Liberal leadership candidate Gerard Kennedy is calling for Canada to insist NATO drastically change its strategy in Afghanistan to a major economic reconstruction program or pull out its troops.
Staking out his position on an issue that has become a dividing line in the Liberal leadership race, Mr. Kennedy argued that Canadian troops are now fighting with a "losing strategy" adopted by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and it should force changes or pull out.
Kennedy's argument echoes Bob Rae's assertion that our mission lacks a balance between military and economic expenditures. Rae:
We have about 2,000 troops fighting on the ground in Kandahar, at a rough cost of half to three quarters of a billion dollars a year. By contrast, we have about half a dozen civilian Government of Canada officials doing much needed development and reconstruction work, and we spend about $100 million a year on aid to
The lack of balance goes beyond Canada. Since 2001 western donors have provided Afghanistan with on average U.S. $2.5 billion per year in aid. Yet it has been estimated that the US and NATO countries combined are spending U.S. $15-18 billion per year on military operations in Afghanistan.
Adopting the phrase "losing strategy" will surely open Kennedy up to criticism as the Conservatives will counter with the kneejerk "support the troops" or "cut and run" arguments. However, I appreciate Kennedy's frankness and think it an accurate assessment of what is happening. If the goal is to win hearts and minds, a predominately military exercise is bound to fail, as history will attest. Whatever our military expenditure, it must be matched with reconstruction efforts because this represents something tangible for Afghans to latch onto and subsequently shun the Taliban.
The closeness of the Rae and Kennedy argument gives the position added weight, and could become Liberal policy heading into the next election. I think Canadians would endorse a re-thinking, without outright abandonment. We can debate for eternity whether the Liberals originally endorsed this type of mission (or better this emphasis on military at the expense of reconstruction), but I think it clear that Canadians didn't initially appreciate what we were getting into. This reality allows for a fresh debate now that the focus is there. The position of Kennedy finds support in the numbers and shows a pragmatism that Harper clearly lacks.