A column written in today’s Toronto Star (of all papers) sums up my view of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan. I cheered the columnist along to myself as I read it.
Feb 08, 2008
The Toronto Star – Rondi Adamson
The “deploy more NATO soldiers to Kandahar or we quit in 2009” threat contained in the Manley report strikes me as a sad reflection on current Canadian attitudes. It isn’t that more troops would not be desirable. But what if no NATO country sends us a military “partner”?
According to the report, in spite of the ongoing violence, the Afghan economy has been growing, millions of refugees have returned, more children (of both genders) are in school, child mortality rates are improving and infrastructure is being built.
Are we so small-time and penny ante in our world view as to dismiss the progress made? Do we tell the unprepared Afghan forces and population, “Sorry, you’re on your own”? Do we allow Afghanistan to again become a safe haven for Al Qaeda, again a threat to us and others?
I hope not, because another thing we would lose in the process is our reputation. I would argue that it has improved internationally due to our involvement in Afghanistan.
Far from the myth that most of the world used to view us as benign peacekeepers and now view us as pawns of the Great Satan, it is more likely that most of the world either never thought twice about us, or simply viewed us as an extension of the United States.
Now we are included in adult discussions and asked, in return, to behave like adults, responsibly and with integrity.
Instead we not our soldiers, but citizens and leaders behave like accountants with calculators in hand, tallying up every percentage, dollar, headline, slight or snub (real or imagined) and counting every sacrifice as a cause for indignation and (more) anti-Americanism, rather than as, well, a sacrifice.
Canadians like to believe they are broad-minded global citizens. But the pettiness on display when we complain about the “disproportionately” large load we are carrying in Afghanistan shows us to be self-absorbed, miserly and ignorant of history.
Venturing into the debate over “disproportionate” contributions is dangerous. A small number of countries (including Canada) carried a disproportionately great burden in defeating Nazism, fascism and the Soviet empire. Should those countries have not done so, crying foul instead?
Washington could point out that our military is disproportionately small, given our population and economy. In fact, for our military to be anywhere near proportionately the size of the U.S. military, we would have to double it.
It could also be pointed out that we have given disproportionately little in previous decades, in terms of NATO commitments and international conflicts. During the years leading up to 9/11, our armed forces were effectively defanged, making us unable to contribute proportionately to just about anything.
One of Jack Layton’s wishes is that we abandon Afghanistan in favour of “saving Darfur,” which, if it could be done, would necessitate doing things (invading, killing, getting killed) Layton objects to when done in Afghanistan. That aside, if we had a military proportionate to our size, we could contribute to both wars.
Many Canadians seem to have forgotten two things about Afghanistan. The first is that the 9/11 attacks were attacks on the West. Osama bin Laden himself said as much. This is our battle.
The second is that our military presence in Afghanistan has been authorized under international laws we purport to respect. The Manley report reminds us of this. It also offers a realistic assessment of what it calls a noble mission. Not rosy, not hopeless, but one that requires our continued and valuable (be it disproportionate or not) presence. Rondi Adamson is a Toronto writer.