Tuesday, August 29, 2006

The Anti-War Candidate?

The Toronto Star had another piece relating to Gerard Kennedy's stance on Afghanistan. I also caught Kennedy on CTV news- it would appear he is ready to make the war a cornerstone of his campaign. Some valid points:
Without a focus on development, the war can't be won, he said, adding that Canada has spent $4 billion on its military mission and $100 million on aid to Afghanistan — "a ratio that doesn't work."...

"Somebody has to pull the plug on this grand illusion that is not working," Kennedy told a meeting of Young Liberals at Ryerson University...

"Prime Minister (Stephen) Harper is making the same mistakes the Bush administration made in Iraq and it will lead to long-term failure."

Kennedy doesn't come right out and demand withdrawal, but he makes it clear that the mission needs a radical re-focus to be successful. The analogy between Bush in Iraq and Harper in Afghanistan is accurate, in the sense that Harper shows the same stubborness and "stay the course" mentality that has doomed the Americans. Harper is also guilty of lifting Bush adminstration rhetoric verbatum, as well as employing the same tactics to squash dissent.

Reality suggests the situation on the ground is fluid, so it isn't reasonable to fall back on the original commitment and remain firm. Even the military has admitted the resistence has been far stiffer than initially thought. This fact alone suggests that the environment of the original vote is outdated and our view must show some pragmatism. Kennedy's strong stance will invariably be dismissed by the government as typical "liberal" softness, but I find his position an astute reading of the landscape. The question becomes, is leadership really about unyielding resolve, or having the power to admit mistakes and react accordingly? History will show that the main failing of the Bush administration on Iraq was it's inability to adapt to a moving target. Harper demonstrates the same tendencies, in some warped sense that blind dedication is a sign of strength. Kennedy seems to recognize that spinning our wheels isn't progress, nor does it provide the leadership required.

I think it an open question as to whether we have made any progress whatsoever to date. To admit this predicament is risky because it implies that the sacrifices are in vain, which nobody welcomes. Unfortunately, judging by the various reports of coalition countries, the situation in Afghanistan is actually deterioriating on several fronts. We need to ask ourselves if what we are doing is the best use of our resources. Then the question avoids the "abandoning" argument, and focuses more correctly on strategy. Kennedy, as I read his various comments, isn't advocating "cut and run", because this exercise is more than just military- or at least it should be. I see his position as a mature, logical way to approach a mission that is showing clear flaws and looks more like a quagmire with each day. Canada's Howard Dean without the scream?


Olaf said...

Your criticisms of the Afghanistan mission are understood, but how do you propose NATO maintains security in southern Afghanistan? Is this not a prerequisite for the aid you support?
If Canadian and other forces are having difficulty holding back the Taliban insurgents as it is, how would shifting funds to humanitarian efforts help, especially when the Taliban is doing all that they can to destroy the infrastructure which that humanitarian aid would provide?

I'm not trying to be belligerant, I just don't really get the logic. Am I missing something?

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Yeah, I see little point on spending a whole bunch of money building up an infrastructure for the Taliban to attack, while pulling back on our attacks on the Taliban.

It would be like completely rebuilding New Orleans while not fixing the levees first.

Anonymous said...

it is a bit of a conundrum. clever of harper to get us into this situation. unfortunately without lottsa $'s Afghanistan will remain a lost cause/rearguard action. perhaps a "save Afghanistan" development tax from all the NATO countries showing the west putting it's money where it's mouth is could be a solution.
found this article "Ann Jones on the Road to Taliban Land" from tomdispatch.com to be insightful as regards the situation in Afghanistan.

can't help but wonder what might have been if even just a small amount of the money spent in Iraq would have been spent in Afghanistan for development.

bigcitylib said...

The problem is, while you can't build infrastructure while the Taliban are around, because they'll wreck it, if you keep on fighting the Taliban, you'll never get around to building infrastructure, because they aren't going to ever stop fighting. Its a Catch-22. At least Kennedy is raising the possibility of extracting ourselves from the mission.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Clearly, the debacle in Iraq is pulling funds and resources from the real fight in Afghanistan. But imho, Iraq is not a reason to pull out of Afghanistan. The mission in Afghanistan is NATO-led, but it DOES have a UN mandate, and non-NATO countries involved include Finland, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand and Switzerland. I'll just never see this as a "lapdog of Bush" issue, as Kennedy tries to portray it, as long as the mission is UN sanctioned, Afghan governmnet supported, and involves Switzerland (only 4 Swiss troops in ISAF I know, but it's SWITZERLAND for Pete's sake!!!).

If Switzerland can take sides, so can we.

Kennedy says ""If Canada can't have an independent voice in Afghanistan, then where will we?".

I say, if "independence" means pulling out of a UN-mandated mission fighting the religious fanatics who supported bin Laden, in which Belgium, Denmark, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, the Netherlands, Norway, Spain, Turkey, the UK, the U.S., Finland, Sweden, Ireland, New Zealand, Switzerland and 16 other countries are participating, then what does that "independence" mean?

It's clever of people to blame Harper for "getting us into this situation", but I wonder if the French blame Harper for getting them involved. I had always rather assumed that Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar got us into this.

As for bigcitylib's contention that the Taliban will never stop fighting, I'd say, that's why we need to kill them. Unless you think that a lot of Afghanis will swell the ranks of the dead, longing for the "good old days" of Taliban rule.

Personally, I just don't buy that.

Pulling out either means we cede the responsibility for keeping the Taliban from retaking Afghanistan to our allies, or worse, that our departure will convince other nations to pack up as well, and Afghanistan will become the kind of place it was back in 2001. I for one think pretty much ANYTHING is better than those two options.

bigcitylib said...


The problem is, as Kennedy points out, that the poppy iradication program has indeed swelled the ranks of the Taliban. They have indeed gained credibility as protecting the Southern farmers.

Also, the "lets' just kill them" rhetoric is highschool playground stuff. They are coming in from over the border in Pakistan in a steady stream that will never dry up unless NATO takes its war over the border into Pakistan, which will never, ever, EVER happen.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I'd say the "don't do anything to tick off the terrorists and religious nutjobs" is every bit as much "highschool playground stuff". It's like watching a kid getting beaten by a bully, and not intervening for fear of ticking off the bully, and having him come back with a bunch of his friends to hurt the kid even more, and sending a bunch of punks to your house to throw rocks at it.

As long as our mission in Afghanistan is supported by NATO, the UN and the government of Afghanistan, and al Qaeda and the Taliban want us out, I say we stay. People are free to support organizations like the Taliban and al Qaeda if they wish. To me, the fact that some innocent people might naively support Islamo-fascist terrorists and Medeival religious fanatics is sad, but not a reason to stop fighting the terrorists and nutjobs. The idea that the kind of people who flew planes into the World Trade Centre will stop wanting to attack us if we'd just let them subjugate their own people is pretty naive imho. Even were it true, it wouldn't make it moral for us to let them do it, just for our own security.

If the UN or the government of Afghanistan ever decides it's time we stop fighting and give the country back to the Taliban, then we should have a debate about whether that is the right course for Canada. As long as they want us to stay with them and fight, I say we stay and fight.

bigcitylib said...


Wait that long and you wait forever. Remember: it's a quagmire. I didn't make up the word; I'm not the first to apply it to the situation.

Are you really willing to commit Canadian $ and soldiers forever to a situation that they, quite literally, can do nothing to improve?

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

I'm not willing to commit our money and soldiers to ANYTHING "forever" but I'm also not ready to doom the people to Afghanistan to a return to Taliban rule yet either. As tragic as they are, 27 Canadian deaths over an almost 5 year mission in Afghanistan (386 coalition deaths in total, 70% of them American) does not a "quagmire" make.

I'm not saying we need to be the LAST of the 34 countries committed to their UN-mandated mission to save Afghanistan from the Taliban to leave the country. I just don't want to be the first. We're not the only one's losing soldiers in support of the government of Afghanistan. The British, Germans and Spanish have all lost close to as many soldiers as we have, and there have been coalition casualties among the French, Italians, Romanians, Danes, Dutch, Swedes, Australians, Norweigians, and Portuguese.

This is not Iraq, it's CERTAINLY not Vietnam, if anything, given the UN mandate it's closer to Korea than anything else, and if you believe the Taliban are going to be as hard to defeat as the Chinese-backed North Koreans, then maybe we should get out.

I'm not ready to abandon those people yet though.

Anyway, could we at least agree not to surrender to the Taliban before the French?

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Thought I'd share a great comment an anonymous person just left at my blog:

"'Let every nation know, whether it wishes us well or ill, that we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship, support any friend, oppose any foe, in order to assure the survival and the success of liberty.' -- Your Kennedy may vary."


bigcitylib said...


1) We didn't beat the Chinese backed North Koreans. The country got divided when the West got tired of fighting.

2) Who would we be "abandoning"? The ones in the South that are shooting at our guys, or supporting those people? Unfortunately, the Taliban does have support and a presence there.

3) I note, LK, that you are in disagreement with most of the military experts that I have heard or read on this issue. Whether or not its a "quagmire"--whether the mission has ceased to make progress--isn't determined by your personal opinion.

4) It is not just the numbers of dead and the money, it is the waste of it. We will get nothing for the expenditure.

bigcitylib said...

If I want to read bad war poetry, LK, I'll stick to Tennyson. At least that rhymes.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

That's not war poetry BCL, it's a quote from JFK. Hence the "your Kennedy may vary" tagline.

We'd be abandoning everyone in Afghanistan that DOESN'T want to live under the Taliban, and I think that's still the majority.

Steve V said...

I don't understand what is wrong with saying the mission is flawed, we need to re-think our strategy. Let's not forget that this is five years of occupation in Afghanistan, the scenario didn't start when we took control. And, since we have taken control, can anyone point out what has been accomplished?

The only reason Iraq is analogous is because it given us a concrete example of how the military first mentality does little to better the lives of the people. It also reveals how violence can alienate people and make them sympathetic to forces they used to resist. The recent killings by Canadian forces has turned many Afghans against us, and I suspect the longer we are there, the more they will see as merely an occupier, rather than liberators we wish to be.

The trends are bad, even the military admits this fact. You can either bury your head in the sand and say "kill em all", or you can be pragmatic like Kennedy suggests. Changing gears doesn't equate to abandoning Afghanistan- this isn't a black and white proposition.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Could we please stop calling this an "occupation". It's not an "occupation" if you are there at the request of the democratically elected government, under a UN mandate.

Calling this an "occupation" implies that we too believe that the Taliban are the legitimate rulers of Afghanistan, and that we are forcing the people of Afghanistan to accept OUR rule, rather than theirs. I don't believe the people of Afghanistan (the majority that is) WANT to live under the Taliban, and they've elected a government in free and fair elections, monitored by the UN, that wants us to stay and keep the Taliban from violently forcing their way back into power.

Saying that we have "occupied" Afghanistan is the same logic bin Laden uses to say that the Americans "occupied" Saudi Arabia, when the government of Saudi Arabia asked them to station troops there after Hussein invaded Kuwait. Only this time, the government asking us to intervene is democratically elected. It's like the Soviets suggesting that our large NATO contingent in West Germany during the Cold War represented an "occupation" of West Germany. It's just not true.

Calling our role in Afghanistan an "occupation" is an insult to people who live in ACTUAL occupied lands, and we shouldn't humour the al Qaeda/Taliban attempts to link our mission in Afghanistan to the American presence in Iraq, or the Israeli presence in the West Bank.

Steve V said...

lord kitchener

It doesn't matter what we say, it matters if the Afghans see us as "occupiers", which given their history, lends itself to this characterization.