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September 05, 2006

Not our kind of people (anymore)

If nothing else, the timing of Jack Layton's mad dash for the lifeboats is certainly suspicious. Perhaps it’s true that this isn’t the right mission for Canada, that it’s unwinnable, that it lacks “achievable, measurable goals”. It’s just rather convenient that it comes as we reach the new high water mark of Canadian casualties.

Mike from Rational Reasons left this comment on my last post about Layton’s proposed retreat:

…we should be doing something to help stabalize Afghanistan and to help the people there. In the long term that will be good for all of us. But I fail to see how imitating the the strategy and tatics of the US in Iraq and Viet Nam will accomplish that. Either we do it right, with measurable goals and the ability to know when we have finished, or we get out. Sadly we don't have that right now.

So we are there without a plan, with no measurable goals supporting a government with dubious values and members. Our fighting is actively being undercut by a supposed "Ally" - Pakistan is making deals with Taliban and pro-Taliban militias, allowing them to concentrate on attacking ur guys (Gosh, no wonder they haven't caught Bin Laden yet).

And I fail to see how, starting with the current status quo, we could "stabilize Afghanistan" and "help the people there" without to some extent "imitating the strategy and tactics of the US in Iraq and Vietnam" — the parts that involve taking the fight to the enemy, anyway. Push for different tactics, if you want. Push for measurable goals. Push for troops along the Pakistani border or measures designed to mitigate Pakistan's interference. Why pull out? And if it's not selfish, simple-minded squeamishness or preemptive political campaigning, then why now?

It's the part about the "dubious" quality of the democratically elected Afghan government (and by extension its constituents) that really bugs me. It raises the same question I asked when people were so astonished to find that Afghanistan’s a little lukewarm on Christians: Can we really have been so naïve? We went to make a deplorable situation better, not to make Afghanistan safe for Canadian tourists and missionaries. Kandahar is never going to be "the next Prague".

A CTV/Ipsos Reid/Globe & Mail poll conducted in October 2001 found roughly 72 percent of Canadians in support of “strikes against Taliban military sites in Afghanistan and terrorist camps.” As Canada prepared to move troops and material to the Middle East, the lone, shrill voice of complaint came from Alexa McDonough, who warned that bombing civilian targets would accomplish nothing (as if that was the plan). As the mission intensified, the perceived lack of humanitarian aid became a common gripe. Now we've reached the point where Layton and his partisan followers want us to pull out completely.

So what happens to the people who were to receive all this humanitarian aid, the ones the NDP was so eager to help?

Remember Djamshid Popal, the nine-year-old Afghan boy with the serious heart condition who was nursed back to health in Ottawa and Toronto? Boy, did we ever feel good about ourselves. There’s been no news of the little guy since September 8, 2005, when newspapers reported that his prospects were grim. I guess we've moved on. This stomach-turning letter in yesterday's Globe & Mail, certainly suggests so:

Judging by the response to Jack Layton's proposal to open negotiations with the Taliban, it would appear that the principal purpose of Canada's military deployment in Afghanistan is to ensure Afghan girls receive a proper education. This laudable goal might be more realistically achieved by other means. I recommend all Afghan girls be offered the opportunity to go to school here. While our schools might be underfunded, they are at least in little danger of being destroyed by insurgents. After graduation, some of these young women will likely choose to stay, helping avert our coming demographic crisis. Rather than pouring billions into fruitless overseas military adventures, our government could make a solid investment in both Canada's and Afghanistan's future. Unrealistic? Impractical? Surely less so than our government's current Vietnam-esque doctrine.

Most Canadians claimed to support the mission to bring down the Taliban, and its logical follow-on mission to help establish a stable government. Maybe it was a moment of clarity. Maybe the horror of September 11 just temporarily overrode Canadians' innate suspicion of everything American.

Either way, our concern for the Afghan people rang true, and it certainly wasn’t misplaced. But five years on, with things relatively (if deceptively) back to normal, Layton’s position, and that hideous letter to the editor, show what the poor and wretched of Afghanistan always were to these people: rhetorical devices — useful for sniping at excessive “American-style” militarism and easy, eventually, to forget about altogether. All the easier when you consider how unlikely any of them would be to vote NDP.

Posted by Chris Selley at September 5, 2006 10:18 PM

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My son is serving in Kandahar since February. Needless to say, I follow every piece of information about our troops in Afghanistan and worry about him and all our soldiers there. My heart is aching, every time I read the ignorant remarks and speeches of politicians like Jack Layton and others, that are using this conflict for their own advancement. Their behavior is despicable and selfish. Jack should know that we are very proud of our soldiers and the work they are doing. He is only hurting the families and the soldiers by his ignorance and selfishness.

Posted by: Jane at September 5, 2006 10:41 PM

It’s just rather convenient that it comes as we reach the new high water mark of Canadian casualties.

Jack has been on this for more than a year now. And you damned well know, Selley, that he's just forcing the issue. We are losing this battle and the conservatives refuse to acknowledge it so we can alter the course with a new plan.

Posted by: Robert McClelland at September 5, 2006 11:17 PM

"Run away! Run away!" is not a new plan, McClelland. It is the absence of a plan.

Posted by: CW at September 6, 2006 12:33 AM

a) I think the governments have all been very, very slack in explaining the mission clearly to Canadians.

b) I think it's entirely appropriate for opposition to suggest or even demand wiser alternative strategies, but demanding just up and quitting is moronic.

c) When the hell will we be rid of Jack Layton?? Where's Ed Broadbent when you need him? Come back, Ed - we miss you.

Posted by: Jason B. Green at September 6, 2006 12:37 AM

If Jack continues to disgrace himself like this, I suspect we'll be rid of him rather soon.

His argument - basically - is that Canada retreat from the world. I supose it would be easier to let other countries do the hard work...

Posted by: Mike at September 6, 2006 08:55 AM

Jack Layton is only doing what politicians are supposed to do. He is opposing. That is his job. I don’t agree with him, but politicians must be willing to challenge the governing party’s assumptions. Democracy depends on it.

The reasons for our being in Afghanistan are sound, Jack Layton’s challenge gives the Conservatives another opportunity to explain to Canadians why we are there and why we must stay.

If they cannot articulate an argument that a majority of Canadians can get behind it is their fault not Jack Layton’s.

If Jack Layton thinks traction exists, that there is a legitimate issue to exploit, then he has to leverage it. You cannot blame him for doing his job.

Posted by: wsam at September 6, 2006 10:19 AM


I maintain that our strategy in Afghanistan is wrong and a losing proposition. Not because its "American" but because it cannot win - it just happens that the latest to display that this kind of strategy doesn't work have been the Americans in Iraq and Viet Nam.

I do not support Jack on the pull out, but as Robert has stated, the NDP has tried for close to a year to get a real parliamentary debate on the mission, rather than poorly attended "take notes" that are rammed through with little notice. Gordon O'Conor refused to answer his own question, instead taking the very Bush like approach of attacking the person re-asking the question - Jack Layton.

I don't think we should pull out, but we need a different strategy than search and destroy. I therefore disagree with my own party. But when I think of "supporting the troops," putting them in an unwinnable situation with no clear goals or strategy is not what leaps to my mind. I have a brother in the CF and I would do him no favours if I kept quiet about a plan that cannot work.

The only bright side I can see about Layton calling for withdrawl is that it is forcing the debate again. Perhaps we will get some answers instead of hollow jingoism. Perhaps we will get an idea of a real strategy with a goal and an end. If my brother is to die in a foreign land, I want to be sure its fighting doing the right thing in a situation where he and his comrades have a fighting chance of succeeding, rather than a meat grinder with no end in sight, that appears to be more and more unwinnable.

The Cons have one chance to do this right. I support the mission, just not the way it has been implemented. If that implementation can't or won't change, we should get out. I still think we can do good over there, but we have to be willing to change. In that I disagree with Jack Layton - don't pull out now, but do it if things don't change fast. Don't repeat the mistakes of the past.

That is how we should support the troops.

Posted by: Mike at September 6, 2006 12:31 PM

I agree - there was a need for change of plans. I hate to admit to it, but it seems that we have underestimated Taliban's perseverance and the support they get from within and from outside of the country. Politics and discussions in the House of Commons are not going to help the situation in Afghanistan. There already is an agreement on the political strategy: After Sept. 11, 2001, Canadian Forces were deployed to help oust the Taliban, build an Afghan infrastructure and bring about a democracy....Unfortunately, the CF (and other NATO forces) are still working on the first part of the original goal. Operation Medusa will hopefully bring some of light at the end of this tunnel. In order to procede with the next goal - rebuilding the infrastructure, we need to keep the enemy away and maintain stability in this strategically important part or Afghanistan, so the local population can move back into their homes.

Posted by: Jane at September 6, 2006 05:45 PM

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