Saturday, September 13, 2008

In Today's National Post: Why Canada's Politicians Are Ignoring Afghanistan

From an opinion essay I wrote about the past week's weirdness on the campaign trail:

. . . .The Conservatives are afraid of the issue because the polls keep tilting against Canada’s Afghan engagement, especially in key Quebec ridings. The Liberals don’t want to talk about the issue either, because they’ve been split on Afghanistan — and, after all, it was their party that got us into Kandahar in the first place.

The Bloc Québécois, the New Democratic Party and the Greens each claim to be champions of multilateralism and humanitarianism in foreign policy. The mission in Afghanistan serves both principles — yet all three parties oppose an extended Canadian involvement in the country. And so they all risk being seen as hypocritical for making what UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has properly called a “misjudgment of historic proportions” in their troops-out position — a position also opposed by the vast majority of the Afghan people.

Jim Davis is right: Our soldiers weren’t sent to Afghanistan in order to bide their time and survive long enough to reach some arbitrary deadline date. They were sent to fight for clearly-articulated goals — goals set out in the Afghanistan Compact.

That 2006 agreement, signed by 60 other countries under the auspices of the UN, established benchmarks for rebuilding state infrastructure, establishing a competent Afghan justice system, extending the rule of law, and securing basic guarantees in health, education, women’s rights and other matters. Securing a democratic regime that can defend those achievements is the other reason our soldiers are there.

Whatever their differences, Canadian politicians should be judged on how they intend to ensure that Jim’s son, Cpl. Paul Davis — who declined a promotion here in Canada so that he could join his beloved comrades in Afghanistan — did not die there in vain. They should be judged on how they propose to help the people of Afghanistan, for whom nearly 100 other Canadian soldiers have also died.

If the politicians can get that straight, a proper debate could begin. If they don’t, I suppose they might as well stick to their original plan, and shut up about the issue altogether.

If I find an on-line version of the piece I'll link to it.

I began the essay by observing that Jim Davis, the father of the slain Corporal Paul Davis, has demonstrated the only moral clarity on the subject of Afghanistan in the campaign so far. I see Christie Blatchford praises him as well, for his "most elegant and measured" contribution to the conversation. The Halifax Chronicle-Herald asks: Could all the participants in all the parties in this election please take a lesson in gravitas and grace from Jim Davis?

"Don't mention the war," as Basil insists with mounting hysteria in Fawlty Towers.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What are the Afghans obligations in the Afghanistan Compact ? Establish honest government, hammer corruption, recruit a large enough defense force that can protect the country ?

Do they have any obligations to get their act together in some reasonable time frame, say within 11 years ?

Our mission is to buy them time, not fight their battles for them forever. Our soldiers are not failing and cannot fail, only the Afghans can fail themselves.

With due respect to the father who lost his son, he is wrong and he does not understand the mission we are performing so well. His son's death is not in vain.

Our NATO allies are, with some exceptions failing us - can you imagine the Germans won't allow their troops out after dark - the German Army, afraid of the dark !

Harper is right too put a time limit on this phase of the mission.

It's like a curfew for kids . . . puts some ooomph in the urgency the Afghans need to feel.

5:57 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Fred: The Afghan people are not kids who need a curfew, and Jim Davis understands the mission perfectly well, and if you're curious about the Afghan government's obligations under the Compact, you can look it up and read it for yourself.

Google is your friend.

6:12 PM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

I think it's actually much more simple than any of this:

The Conservatives and Liberals want to distance themselves from the unpopular war if at all possible, and the NDP and Greens don't want to be seen essentially accepting the Taliban's endorsement.

As for the Bloc, well who knows what they'll do?

1:39 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...


A perfectly sensible summation.

And by the way, loved your post today about Murray the illiterate Margolis acolyte.

10:32 AM  
Blogger Graeme said...

The Bloc's position is that the troops should stay in Afghanistan--they don't set a date for leaving, saying that they can't predict what Afghans will need a couple of years from now--but that as of February 2009 that they should leave Kandahar for one of Afghanistan's more stable provinces and focus on humanitarian and reconstruction efforts. They want to contribute to helping the Afghan people get out of extreme poverty, put democratic institutions in place, and build a viable state, but they think that the effort should be based more in diplomacy and politics than in fighting. They also believe that other countries involved in Afghanistan need to step up. They would uphold the Geneva Conventions with regard to the treatment of prisoners. Finally, they propose that we should be going after the drug traffickers and not the poppy growers, while at the same time encouraging farmers to grow other crops, and also looking into ways to buy the poppy crop to use in medicine.

This is what is in their manifesto, in any case. According to the NDP's manifesto, they in principle support--or should support--the mission in Afghanistan.

Duceppe hasn't really been talking about Afghanistan, and I fear that anything short of a "troops out" position is going to be lost on Quebec voters.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Graeme: I may have been unfair to the Bloc - although they have wanted to have it both ways. Their position is far and away more principled than the NDP's, though.

Not sure what you mean about the NDP here: "According to the NDP's manifesto, they in principle support--or should support--the mission in Afghanistan."

According to basic social-democratic principes, they should support Canada's efforts in Afghanistan, certainly. But what more can be said than that?

2:44 PM  
Blogger Patrick Ross said...

To be honest, that puts me close to almost agreeing with the Bloc. I think Canadian troops should remain in Afghanistan after 2011, but they should be working on security efforts in a more stable province, while remaining on standby to go back to Khandahar in the case of an emergency.

It isn't often that I almost agree with the Bloc.

5:43 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

The Bloc's position has been rather more fluid, at one point threatening to force an election on the demand that our troops come home by 2009.

"Canadian troops should remain in Afghanistan after 2011, but they should be working on security efforts in a more stable province, while remaining on standby to go back to Khandahar in the case of an emergency."

That's more or less what the Manley report anticipated in its recommendations last January, and more or less what Harper suggeseted when the national news media went ape last week.

It's more or less the position of the Canada Afghanistan Solidarity Committee, too, all though we're against any deadline fixations.

7:28 PM  
Blogger Kurt Langmann said...

I'm only in favour of a 2011 deadline because it sends the message that we expect the Afghan forces to be able to step up to the job that we are helping train them for -- and that we have no imperialistic intentions on their territory. On the other hand if there is good reason to reconsider in 2011, that is perfectly acceptable to me. After all, compost happens. But let's hope for better outcomes.

10:27 PM  
Blogger Graeme said...

"Not sure what you mean about the NDP here:"

I meant that according to the NDP's platform (or at least according to it as of a year or two ago), Canadian troops should only be involved in UN-sanctioned missions as part of an international peacekeeping force--which is what the Afghanistan mission is. This, of course, doesn't have anything to do with the reality of the NDP's position.

It's the same with the Bloc. Their position in Afghanistan as outlined in their manifesto is sound, but it doesn't always match up with the Bloc's politics in practice. I was actually fairly surprised to read what I did on their website--what I'd come across from them before was basically them opposing the Afghanistan mission to spite Stephen Harper.

1:21 PM  

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