What are we doing in Afghanistan? (III)


A week after the Canadian government authorized military action in Afghanistan, the House spent a night debating the decision and the way ahead. The record of that discussion, which lasted until two in the morning, can be found here—including comment from Jean Chretien, Stockwell Day, Gilles Duceppe, Alexa McDonough, Joe Clark, John Manley and Irwin Cotler.

Chretien’s conclusion is perhaps noteworthy in our present circumstance.

In the struggle ahead there may be no unconditional surrender or victory parades. However, there will be countless victories, the quiet victories of everyday life, victories that in the end will be won by our reliance on the single most effective weapon that free and civilized nations have always had in our arsenal: the spirit of our citizens.

Our enemies have made a fatal miscalculation. They have mistaken our freedom for weakness. They have mistaken our openness and generosity for lack of spine. They have mistaken our values for a lack of resolve. They will be proven wrong on every count.

The road ahead will be long but our victory will be complete.

So our enemies may never capitulate and we may never be able to celebrate in triumph. But our victory will be complete. Even if the war is neverending.

Heck of a riddle.


What are we doing in Afghanistan? (III)

  1. I’m trying to get the point of these seemingly pointless posts. There are nazi skinhead groups in countries around the world, does that mean the nazis were never defeated? Thank goodness we still have troops in Germany.

    • You are assuming there is a political or policy point being made here and maybe there is not.

      With the Harper government flip flopping once again, this time on the objectives of the war in Afghanistan, I see Aaron’s posts as simply information about what different leaders have said at different times about Afghanistan.

      Sounds to me like he is just letting us in on what he is uncovering in his research for, I’m guessing, an upcoming article on Harper’s new defeatism.

    • Is anyone suggesting that we’re going to reduce the Taliban to the level of nazi skinheads? I mean, ANYONE? That’d be fabulous, but I’m pretty sure the Prime Minister doesn’t have such lofty ambitions.

      I’m not even certain we’re even aiming for keeping the Taliban from having de facto control of Afghanistan anymore. I get the impression that if we could get to a point where Afghanistan were “stable” under Taliban rule, and the Taliban could be relied upon to not attack us (nor harbour those who do, or wish to) that we’d consider it a victory (“we” being the government of Canada). In other words, if the Taliban were willing to go back to leaving us alone, and promise not to let bin Laden and his ilk back in from Pakistan, it seems to me that we’d let them have the country back, eventually.

      • If that were the case, then pity the poor Afgan people. And chalk yet another meaningless over hyped war up to western realpolitic, and shame on those who hyped this out of proportion right from the beginning.
        Still it’s what Obama does that counts here in the end. He may not be so willing to throw in the towel just yet!

      • I think you are agreeing with me although you may not agree we are agreeing. I wa trying to say that from Chretien to Martin to various iterations of Harper and McKay, we really haven’t changed our goals drastically, certianly not enough to say we are flip flopping. Leaving the country in a state where they can look after our own security seems to be the consistent theme. It sounded to me like Wherry was trying to parse the various speeches too finely trying to invent a larger inconsistency for his own partisan purposes. If, however, the Afghans are forced into some power share arrangement with the taliban, that would be at least a strategic defeat, which we could not excuse our government for.

        • Greg makes some excellent points. We really haven’t changed our goals that much since Chretien. All this noise is just a lot of political babble – it obscures the fact that most MP’s have essentially the same position on Afghanistan (excluding Bloc/NDP).

          There is a huge difference between saying “the insurgency may never be defeated” and saying “we will lose this war.” Any war is unwinnable if you set the standard for victory too high (e.g. converting a country that is poor, chaotic, violent and essentially medieval into a peaceful liberal democracy.)

        • I was posting for LKO.
          But i’m not sure i agree with you, and then as you say i do. It all depends on whether you think the goals were realistically stated. You’re right to some degree that the rhetoric hasn’t changed so much, but the tone certainly has. Gone is the self-righteous rhetoric of some earlier on. I don’t think you can honestly say that this hedging that we are now hearing was always the case. However if yr pt is that all that really matters is that now they are being realistic i would tend to agree. Again though, if we do backaway to the extent of let’s say only controlling the cities, wouldn’t this be a cause for wondering what the hell we ever intended to do in the first place. I don’t blame he pols for being realistic, but we should also remember who all this was for – or am i missing the pt? Was it only for us all the time?

          • Sorrry, this one’s for Greg.

        • If, however, the Afghans are forced into some power share arrangement with the taliban, that would be at least a strategic defeat, which we could not excuse our government for.

          I guess my impression is that Harper would at this point LOVE if they could stabilize Afghanistan enough for there to be a power-sharing agreement between the current government and the Taliban. It seems to me the question in 2009 is more, can we even achieve THAT? The problem with the goal being “The Afghan’s being able to take care of their own security” is that they were doing that just fine before the war, under the Taliban, and they may very well end up doing so just fine again, under the Taliban.

          To my mind, the main reason to try to come to some sort of an understanding with the Taliban is that it may well end up that the most likely two scenarios for getting out of Afghanistan at this point are “The Taliban have substantial power and will likely regain full control shortly after we leave, but we have an understanding with them” and “The Taliban just assume full control again after we leave, period”.

          Now, I’ve always been a supporter of the mission, and I’m not advocating either scenario as a desirable outcome, however to me, these seem increasingly to be the likely direction we’re heading in.

          • LKO
            I think you may be forgetting that Americans call the shots in the end. I can’t see them letting nato fail so completely ; there are biggger issues then Afganistan alone here. This does raise some frightening possibilities. If we can’t win on the ground then can we expect to see the use of tactical NWs at some pt. I know it sounds crazy, and i supposed i should ask what they would target, but it’s likely in our not too distant future that this scenario will arise somewhere. Why not Afganistan? So many other things get factored in…Iran, China et al. Unlikely, i certainly hope so, but we better beleive that someone, somewhere is war-gaming this.
            On a more sane note. Either of yr 2 scenarios will be in a very real sense a betrayal of Afganistan – but they’re used to feeling like pawns by now i’m sure!

          • I hasten to add that I agree both that ultimately success or failure lies with the Americans, and also that neither situation I suggest above is good, or even really remotely acceptable, imho. I can see them happening though.

            I can see Afghanistan 2020 looking pretty much like Afghanistan 2000, though I agree that it’s likely the Americans won’t actually let that happen (what with Obama’s seeming interest in committing more heavily to Afghanistan, especially once their out (or largely out) of Iraq). I think at least a Taliban-led Afghanistan would be much pickier about whom they choose to allow to roam around their country than they were pre-9/11, but I fear that may be all we can really hope for. Maybe I’m just in a pessimistic mood today though.

            It’s interesting how our 2011 deadline lines up (by sheer luck mind you, not design) with the SOFA between the U.S. and Iraq (basically, we’re committed right now to be out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011, while the Americans are committed to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011). Potentially, our absence will be much less keenly felt if the Americans “only” have 5-10 thousand troops in Iraq in 2011 (I’m going on the “they probably won’t really get out completely by the end of 2011” assumption, as the Iraqis themselves will likely negotiate an extension of the SOFA to allow some forces to stay beyond 2011… I can see by 2011 the Iraqis actually having to campaign a bit to keep the Americans in Iraq longer, which would be interesting to watch!)

            Suffice it to say I’m much less optimistic about what Afghanistan will look like in 2012 than I was a few years ago, and I fear “stability” is just code for “calm enough that we don’t look too terrible for leaving”.

    • Greg, if you think Canada has lots of troops in Germany, then you are sadly mistaken. All the bases we had in Germany are now closed.

      United States has lots of troops in Germany, but Canada has a very small amount and they aren’t soldiers!

  2. “Our enemies have made a fatal miscalculation. They have mistaken our freedom for weakness. They have mistaken our openness and generosity for lack of spine. They have mistaken our values for a lack of resolve.”

    Fine, fine stuff. Quite false, but it sounds just grand. I’m afraid our enemies have a very clear picture of who we are in terms of moral fibre. The only hope is that they’ve badly underestimated our power.

    • In the struggle ahead there may be no unconditional surrender or victory parades. However, there will be countless victories, the quiet victories of everyday life, victories that in the end will be won by our reliance on the single most effective weapon that free and civilized nations have always had in our arsenal: the spirit of our citizens

      I wish Chretien had ended there. Some fine sentiments Why do all our leaders feel they have to outdo Churchill in these circunstances?

      • Quite right, kc, your post brings it all back to me: it was a two-year Churchill-a-thon from 9/11 onward. A sort of bad Churchill contest, like Esquire used to have a bad Hemingway contest. The fundamental thing was that the context was lacking. Bombs were not raining down on our capital. Our secondary cities were not being erased. We weren’t about to be invaded by the Wehrmacht. Yet everybody reacted as though Simpsons had been canceled. 60 years earlier the world was in the middle of a conflict that left 80 million dead, and yet somehow the public, the politicians, and the speechwriters all felt the need to parody the rhetoric of a real war.

        • Pardon me, last sentence needs the clause — “. . . 80 million dead, whereas we’d lost 3000; and yet somehow . . .”

          • What’s that old saying about the generals always fighting the last war ; well maybe it’s time to add on a bit about how politicians are always so far ahead of the curve!

          • I thought the historical consensus was 50 million dead, not 80 million.

          • (Not that 50 vs. 80 makes any difference to your very good point about 9/11 hand-wringing and the lack of historical context. )

          • Wikipedia gives 72 million, which includes the Sino-Japanese War and also deaths from war-related famine in the Far East (esp. China and Vietnam). Apparently the numbers in Eastern Europe have been revised upward a bit since the fall of Communism.

        • “Yet everybody reacted as though Simpsons had been canceled”.

          That’s a good one.

          I agree with your point, however it’s also worth remembering just how we felt immediately after 9/11, particularly in the immediate aftermath when everyone felt this was just the beginning of something bigger. Even 2001 is long enough ago now that I think we may have lost touch a bit with how freaked out we legitimately were. True, we’re not talking WWII dimensions here, not remotely. Then again, there was much less warning than we ever had in the 30s either. Who thought of terrorism as a big priority on September 10th 2001?

          Anyway, I agree entirely with your point, but I also remember being significantly freaked out for most of the end of 2001 and beginning of 2002.

          • I think that the over-sensitivity of the public to casualties in any number has us reaching around for enemies without prioritizing. The real threat to our survival is existential war with a nuclear armed state that has the reach capacity to hit North America. China and Russia are the only games in town. China (and possibly India and the EU) are the only states likely to have the economic strength to go up against the United States (if they wanted to) in the next century.

            Even if Al Quaeda succeeded in uniting every Muslim majority country from Iran to Morocco in a giant caliphate it wouldn’t have much economic clout, or the ability to fund a military capable of projecting power very far (particularly because its economy would be reliant on Americans and Europeans buying oil).

  3. No one in government has ever clearly articulated the reason because it would mean admitting that the reason is much less noble than Jean Chretien’s rhetoric in the debate, or the report of John Manley’s hasty commission with its predetermined conclusions.

    Let’s face it, the real reason Canada committed troops to Afghanistan is because, after dodging Dick and George’s Excellent Adveture in Iraq, Canada needed to signal that it was on board for the “War on Terror” or risk losing influence with the US.

    That doesn’t mean everything that gets done there is useless. Public servants, including soldiers, usually do what they can to salvage some sense out of inherent, contradictory, or poorly reasoned policy. But getting girls to school, or training police, or buidling bridges, or finding Osama Bin Laden, or chaisng down drug smugglers or whatever the mission du jour is, are subordinate goals to that very cynical oringal objective.

    In the process, the Canadian government has turned the efforts of our diplomats, soldiers, and humanitarians into after sales marketing of their business decision to suck up the Americans.

    • inherent should be incoherent (and was)

      • I’m not sure you’re right as far as timelines go. Didn’t we commit to Afganistan before the Iraq fiasco? I could see how yr pt could still hold though. But even if we made a craven decision to go to an easier theatre of war, isn’t that the way geo-political relationships work? I not sure doing nothing was an option. It’s a shitty world in lots of different ways!

        • What I mean is that Canada was able to be reluctant on the one because we were willing on the other. The major responsbility for the combat role in southern Afghanistan came after Iraqattack 2.0.

    • Yeah, that timeline’s a bit off.

      JTF2 entered Afghanistan in December of 2001. The first 140 soldiers of Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were in by February of 2002. The invasion of Iraq was March of 2003. We had about 1000 troops in Afghanistan already the day the Iraq war started.

      We most certainly didn’t go into Afghanistan to make up for not going to Iraq, since we were in Afghanistan well over a year before the U.S. went into Iraq. We went in to Afghanistan because that’s were Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda were, and because al Qaeda carried out the 9/11 attacks.

      • And we’re still there for Osama? My point is that Canada’s roel is related to ahving influence with the US not accomplishing grand things for Afghanis.

  4. What year was this in??

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