Layton says Canada should pull out, Dion says we need to find a new job, Harpo is pretty much a good Bushie "stay the course" guy. A small majority of the Canadian people want the mission to Afghanistan wrapped up.
Everybody's got an opinion. No matter what side they're on, I don't know if any of us thinks the Canadian contingent in Kandahar can just pull up stakes and leave.
What would leaving Kandahar mean for Kabul, for the Afghani people and for our NATO allies (or at least the few that are actually showing up for work)?
For starters, it would leave a hole, a big hole. It would open an avenue between the unruly Pakistan tribal areas and Kandahar city. On Helmand province, it would leave the Brit's flank exposed to the east and the Dutch flank open to the south in Uruzgan province.
One way or another that hole would be filled in short order. It's what happens when power vacuums emerge in contested areas. The only question would be whether Kandahar would be lost to the insurgency or would be held for the Karzai government by an infusion of American troops.
I expect the US would step in although there'd probably be holy hell to pay for it in Ottawa. NATO boss Jaap de Hoop Scheffer has been an abject failure at his defining task of rallying NATO member support for Afghanistan. If Canada simply pulls out, it's hard to imagine that would somehow strengthen Scheffer's powers of persuasion.
There is another option that hasn't been discussed but I expect soon will be - extending "the mission" for an additional year in order to withdraw in conjunction with the Dutch who claim they're determined to pull out in 2010. I have my suspicions that the Dutch extended to 2010 hoping that Canada will indeed leave in 2009 but I guess that's neither here nor there.
Of course factoring into this decision is what happens in the US elections in November. The Democratic candidates are all talking about substantially reducing America's military burden in Iraq which ought to provide the Pentagon with some ability to expand its Afghanistan force. If, however, Hillary and Obama so botch this election (and they well might) and a Republican like McCain takes over, all bets are off.
This factor can't be over-emphasized. The only reason we got into Afghanistan in the first place was due to the needs and demands of the United States. The one nation, other than Afghanistan itself, that will be impacted most by our departure will be the United States. The depth of that impact will be directly affected by who is running the White House and the state of affairs in Iraq at that time. Don't even think about what might happen if Bush, as a parting gesture, decides to attack Iran while he still can.
When it comes right down to it, the merits of leaving Afghanistan are shot through with uncertainties, layers upon layers of them. It'll be interesting to see how these complexities are acknowledged and addressed when Manley's report comes out this month.