Sunday, March 05, 2006

Why Canadians should support the mission in Afghanistan

There was another misleading poll published in the Canadian media this weekend. The culprit this time was the Ottawa Citizen. (In my previous post, on Canada's contribution to the war in Afghanistan, I objected to a misleading question in a Globe and Mail poll.)

The headline in the print edition of the Saturday Citizen reads, "Support for Afghan mission falls as casualties rise". The article explains,
The Ipsos-Reid poll … found that 52 per cent of Canadians feel that the 2,200 Canadian Forces troops deployed to Kandahar are on a vital mission and should stay the course, while 48 per cent said the troops should be brought home as soon as possible.
The poll results are meaningless because the two options are not mutually exclusive. Of course the Canadian troops should be brought home "as soon as possible"! What's the alternative? — to leave them in Afghanistan when there's no longer any reason for them to be there?!

I agree that that the Canadian troops should be brought home as soon as possible. The goal is for the people of Afghanistan to take control of their own affairs. The sooner that happens, the better. But I also agree with the other statement:  the mission in Kandahar is vital and our soldiers should be there.

The headline is also misleading because of the reference to rising casualties. So far, only eleven Canadians have been killed in Afghanistan. The CBC lists the first ten deaths here. Reuters reports that another soldier died earlier today.

Another ten soldiers were injured last week, after Canada assumed command of the Kandahar mission. But these are professional soldiers, who enlisted in the Canadian Forces voluntarily, and who understand the risks of entering a war zone. Corporal Paul Davis, who was killed last week, willingly embraced the risks, as reported in the Toronto Star:
Jim Davis said his son's deep sense of duty prompted him to turn down a promotion that would have kept him out of Afghanistan.

"When he decided to go to Afghanistan, that really impressed me because he loved his family and his two children but he had the sense of duty, and comradeship with the other people he had been training with," he said yesterday.
I don't know that I would have made the same choice as Corporal Davis. But it was his choice to make, and Canadians have to respect him for it.

I think it's true that support for the Afghan mission is soft. And I think it's irresponsible of media outlets to use sensational headlines to sell papers at the risk of undermining support for a worthy endeavor.

The first job of any government is to establish law and order. We forget that because by and large we take our security for granted. But nothing else can be achieved without it:  the construction of roads and buildings, the provision of electricity and running water, economic development, the promotion of human rights — progress on such things is impossible as long as anarchy reigns.

According to Rick Hillier, Canada's Chief of Defence Staff, that's why our troops are in Afghanistan:
Decades of civil war and occupation have laid waste to Afghanistan, where warlords and ethnic groups have frequently fought among themselves in the periods when Soviet, U.S. or Arab fighters have not staked any claims to the country. …

With Western help, a democratically elected Afghan central government is forming, but remains fragile as it lacks strong security forces needed to fight insurgents.

Canada can help create conditions that will curb Afghanistan's high infant-mortality rate, Gen. Hillier said, and help increase the average annual income of $300 to the point where farmers are less tempted to cultivate opium. But any development is contingent on security, the general said, and that's why the Canadian military's most crucial job is to help Afghans police themselves.

"We're doing an entire spectrum of operations, from straightforward negotiation and dealing with folks, to training police, training the army, to helping work with the international community. … Right through to firefights with the Taliban, to ensure they are not going to be able to stop the progress."
Our soldiers understand the risks they're taking when they ship out to Afghanistan. But they also understand that this is a worthy cause:  that the mission serves the best interests of the residents of Afghanistan.

We Canadians should do our part by supporting our soldiers as they carry out a dangerous assignment.

If you would like to know more about the mission in Afghanistan, the Globe and Mail has a Web page dedicated to it.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~
copyright © 2006, Stephen Peltz

5 Comments:

At 4:49 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Heather said...

I think the situation in Afghanistan is far more complicated than what the media profers (as usual). I also think that Canadians don't clearly understand our role there either. This then makes the questions "Why Canadians should support the mission" much more difficult to answer.

There is one view that gets grossly overlooked, and never goes reported. Whenever you hear a news byte from a soldier, s/he claims s/he is there for his/her country and for freedom, and to help Afghanis. This person, is most likely carefully selected by the media relations people at DND. Since I happen to be surrounded by Canada's finest - I sometimes get what people REALLY say when the cameras and mics are off.

Alot of guys WANT to go to Afghanistan for the MONEY. In Canada, people will clear 20,000$ TAX FREE for a 6 month tour. These are honest working class people - and the opportunity to make this kind of cash in that legnth of time (has) been worth the risk. I have never ever spoken to someone on their way to tour talking about how they are doing this to fight terrorism or spread democracy, or whatever altruistic ideal that we would like our soldiers to bear.

With that being said, Canadian soldiers, have in the past been able to foster good relationships with local every day citizens in the country they are "working in". In the past - this was usually under the UN blue helmet. The Afghan campaign is not a UN or NATO mission. I think this opportunity to build these relationships is genuinely there, on the ground in Kandahar. Captain Davis put his weapon down to talk with Local elders. This is a typically Canadian move, and reports on this did not surprise me at all.

Part of the problem is that taliban insurgents, or local warlords (depending on who you ask), don't distinguish between American, Canadian, French, Germans, Dutch. We are Westerners. In Bosnia and Somalia, those distinctions were made by locals and Canadians were often treated well. And Canadians likewise treated the locals with respect (despite how the media wished to paint the Somalia mission)

Phew! Thats alot of stuff I covered...Eric served in Bosnia, Somalia (and will probably go to Afghanistan next year), my brother-in-law in Rwanda , Bosnia and Haiti, so I've heard it all!!

 
At 4:56 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Eric said...

I encourage people to support their soldiers by demanding that we withdraw from these totally futile missions. While there, normalcy (in regards to day-to-day life) will return to the vastly peaceful inhabitants at the cost of a few soldiers' lives every week. Call them what you want: warlords, taliban, insurgents, or freedom fighters, they will never give up until all westerners have withdrawn. The idea, a la Ignatief, that western countries have an obligation to bring democracies (western style?) to these countries is total bullshit, in my opinion. It's all a big game of geopolitics.
The worst part is that I am slated to go in March 2007. I'll go, but it isn't for ideological reasons.

 
At 7:47 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

("Journeyman" is "Q"'s new blogger name, in case you're confused.)

Heather and Eric:

This is a bit awkward. I'm approaching the subject from an abstract public policy perspective, and you two have something very personal at stake. I'm entitled to an opinion, of course, but I'm aware that my remarks may seem insensitive to your situation.

Each of you makes a very good point. Nonetheless, I disagree with your bottom line.

The Government of Canada differentiated between the war in Afghanistan (which we supported) and the war in Iraq (which we stayed out of). And I think our government made the right decision in both cases.

Eric, you mention Michael Ignatieff. He argued in support of the war in Iraq, saying we should use our military to promote human rights in parts of the globe that suffer under evil despots like Saddam Hussein.

That is not why we went into Afghanistan. We went into Afghanistan because the Taliban were the de facto government, and they had created a safe harbour for Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda. Bin Laden brought the war to North America, and we took it back to him in Afghanistan.

This seemed perfectly legitimate to me at the time, and it still does. No starry-eyed idealism of the Ignatieff variety was involved in the calculation.

I think that's what Canadians have forgotten. Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan — they've all blurred together and we want no part of it. I think that's a faulty analysis, and that's why I posted on the subject.

Having driven the Taliban from power, and driven bin Laden into hiding, it would be a mistake to walk away as if the job is done. It won't be done until there's a real government in charge. That's in the interests of international security; it is also in the interests of the Afghani people. That's why Canadians should support the war.

Still, each of you makes a good point.

Heather, you say that most soldiers enlist because their financial prospects are not so good elsewhere. I recognize the truth of that statement. Just as the working poor risk their lives on the ocean or in the mines to earn a living, many also enlist in the military for the same reason. They take risks that wealthier Canadians can avoid.

Eric, it's painful to hear that you're scheduled for a tour of duty in Afghanistan next year when you think the mission is a mistake. If you have any other options, you should get out of the military. If you don't, then I feel for you — that's a crappy spot to be in.

You make the point that troubles me the most: that there is no prospect of success in Afghanistan. That may well be true, and if I was a soldier that would prey on my mind.

But 9/11 reminded us that whether we like it or not, we cannot isolate ourselves from events in the rest of the globe. From a public policy perspective, we have to decide what needs to be done, and set out to do it to the best of our ability.

The results are not within our control. We plan, we act, we hope and pray for a good result. In that spirit, I hope for a positive outcome in Afghanistan.

There's a lot at stake, even for those of us who aren't soldiers or married to a soldier. God bless you both.

 
At 9:08 PM, March 06, 2006, Blogger Eric said...

Our presence in Afghanistan will not change much. Karzai is at best the mayor of Kabul. He exercises no influence in the majority of the country. The opium producers, AKA the warlords, control 90 % of the country. When the Taliban were in power, the drug trade practically ceased. The reason that we went in there to go after OBL was used as a pretext at best. Why aren't we invading Pakistan since he's apparently hiding there?

Zogby had a poll recently where the majority of US soldiers favor getting out of Iraq. If all the Canadian soldiers that opposed the Afghanistan action got out, there wouldn't be much left.

You say that OBL brought the war to North America...What war? To me, it was an act of terrorism. It was certainly not directed at Canada, in any case. This so-called war on terrorism has no end. We must address the root causes of terrorism. Killing desperate, dirt-poor locals who seeth at all western people will only exacerbate the problem.

Funny how the west picks and chooses what's in the interest of international security. If that was the case, the world would unite at the worst violator, namely, the USA. How many innocent Iraqis and Afghanis have died? Honduras in the 50's, El Salvador, Vietnam, Cuba, Grenada, Phillipines, it goes on and on.

War is hideous. The soldiers that fight in them suffer horribly. Those that come back live with gruesome images in their minds. People should exhaust every possible course before going to war. We should not be too quick to support such action. We should at least afford a debate in our house of commons in the subject of continuing this mission in Afghanistan. We owe it to the troops.

Anyways, I respect your opinion. Supporting the troops, however, doesn't necessarily mean supporting the war. I have alot of friends there, and I would like nothing less than having them back home with their families.

 
At 8:51 AM, March 07, 2006, Blogger Stephen (aka Q) said...

Eric:
The reason that we went in there to go after OBL was used as a pretext at best.

Again, I think you're confusing Iraq and Afghanistan. The USA came out with a series of pretexts for the war in Iraq; the real reason for the war was well buried.

But Afghanistan? Osama bin Laden was there at the time, and the war was a direct response to 9/11. That explanation was not a pretext.

War is hideous. The soldiers that fight in them suffer horribly. Those that come back live with gruesome images in their minds. People should exhaust every possible course before going to war.

I completely agree.

We should at least afford a debate in our house of commons in the subject of continuing this mission in Afghanistan.

I haven't made up my mind about that yet. But given what you say about our soldiers, perhaps we should have that debate.

Supporting the troops, however, doesn't necessarily mean supporting the war.

A good point.

I have alot of friends there, and I would like nothing less than having them back home with their families.

Amen to that.

Thanks for expressing your opinion respectfully.

 

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