Monday, December 29, 2008

Bill Casey Supports Withdrawal?

With recent events, adding to an objective worsening circumstance this year, it is hardly surprising to hear the following rationale, and it's certainly something to consider:
After attending the funeral for another young Canadian soldier killed in Afghanistan, Cumberland-Colchester-Musquodoboit Valley MP Bill Casey is beginning to feel it may be time to end an unwinnable mission.

Casey attended the funeral last Monday of Cpl. Thomas Hamilton in Upper Musquodoboit. The 26-year-old was killed on Dec. 13 when a roadside bomb destroyed his armoured vehicle.

His death represented the fifth fatality from Casey's riding and he's wondering if the price is becoming too high and if there is a clear direction for Canada's mission that's supposed to end in 2011.

"I just do not feel if we're paying the attention that we should to this issue and I'm not sure we're addressing the way we should," Casey said. "I think we should re-evaluate our mission all the time and if we come to the conclusion that it's not a winnable conflict then we should be coming home."

There's nothing worse than a "stay the course" mentality, which fails to constantly re-examine the situation. Whether it's a question of refocusing our main thrust in Afghanistan, moving away from missions which are largely futile, I don't know, but the lack of debate at the moment seems entirely inappropriate. Things are getting quite bad in Afghanistan, whatever your empirical measure, evidence exists to support failure. On that score, this graph details the yearly coalition casualty figures, and the trend line provides alarming support for a pragmatic view, despite the apparent timetable:

Opponents of the war will rightly point out, that all of these trends didn't begin after the recent extension. That is entirely true, but I was of the view that it was the emphasis of the mission that was flawed, not the spirit of the commitment. What I want to know now, are we having any success with re-construction and re-training, or are we still largely pre-occupied with the "whack a mole" routine? As I interpreted the latest extension, it was to bring a move away from the military and more towards helping Afghans take control of their own country. With the recent surge in Canadian deaths, we hear arguments that much of this is due to increased "engagement" with the enemy, a more "aggressive" approach. That reality doesn't seem to jive with a changing mission, in fact it seems like more of the same, that we've now heard for years.

I hope we start hearing more Bill Casey's ask some tough questions, because we largely seem to be on auto-pilot at the moment, the artificial deadline effectively stifling any subsequent debate. The situation is evolving, and if we're unable to move on our stated goals, then the question changes on the 2011 commitment. It all seems a bit too quiet, given the circumstances, that passivity worrisome.


Beijing York said...

The "spirit of the commitment" was very much flawed in my view. The original "official" intent was to capture Bin Laden for his masterminding the 9-11 terrorist attacks on US soil. There were two options that were ignored on the table: continue negotiations with the Taliban government for his surrender; or perform a surgical strike on Bin Laden's compound.

The decision to invade the country and topple the Taliban government had more to do with geopolitical aims than vengeance for the 9-11 attacks. It was wrapped in cynical rhetoric of liberating women from the evils of the Taliban. Just like the invasion of Iraq was similarly wrapped in cynical rhetoric of the horrendous human rights violations of Saddam Hussein while lying about the threat of WMDs.

I strongly recommend "Full Spectrum Dominance" by Rahul Mahajan and "War at the Top of the World" by Eric Margolis. Both spheres of the "war on terror" were doomed to become the quagmires that they are.

Steve V said...

I'm not sure about that, nor do I like the comparison. If the Bush administration had kept it's gaze on the real source and not become pre-occupied with Iraq, I suspect Afghanistan would be much different today. Afghanistan became a side issue after Iraq, and we are still paying the price for that distraction. Seems to me that the Taliban, at that point, and Al Qaeda were joined, which is why that surrender was more wishful thinking than realistic option. And, a surgical strike sounded nice, but I don't think you would have found Bin Laden in the open after 9/11, it wasn't the Clinton era.

I thought the invasion was largely justified, the country wasn't a country, just a haven for terrorists. Much, much different circumstance than Iraq, which is why I don't care for the cute analogies, and why my views are completely different for both.

WesternGrit said...

At this point (and I say, at THIS point), changes may be needed.

The "stay the course" mentality isn't so much about persistence and perseverance, as it is about "pig-headed obstinacy" and rolling the dice with the lives of our young soldiers - the future of Canada. Ex-soldiers bring much value to the companies (or organizations) they work for on their return to civilian lives. Imagine what 100+ bright, young, disciplined kids would have meant for the work-force?

Like Kenney Rogers once said, "you gotta know when to hold 'em, and know when to fold 'em". While "staying the course is appropriate for some time, any REAL LEADER knows when it's time to pull the plug, or risk going down the drain. A brave, organized withdrawal is much more dignified than a "tail-between legs" retreat a'la Vietnam, or Soviet Afghan War.

The emotional scars on an army, and on the population of a nation involved in these "foreign expeditionary forces" can be permanent and deep. A feeling of inability to cope, and feelings of inadequacy pervade both. The human and dollar costs are immense.

I firmly believe a "partition" of Afghanistan is necessary, after talks with both sides - moderated and policed by the UN. A UN Peace-keeping force between the two sides' territories is necessary. Defeating the Taliban was a worthy cause, but I always felt it required a UN force, and not a NATO one - which was really just a glorified US extension. The rest of the world saw it as a US war, which impacted, not just opinion, but also support - including materiel - going to the Taliban. A UN effort would have been much better received - but we all know that people like Bush and Harper would not wait for such a mandate.

olaf said...


I completely agree that the public and our honourable representatives need to pay far more attention to Afghanistan. But this is just whacko:

With the recent surge in Canadian deaths, we hear arguments that much of this is due to increased "engagement" with the enemy, a more "aggressive" approach. That reality doesn't seem to jive with a changing mission, in fact it seems like more of the same, that we've now heard for years.

Who are you quoting, exactly? Who says this rash of casualties is from increased engagement and a more aggresive approach? These soldiers are all dying from IEDs, not aggresive combat. They're dying in the same fashion that friendly, unarmed, noncombative, peace building, reconstruction-minded forces would die.

I know you want the focus of the mission to be on reconstruction and retraining, but please do consider that so long as these goals require individuals to travel the country, they will be equally succeptible to the IEDs that are responsible for the vast majority of CF's deaths.

Steve V said...


Those words are from the Canadian military brass. The soldiers are moving around more, which is why they are more vulnerable to IED's. I'm well aware of the distinctions, thanks.

Steve V said...


A question? What happened to the lively debates? All I see since your return is this ankle biter routine, where you scan my thoughts, searching for errors or inconsistencies to pounce on? It's not much fun anymore :)