13 September 2006

Why Afghanistan Matters

I mentioned yesterday that I was disappointed with Harper's 9/11 address as it pertained to his "case" for Canadian participation in Afghanistan. With support for the mission doing more ebbing than flowing and many Canadians wondering why we're there, the need to get the message out is more important than it has been in the past. Because the left is so often given a podium to espouse myths of Canada's history and deny our true heritage while calling for the troops to come home, Canadians are confused on Afghanistan and do not truly understand the centrality of this mission to winning the Global War on Terror and establishing Canada as a player in the 21st century global stage. With that in mind, this is why Canada should and must honour its commitments:
  • Canada's legitimacy is at stake
  • The 3D approach is a perfect fit for Afghanistan
  • Multilateralism and the American Goliath
  • The success of democracy in Afghanistan will be a blow to the terrorists and their non-democratic state sponsors

If Canada were to withdraw from Afghanistan, we would squander all credibility in the international community because we would deliver the message that we do not honour our commitments. The Government has pledged the Canadian Forces to Afghanistan until February 2009, a decision supported by the majority will of Parliament. One of our great strengths is that our word counts for something: a bilateral or multilateral treaty with Canada's signature has meaning, unlike a deal with North Korea, which is not worth the paper it's printed on. To precipitiously withdraw would leave our NATO allies in disarray because they have plans in place that are contingent upon a strong Canadian participation. NATO is already facing shortages of boots on the ground, we should not compound that difficulty. Other states would be wary of making deals with us on security-related issues, having to factor into consideration that we may well abrogate a deal if domestic opinion is blowing the wrong way. That is not the message a country with as proud a legacy as Canada should send.

The 2005 IPS document, A Role of Pride and Influence in the World, puts forward a 3D approach--defence, diplomacy, and development--that is so tailor-made for Afghanistan one wonders if it was written with Afghanistan in mind. Defence and security are at the core of this approach; without people in place to ensure security, schools cannot be protected, crowded marketplaces cannot be protected, political leaders in Afghanistan cannot be protected. Education, the economy, and a stable democracy are three pillars of the future structure of Afghanistan. We have a tremendous capability to build bridges (literal and figurative) with other states, and the PRT in Kandahar is doing both with exceptional results. Canada has helped to rout the Taliban and al Qaeda symbiote that contributed to the devastation of Afghanistan's civil society, and we are playing a valuable role in rebuilding it. Children are in schools, women are no longer stoned to death in stadiums built for playing soccer, and democratic institutions are taking shape. Countering terrorism, stabilizing failed states, and bringing democracy are three pillars of the current structure of Canadian foreign policy; Afghanistan is the test of our Weltanschuung.

Multilateralism is a crucial feature of Canadian foreign policy. We like to work with allies to develop solutions and effect positive change to less-fortunate places of the world. We have no better partner, no stronger friend than the United States, with whom our future is inextricably linked. Currently the United States is the dominant power in a unipolar system. Yet rather than using that preponderance to expand empire or thwart the aspirations of potential challengers, America is dedicated to expanding the influence of its ideals and fulfilling the aspirations of people currently deprived of liberty, democracy, and human rights. When Canada adds its voice to that of America, by itself or in conjunction with NATO allies and the broader international community, America is comforted by the strength of its message and reassured by its friends. If we--America's immediate neighbour and thus crucial ally--withdraw our support and diminish the importance of NATO and multilateralism, the United States will be forced to act alone to achieve its strategic objectives. Despite all of its power, America needs allies to do the things that the American military is not meant to do and to help the military meet the challenges that they are meant to do. We share many of the same objectives as the United States, and thus we should be assisting it in achieving those objectives.

Finally, if Afghanistan fails, so too does our paradigm, which includes 3D, the Responsibility to Protect, nation-building, and defeating terrorism and tyranny in the world. The terrorists and the Taliban will once again use enclaves in Afghanistan to plan their assault on liberty and human dignity. Simply put, the success of democracy in other lands affects Canada's security in the world. The West will be humbled, al Qaeda will be emboldened, and Middle Eastern dictators will rest comfortably, having been given a new lease on life to deny their citizens of their aspirations and rule absolutely and indefinitely. We have come a long way in the last five years. The work has been difficult, and more than two dozen brave and honourable Canadians have lost their lives. It is a true symbol of how far we have come that each loss is mourned, a far cry from decades ago when young men were sent to be killed en masse for a few hundred yards of hillside in the killing fields of Europe. Only democracies hold such high regard for humanity and life. The Taliban do not share our compassion; we know this because we have seen what happens to women, children, and men who do not subscribe to their ideology when the Taliban hold power. If the democratic experiment fails in Afghanistan, subsequent to our withdrawal, we will be complicit in its failure because we did not live up to our responsibility to: protect people from humanitarian disaster; deny terrorists and irresponsible state actors; respect basic human rights and build lives of freedom; to build, through CIDA, programs that allow people to develop their own economies; and, the future through encouraging global public goods and sustainable development. The Canada that I know and love would not abrogate these responsibilities and leave the fate of the Afghan people, who have suffered so much already because of our unwillingness to intervene prior to 9/11, filled with uncertainty other than this: it would be nasty, brutish, and short. We must adhere to our commitments, not only because it is in our interests, but more importantly, because it is the right thing to do.


Jason Bo Green said...

How we can better win in Afghanistan I do not know, but pulling out is not the answer and it is irresponsible for people like Jack Layton to suggest it, I personally feel.

SouthernOntarioan said...

Very good post. Hits on the important issues.

Can't say i can comment on Harper's speech, i didn't watch it.

RGM said...

JBG, I agree wholeheartedly. I don't like the "stay the course"/withdraw dichotomy that has seemingly been drawn, it's a little too black-and-white for my liking as it ignores the larger themes of our participation. There needs to be more dynamism on the part of the coalition and they need to do more to highlight the development and diplomacy features (two of the three blocks of the "three-block war" conception in the IPS), that much is for certain.

SO, you didn't miss much as far as the speech went. It was a good political speech, but we get those pretty much every day, and I feel that it should have had more content. Plus it was too short.

Anonymous said...

This is an interesting post, and I agree with some of it. I do not agree that America acts with such nobility of purpose in all its endeavors, though clearly they do in some cases. I cannot help but remember that Americans are at least partly responsible for the Taliban rule in Afghanistan, and Hussein's rule in Iraq. They were seen as the lesser evil to the Soviets. I also think about how the American government secretly funded the Contras in Nicaragua, in order to undermine the democratically elected socialist government. Some people might call the Contras terrorists.

But that was then and this is now. No matter how the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, it is definately a problem that must be fixed.

I will not pretend to be up to date with the current situation in Afghanistan, so let me ask you (as it seems you would know), hasn't the focus of our military presence in Afghanistan changed since Harper took over? I cannot remember how, but seem to recall the mission changed from more peacekeeping to more militaristic. I admit I may be wrong, which is why I am seeking clarification from someone who appears to know what he is talking about.


RGM said...

Dredging up bad Cold War "strategic partnerships" makes me just as nauseous as I'm sure it does for you. The Wilsonian in me does not subscribe to the idea of friendly dictators as being better friends than less-than-friendly democracies. The realist in me sees why that path was chosen, but it's still pretty noxious looking back on it. One of the best things about this Administration is that it realizes the friendly dictator dilemma causes more problems than it solves (except when it comes to Saudi Arabia and Pakistan, but I digress) and I hope that the trend of ditching these cynical alliances that have little to do with democracy or human rights promotion continues.

As it pertains to the supposed "changing role" of the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan, that's a load of hogwash being foisted upon us all by politicians who care more about votes than digesting policy books. The 3D approach detailed in the 2005 International Policy Statement refers to a three-block war approach, in which it is a reality of the 21st century that Canadian Forces on Block A can be doing one thing while those on Blocks B and C are involved in entirely different matters altogether. Generally, the three-block construct refers to traditional military work (killing the bad guys), doing humanitarian peace and reconstruction work, and what I suppose one could call traditional peacekeeping.

Right now we're in a situation in which the intensity of Block A (traditional military work) is at a higher pitch than it had been previously. A lot of warnings were being sounded last fall and winter that the Taliban were regrouping and would be mounting a spring and/or summer offensive to take back some of their former strongholds. Clearly those prognostications have proven true.

Block A work, by its nature, is more likely to grab headlines than the completion of building a school or other infrastructure work. This problem has been highlighted in Iraq, where a major, like megamillions worth of dollars, sewage plant project was completed and received very little attention despite it being a pretty significant Block B task. The perspective put forward, simply put, was that American lives are worth more than Iraqi shit. Same happens for us. If a Canadian soldier is killed in a Block A firefight, that's going to be on the news, not the diligent work of the Block C soldiers that difused a minor diplomatic issue or the Block B soldiers that helped build something that will go a long way for the citizens of Afghanistan.

When Block A work flares up, that's obviously going to divert attention and resources from the other two blocks. That is unfortunate, but without Block A work, Blocks B and C are further jeopardized. At the same token, it doesn't do Canadians or Afghans a lot of good to focus heavily on building bridges and schools while leaving the Taliban unchallenged because they'll simply blow up the bridge or school and then it's back to square one.

It's a difficult job we're doing in Afghanistan, and a very complex one. This is the nature of 21st century conflict, however, and the first real test of our paradigm. There has not been a shift in our strategy in Afghanistan, some of the tactics have changed due to necessity and a fluid environment, but what we're seeing now certainly not does exceed the parameters of the three-block war construct.

Hope that helps a little bit, if you need any clarification or anything, do ask and I'll do my best to answer it.

Anonymous said...

Wow. YOu've given me a lot to think about, especially in light of today's developments.


I may come back with more questions later.

Brian C said...

Wonderful post. If NATO allows the Taliban to take back Afghanistan, this will allow al-Qaeda to return and train again, knowing that the West will not dare to invade again. This has been sanctioned by the U.N so I don't understand why Canadians consider punching above our weight to be a bad thing. I'm a bit worried about 2009 since Europeans (outisde of UK, Netherlands & Germany) don't seem to be willing to help out. The number of Afghan forces appears to be increasing but this article indicates that the forces needs to be 5 times its current size. Ouch. NATO should ask for money instead of troops.

RGM said...

I agree with you when it comes to the multilateralism thing. We've made it such a sticking point on things like Iraq that we don't do things unless there's a UN resolution in place. A professor of mine referred to this as Canada, and others, having made "a fetish of multilateralism" that favours "process over results." If we can't find it within ourselves to stay in Afghanistan there are going to be very few global hot-spots that will meet whatever criteria Canadians have in their minds. The world will be worse off because of that because I believe that, as Jean Chretien said in his send-off speech at the Liberal convention in November 2003, the world needs more Canada.

Devin said...


I won't comment on the substance of your post, but I do have something to say about the Prime Minister's speech...

The word Afghanistan should not have come out of Mr. Harper's mouth during that speech. Like his amigo in Washington, he tried to use the September 11 tragedy to garner support for an unpopular war. It was inappropriate and in poor tatse.

RGM said...

The Afghanistan war was the immediate consequence of 9/11 and the initial front in the response to the terrorist attacks on the United States. It's very difficult to isolate the two, and to not recognize the accomplishments of our Canadian Forces and our allies in denying al Qaeda and the Taliban further use of Afghan territory would have been far more inappropriate. Thus I disagree with your statement. I can see where you're coming from, but to ignore what we did in response to 9/11 makes little sense and should not automatically be construed as an attempt by the Prime Minister of Canada to make political hay.