21 April 2007

On Timetables and Afghanistan

Unfortunately I missed Thursday's parliamentary debate on Afghanistan. Thankfully, I have Hansard, available on the Internet. As I've been reading through it, I am struck by something that the Liberals repeatedly insist about the extent of Canada's commitment to the mission:

Hon. St├ęphane Dion: Mr. Speaker, I agree with the hon. member for Halifax about the necessity to show, despite the arguments, that we are trying to help the people of Afghanistan and play a good role. I respect her point of view. I still think we may do good things in the next two years.

Canada is committed until February 2009.

Reading that statement troubles me greatly. We're in it, but we're not in it for "as long it takes" or "until the government of Afghanistan is satisfied with the security situation in the country and requests that ISAF leave effective [insert date]" or "until the Taliban can no longer threaten the people of Afghanistan." No, Canada "is committed until February 2009." Then, pack 'er up, folks, we're going home.

I dread the thought that these people were governing the country in 1915. "Canada is committed until January 1917" or some other such date that had no bearing on, or relation to, the course of the War or the prospects of victory for the Entente countries and their allies. Jay Hill raised a similar point about the Nazis. Imagine if William Mackenzie-King, the Liberal Prime Minister during WWII, had only sufficient backbone to say that Canada would fight Hitler until 1943. Timetables and arbitrary deadlines don't work when applying them ex post facto and they do not work today.

Canada, or at least its political parties, desperately wants to believe in the existence of an international community. I hold no such delusions. Yet I am perplexed: if Canada wants to support the international community, why is it not prepared to participate in its major endeavours until they are completed? A good hockey player doesn't arbitrarily leave the ice with 15 minutes left in the second period (note: NOT AN ANALOGY TO AFGHANISTAN'S CURRENT PROGRESS!), they stick around until the final whistle blows. What if, in February 2009, conditions in Afghanistan, specifically Kandahar, are worse today than they are now? What if the Taliban is only days away from collapsing when we pack up and let, say, the French, who don't leave the base after dark, take over?

Canadians know, or should know, that their government and military forces are doing an incredible job in Afghanistan. Refer to
Ted Menzies' contribution to the debate on Thursday to see some of the accolades that Canadians are receiving from the Afghanistan government. The work that we are doing not only in Kandahar, but in providing aid to the entire country to facilitate reconstruction, is invaluable to the progress and hopeful success of that country's people. And of the Liberals, he said, this:

They are unable to see that each of those numbers, each of those millions of little girls going to school, has a name, a face and a hope that there is better life than the one they have known. Canada is not helping numbers. We are helping real people who deserve no less than we do: shelter, food, water and the ability to provide for their families. Why do the Liberals believe the people of Afghanistan deserve to be abandoned?

Which, of course, leads me to the NDP. Try on this for logic:

Ms. Olivia Chow (Trinity—Spadina, NDP): We know that Afghan women are still subject to arbitrary imprisonment, rape, torture and forced marriage. This is why in August last year the NDP asked that the present mission end.

I cannot, for the life of me, contort myself and my thinking to square the circle that because atrocities are still happening in Afghanistan, Canada should no longer participate in Afghanistan to end atrocities. In my view, that quote right there eliminates the NDP from holding any authority or legitimacy when it comes to promoting human rights and equality. They see that gross human rights violations are occurring, and when Canada has the chance to put an end to it, they want Canadians to have no part of it.

I am regularly disappointed by Canadian parliamentarians, and reading Thursday's Hansard provided more of it. When I hear Denis Coderre ranting and raving about Canada purchasing tanks, I cannot help but feel as though Canada is not a truly serious country in international affairs. I can't fathom even Dennis Kucinich going apoplectic in Congress because the Pentagon has announced it is seeking to buy some new tanks so that American forces have the best equipment available to them to win.

Canadians are clearly not in Afghanistan for imperialist reasons, though the nutbar that posts stickers around Halifax claiming we are may disagree with me. We've been looking for an exit strategy before the first CF members set foot in the country. We're there for the very best of reasons that are coinciding with our values and our interests. Yet some factions are decided upon removing Canada from Afghanistan as soon as possible, even though atrocities are still occurring and the mission is not complete. If not Afghanistan, to these people I ask, where?

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