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July 12, 2006

Mission: Unpopular

Margaret Wente cuts to the quick of Canada's Afghanistan problem:

Repairing Afghanistan is a noble cause. It's also mission impossible. I suspect that, before too long, more and more Canadians will decide that it's not our fight.

Couldn't agree more. Looking back, the plight of Abdul Rahman — the apostate who willingly returned to Afghanistan and escaped trial largely thanks to western governments meddling in a justice system they are helping to create — was a real turning point. Left, right and centre, reasonable people were suddenly wondering whether it's right for a western nation to participate in building a democracy wherein minority rights aren't respected, no matter how much better that democracy would be than what preceded it. It was if no one had ever considered such a thing happening.

The naïveté this revealed among the mission's supporters was almost unbelievable. Afghanistan might have huddled masses yearning to breathe free, but their idea of freedom is a damn sight different than our own. This should not have come as a surprise — their idea of pretty much everything is different than our own. We have wireless internet and Canadian Idol; 94 of every 100 Afghans have no electric power. It should not have taken until the Rahman case, more than four years after Hamid Karzai took nominal "control" of Afghanistan's government, for someone to ask the tough questions about just how closely an Afghan constitution has to resemble a western one to make the mission worthwhile.

From Wente's column:

"The West has been guilty of applying Western precepts on an almost post-medieval economy," warns Lieutenant-General David Richards, the British commander of the NATO forces. "A quarter of children die by the age of 5. Worrying about civil service reform and gender rights are really tomorrow's problems."

Where was this guy five years ago? The Taliban as a government had to go after September 11. By the same token, building a functional replacement government was a necessary goal even without taking humanitarian concerns into account. It would have been nice to get the ugly possibilities out in the open early on, so people couldn't suddenly pop up and claim never to have been consulted. As it stands, I share Wente's concern that public opinion is eventually going to force Canada to leave Afghanistan with the job unfinished.

Posted by Chris Selley at July 12, 2006 12:01 AM

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Chris, I don't have much of a statement in response, just questions, because the whole issue pretty much confuses me, and I'd sure like to know what you think ought to have been done.

I am sick and tired of leftist friends scoffing at why the West went to war in Afghanistan. Clearly, after September 11th, there wasn't much option - Afghanistan had to be invaded.

What do you think ought to have been done there instead? I honestly don't know.

When I read the news, it seems the Taliban would have come back to power shortly after a Western victory&withdrawal. So, with no strategic military training myself, but an eagerness to be informed because citizens should be, I'm left pondering what the right answer would have been. Rounding up any and all Taliban and imprisoning them? Ignoring constitutional theories and social programs and focusing on electricity instead?

You're more educated than me, I'd like to hear your thoughts, if you would.

Posted by: Jason at July 12, 2006 10:46 AM

"I suspect that, before too long, more and more Canadians will decide that it's not our fight.

Couldn't agree more...but their idea of freedom is a damn sight different than our own...their idea of pretty much everything is different than our own."

Apparently Afghanis aren't worthy of our high-and-mighty support since they are so "different" from Canada and are "almost post-medieval". Stated loudly and clearly. Really, who is good enough to warrant getting our hands dirty? Damned peasants!

Posted by: Brian C. at July 13, 2006 10:54 AM


It would be great to be able to deliver "Western Democracy in a Box" to all countries that have lived under regimes we deem freedom-restictive.

However, democracy as we know it has been built on an ongoing experiment lasting well over 250 years, and so strongly interwoven to capital markets and institutions that it cannot be duct-taped to another culture or civilization.

While Bush's theory of "spreading freedom" has a great ring to it, freedom doesn't perform like peanut butter, and you can't just coat a people in it.

Its not whether Afghanis are peasants or not, but transforming what the people of that country have come to know as rule into what we know is an exercise spanning generations, if not totally impossible.

Posted by: Stateside at July 13, 2006 02:13 PM

Thanks for telling us what won't work. What would you have done? It seems to me that simply leaving the Taliban in palce was a non-starter, but I am open to your counter-argument. If the Taliban is removed, then there is going to be some system of governance in the region - even if it's one we wouldn't recognize - at some point. Should the difficulty in arranging an acceptable post-Taliban Afghanistan have been a sufficient argument to leave them in power? If not, what would you try to put in place, and how would you effect that entity assuming governmental powers?

Posted by: DCardno at July 13, 2006 08:35 PM

I have the same curiousity and question as DCardno. I agree, I think, with Stateside that you can't just FedEx "Democracy" over to another country. Yet, we obviously couldn't just leave the Taliban sitting there after harbouring Osama Bin Laden.

I don't know what the answer would have been.

Brian C., I think you missed Chris S.'s point entirely, and your characterization of his perspective is unfair.

Posted by: Jason at July 14, 2006 09:27 AM

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