27 February 2008


No, not the plucky and hard-hitting CBC radio drama...

...but the news that CIDA is apparently looking for a "signature project" in Afghanistan, some sort of large building, it's suggested, so as to make its financial aid "more visible" to the Afghan street.

This little tidbit is coupled with Peter Mackay's musings that withdrawing from combat actually means withdrawing the government from any direct control over when or where combat occurs. You've got to give the government points for this piece of sophistry: the Liberal withdrawal of their own combat operations against the Conservatives over the past few months has emboldened CPC strategists to make do with the flimsiest-possible rhetorical fig leaves, barely cover enough for the government's immodest and increasingly indecent flouting of public opinion, historical necessity, and good sense.

Taken together, I have the depressing impression that Canada is in the process of exporting two of our most dispiriting national faults to the poor unsuspecting Afghans: mistaking large, ugly buildings for social and cultural progress, and letting government organs off the hook to be both ineffective and invasive at the same time through a naive and unquestioning certainty that a Canadian would never call a spade anything other than a spade. These are perhaps reasons as   good as any not to become involved in the foreign adventurism of our friends and neighbors. 

In any case, here is my (modest) eight-point plan for Canada and Afghanistan - because it can't be worse than Peter Mackay's: 

1) immediately make it clear to the Canadian public that as long as Canadian personnel of any stripe remain in Afghanistan, they will be at some physical risk, and point out that the only honorable way to mitigate that risk is to improve conditions in Afghanistan proper; 

2) stop whining about how the Europeans aren't pulling their weight, and let some of our astonishingly talented diplomats take the lead in aggressively courting allies, NATO and otherwise, in forging a common voice for intervenors in Afghanistan; 

3) find a neutral country (Brazil, let's say) to act as a common mediator between the Afghan government, the northern warlords, and the Taliban to forge a stable political settlement -- point out to all parties that the only way NATO countries will have the stamina to continue operations is if all parties can overcome their differences in the name of their own self-interest (namely, a place in the future of running Afghanistan), and suggest that NATO's unhappy involvement in what everyone can see is an ill-conceived neocolonialist boondoggle would be brought to a much swifter conclusion if everyone played nice;

4) agitate with vigor for a strong UN Special Representative and a centralized reconstruction plan to adequately and fairly disburse international money and resources across the country not merely to build things, but also fund the Afghan people and their work;

5) insist on recruiting the myriad entrepreneurs, NGOs and small business owners who are doing their best to revive Afghan trade and civil society into the redevelopment process to achieve something from the ground up - and that includes poppy producers who could be convinced to sell their plants for morphine, not opium;

6) host a regional conference on Afghanistan to enlist, cajole or impress regional states into participating, or at least tacitly endorsing, the plan; 

7) insist that these various measures be tied to continued, and possibly expanded, Canadian troop, diplomatic and personnel deployment; and

8) stop "selling" the mission domestically as though it's a used Honda Civic, and instead present Canadians with this broad international progress in Afghanistan with Canada at its head. 

This is the sort of thing that might lead people to believe Canada had an independent, muscular foreign policy, or, perish the thought, a global "leadership role." Of course, leadership is only accomplished through intelligence, courage, energy, compassion, and the willingness to take a risk or two, not qualities the Harper government likes its dependents to display. (Leadership, at least on the world stage, also requires foreign ministers who have a clue about their lack of credibility on foreign things, but we won't go there). Nor does the government like to really think to the long-term, at least not on constructive matters - and that's another thing holding Canada's Afghanistan policy back.  If we as a country are unwilling to undertake the many kinds of work - financial, diplomatic, social, and military  - that will help our fellows in other parts of the world, let's at least stop being hypocrites about our own parochial narrow-mindedness.

In short, please Stephen, if you're going to try and mismanage Afghanistan as effectively as you have Canada, throw in the towel now- leave the rhetoric about the "North Star" to countries unafraid to will, act and lead in a cause that isn't the preservation and aggrandizement of their own political hide.

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