Canadians have a decision to make.
The Government has affirmed that
Parliament will decide whether
Canada will extend its military
deployment in Afghanistan after
February 2009. Reaching that
decision requires a realistic
assessment of conditions in
Afghanistan, along with a pragmatic
assessment of Canada’s engagement
there. Just as importantly, it
demands consideration of Canada’s
own interests, our values, and our
willingness and capacity to make a
difference to Afghanistan’s future.
Does anyone recall that dark farce we came to know as the "Manley Report"? The report, the handiwork of a gaggle of aging political hacks with no military expertise, was hopelessly flawed from the outset. Manley, Tellier, Burney, Epp and Wallin knew as much about unconventional warfare as they did about auto mechanics. That was evident in the way they characterized the Afghan war:
It is a war fought between an elected, democratic government and a zealous insurgency of proven brutality.
Two glaring errors. There has never been anything approaching a democratic government in Afghanistan and, by the time Manley & Company began looking at the situation, the notion of an insurgency was probably outdated. We may not have realized it back in 2007/2008 but what had begun in 2002 as an insurgency had already evolved into a nascent civil war five years later, a "people's war."
The Prussian military philosopher, Carl von Clausewitz identified five conditions for a successful people's war:
1. that the war is "carried on in the heart of the country"
2. that it "cannot be decided by a single catastrophe"
3. that "the theatre of war embraces a considerable extent of the country"
4. that "the national character is favourable to the measures" and
5. that "the country is of broken and difficult nature, either being mountainous, or by reason of woods and marshes, or from the peculiar mode of cultivation in use."
All five of Clausewitz' conditions are met today in Afghanistan. In fact, the Taliban tactics today would be instantly recognized by the Prussian:"Militia and bands of armed civilians cannot and should not be employed against the enemy main force - or indeed against any sizeable enemy force. They are not supposed to pulverize the core but to nibble at the shell and around the edges. They are meant to operate in areas just outside the theatre of war - where the invader will not appear in strength - in order to deny him these areas altogether."
If Clausewitz underestimated the revolutionary potential of people's war, he correctly grasped its essential nature...
"A general uprising...should be nebulous and elusive; its resistance should never materialize as a concrete body, otherwise the enemy can direct sufficient force at its core, crush it, and take many prisoners....On the other hand, there must be some concentration at certain points: the fog must thicken and form a dark and menacing cloud out of which a bolt of lightning may strike at any time."
There's a echo of this in T E Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Setting out a theory of guerrilla warfare, as applied during the Arab revolt against Ottoman rule of 1917-18, Lawrence described guerrillas as "an influence, an idea, a thing intangible, invulnerable, without front or back, drifting about like a gas....a vapour, blowing where we listed." Lawrence's thinking was influenced by Clausewitz, who he described as "intellectually so much the master" of the other great military theorists.
The Manley Report was sheer political theatre and nothing more. It sold us on a war that didn't exist on behalf of a democratic government that didn't exist either. It was a device conjured up by Stephen Harper to achieve his ends while simultaneously taking him off the hook. It worked well enough to ensure the waste of Canadian lives would be extended by the Conservatives and the Liberals into 2011 and, perhaps, beyond.
Perhaps it's best that we not delve into these questions because our decisions, our actions today and in the next two years hinge directly on the legitimacy of the central government in Kabul. The realization that our soldiers are fighting, and dying, to prop up a "criminal enterprise" in Kabul in what has now transformed from an insurgency to a civil war is almost too much to bear. Yet we need to see the Afghan War for what it really is if we're to ever get our soldiers out of that place, rid them of this fiasco.