April 11, 2011

Well, that didn't help the debate much

A rather lame outing this week in the Globe by Michael Byers and Stewart Webb about the Canadian military training deployment to Afghanistan. It's an excerpt of their Canadian Centre for Policy Alternatives paper, "Training Can Be Dangerous," which you can find here.

Now, this was a rather shoddy paper, even by CCPA standards. What was remarkable about it to me was that the writers did no real research of any kind, with all their citations pointing to news articles or other similar papers. They didn't interview a single soldier or former soldier, or anyone with any first-hand knowledge of Afghan military training in Canada or outside. (The bibliography is also bereft of any references to Afghan sources of any kind, for that matter.) I doubt I'd have said anything if they had called, but I really don't think we're all that hard to find. So there's no real reason to take anything they have to say seriously, let alone put an excerpt in the Globe and Mail.

The article begins badly: "Remember – the first four Canadian deaths in Afghanistan occurred when a training exercise attracted “friendly fire” from an American F-16 fighter jet in 2002. So just how safe will this new training mission be?"

This blog wrote extensively about that incident and the military trial that followed, and I can't believe anyone has forgotten this, but just in case, that was a mistaken attack by an American plane on a Canadian night live fire exercise on an established weapons range just outside Kandahar Air Field. It had nothing to do with training Afghans. At all. In this context, it's a complete non sequitur.

But it gets worse: "Although the Prime Minister insists that Canadian soldiers will remain safely within the confines of their bases, this is unlikely."

I really don't know what value one can make of an argument that a military training deployment is bad because it still risks the lives of military personnel. That does, as they say, come with the job description. To say that Canadian soldiers may be exposed to some mortal risk (at a rate and with a degree of protection and medical support, one might add, significantly better than the Afghan general population at present) is to say that they are doing soldiering. It is not in any way an argument against a mission. One wishes they could have focussed on the more interesting questions of its likely efficacy compared to the outlay involved, rather than scattergun negative connotations in this way.

To impeach the Byers-Webb argument here, really one needs only to pose a hypothetical: what if the Canadian military reconfigured as nothing but globe-encompassing armed aerial vehicles, like the Predator UAV? We could intervene internationally without risk to any Canadian personnel, ever, that way. But would Byers and Webb consider that the optimal form of Canadian force projection? I suspect not. But if they wouldn't, that suggests their inordinate concern for Canadian military lives now is really just the biggest negative they could come up with as far as this particular mission is concerned, not any sort of principled or coherent position that one could shape a foreign or defence policy structure around. That's disappointing.

Posted by BruceR at 10:18 PM