Friday, February 15, 2008

What's Wrong With The Afghanistan Motion

I watched the Liberal Party clip of Stephane Dion presenting and explaining his motion on the future of "the mission" in Afghanistan.

The motion was obviously an exercise in political posturing and nothing more. It demands that the Canadian government "address" Afghanistan's opium problem. Address as in what exactly? How is a force that controls just a small portion of just a single province in a lawless and corrupt narco-state supposed to address a national problem of the scope of Afghanistan's opium industry?

Dion notionally insists that NATO honour the non-existant "rotation" principle of sending in a force of soldiers to relieve Canada's soldiers so they can get on with training and security. Yet he leaves more than ample wiggle room in the proposal as to render it virtually meaningless so long as the Tory demand for another thousand troops is met.

If we're going to continue as America's Foreign Legion until February, 2011, then we'll need NATO to furnish Canada with its own, mini-Foreign Legion to handle the fighting in Kandahar until we leave, is that it? So, we're going to remain in control of Kandahar province and other countries are going to send their soldiers there to serve under us as our battle group? Say what?

Then there's the sleight-of-hand insistence on a "firm end date" of February, 2011. Dion wants Harper to write a letter to NATO saying this time we mean it, we're really leaving, seriously folks - no, seriously, this isn't a joke, we're going in February, 2011. Stop laughing. We mean it, there's nothing to laugh about. We're serious. Really, this time we're serious.

If we're going to have a "firm end date" there's only one way to get it. We need to negotiate a binding agreement, with NATO and with the US, under which both acknowledge we're out in February, 2011 and with an express American guarantee that, if NATO doesn't come up with a replacement force by February, 2010, the US will begin assembling and training an American force to be in place no later than February, 2011 to relieve Canada's forces. We need that deal BEFORE we approve any extension because you can't get it afterward.

We're in the mess we're in now because we extended to 2009 without that very agreement from NATO and the US. We didn't bind them to our deal and they weren't about to jump in to find replacements for the Canadian mission as the deadline approached.

NATO and the US are not our faithful friends in this. They knew what was needed for Canadian forces to "rotate" out in 2009 and they did absolutely nothing - nothing - to facilitate that end. We were stupid to believe they would do otherwise. Yet here we are, once again, extending a mission to another deadline without the firm commitment of the two key players, NATO and the US, a glaring omission that virtually assures we will be stuck in the same situation in 2010 that we're in today. If anything it'll be worse for us because NATO will be scrambling to find someone to fill in for the departing Dutch contingent.

Another precondition of the Liberal motion is described as, "development of sound judicial and correctional systems." Given that another NATO member, I believe Italy, has assumed responsibility for development of an Afghan judicial system it's unclear how this condition can have any relevance to the mission extension except as meaningless window dressing.

This is followed by demands for, "addressing freshwater shortages and addressing the drug economy." Just what does Mr. Dion have in mind that Canada should do to address Afghanistan's freshwater shortages from our dangerous little perch in Kandahar?

These conditions are plainly demands on Kabul or NATO or both so it's difficult to conceive what purpose there is in incorporating them into the extension. It is neither coincidence nor oversight that completely absent in these supposed demands is any discussion of just what Canada is to do if development of sound judicial and correctional systems isn't achieved or if the opium economy isn't addressed (whatever that may mean) or if the freshwater shortages aren't addressed (ditto). Do we leave? Do we throw a tantrum? Do we speak harshly to Hamid Karzai?

These policies and conditions don't even pretend to be more than meaningless, irrelevant drivel. We seem to have arrived at an era where we use proud words to mask the absence of ideas rather than to convey courageous solutions; to construct the appearance of decisiveness as a facade to hide angry confusion and indecisiveness; to stand fact and logic completely on their heads to create the bare illusion of leadership where none exists. It's bad enough that Stephen Harper insists on modelling himself after the flawed image of his American Idol. Why does the Liberal leader feel obliged to follow suit?

The Canadian people don't support the mission and their knowledge barely scratches the surface of the true situation on the ground in Afghanistan. The more they know, the less they're bound to like it. NATO isn't committed to winning this, neither is the United States, so what conceivable reason can there be to extend the mission beyond 2010 when the Dutch are leaving in their neighbouring province?

Stand on principle, draw a line, if necessary fight an election on 2010. But that's not going to happen, is it.


Sean Cummings said...

>>The Canadian people don't support the mission and their knowledge barely scratches the surface of the true situation on the ground in Afghanistan.<<

If this is true, then how can they be informed enough to either support or reject the mission?

The Mound of Sound said...

Like you, Grump, I had hoped our government would have a clear and informative debate that would have helped Canadians understand Afghanistan and the players much better than they do now. How many Canadians, for example, are aware of the cancer of warlordism that renders democracy unattainable in that country or the nexus of the warlords, drug barons and government leadership or the exclusion of the Pashtun from effective representation and power sharing within the government or the resurgence of the warlords' militias in the north or... so many, many other factors that individually and collectively impact, perhaps even determine the viability of "the mission" to Afghanistan.
I would like to see an agreement between NATO and the US whereby responsibility for supporting the Kabul government passes to the US solely in 2011. There's no reason why America should maintain four soldiers in Iraq for every one they have in Afghanistan. NATO ought not to be an enabler of American geopolitical adventures in Iraq/Iran/Syria. 2011 is a full decade after 9/11 - time the Americans fought their own war.

WesternGrit said...

I would like to see a real UN-backed policing action in Afghanistan. We watched as the US created a mess - and unfortunately now would feel really guilty about leaving a vacuum. We don't need the blood of a civil war on our hands.

The problem is, it appears that the UN-sanctioned war in Afghanistan is simply a way for the Americans to keep Al Quaida occupied while they try to "settle" Iraq. Unfortunately, with losses on both fronts, this "brilliant strategy" is not working. The NATO "pawns" in Afghanistan are losing ground too quickly - and are in too much of a hurry to get out. They won't be able to divert Al Quaida attention long enough to keep them off American backs in Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Re: westerngrit's comment

Too often Canadians try to pretend that Afghanistan has nothing to do with either Iraq or Palestine, rather than seeing them as three theatres of the same war, as both the Bush administration and Al Quaida do. I agree with you that Afghanistan is primarily a holding operation for the other two, and with the mound that we are there first and foremost to please the Americans.

Canada began the 20th century fighting in a war in South Africa to please the British. A hundred years later only the name of the imperial power we are serving has changed.