Leaving Afghanistan Makes Little Sense

Prime Minister Harper is taking his licks in the media for his stance on Afghanistan. Too bad the media wasn't as hard on a former PM Jean Chretien and the Liberals.

Whenever I read the case for and against being in Afghanistan, both sides offer valid points. However, those who make the case against it tend to sometimes take a far too negative angle. From where we sit it's easy to dismiss the mission and demand we bring the boys home. Indeed, cynicism seems to be what drives this thinking. "It can't be won" is one of the more popular slogans.Then again, is it really our business to be there?

One person's realism is another person's cynicism. It's better to have a healthy skepticism provided it does not get in the way of objective reasoning. Imposing our world view and experiences on what is happening in the region with little thought to how the Afghan and Arab mind functions presents only half of the truth.

Afghanistan is a failed state but we're there so moving it to the next level is paramount. You can only rebuild one step at a time. And boy has this been a slow, painful process which is why many Canadians are justifiably wondering about the mission at this point. However, do not mistake this for lack of effort among its people.

Furthermore and more importantly, Afghanistan is the hub for terrorist activity. It has to succeed. In this light, cutting and running should not be recommended. Not now anyway. We're not at the 'leave weapons and food' behind point. While I look on with a dose of skepticism I also recognize the rationale behind the Afghan mission.

A series of small victories can lead to an ultimate big triumph. But some reports in the media seem to be all too willing to dismiss the small (even moral) victories. Canada is not just there to win hearts and minds. Afghans want Canadians there to help them build a civil society. Reporting back about daily deaths and some mistakes is not a reason to leave and only skews our judgment.

Susan Riley of the Ottawa Citizen is a case in point. At every turn, she does exactly that. When Foreign Affairs minister Peter McKay said that a human rights shop had been established she wondered if cooking classes would be next. How is this helpful to the mission?

Another part of her recent column that befuddled me was the part where McKay described the pride police officers felt when they were handed their uniforms. She concluded, with much cynicism, that in a country with 50% unemployment the pride was mistaken for the fact that they needed a pay check. Perhaps. But notice that she's dismissing every small battle won. It further presupposes that Afghan's are incapable of pride for accomplishing something. Just like how Iraqi's can't be taught democracy.

On the side of sticking around cautious experts point to schools where millions can now attend (thanks in part to Canadian money) have been rebuilt, the Taliban are increasingly challenged (as a national police force and army slowly begin to take root) as they are reduced to acts of cowardly and sporadic suicide bombings, woman's rights are now on the table and three-quarters of Afghanistan has achieved security with the South being the main sore spot. A market economy is coming back though the opium trade continues to be a problem.

The Taliban exert murderous pressure on poppy farmers because they depend on the heroin trade for sources of income. Curbing the opium trade is a war onto itself and may take a long time - decades - to destroy. Besides, the West does not help with its appetite for heroin which only drives demand up.

Therein lies the root of the issue. Most of the demands for non-involvement from the West revolves around the fact that they are an impossible people to train. That their history and hardened experiences would preclude them from becoming stable democracies and joining the table of civilized nations. It's Rousseau's noble savage in reverse.

The reality is that we are there and that the march to progress will be a long, long journey. Most of the West's experiences with this sort of stuff failed because we abandoned them as our will to see them through diminished at the most critical junctions. There remains many serious issues and problems to overcome but to leave Afghanistan at this critical junction would have far more negative implications than if we stay.

With the Taliban deliberately slowing progress, what we need is a reinvigorated effort by all nations. Thinking otherwise only demeans Canada's efforts (when was the last time Canada actually pulled its military weight?) up to this point and does a massive disservice to Afghan's. Remember, this not only Harper's war. It was the Liberals who correctly decided to send troops into Afghanistan. Even they understood the importance of the region.

I don't know if Afghanistan can prevail. We're not at the stage where we have tried everything and it's time to throw the towel in.

Let's try and finish the job (or at least fill our 2011 mandate) and do it right.

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