|Let's not employ Canadian spirit in vain|
LAST MONTH, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made some startling comments that hinted at a reversal of the Conservative government's previous position on our military commitment in Afghanistan. No longer was Harper beating his chest and yelling, "We don't cut and run." Instead, the prime minister suggested that any military deployment beyond the current commitment of February 2009 would require "some degree of consensus" from the opposition parties.
Given the bellicosity with which all these parties have insisted our troops are repatriated at the 2009 expiration date (or sooner, in the case of the NDP), it is unfathomable that such a degree of consensus can be achieved.
By indicating that he is prepared to accept a termination of the military mission, Harper has inspired the war-mongering pundits to redouble their efforts to sell the war to an increasingly disenchanted Canadian public.
One common thread among the drum-beaters is that by debating the relative merits of the mission, Canadians are actually encouraging the Taliban to kill our soldiers. Any public discourse over the sacrifice of our troops that causes a drop in public opinion will inspire the insurgents to single out Canadians, runs their theory. Apparently, we should just shut up, mourn our dead and continue to pour troops into Afghanistan unquestioningly. Those who argue in favour of continuing such an open-ended, unchallenged military mission claim they "get it," while anyone who asks to see tangible evidence of progress to justify the sacrifice doesn't "get it."
However, given that a recent poll concluded more than two-thirds of Canadians would not support an extension of our military deployment beyond 2009, maybe the naysayers do "get it." Canada has now been involved in the "war on terror" for 69 months - longer than any other conflict in our short history. To date, 60 soldiers have been killed and more than 260 wounded in Afghanistan, fighting an enemy we were told was defeated in November 2001. If we do withdraw from Kandahar in 2009, it is estimated that we will have spent $9 billion on military operations versus less than $1 billion in reconstruction aid funding.
The NATO mission to which we contribute 2,500 troops is propping up the corrupt and widely distrusted regime of President Hamid Karzai. Despite five years of international efforts to train and equip an Afghan army, no one believes Karzai could remain in power for more than a week without the presence of foreign troops. The very same warlords and drug lords that constitute Karzai's cabinet would turn on him (and each other) in a heartbeat if given the opportunity. By trying to drive the Taliban and other insurgents under a central Kabul government that is incapable of achieving this on their own, Canada is essentially a participant in an Afghan civil war.
Whenever our soldiers suffer casualties, military commanders reassure us that their "soldiers remain dedicated to the mission," while families of deceased soldiers invariably tell reporters that their loved one had "believed in the mission." Inarguably, these are true statements. Our soldiers do firmly believe in this mission, just as they firmly believed in the deployments to Kosovo, East Timor, Haiti, Somalia, Croatia, Bosnia, Cyprus, etc. They believe because they took an oath of allegiance to the Queen and pledged to defend Canada's interests with their lives if necessary. Unfortunately, many of the overzealous war-promoting commentators argue that our soldiers' belief in the mission is in itself reason to continue the commitment indefinitely.
If the Canadian government does terminate the deployment in 2009 as Harper has indicated, our top commanders will be given a new set of orders. If the objective becomes the safe and efficient repatriation of our troops and equipment with a minimum of disruption to our NATO allies, then I have no doubt whatsoever our army will achieve that goal in a professional, capable manner.
If at that junction a journalist asks a Canadian soldier whether he agrees with the withdrawal, he will dutifully reply, "Yes, I believe in my mission."
Soldiers follow orders and serve their country. It is imperative that we as Canadians ensure that self-sacrificing spirit is not employed in vain.