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Monday, November 29, 2010

Bob Rae on Canada's continuing role in Afghanistan

Eye on a Crazy Planet is a non-partisan Canadian blog insofar as it takes positions on issues rather than political parties. (OK, I don't consider the NDP or Greens to be real political parties).

Liberal Foreign Affairs Critic Bob Rae reminds us that the Liberals understand the need for the defense of liberal democracy.

"The terrorists do not have a timetable. The terrorists do not have resolutions that say this is what has to happen and this is the day we have to do this and we have to do that.

The terrorists have a different objective, and we need to understand that as a House. Canadians have to come to terms with the need for this continuing engagement; they have to come to terms with the need for us to stay involved and stay engaged, not at the expense of our own people, not at the expense of our democratic traditions and not at the expense of how we do business as a country, but as partners."

Read more at The National Post


Unknown said...

Frankly, I'm not sure what the Karzai government has to do with liberal democracy, if anything. It's a kleptocracy. An elected one, to be sure, but a kelptocracy nonetheless. Besides, liberal democracy is beside the point if the objective to fight terrorism, which is self-defense. Moving goal posts doesn't make for a stronger case.

Mr. Rae makes what would be a plausible argument for continued combat operations - not a training mission - if the "terrorists" that he's discussing were al-Qaeda. The Taliban aren't al-Qaeda. They have no history of foreign attacks and they were in power for four years before any of us much cared about it.

I'd be on board if I thought that NATO, and especially the U.S, was serious about winning. When four of the partnership's 27 members are doing all of the fighting, with an underwhelming force deployment besides, there's no serious prospect for victory.

That begs the question: How many more of our kids are we going to ask to get killed, only to have everything revert to what it was in 1998 18 months after the Americans get tired and go home?

I'm not sure that we should commit to a war that fewer than half of the American people support without any prospect of that support rising or the military situation improving.

Richard K said...

Lot's of good points, Skippy, sure, but..

The Taliban aren't al Quaida, but they sure did give them aid and shelter.

Karzai isn't a liberal democrat, but he's the first step on the path.

If NATO leaves, the Taliban takes back power, women are denied education and employmnent and the world, at least liberal democracies, are in that much more danger from having a hostile, rogue state feeling it has achieved a victory.

That hasn't worked out so well in the case of Iran (so far, but look for change there in the not unforeseeable future)

Unknown said...


It's "the path" that I have the most serious questions about. If we're going to fight to maintain a Kabul regime - which, make no mistake, is what we're doing - it should be one that survives an eventual NATO withdrawal.

The problem is that there's nothing in Afghanistan's recent history to suggest that's likely. Even before the Soviet invasion, the monarchy and two socialist governments were overthrown in just over five years. And Karzai is weaker than any of them were.

I also never bought into the proposition that we're there as an arm of the National Organization of Women. Nation states don't have a history of waging wars over these things, and if we were to start, we'd get awfully busy awfully fast. The Saudis are just sitting around waiting to overthrown, too.

Ultimately and most importantly, we're fighting a transnational enemy without fighting a transnational war. I have yet to see anyone even suggest a plausible military strategy that doesn't involve a ground invasion of Pakistan, and that ain't gonna happen for several good reasons that I've laid out at my place.

So we're fighting a war to maintain a government that can't survive absent our presence for reasons that countries don't traditionally deploy force over and we categorically refuse (albeit for exceptionally good reasons) to take the fight to where the enemy lives. Oh, and the American people are going to demand withdrawal in the very near future anyway.

As to your point about regime change in Iran, I've been hearing that for thirty years now. I agree that it'll happen, but it wil be as a result of simple demographics. But I question whether a truly democratic Iran would be non-nuclear or even particularly friendly to western policy.

Richard K said...

I have to concede, Skippy, that Karzai is not someone in whom I have much confidence. Being president of Afghanistan right now is a high-risk proposition and it's unsurprising that the person willing to take it on is a bit on the crazy side.

And of course NATO isn't there because of women's rights. We're there because of western/American interests BUT the fact remains that women are one of the principal beneficiaries of that and this kind of gets to my main concern, which is that while Afghanistan might be a cluster-f*ck, if NATO pulls out, the situation deteriorates, not only for Afghanistan, but the whole region.

What I'd like to see is the Europeans pulling their weight. I do realize that's kind of like hoping for Santa to bring me that Ferrari I've been wanting.

Unknown said...

Yeah, good luck with geting Europe on board, but that goes to the disintegration of NATO as a military body, which is another concern of mine. When four countries are doing the fighting of 27 in a war that's just as intractable as Vietnam was, there really isn't an alliance at all. Article Five is essentially meaningless, which makes NATO itself useless.

Of course, that speaks to the problems of military alliances between democracies. If the people don't support an operation, that operation will necessarily fail.

And ultimately, that's the problem with Afghanistan. Once American support drops under 40%, which I expect it will before 2012, it's game over. Whatever remaining arguments there are for strategic necesseity - and I don't believe there are very many at this point, what, with all the bad guys in Pakistan - will be irrelevant.

Bob Rae doesn't explain why we should be making a commitment that will, in all probability, outlast American political support for the entire mission. More importantly, he's using arguments for a combat mission to support a training mission, and the two are very different things, as the Italians will tell you.

Like continuing support for the war itself, this is a moving target. "It's to fight terrorism! No, we're protecting women! No, we're expanding democracy! But the drugs have to be stopped!"

Here's the really important question Mr. Rae has to answer: Are we going to be there after the people who were actually attacked leave? If the Americans were serious - by which I mean a draft and about 600,000 troops, which is the only way to fight a counterinsurgency of that scope - I'd feel differently. But I know that's never going to happen.