29 August 2007

On "Selling" Afghanistan

I've been doing some thinking this morning about Afghanistan and Canada's participation in that country's reconstruction and stabilization, specifically how Canadians feel about the mission. Polls, as usual, indicate a large divide in the country, with a large majority of Quebeckers opposed to the mission, heightened now by the deaths of Quebec-based Van Doos serving in Kandahar (as many have pointed out, where were Gilles Duceppe et al. when it was Nova Scotians or Albertans being killed?).

I've spent a lot of time here and around the Internet lambasting this government, its predecessor, and the opposition parties for not doing a respectable job of explaining the mission to the public. This is rooted in the belief that Canadians would listen and seek to educate themselves further on the notions of post-conflict stabilization, humanitarian interventions, and counterinsurgency-based combat. But what if this perspective is wrong? Canadians say they're more "globally aware" or what-have-you than Americans, but are they more conscious and conscientious? If Peter Mackay, Maxime Bernier, and Bev Oda tomorrow produced a "slam dunk"-style case for Canada in Afghanistan in a handy little 15-20 page document, would Canadians read it? I know I would, and I know a handful of other people who would as well, mostly fellow academics. But what about regular Canadians? Would they make a legitimate attempt to educate themselves on this most important issue of our foreign affairs in a generation? Would they simply dismiss it as the propaganda of Bush's northern puppet? Or would they not even be aware of its existence?

I've often wondered if one could go out in Rick Mercer-style interviewing to ask if Canadians are proud of the work that their Navy is doing in Afghanistan to defeat Taliban naval forces. I wonder how many wouldn't even blink in giving some asinine answer, not recognizing that Afghanistan is landlocked and thus has no naval forces, legitimate or otherwise. It's an interesting proposition. We're an inward-looking society, despite all our attempts to portray ourselves otherwise. What else do you call people who get up at 5am to go jogging but haven't read a newspaper or a non-fiction book in weeks, months, or years? What else do you say about a people that don't demand action when atrocities are being committed against women in their own country, let alone one that is thousands of kilometres away? These are interesting questions, to be sure. And I'd like to hear what you folks think would be the answers.

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