On Afghanistan


I’m thinking I may have to change this category. It started out as a lengthy journal on the American invasion of Iraq, and it has since grown to talk about the other conflicts in the Middle East. I may decide to split the thing in two, since my Iraq posts are very self-contained, and provide, in my biased opinion, an interesting summary of my views of the war as it happened.

Anyway, I respectfully disagree with NDP leader Jack Layton and his suggestion that Canada withdraw its forces from Afghanistan by February 2007. While the latest round of casualties have been tragic, I still believe that we are doing some good in the country. If recent reports are to be believed, despite the resurgence of the Taliban, we have their major forces surrounded, and we may be on the verge of dealing a decisive blow.

Yes, I know we heard the same thing on Iraq, but though I thought (and still think) that the invasion of Iraq was a serious mistake, I believe that now that we are in Iraq, we have to stay in Iraq until the central government is stable enough to provide peaceful democratic elections. We broke Iraq through the invasion, and it’s our responsibility to fix it.

In Afghanistan our responsibility is even stronger, since the country is broken through two decades of Soviet disruption, and Western interference against that Soviet influence. The Taliban themselves exist largely because western governments funded them to help them push the Soviets out. So we have a responsibility here, and we should not leave until the central government is stable, and the country’s infrastructure rebuilt.

That said, I think Jack Layton asks fair and pointed questions about the nature of our mission, and the support our troops have in completing it. Are we actually doing enough? Are our goals realistic? Do the troops have the materials and backing they need to acheive those goals? And why is it, now nearly five years since the Taliban were crushed, that the country is still unstable? Why is it that certain Warlords that were bought out in 2001 to bring down the Taliban have switched sides? And why is it that Pte. Mark Anthony Graham was killed by friendly fire?

As we are sending our troops into harm’s way, it is our responsibility to ensure that they are being sent there for good reasons, and as voters we can only do this by asking these questions and expressing our doubts and concerns. This is not a sign of cowardice. This is not a sign of giving into the terrorists. This a sign of a good and healthy democracy. And I applaud Jack Layton for expressing his doubts and raising the debate, even though I would vote against any move to bring our troops home before the job is done.

I am especially glad that the ban against filming the return of our fallen soldiers in flag-draped coffins has been overturned. The tributes to Pte. Mark Anthony Graham of Hamilton, especially, have allowed me to appreciate more fully the sacrifices our soldiers are making for this country, much more than if their deaths had been hidden, even if only symbolically, as Stephen Harper seemed to be trying to do before he turned around post haste.

Frankly, the Bush Administration could learn something here. Their policy of not filming the return of American coffins has enhanced the sense that they are trying to hide the true cost of war. This has been a meme since 9/11 — a time when Americans were willing to sacrifice much for their country, a time when they could well have rationed the use of their SUVs, conserved energy and boycotted Middle Eastern oil, and were instead told to simply buy more stuff.

Through the policy of not showing the coffins coming home, as well as others, the Bush Administration has sent many signals that they don’t trust the American public’s ability to appreciate the true cost of war, and make the necessary sacrifices. And rather than solidify American support for such things as the country’s continued presence in Iraq, it has damaged the administration’s credibility.

Seeing the coffins come home strengthens my resolve to continue the fight in Afghanistan, it doesn’t weaken it. If governments would just level with the people, they might be surprised at how well the people will respond.

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