Clarity and Cluelessness on Canada's New Mission in Afghanistan.
What follows is an attempt to explain how it has come to pass that the good people of India, Nigeria and Kenya appear to have a clearer view of what NATO is up to in Afghanistan than Canadians do.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper, in Lisbon, November 20: “What I and others told President Karzai was the support of our governments and indeed our populations depend on the government of Afghanistan’s respect for and its acting upon basic principles — respect for democracy, for the rule of law and fair elections, for human rights, for good governance and for cleaning up corruption.”
Most excellent. I couldn't be happier. But there is a problem.
In the official Canadian statement issued November 16, we were told that Canada's new mission in Afghanistan would be about "education and health; advancing security, the rule of law and human rights, including through the provision of up to 950 trainers for Afghan security forces; promoting regional diplomacy; and helping deliver humanitarian assistance." Fine. With the exception of the military training role Canada has promised, we have known this since last spring, and the Globe and Mail usefully confirmed what we knew on August 24.
Here's where the problem comes into it. It is probably as much a problem with the national news reporting on Canada's contributions in Afghanistan as it is a problem with the Harper government's often-cited inability to "explain the mission":
Where did the phantom $100 million a year just go? Will the new military mission cause us to lose "half of the $205 million" we spent on "development and aid" last year, which is to say roughly $100 million annually that Canada could otherwise be spending in Afghanistan on education, health, the rule of law, human rights and so on?
My suspicion is the discrepancy can be at least partly explained by the savings gained by shifting non-military contributions out of Kandahar, where security costs are so damn high. It is a good thing that Canada now has a more country-wide focus; the Yanks can make up the difference in Kandahar. It is a screaming disgrace that Kandahar's Afghan-Canadian Community Centre school, which has graduated more than 1,000 Kandaharis |(mostly women) with diplomas into hgh-paying jobs, now has to go grubbing around for cash from US Aid. But we've known about that scandal for months, too, even if most Canadians haven't had a clue.
That Canadians have been left clueless about Afghanistan is not new, either, but this week's dailies do happen to present us with some shining illustrations of the reason this is so.
Exhibit B: Two days ago, reported in The National Post: "A narrow majority of Canadians support keeping upwards of 1,000 troops in Afghanistan until 2014 to train Afghan forces, says a new Ipsos-Reid poll that also shows the decision is most popular with westerners and men."
What is at the root of this disorientation? The best explanation I know about is revealed in an ambitious 20-country opinion poll conducted under the auspices of the University of Maryland's World Public Opinion initiative, which shows global opinion similarly split, with the following insight: "Among those who believe that the Afghan people want NATO forces to leave, 76 percent say that NATO forces should leave. Among those who believe that the Afghan people want NATO forces to stay, 83 percent say NATO forces should stay."
I don't have any polling data to prove it, but I would bet a dollar to a dime that most Canadians believe the lie that most Afghans want NATO forces to leave their country. The primary function of Canada's so-called "anti-war" activists is to make you to believe that lie, and Canada's punditocracy has encouraged you to believe it.
Here's just one question we should be debating: How can Canadians best put their backs into the cause Prime Minister Harper articulated in Lisbon - the cause of Afghan democracy, the rule of law and fair elections, human rights, and good governance?