Saturday, August 26, 2006

Kennedy: "Losing Strategy" in Afghanistan

Kennedy sure isn't timid:
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
Afghanistan.

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.

5 comments:

Peter Loewen said...

No one has said Afghanistan is about hearts and minds. It's about ensuring basic security from an insurgent force in the face of which development cannot occur.

A BCer in Toronto said...

While a strategy rethink is in order, I'm not sure it's as easy as Kennedy suggets.

Ideally everyone would spend their time doing construction and building infrastruture, but the problem is there are still Taliban insurgents killing our soldiers and civilians and blowing up the infrastructure that we are building.

Clearly we're not succeeding yet in routing out the Taliban and we're going backward in the hearts and minds department, so we need to reconsider how we're doing this. But it's not as easy as laying down our guns and picking up bricks. The Taliban won't be laying down their guns.

Steve V said...

Peter

I guess Hillier didn't get the memo:

"I believe the soldiers have won the hearts and minds of the people and given them some hope for the future. And that, I think, gives us great reason for optimism for what we do here.

I have also heard use of the phrase "charm offensive" to undercut the Taliban. If you don't have the support of the people, all the effort is in vain.

Jeff

I don't think we should "lay down our arms and pick up bricks", I just think we don't have a balance right now. The security situation consumes our effort and financing, and I am willing to bet that, just like the Americans in Iraq, some money allocated for reconstruction has been re-allocated for security. You could argue this is necessary in the shortterm, but as Rae argues, the initial allocation is still decidedly military in nature.

Unless we show the people concrete results, they will invariably view as just another occupier. Security is strengthened through reconstruction in my mind.

bigcitylib said...

Frankly, the pulling out part is the only one that makes sense, for reasons a BCer suggests. But of course, if you are going around shooting people you can't build infrastructure, and the popular sentiment will be to blow up the stuff you built, so that doesn't work either. The key words are "...or pull out."

Mike said...

I think Kennedy makes some good points. I am all for the mission, but it needs to be done right, and right now, I think we are doing it wrong. Something has to change and quick or we will look back with yearning for the time when we lost ONLY 9 guys in 7 days.

We are using the wrong strategy.