The Report of the Independent Panel on Canada’s Future Role in Afghanistan (hereafter the Manley Report or just the Report) has been published, and Ruxted is, generally, pleased with the results. In particular, we are happy to see endorsement of our recent message that combat is necessary in Afghanistan1 and we agree that more soldiers are definitely required.
With one possible small exception, Ruxted fully supports the five recommendations on pages 37 and 38. Our concern is that some may see a binding obligation in the comment that Canada should “secure medium helicopter lift capacity and high-performance unmanned Aerial Vehicles … before February 2009.” This is an excellent recommendation, and we take comfort that the report says “should” as opposed to “must.” As long as these equipments do not become a prerequisite for remaining in Afghanistan, then Ruxted will give its support to this recommendation.
We were also very pleased to see the call for another nation to provide a battle group to join our forces in Kandahar. The whole ISAF mission is plagued by a lack of troops, and there was an unhelpful naivety in previous opposition recommendations that Canadian forces leave whether they are replaced or not. In an area comparable in size to New Brunswick the presence of a much larger two-nation task force will go a long way to improving security and the safety of all persons, military and civilian, in Kandahar. Ruxted hopes that the invitation of come join us in Kandahar is better received by NATO allies than the invitation of come replace us in Kandahar.
While the Manley Report completely knocked the intellectual and moral props out from under Gilles Duceppe, Stéphane Dion and Jack Layton, it does little to address Stephen Harper’s main problem. It fails to provide him with a simple “make it go away” strategy that would appeal to the solid majority of Canadians who, in this case, believes “doing the right thing” is just too difficult and too expensive. That aside, there are, perhaps, two points from the recently released Manley Report that matter most:
First: The blood of hundreds of Canadians, dead and wounded, mostly young men and women who are, simultaneously ordinary, as the NDP loves to define ‘ordinary Canadians,’ and extraordinary, in bravery and commitment, has earned us a place of honour in the councils of nations, a place we abandoned in 1970 with then Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau’s misbegotten foreign policy, published in that year; and
Second: It is now, clearly and as agreed by the leaders of Her Majesty's Official Loyal Opposition, the duty of Prime Minister Stephen Harper to tell Canadians why we are there – something he has, thus far, failed to do. We would prefer to think that this failure results from Prime Minister Harper being unable to get the message out through the static. In the absence of a clear message other alternatives are allowed to present themselves. Unpleasant alternatives, such as being afraid to alienate voters, or being genuinely unable to grasp the complexities of fighting a modern counter-insurgency, are preferable to the most heinous of all: that he is using the mission and the soldiers as props in a small, partisan, domestic political squabble. It is imperative that the Prime Minister present his message clearly and that he be permitted to present his message fairly by the opposition parties. Whatever the reasons for the confusion in the minds of Canadians, the blood which has earned us a higher place in the world is also on his hands, as it is on the hands of all of us who support or previously supported this mission. Canadians need to know, need to be convinced, that he (and his predecessors) sent young Canadians to be maimed and killed for something greater than a short term political advantage.
Shortly after taking office Prime Minister Harper demonstrated that he understood one of the reasons Canadians are fighting and dying in Afghanistan: to burnish our badly tarnished leadership credentials. He said, in a 5 July 2006 speech, that one (but only one) of the reasons Canadians are fighting and dying in Afghanistan is “that is the price of leadership in the world," and “It is also the price of moving the world forward."
Some might have thought the comment calculating, even cold, but Prime Minister Harper understood then that the only reason we maintain a tough, superbly disciplined professional army is to protect and promote our vital interests in the world, including here in Canada.
Improving our international leadership position is one of our vital interests: enhancing our reputation in global security matters pays dividends in trade and commerce, too. “Moving the world forward” is a domestic vital interest – the “world” of 2000 was unstable and the failed state of Afghanistan provided al Qaeda with a firm base from which it could manage dastardly attacks on New York and Washington D.C. Helping the people of Afghanistan to rebuild a nation-state that is strong enough to avoid failing and falling into the grasp of terrorists is “moving the world forward” and it is one of Canada’s vital interests.
Therefore: We are in Afghanistan in order to protect and promote our vital interests, Canadian interests. Happily they are also the world’s interests as UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon explained when, in a recent Globe and Mail article, he too knocked the stuffing out of the Duceppe/Dion/Layton positions. Our interests also coincide with the interests of the Afghan people and their lawfully elected government. We are fighting a counterinsurgency campaign and “winning hearts and minds” is still the sine qua non of victory in such campaigns. Everything we do to win hearts and minds helps the legitimate government of Afghanistan to extend its reach and helps the ‘ordinary Afghans’ (the ones we would like to hope are in the thoughts and prayers of Jack Layton and the NDP) resist the Taliban terror.
The Manley Report said that, “Canadian objectives in Afghanistan are both honourable and achievable.” The panel members went on to say that, “The aim there is not to create some fanciful model of prosperous democracy. Canadian objectives are more realistic: to contribute, with others, to a better governed, stable and developing Afghanistan whose government can protect the security of the country and its people.” (Report, p. 33) This is very close to what Ruxted has been saying2 for more than a year. To get there – to those honourable and achievable objectives - we must continue to fight the good fight and finish the assignment, even if, as several very senior military officers have suggested, it is the work of a generation.
It is true that many Canadians may object to any military mission which does not serve an immediate humanitarian purpose, but Ruxted would remind these Canadians that there is such a purpose. The war in Afghanistan has at least the same moral integrity as traditional UN peacekeeping as our soldiers are fighting for the same peace, security, civil-safety and humanitarian standards. We continue to hope that the Prime Minister will state in no uncertain terms that turning our back on the Afghan people would be hypocritical of a nation that self-indulges in a vision of itself as a peacekeeper. Canadians must come to accept this because the reality is that peacekeeping has forever changed.
The Report stated that Afghanistan “is not the same UN peacekeeping that Canadians have known and supported ... there is not yet a peace to keep, no truce to supervise or “green line” to watch. This is a peace-enforcement operation, as provided for under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter. It is a collective use of force, under international law, to address a threat to international peace and security posed by continuing disorder in Afghanistan. It reflects as well the changing nature of UN mandated peace missions, which have become more robust in the use of force to protect civilians since the harsh lessons learned in the murderous disasters of Bosnia and Rwanda. Similar ... missions have served in Haiti, Côte d’Ivoire and the Democratic Republic of the Congo ... these are the kinds of force the UN might be called upon to apply more often in future, where the human rights and human security of ordinary people are threatened. When the UN and its members authorize such a mission, Canadians have a choice: Canada can participate ... or we can leave the mission to others.” (Report, p. 21) This puts paid to the simplistic “let’s go back to traditional UN peacekeeping” nonsense put about by ill informed, anti-military academics, busybodies and commentators.
Canadian economist Robert Calderisi said3 “As international terrorists search for alternative safe havens, as new diseases like SARS and avian flu spread beyond their countries of origin, and as mass human migration begins to rival nuclear proliferation as the dominant challenge in the early twenty-first century there will be rising interest in ... containing the international ripple effects of failed states. Most of those states are in Africa.” The next time, and the many times after that the UN asks NATO and a few others to organize and manage “peace-enforcement operations” they will likely be in Africa. Canada will participate. Canadians will kill and die. Other Canadians will weep and still others wail but there is no alternative – not if we have any worthwhile values at all.
The Manley Report has provided an elegantly simple, tightly reasoned and ultimately persuasive analysis of the state of Canada’s mission in Afghanistan and the Report makes useful and sensible recommendations for the future of that mission. The onus is, now, on Prime Minister Harper to make the mission his own and to bring Canadians onside with him. There is, equally, an opportunity for M. Stéphane Dion to encourage the Canadians he aspires to lead in our vital task of “moving the world forward.”
1. See: http://ruxted.ca/index.php?/archives/104-No-Security-Without-Combat.html
2. See: http://ruxted.ca/index.php?/archives/24-The-Afghanistan-Debate.html et seq
3. Calderisi, Robert, The Trouble with Africa, New York, 2006, p. 2