July 22, 2007

Just read it yourself

I simply don't have the time to refute every untruth in the Canadian media about Afghanistan these days, but the CTV's irresponsible Bob Fife piece tonight was really a new low point.

The argument, supported by Amir Attaran, Jack Layton, and the Leader of the Opposition in their soundbites, that Canada has only just now started focussing on training the Afghan army, largely in order to obtain a Conservative political advantage in Quebec, is facile.

I really do urge anyone and everyone who might still be reading this space (and I doubt there's very many) to read the actual NATO-UN-Afghan Government mandate, as laid out in the Afghanistan Compact. It's not a hard read, it's right here, and it's quite clear that 9 out of 10 Canadian talking heads who regularly pronounce on the topic have never read it. But yet that is the mission, and the Canadian military, at least as far as I can tell, has been following it to the letter in the area of operations assigned to them (Kandahar Province). You might well dispute the achievability of some of the subgoals, or the commitment of some NATO countries to seeing it through, but you can't say about Afghanistan what many have said about Iraq. This time, NATO gave itself a clear mission. NATO made sure it had a clear, benchmark-based exit strategy. Pity no one outside the militaries seems to know what they are.

As for Fife and the rest of the CTV team behind that piece, who, if they were ever pointed to this document, apparently failed to keep their lips moving past the third page, I fear they're beyond redemption. It seems almost all public disapproval of this mission in the Canadian context is an argument from ignorance, fuelled by ignorant media. There are some interesting discussions we might be having as a society about Afghanistan's future, about NATO's future, about the future of Western counter-insurgency in this context, but it's all quite moot because the baseline public awareness and understanding levels here are simply too low for that dialogue to have any public value. The primary fight at home is not against timidity; it's against ignorance.

Hilzoy at Obsidian Wings has it right. One can support the troops without supporting a war: by activism to ensure they have the tools to do the job, and to "try our hardest to be the best and most informed citizens that we can be". I think most soldiers overseas (from any country, in any era) would consider themselves supported -- and would understand the public's conclusions about the futility or utility of their missions -- if they thought the population at home took those two, and only those two, responsibilities of their citizenship seriously.

Posted by BruceR at 11:56 PM