Canadian Newpaper Editorial--Stay the Course in Afghan.

Interesting editorial especially from a Canadian paper about "victory in Afghanistan on the heels of Canadian government signaling it will be ending its involvement.

Not ready to quit

By Kate Heartfield, The Ottawa CitizenSeptember 18, 2009 9:36

The near-disastrous election in Afghanistan has created, here in North America, a fashion for reluctant calls for retreat. After Iraq, nobody wants to be the last one left supporting an unpopular war.

In the Citizen, Senator Colin Kenny wrote recently that "what we hoped to accomplish in Afghanistan has proved to be impossible." In Maclean's, Paul Wells wrote that it's "harder and harder to see what's meaningful about all this." Thomas Friedman wrote in The New York Times that "one really has to ask not whether we can afford to lose there but whether we can afford to win there."

These are just a sample of the many thoughtful people who understand and sympathize with the reasons for the Afghan mission, but who now suspect the mission can't be accomplished. I agree with every point they make. Yes, the government of Hamid Karzai -- our supposed ally -- is corrupt, incompetent and illiberal. Yes, military victory -- however defined -- will be difficult, perhaps impossible.

All the same, I'm not going to make another call for retreat. Not yet, anyway. I agree that the cost-benefit analysis of continuing the mission does not look good. But I haven't yet seen enough cost-benefit analyses of the opposite course of action to convince me that retreat is the way to go. War comes with a terrible price, but so does retreat.

In the aftermath of Sept. 11, 2001, I was one of the few people who didn't think NATO should send troops to Afghanistan. I wasn't sure what it would accomplish and I was worried that emotions, rather than reason, were ruling the day.

Now that Canadian troops have been in Afghanistan for the better part of a decade, though, I do think this country has a duty to consider the effects of its choices on the people of Afghanistan. We're involved now. It's our problem, too.

Canada's dilemma in Afghanistan reminds me of that of the warrior Arjuna in the great Indian text, The Bhagavad Gita. Arjuna has a crisis of conscience on the battlefield. "Nought of good can spring from mutual slaughter," he realizes. And in an echo of Friedman, he cries, "Ah, were it worse -- who knows -- to be victor or vanquished here?"

Arjuna turns to Krishna for guidance, and Krishna tells him many things. One of them is: "No man shall 'scape from act by shunning action; nay, and none shall come by mere renouncements into perfectness." In other words, choosing not to act is itself an action, and carries consequences.

So what are the consequences of choosing not to act in Afghanistan?

I'm not going to pretend I know the answer to that question. I do know that some scenarios are scary, for the country, the region and the world.

It's certainly not inevitable that the Taliban or someone like them would seize control if the NATO mission were to end without a competent central government in place, but it is possible. What then?

If a Taliban-controlled Afghanistan was bad a year ago, two years ago, eight years ago -- well, it's still bad now. If fundamentalists had total (as opposed to partial) control of Afghanistan, it's likely that such a government would aid the region's terrorists to the best of its abilities. That is not to say that terrorists can't flourish in today's Afghanistan, but at least the abetting of terrorism is not now official state policy.

Of course, if our goal was eradication of the Taliban and al-Qaeda, we've failed and will fail. But that was never a goal that made any sense.

Many of the reluctant retreatists have pointed to the Karzai government's passage of the misogynistic Shia family law bill as a sign that this government is not as liberal as we hoped. That's absolutely true, but this government is not sending people into the streets to whip women whose burqas don't cover their feet or shoot at beardless men. Degree matters.

Anyone who says that life for women in Afghanistan is "just as bad" now as it was under the Taliban should talk to some of the Afghan women I've met, women who run schools and businesses and report the news and go to university. Life for the professional women and students in Kabul is a far cry from the lives of women in villages or even in Kandahar -- but life in Kabul today is a far cry from what it was nine years ago. That is one legacy Canadian soldiers have a chance to leave behind. It's not nothing.

Maybe it's possible for Canada and the United States and even all the NATO allies to quit Afghanistan soon without risking either a return to fundamentalism or an open civil war. But if we're going to make this decision with our eyes open, we do have to admit those are real possibilities.

Kate Heartfield is a member of the Citizen's editorial board.

Similar threads

Latest Threads