Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Don't be playerhatin', or Afghanistan batin'

Sorry, but after a few busy days without posting this is a long one.

While I'm still confident my chosen candidate for the leadership, Stephane Dion, will sweep to a first ballot victory in December with 105 per cent support on the first ballot, in case the unthinkable happens I have been paying some attention to the views and actions of the other candidates to help me clarify my secondary preferences.

I can promise you Bob Rae won't be on that list, but there's a name that might be that wasn't on my original shortlist, and that's Michael Ignatieff.

Call me contrarian, but I've been annoyed by the recent negative press and attention he's been getting. If anything, it's made me a little more sympathetic toward him. After all, if you've got Joe Volpe attacking you, you've got to be doing something right.

I was disappointed at Ignatieff's poor showing defending his Afghan vote on Saturday though. His saying he couldn't vote no because a soldier had died that day doesn't fly. He's a smart man and even in the limited time allotted he was capable, or should be capable, of making a far better argument than that. Because I do agree with his vote on that issue, and it was the right thing to do.

And just slightly off topic but in the same vain, lay off Scott Brison. Yes, his "headline the next day on the NY Times" analogy was poorly chosen, but his wider point was valid. How Canada's foreign policy decisions will be viewed by the global community is relevant. It was an easy slap shot for Martha Hall-Findlay, but it was still a cheap one.

But back to Michael. He wasn't on my original shortlist for a few reasons. It's not because I don't like him, I just don't think it's his time. I don't think he's been back in Canada long enough. Also, I think his academic writings are far too easy for his opponents to take out of context and smear him with. It's unfair, but that's politics, and since he hasn't been back on the Canadian scene long enough to build a presence yet that's tough to combat.

I think thought that he brings a needed voice to our foreign policy debate. Distortions aside, his support for the Afgan mission and his position on the issue are a lot closer to my own and a lot closer to most Liberals, than say, Bob Rae.

Bob's a smart guy, and he seems to have latched on to Afghanistan as the issue that will differentiate himself from the pack and his former roommate, Ignatieff, letting him share headlines with the media-anointed frontrunner.

I have to fundamentally disagree with Bob on this issue. He seems to put forward the view that the Afghan mission doesn't mesh with Canada's traditional role as peacekeepers, and so we should get out when the current mandate expires in 2007.

I can see wanting to deploy our forces elsewhere, although leaving the country in a vacuum is a bad idea. But it's on peace-keeping vs. peace-making the he loses me, where our foreign policy philosophy begins to veer radically away from each other, and where I think both Ignatieff and Dion (although I still think he should have voted for the extension) add a little realism to the debate.

Perhaps once there was a line between peace-keeping and peace-making, but it has blurred so much in modern times as to become almost indistinguishable. There are times where we as a people, and a global community, agree that as a moral imperative we must intervene. That intervention won't always be welcomed by all parties. But that doesn't make it any less right.

Rae supports intervention in Darfur, and so do I. But can he guarantee that will be a peace-keeping mission only, and not become peace-making? Is there even much of a peace to keep in Darfur? If our troops attack, or witness attacks, will they be able to intervene to restore peace, or will they be forced to stand aside and watch or be pulled out?

That's why I'm not sure where Rae is going here. If he wants to stay true to his NDP roots by adopting that party's traditional pacifist stance then he is certainly entitled to do so, and that's perfectly valid. But I don't think many Liberals will be sharing that view. We are still the party of Lester Pearson, and I think Mr. Pearson would have some thoughts on the moral imperative of peace-keeping/peace-making.

Rae would do well to remember that it was the Liberal government that sent our troops to Afghanistan in the first place, and approved the more dangerous combat/peace-making role. Most of our MPs didn't vote against the mission, they voted against Harper's political games.

And with that, and not being able to come-up with any kind of an eloquent ending to this post, I'm going for ice cream.

Recommend this Post on Progressive Bloggers


Koby said...

Rae has adopted the NDP line that the problem with Afghanistan is that our role has supposedly changed and we have moved from being peace keepers to peace makers; This is utter crap and is kind of idiotic reasoning born of focus groups and polling. Such polls show that Canadians have a high opinion of peacekeeping, but a low opinion of offensive missions. So the NDP says give the people what they want. The thing is, though, that Peace keeping means what it says. It involves keeping the peace between two identifiable waring factions. Despite what Jack and Layton might say, Canada was never doing this in Afghanistan nor could it ever hope to. The Taliban are not so kind as to distinguish themselves form the rest of the population. What changed is that we went from a region where the insurgency was weak to one war it was strong.

That said, nation building is precisely what we should avoid doing, especially in the midst of an insurgency. Nation building is fool’s errand generally; Western nations have a hard enough time building up their own hinterlands let alone turning the poorest regions on earth into a functioning states. However it is particularly fool hardy with regard to Afghanistan. Prospects of sucess are zero. A third of the countries GDP comes from opium and there is little hope of reversing this given Western rules of engagment and the amount of troops in Afghanistan. Furthermore, the insurgency is growing stronger by month.

As for the notion that should Canada abandon Afghanistan the country risks falling back into Taliban hands, this is simply not true. 911 gave the US carte blanche to be in Afghanistan until the end of time and that is exactly how long they intend to stay. The insurgency my grow and more American troops may die, but so long as there is the political will in Washington to play whack a mole the chances of the Taliban coming back into power are zero. Those who suggest otherwise fail to see that it is one thing to conduct a guerilla campaign against the world’s strongest nation it is something else altogether for that guerilla force to seize power and hold it when said nation does not want them to.

If cost and futility of the mission are not enough, there is also the fact that our being in Afghanistan greaterly increases the chances that will we be attacked.

Sure, the chances of one being a victim of terrorism are of course very small, indeed. However, that is hardly the point. The damage a terrorist attack will do to our social fabric and economy are massive and the chances of such an attack, a la Spain or London, are not insignificant. One potential problem is this. If Canada is going to avoid a European like demographic meltdown, Canada will have to keep allowing in large numbers of immigrants. If a terrorist attack does occur, this may no longer be politically possible. We may find ourselves in same situation as Europe. Namely, badly needing immigrants, but unable to do so because it is not politically possible. That is just the tip of the ice berg. A terrorist attack, inspired by Canada?s presence in Afghanistan, could spilt the country apart, especially if Quebec is the victim. Currently Afghan mission is opposed by what 70% of Quebecers. If Quebecers die as a result of us being there, the separatists will use it as a reason why Quebecers need their own country with its own foreign policy.

There will be consquences for the Liberal party too. Iggy's unwillingness to abandon the intellectually bankrupt neo Wilsonianism is major worry for so many reasons, not the least of which it could tear the party apart. Forget, Hitchens and Pollack et al, and think Tony Blair part 2. If Iggy elected leader, Liberals may look back on the Chretien and Martin feud as time of unity.

Findlay's should have also have said this. Sending a few thousand troops here and there impresses no one and certainly will not impress the American public or American politicians. Indeed look at what it has got us so far. The American response to news that Jihadis were set to target Canada because of our involvement in Afghanistan was not gee thanks for laying it on the line for us. We really hate to involve you. It was, oblivous to the fact that virtually all of the Ontario 17 were Canadians, that Canada should stop letting dangerous terrorists immigrate to Canada thereby endangering the States.

Carrie said...

You know, I've come to respect you and your thoughts.

But on this post, I honestly can't believe you wrote this. I mean, I believe YOU wrote it, I'm just very surprised by it.

Part of me wants to say "why don't you just hand this country over to 10 year old" but another part thinks this is the proof that politics is more a game than a genuine desire to lead for good.

The game is not something I want a part of. Healing Canada, I am very interested in that. But if it's going to be easily handed over to someone so unqualified, undeserving and outright dangerous for this entire nation, why should I care? Nothing I can do about it anyway.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Koby, I agree that nation-building is a tough task, but I'm not sure it's a fool's errand. Certaintly we need to be judicious in deciding where we intervene, and there needs to be some level of support from a substantial portion of the local populace.

I agree that Canada leaving Afghanistan would not leave it in a vacum as the international coalition would pick-up the slack. It seemed to be though that Rae was going a step beyind saying Canada should redeploy elsewhere by implying the international community shouldn't be there at all, I think that's a mistake.

I disagree with you strongly on the notion our presence there will brew terrorism/make us a target. It might put us on their radar screen, sure. But is that reason alone to pull out? I don't think so. We can't let terrorists or fear of attack determine our foreign policy, we should do what we as a nation feel is right, regardless of the risks it may bring.

I do believe in looking at the root causes of terrorism. But I think there's a difference between motivations and root causes.

A BCer in Toronto said...

Carrie, I'm not sure how the post was proof politics is a game. If anything, I was pushed to write it because I was annoyed at the game playing and distortion I was witnessing.

I don't think Ignatieff is the best choice, I've made my choice clear and there's a few other names on the list before I'd get to Ignatieff. I do agree with him on some issues though, and more then that it annoys me when people distort his record and writings for their own political ends.

It was the intelectual dishonesty of Rae's comments on this issue Saturday and earlier in the week that annoyed me. If he wants to pull us out of Afghanistan that's fine, but be honest about it. He favours intervention in Darfur, but how is that different from the mission he said he opposed in Afghanistan? He played the Iraq card, with a dose of anti-American undertones, when Afghanistan IS NOT Iraq.

All I'm asking for is to have an honest debate, and let the chips fall where they may.

Koby said...

"I disagree with you strongly on the notion our presence there will brew terrorism/make us a target."

It already has. It is clear from what has come out so far the Ontario 17 were motivated by Canada being in Afghanistan. As for Al Qaeda, they have made it clear that Canada is a target because it is there. In short, it is intellectually dishonest to pretend that it does not make an attack more likely.

That said, there are times when a mission will be worth the increased risk. Afghanistan is not such a mission. We are spending billions on a mission that is a) doomed to fail and b) simply does not further our national interests very much. No one I and mean no one believes that given the current troop and funding levels that Afghanistan mission has any hope of success and there is no will political will among NATO countries to significantly raise troop and funding levels.

I should also note that the money Canada is spending on the Afghan mission is not a pittance. The Kandahar adventure is expected to cost 3.5 billion over the next 2 and half years. In other words, the such a committment to Afghanistan is a bigger committment in a money per year basis than what Martin described as the biggest social program introduced in recent memory, namely, the Liberals early childhood education program.

"We can't let terrorists or fear of attack determine our foreign policy,"

Iran's ties to Hezbollah and Hamas are damn good reasons why the US should not attack Iran and frequently cited by experts as being such. Look the increased chance of a terrorism at home has to be considered as part of any mission cost benifit analysis.

Carrie said...

Okay, and thanks for your reply.

I don't think we should pull out at this point either. My beef goes back to Harper committing us to 2 more years and us taking over.

Ignatieff just doesn't have enough political experience, his ideas aside. So given the state the Liberal party is in and that Canada is currently being lead by Harper, I'm very concerned about who we choose to lead the Liberals this time around. We don't have time to play is all I'm saying. We can't pick someone just to pick someone.

Rae, he's pretty funny :) I wondered if his somewhat vehement response to Iggy was to help distance himself from their lifelong friendship, in the eyes of the party. I wouldn't be surprised if later they shared a beer and laughed about the debate!

Anyway, thanks for easing my mind. You and few others who are clearly on top of things politically are who I appreciate for good posts. You just had me worried for a minute there. ;)

Demosthenes said...

The problem with the Afghanistan deployment isn't the deployment itself, but how, exactly, the troops are being used. There's been a transition in the role of Canadian troops- they've gone from using their military skills and power in order to (re)build Afghanistan to using them in order to help the Americans prosecute the war against Al Qaeda and the Taliban.

Now, in principle, there's absolutely nothing wrong with this. Al Qaeda attacked the United States. Al Qaeda is a legitimate target. The Taliban are legitimate for having harbored and aided them.

The problem, though, is that with the American distraction of Iraq looming large, the Canadian deployment is being forced to make the choice between rebuilding Afghanistan and fighting Al Qaeda.

What Ignatieff is dodging is that I think most Canadians prefer the former role to the latter role; they would prefer that Canada continue to aid ISAF (NATO's International Security Assistance Force) instead of OEF (Operation Enduring Freedom). They're different operations, different mandates, and different command structures, but the latter is "hunt 'em and kill 'em" and the former is "try to rebuild a nation". Considering the relative long-term benefits, the latter seems to be the better idea- it's far more useful to build a country that rejects terrorists than to try to cut down an ever-increasing stream of insurgents. It's not about "the line between peace-keeping and peace-making"- it's about the different between nation-building and endless, pointless warfare.

This is precisely the problem with Ignatieff, though; in every way I've seen, he's internalized and reproducing the Republican/Conservative talking points about international relations, covered with a thin veneer of liberal institutionalism. That's the reason why the human rights community has largely rejected him after his wishy-washing prevarication over coercion and torture, and why it's unlikely that his foreign policy positions are in step with what Canadians (or, hell, many Americans) think their militaries should be doing.

As long as the Liberal party is competing with the NDP for left-liberal votes, and as long as he seems unwilling to accept the true "nuances" of the Afghanistan issue (instead of those convenient to his Bush-friendly position) Ignatieff's foreign policy seems to be a liability, not a strength.

Demosthenes said...

Oh, and you're absolutely right: Afghanistan isn't Iraq. That said, the situation in Afghanistan would not be deteriorating without Iraq. If the United States had never invaded Iraq, they would have had more than enough resources for nation-building in Afghanistan. Instead, they half-assed both jobs, and both are, increasingly, botched.

Demosthenes said...

By the way, I was, perhaps, unclear in that first post- I believe ISAF is a better idea than OEF, for the reasons stated.

Koby said...

Sure we have committed ourselves to more wide spread security sweeps and search and destroy missions than we had previously. However, the fact remains that on the ground in Kandahar the distinction between "nation building" and "pointless warfare" disappears and it is certainly not one that the Taliban and Al Qaeda pay attention to. The fact is that in areas were an insurgency is strong there is simply no distinction to be made. Indeed, in Iraq, for example, it is pointless to ask what role the US has assumed and by extention whether it would have better success if it changed roles. In this sense Iggy is very much right.

Futhermore, it is not a distinction that would be terrorists domestic or otherewise make. In other words changing roles in Afghanistan would not lessen the increased security threat that the mission presents.

I have one more point on the distinction you are trying to make. The Auzzies took on an offensive role in Iraq and Spanish took on the role of nation builders. The Auzzies lost far fewer soliders than the Spanish, spent far less than the Spanish and it was Spain and not Australia that was attacked by terrorists for their role in Iraq. If Canada is so stupid as to sign on furture American adventure, I hope they follow Australia's lead and avoid the futile and expensive task of nation buidling in the face of a likely insurgency that the Spanish took on.