Saturday, November 20, 2010

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":

Today we're told "The government announced last week that it would spend $500 million annually on military training in Afghanistan between 2011 and 2014 and that aid would total $100 million annually. That’s half of the $205 million spent on aid to Afghanistan last year." But last week, we were told that $500-million of $700-million allocated annually for Canada’s three-year post-combat mission will be spent on providing up to 950 military trainers and support personnel to help the NATO military alliance fulfill its training goals; and the development and aid budget for Afghanistan will be $100-million annually.

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?

Last spring, CIDA's anticipated budget for Afghanistan was $100 million, $80 million and $75 million in each of the next three years. That's only $255 million, which seems to suggest that we've gained $45 million in the $300 million in aid we're now said in one version to be planning to spend over the next three years. So which is it? Have we lost $300 million in the non-military Afghanistan budget over the next three years or have we gained $45 million?

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 A: Crackpot Gerald Caplan, whose last contribution to the Globe and Mail (yes, the venerable Globe) was to offer Prime Minister Harper advice on the Israel-Palestine imbroglio in the form of a reading list which included a book by the lunatic 911-Truther Michael Keefer. Today, Caplan is obliged to rely on the usual racist caricature of the Afghan people ("Just about every male except babies and toddlers has a gun and can use it") and the conspiracy theory of a "Harper-Rae Coalition" to conclude: "We can do nothing about it. Foreigners have no constructive role to play. It’s time they all got out."

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.

I would also bet a dollar to a dime that if most Canadians knew the truth, which is that the overwhelming majority of Afghans have consistently supported and continue to support NATO's efforts in their country, Canadian support for a robust Afghan mission would be overwhelmingly favorable, and we'd be closer to the relative sophistication of Indians, Kenyans and Nigerians. And then we could move the Canadian debates out of the weeds, to questions that really matter.

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?


Blogger James O'Hearn said...

What's worse is this whole UAE debacle is ensuring that not only will logistical costs soar, but what troops we have in Afghanistan will have less access to R&R, ensuring both a higher cost and a higher stress environment.

Look to the opposition making hay over increased costs, at the very least.

6:46 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home