October 08, 2008

Is victory possible?

As published in The Erin Advocate

It was a simple question, but there could be no simple answers.

I attended the federal all-candidates meeting at Main Place in Erin last week and posed the following question about the war in Afghanistan: Has the mission been worth the cost, and is victory possible?

The commentary that followed for the next ten minutes was thoughtful and passionate. The candidates, perhaps wisely, avoided answering the question directly.

Noel Duignan of the NDP said our troops should be immediately withdrawn from their combat role, but that Canada should continue its commitment to strengthening the government of Afghanistan.

“Whether the war can be won or not – I can’t speak to that. I’m not an expert in that field,” he said. “Whether it was worth it or not, it’s an open-ended debate. I believe to a point it has been worth it. Our soldiers have died over there. Hopefully they haven’t died in vain.”

He said Canada should try to eliminate corruption in the Afghan government. “If that doesn’t happen, then I believe maybe everything was in vain.”

Brent Bouteiller of the Green Party said the US-led NATO force should be replaced with “a more culturally-faced” United Nations force.

“This will allow us to remove our forces by the end of 2009,” he said. Canadian troops could remain to provide logistics training to the Afghan army, he said. He deplored the destruction of valuable food crops in the attempt to destroy poppies being grown for the opium trade. He supports a Poppy for Medicine program that would build legitimate production of morphine and codeine.

The website poppyformedicine.net says that in 2006, Afghanistan produced 92% of the world’s total illegal opium, directly involving at least 13% of the country’s population.
Jeffrey Streutker of the Christian Heritage Party said Canada should act independently, not being told what to do by NATO or the UN.

“The purpose of the military is to guard our borders,” he said, suggesting that a continued role in Afghanistan would be justified “if it can be proven that our military’s actions are still helping prevent attacks into Canada, and at the beginning that was the reason. I believe that requires some study.”

He suggested that efforts to reduce corruption, redevelop land, build the economy, and “help them realize that they can be self-sustaining” would reduce the chances of an attack on Canada. He said setting a withdrawal date would be “very dangerous”.

Bruce Bowser of the Liberal Party, who grew up in a Canadian military family, said he is pleased that the mission has not been an election issue.

“The best we can do when our soldiers are in harm’s way is to support them in the way we have, keep them in our prayers and stand behind them,” he said. “I think the government has done a good job of collectively saying we’re committed to having our troops in Afghanistan to play a role in fighting against terrorism.

“I don’t think there’s a question in anybody’s mind we want our troops back home as quickly as possible, and there’s a date we’re working towards, but in the interim I think the best thing we can do is continue to support our troops and cheer them on.”

MP Michael Chong said we have a responsibility to “stay the course” and help the people of Afghanistan establish a stable government.

“It would be the height of irresponsibility to unilaterally withdraw our troops immediately, leaving in our wake chaos and destruction that would quickly fill the vacuum.”

He voted in favour of the parliamentary motion to withdraw forces from Kandahar province by the end of 2011. He said it is premature to say whether “Canada’s military presence in another part of the country” would be appropriate.

“There are three intractable problems that we have to tackle. First, we are not going to defeat the Taliban – they are part of the solution. Secondly, we are not going to eliminate the opium trade.

“Third, we have to work with the governments of Afghanistan and Pakistan to mediate the fundamental differences that these two states have between where the international border is and who is responsible ultimately for the Pashtun people, in terms of their security and their presence on both sides of that border.”

No comments: