Editorial Cartoon by Graeme MacKay, The Hamilton Spectator – Friday August 27, 2021
As the evacuation window closes, Trudeau should focus on the Afghan crisis
Who will be left behind?
As the Taliban’s evacuation clock races to its final, terrible hour, we are left feeling helpless in our minute-by-minute prayers for the Canadian citizens and permanent residents still on the ground in Afghanistan and the thousands of Afghans promised safe harbour in a grand resettlement plan.
The pulse races. Yet Prime Minister Justin Trudeau could not have sounded more of a naif when he said, after a meeting of G7 leaders Tuesday, that “we will continue to put pressure on the Taliban to allow people to leave the country in safety.”
To state the obvious: he’s not bargaining from a position of strength.
And to restate past assertions in this space, evacuation efforts have been late, slow and confused. How many more evacuees could have been assisted if the government had moved with speed?
It was no comfort to listen to a triumvirate of Liberal ministers Wednesday – Defence Minister Harjit Sajjan, Immigration Minister Marco Mendicino and Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau – attempting to express hope and optimism for better days ahead, the better life that Canada offers. In real time, the government’s so-called corridors of protection have not been up to the task of shepherding the desperate into safety at Kabul’s airport.
A bombardment of pleas and videos from those desperately trying to flee will continue to rain down.
And in yet another penny-dropping moment, it has finally sunk in that with U.S. forces scheduled to evacuate from their longest war by Aug. 31, a process that will take days, the last opportunity for a Canadian supported exit may be just hours away. And that’s assuming the risk of attack against U.S. troops by the ISIS affiliate — and Taliban enemy — ISIS-K doesn’t become a reality. U.S. President Joe Biden defined that risk this week as acute and growing.
In Wednesday’s press conference it fell to Marc Garneau to acknowledge the obvious: that there’s a “possibility” that the Canadian effort will fail to successfully complete its rescue mission. We’re on the job, Garneau said, “even though there may be some election going on.”
It’s not an easy hand that Trudeau has been dealt. It would be folly to argue otherwise. That the Taliban briskly took the capital on the same day as the election was called should be material for Trudeau’s memoirs. That’s far in the future. How the Biden administration failed to anticipate the Taliban’s lightning-fast takeover will be one for the history books.
In the instant, it’s obvious that the Afghanistan crisis has emerged as a trip wire for Trudeau, one that’s becoming more barbed with each passing moment. A month has passed since the government backtracked on its ill-considered 72-hour deadline for Afghan interpreters and others who worked in support of Canadians to file resettlement paperwork. That shemozzle revealed wonky bureaucracy at work.
And it was a signal to Trudeau to prioritize the Afghan file. This he has failed to do.
That has left a broad opening for opposition leaders. When Conservative party Leader Erin O’Toole charges, as he did Wednesday, that Trudeau failed to take timely action on Afghanistan months ago, and that the prime minister put the political interests of the Liberal party ahead of the crisis, it sounds discordant to hear Trudeau on the same day pledging to raise corporate taxes on the big banks.
The remedy would be for Trudeau to get off the campaign trail and high tail it back to Ottawa. The next 48 hours will be crucial to the outcome of the Afghanistan crisis. Getting updates, as the prime minister calls them, as he travels through Hamilton, or Winnipeg or Surrey, B.C., releasing the Liberal platform drip by drip, is not the mien of a seasoned G7 leader. (Toronto Star Editorial)