

"The Iraq experience represents the triumph of hubris, nemesis and, above all, amnesia over common sense. We have abandoned experience in favour of a kind of 19th-century 'gunboat' diplomacy approach to peace making. And it isn't working. Getting intervention right is not rocket science and it's not new. Spend at least as much time and effort planning the peace as preparing for the war that precedes it. Base plans on a proper knowledge of the country. Leave ideologies and prejudices at home. Do not try to fashion someone else's country in your own image. Leave space for its people to reconstruct the country they want, not the one you want for them. Don't lose the 'golden hour' after the fighting is over. Dominate security from the start; then concentrate on the rule of law. Make economic regeneration a priority. Understand the importance to the international community effort of co-ordination, cohesion and speaking with one voice. And do not wait until everything is as it would be in our country. Leave when the peace is sustainable.

"At present, we intervene as though democracy was our big idea. It is not. We are not even particularly good at it ourselves. Good governance is our big idea; the rule of law is our big idea; open systems and the market-based economy - these are our big ideas. A stable democracy, fashioned to the conditions and the cultures of the country concerned, is what comes afterwards. It is the product of good governance, not its precursor.

"...we have chosen the wrong mindset to defeat al-Qaeda. We have chosen to fight an idea primarily with force. We seek to control territory; it seeks to capture minds. This is, at heart, a battle of ideas and values. Unless we realise that and can win on that agenda, no amount of force can deliver victory.

"We are not winning. In those regions of the world where this struggle is fiercest, civilisation is losing and medievalism is winning. We have to reverse that if we are to give ourselves a better chance of building peace in future. So to be successful, we will need more than the right structures, good intentions and a warm desire to do something to help. International intervention is a very blunt instrument, whose outcomes are not always predictable. It is not for the fainthearted or the easily bored. It needs steely toughness and strategic patience in equal measure. And strategic patience needs strategic vision - and we seem to lack that, too . It also requires a willingness to commit a lot of troops at the start, a capacity to provide sustained international support to the end and an ability to endure a time frame that is measured in decades, not years.

"The only reward for success is that all the expenditure and all that pain will be less than the cost of the war that was avoided, or the price of the chaos which would have ensued if the international community had stayed at home. Leaving early, or doing it badly, may end up making things worse - and nearly always means having to return and do it again."

One tenet of Ashdown's message is "go big or go home." It's a message that's being ignored in Ottawa, London and Washington. The US invaded Iraq with about a third of the force it needed for the job. In Afghanistan, the situation is no better but actually far worse. In both countries we've committed to delivering their people into the arms of secular, Western democracy.

Afghanistan is a generational task that will easily take two decades to resolve, especially with our emphasis on the combat side. As it is the West that has taken the responsibility for propping up Hamid Karzai, the question needs to be asked which Western nations are prepared to commit to Afghanistan for twenty years? We can't get any other NATO members to commit troops badly needed for this year's Taliban offensive.

If we are going to commit to Afghanistan for the long haul are we content to have Canada's entire military effort overseas consumed by the gaping maw of Kandahar? What about other places where the need for our help will be greater and potentially even more significant to Canada's global interests? Are we willing to double or even triple the size of our armed forces? What are we willing to sacrifice to do that? Or will we allow Afghanistan to become at once both the anchor around our feet and our excuse for shirking responsibility everywhere else?

These are questions we need to debate, both on the floor of the House of Commons, and among all Canadians. Harpo and Hillier aren't giving us straight answers. They're the "stay the course" type whose vision is measured in days and weeks. That's not good enough, not even close.

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