"How to End the War in Afghanistan" - Macleans.ca
 

“How to End the War in Afghanistan”

Little insight from Ottawa, so turn to David Miliband’s latest essay for some clarity


 

An ongoing frustration for any Canadians trying to understand our country’s involvement in Afghanistan is the failure of the government to frame the mission seriously. Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s hasn’t delivered what could be considered a major speech on this war and its related foreign policy and development-assistance challenges.

We get only anodyne stuff, like the most recent speech from Harper that I can find which was devoted to this pressing subject. It was way back on May 7,  2009, when he visited Kandahar and used an address to the troops to tout Canada’s work fixing an irrigation system, building schools and vaccinating kids against polio. Not exactly challenging geopolitical insights.

No more illuminating are the featherlight speeches—or passing remarks, more often—in which Foreign Minister Lawrence Cannon lets us in on his considered perspective. There was, for instance, his March 15 comment at the Hague, in which Cannon climbed out on a policy limb by enumerating four areas that need work: Afghanistan’s economy, government institutions, capacity to hold elections, and justice system. Odd that you don’t recall it.

There is no shortage of Canadian experience on Afghanistan: we’ve been there in a serious way since 2002. Diplomats, soldiers, aid workers, academics, journalists and hangers-on have cycled through Kandahar. Some come home with smart things to say about the place, and its precarious position in a troubled region. Little of that hard-earned knowledge, however, seems to find its way into the public statements of our government.

It’s not inconceivable that a cabinet minister might want to say something worth listening to about Afghanistan. In the early going, on Dec. 12, 2003, John McCallum, then the Liberal defence minister, gave a speech in Calgary in which he tried to both frankly answer early misgivings about the military adventure and lower expectations about what might be accomplished.

Lately, though, we’ve had to wait for foreign politicians to offer fully rounded, tightly argued, comprehensive talk on the Afghanistan conundrum. The latest to which Canadians can turn (with some envy) is British Foreign Secretary David Miliband’s 4,600-word essay “How to End the War in Afghanistan” in the next issue of the New York Review of Books, now available online. Miliband grounds his argument in history, doesn’t flinch from mentioning bad news like the deep credibility problems of the Hamid Karzai’s regime, and makes his case for keeping up the fight without resorting to worn-out rhetoric.

I won’t try to summarize it all, but his main points can be sketched. Miliband argues for building a regional consensus around making sure neighboring countries grasp their interest in stopping Afghanistan from being a source of destabilizing drug trade, terrorism and refugees. He pleads for a fair understanding of Pakistan’s fears, particularly about Afghanistan’s relationship with India, and for bringing India, Russia, Turkey, and China into “the search for solutions.” He calls for cultivating common interest in Afghanistan’s usefulness as a regional trade and transport crossroads—even invoking the Silk Road for the benefit of those of us who cling to a bit of that old romance. Finally, he calls for a new forum, perhaps standing Conference on Stability, Security, and Cooperation in South Asia, to push for progress.

It’s not all exciting, but it is all coherent and expansive. Given the thin policy gruel Canadians have been fed by their own politicians, Miliband’s overview and argument is by comparison richly satisfying.


 

“How to End the War in Afghanistan”

  1. "Thin policy gruel' is right Geddes. Thanks for finding this sample of coherent foreign policy on Afghanistan; I haven't been fan of British foreign policy, but Milibrand, and even H. Clinton sound impressive compared to our foreign Ministers and PM.

  2. How anyone can give the government credit for "supporting the troops" when they've treated the war as being about as important as a stimulus photo-op, I have to wonder.

    Which is how I felt years before reading the excellent piece above, incidentally.

  3. Afghanistan is a hopeless cause. One cannot say anything intelligent about a hopeless cause, except that it is a hopeless cause.

    Karzai is an untrustworthy "ally". The Americans and British don't care what Canada thinks. They want Canada only there as fodder for their neo-imperialist policies.

    Harper has learned that anything he says is likely to only be overtaken by unpredictable events and make him look silly, so it is best to say nothing, and run out the clock on this misguided Chretien and Martin misadventure. And if one has nothing good to say about the American plans for the mission, it is best to say nothing.

    We only ended up in Afghanistan because Chretien was not courageous enough to say NO to the United States. And we only ended up in Kandahar because Afghanistan was NOT one of Martin's priorities, and he dithered, and by the time he made a decision, all the less dangerous spots in Afghanistan were taken by our European allies. And the detainee mess was really a creation of Martin's lack of preparation for the Kahdahar mission, which left Canada in the middle of a war with no plan for handlling detainees.

    Afghans only want to be left alone. We might not think much of their society, but that is why Canada has a generous refugee program. Canada is NOT an imperialist nation. The Afghanistan mission is an imperialist mission. For the last thousand years Afghans have slaughtered and outlasted any would be imperialist invader. They will again, regardless of what Millband or Obama say.

    Add to that, the same people who are callling on Harper to speak out on Afghanistan are essentially callling him a war criminal because of the mess Martin left him.

    It is no win for Harper and Canada.

    • Really? what did Harper have to say about it at the time? I think your memory is a little selective (remember that Harper was gung ho to sign up as fodder for the US and UK's "neo-imperialist" adventures in Iraq too)

  4. ShouldIsellyourwheat – get your facts right before you blather! We are talking two DIFFERENT wars sonny! Bush went into Afghanistan post 9/11 to root out Bin Laden and Al Qaeda. Chretien agreed to join that endeavour – somewhat reluctantly – because it seemed appropriate – and promised on the evidence that Bush provided – to be short term. The NATO occupation / second war is a whole different game – entered into without a real clue of what it entailed – and obviously the first part was to provide legal cover for Bush going in in the first place.
    Paul Martin wears that – but – sadly – I have to tell you – Harper has been where the bucks stops since late 2005 – and you can only buy a short period of grace saying it was my predecessor's policy for so long!

    • He is basically right about why we took over responsibility in Kandahar.

      Janice Stien and (Ahh I forget) wrote about this in detail in the Unexpected War. The most facinating bits are the bureacratic manoeverings and Canadian military outrage over our non-participation in the invasion of Iraq.

      • In its dying days, the Bush administration tried to prevent Milbrand from becoming British foreign secretary. His crime was to have said mean things about John Bolton, the worst (and possibly treasonous) UN ambassador (unofficial) the US has ever had, including Jeanne Kirkpatrick (no small accomplishment).

        John Bolton is the neo-conservatives neo-conservative. He is to neo-conservatives what Don Delillo, or Norman Levine are to their respective schools of literary fiction: an ideal type – not for the mainstream. John Bolton was so far offside that long-serving Republican Senators like Lincoln Chafee refused him his confirmation.

        David Milbrand called John Bolton batshit crazy for advocating things like nuking Iran. Why this matters is the Harper government remains full of people who admire John Bolton. And who instinctively dislike the smarty-pants liberalism that, to them, people like Millbrand represent.

        It is a question of world-views. The people around Harper admire what they perceive as John Bolton's unsentimental take on the world, which informs his ideas about how best to use and maintain US power.

        How are this bunch of clowns going to see us out of Afghanistan?

    • In its dying days, the Bush administration tried to prevent Milbrand from becoming British foreign secretary. His crime was to have said mean things about John Bolton, the worst (and possibly treasonous) UN ambassador (unofficial) the US has ever had, including Jeanne Kirkpatrick (no small accomplishment).

      John Bolton is the neo-conservatives neo-conservative. He is to neo-conservatives what Don Delillo, or Norman Levine are to their respective schools of literary fiction: an ideal type – not for the mainstream. John Bolton was so far offside that long-serving Republican Senators like Lincoln Chafee refused him his confirmation.

      Why this matters is that the Harper government remains full of people who admire John Bolton.

      David Milbrand called John Bolton batshit crazy for advocating things like nuking Iran.

      It is a question of world-views. The people around Harper admire what they perceive as John Bolton's unsentimental take on the world, which informs his ideas about how best to use and maintain US power. Policy lectures about secular jurisprudence don't resonate in quite the same way as speeches about fighting the Islamofacists in a death-match clash of civilizations.

  5. In its dying days, the Bush administration tried to prevent Milbrand from becoming British foreign secretary. David Milbrand's crime was to have said mean things about John Bolton, the worst (and possibly treasonous) UN ambassador (unofficial) the US has ever had, including Jeanne Kirkpatrick (no small accomplishment).

    John Bolton is the neo-conservatives neo-conservative. He is to neo-conservatives what Don Delillo, or Norman Levine are to different schools of literary fiction: an ideal type – but not exactly for the mainstream. John Bolton was so far outside the pale that long-serving Republican Senators like Lincoln Chafee refused him his confirmation.

    That really explains the Harper government's difficulties. They remain welded to their neo-conservative intellectual inheritance.

    The Harper government is full of people who admire John Bolton. They admire what they see as his realistic, unsentimental world-view which informs his ideas about how best to use and maintain US power. David Milbrand called John Bolton batshit crazy for advocating things like nuking Iran.

    How are this bunch of clowns going to see us out of Afghanistan?

  6. What I find interesting is that we have basically forgotten the key recommendations that came out of that report centered around extending our stay, remember that 'Independent panel on the future of Afghanistan'?……..When I review these…it seems to me that the government has failed in most recommendations. Here is a brief summary of the 5 key recommendations……it makes me wonder why we are not evaluating based on THIS report which the government asserts was going to be the bi-partisan blueprint for moving forward.

    1: Diplomacy — what the UN and NATO partners need to do to put more focus on goals in Afghanistan

    2: Get more troops out of NATO, if so, continue combat deployment past 2009 — a 1,000-person battle group specifically — "to reinforce ISAF's 'clear, hold and develop' strategy in Kandahar"

    3: A “signature” aid project — CIDA must change its policies to give Canada a more tangible presence in job creation and aid delivery

    4: Better monitoring of progress — "International parties to the Afghanistan Compact (mentioned earlier) to conduct a full-scale review of the effectiveness of the security, governance and development effort as a whole in 2011. That multinational review should provide inform decisions on future Canadian commitments to Afghanistan."

    5: Talk to Canadians — "The Government must engage Canadians in a continuous, frank and constructive dialogue about conditions in Afghanistan and the extent to which Canadian objectives are being achieved"

  7. As you know, I am not a Harper apologist. I say this just in case it looks like I'm supporting Harper, which would be a nasty side effect to my comments.

    However, David Miliband didn't "make a speech" at the local Rotary club or whatever, he had far too much to say to fit into an hour or so. So I fail to see why he is held up as the bright light from which to emulate, when complaining that our politicians don't make speeches on the War in Afghanistan.

    What our government has done, however, is send out a team of speakers, video, multi-page brochures and even free pens to try to get Canadians to listen. I imagine these resources would go just about anywhere they were invited. At that event, I learned that we are making a difference to specific Afghanis, one village at a time. Because whoshouldsellyourwheat isn't completely wrong, the country is a disaster. But if you get one village, then another, then another . . . eventually the region, and then the country will tip the balance.

  8. In its dying days, the Bush administration tried to prevent Milbrand from becoming British foreign secretary. His crime was to have said mean things about John Bolton, the worst (and possibly treasonous) UN ambassador (unofficial) the US has ever had, including Jeanne Kirkpatrick (no small accomplishment).

    John Bolton is the neo-conservatives neo-conservative. He is to neo-conservatives what Don Delillo, or Norman Levine are to their respective schools of literary fiction: an ideal type – not for the mainstream. John Bolton was so far offside that long-serving Republican Senators like Lincoln Chafee refused him his confirmation.

    David Milbrand called John Bolton batshit crazy for advocating things like nuking Iran. Why this matters is the Harper government remains full of people who admire John Bolton. And who instinctively dislike the smarty-pants liberalism that, to them, people like Millbrand represent.

    It is a question of world-views. The people around Harper admire what they perceive as John Bolton's unsentimental take on the world, which informs his ideas about how best to use and maintain US power.
    How are this bunch of clowns going to see us out of Afghanistan?

  9. Why is my stuff getting deleted?

  10. I mean … I know I'm a badass. But I keep trying to load up a longer, very important, super insightful comment and it keeps getting automatically deleted.

    Obviously this isn't getting deleted

    What is up?

  11. There is a simple explanation as to why the Harper government has so far proved itself unable to offer a coherent, or credible defence of Canada's presence in Canada. They do not have one.

    The reason why they do not has everything to do with why David Millbrand has been able supply what the Harpies cannot.

    Travel back to the Bush Administration's dying days. It tried to muscle the British into not naming David Millbrand the British foreign secretary. What was his crime? In an earlier capacity he said mean things about John Bolton, professional neo-conservative and Bush's appointee for ambassador to the UN, a man who was so far offside that long-serving Republican Senator Lincoln Chafee refused to confirm him.

    John Bolton is the neo-conservatives neo-conservative. He is to neo-conservatives what Don Delillo, or Norman Levine are to their respective schools of literary fiction: an ideal type – not for the mainstream.

    Why this matters is the Harper government remains full of people who admire John Bolton and instinctively dislike the smarty-pants liberalism that, to them, people like Millbrand represent.

  12. See. That was important. Wierd.

  13. I have more.

    There is a good argument that the fight which remains in Afghanistan is a liberal fight. This is why David Millbrand is able to articulate it so well and the neo-conservatives who surrounding Stephen Harper are unable to.

    It is a fight to build institutions. It is a fight to build civil capacities. This fits the main liberal narrative about Canada as articulated by John Ralston Saul, which stresses institution-building as supplying the blocks out of which Canada was constructed. Conservatives, of course, disagree.

    Afghanistan is not the apocalyptic clash-of civilizations of neo-conservative dreams. That dream died in Iraq. Afghanistan represents hard, dirty work, in which Canadian soldiers will die because there are local people there don't want schools being built for girls.

    The Harperites originally justified our involvment in Afghanistan as if foreign policy was a grade six birthday party; or, worse, that if we don't fight the Islamofascists in Kandahar, Vic Toews and Jason Kenny will end up forming a British square in downtown Winnipeg to fend off waves of screaming Hamas operatives and their feminist allies.

  14. I’m so badass my coments go back in time.

  15. Houston we have a problem!

  16. In its dying days, the Bush administration tried to prevent Milbrand from becoming British foreign secretary. His crime was to have said mean things about John Bolton, the worst (and possibly treasonous) UN ambassador (unofficial) the US has ever had, including Jeanne Kirkpatrick (no small accomplishment). John Bolton is the neo-conservatives neo-conservative. He is to neo-conservatives what Don Delillo, or Norman Levine are to their respective schools of literary fiction: an ideal type – but not exactly for the mainstream. John Bolton was so far outside mainstream (or sane) opinion that long-serving Republican Senators like Lincoln Chafee refused him his confirmation.

    That really explains why the Harper government is having so much trouble justifying our continued role in Afghanistan. They remain welded to their neo-conservative intellectual inheritance.

    The Harper government is full of people who admire John Bolton. They admire what they perceive as his realistic, unsentimental world-view, which informs his ideas about how best to use and maintain US power. David Milbrand called John Bolton batshit crazy for advocating things like nuking Iran.

    How are this bunch of clowns going to see us out of Afghanistan?

  17. Afghanistan is a mess right now, and was made no better by Obama's visit on March 28th. It only set Karzai off into ranting and raving. Our soldiers' lives are at risk.

    Read more at http://battlelight.blogspot.com.

  18. The circumstantial evidence is that the US is there for the opium trade. The Taliban nearly shutdown the heroin trade in Afghanistan in 2000. The US occupied in 2001 and boosted the trade 33 fold to todays record levels of close to $500 billion annually on the street. greater than 90% of the worlds heroin originates in Afghanistan. Look it up. It isn't the Taliban earning the profits.