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Ignorance, dishonesty and Canada’s mission in Afghanistan

Over a year ago The Ruxted Group explained that ‘traditional’ (Pearsonian) UN Peacekeeping is in decline because the conditions (a ‘bipolar’ nuclear standoff, etc) which made it a good idea have been superseded by new conflict models. Nearly six months ago we also explained that there is still room for UN Peacekeeping missions but we agreed with the UN’s Director of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO) that several of the world's most capable militaries and strong economies (like Canada) are already too heavily committed to complex, dangerous UN mandated missions like Afghanistan to contribute to the simpler, less dangerous, ‘traditional’ UN missions.

Canadian public opinion has been reluctant to accept this changed scenario.

Canadians have blindly bought into a peacekeeping mythology, they have done so in ignorance and are now not willing to pay the price of being a responsible nation in the 21st century.

For more than a generation, since about 1968, Canadians have been bombarded with a mix of wilful ignorance and dishonesty. The UN, we were told by politicians, teachers and the ‘commentariat,’ was hell-bent on accomplishing its self imposed mandate of saving future generations from the scourge of war. In fact, as we accepted these false assurances, UN members and non-state actors continued to make and support war with considerable enthusiasm. Finally, in the 1990s, the UN was forced to turn to NATO and other ‘coalitions of the willing and capable’ for help with increasingly complex ‘peacemaking’ missions. Canada was amongst the rich and militarily capable nations the UN asked to share the burden.

But, Canadians had been told, in the 1970 Foreign Policy White Paper, that Canada had to reject 25 years of consistent, successful policy: both that of “leading middle power” (instituted by Louis St. Laurent) and “helpful fixer” (instituted as an add-on to “leading middle power” by Lester Pearson). The rationale was that Canada was too small and too poor (as a result of the recovery of Western Europe and the incipient rise of Japan) and too preoccupied with its own domestic (national unity) problems to play a leadership role in world affairs. Most Canadians accepted this thesis. In part, the 1970 White Paper merely stated the obvious: in a changing world Canada’s position could not remain static; foreign policy must be the handmaid of domestic, national priorities; economic growth had to be the nation’s top priority; and Asia was growing in importance1 which made Canada’s ‘traditional’ Eurocentric policies inadequate. But, at its base, the 1970 White Paper was both ignorant and dishonest: ignorant because it totally ignored the main ‘driver’ of Canadian policy – relations with the USA; and dishonest because, in the face of expert advice, it downplayed the increasing strength and continuously malevolent intentions of the USSR.

In the 1970s and ‘80s ‘traditional’ UN Peacekeeping offered Canadians a panacea for the problem of high and steadily increasing rates of inflation in defence budgets. Only ‘great’ powers could, reasonably, afford to see their defence budgets grow and grow, as a percentage of less rapidly growing GDPs, to maintain their ‘power.’ Most middle powers, including Canada, were unable or unwilling, in the face of détente, to sustain rates of defence spending which equalled or surpassed 5% of GDP – as Canada’s did throughout the 1940s and ‘50s. UN Peacekeeping was seen to be a cost effective way to keep Canada in the global ‘public eye’ at a low cost – and so it was, so long as one was ready to emasculate the military. In the years from 1969 to 1999 Canada experienced three “decades of darkness” during which the combat capabilities of Canada’s armed forces were sacrificed on the twin altars of domestic social programmes and UN peacekeeping.

Everything changed on 11 September 2001.

Although the Government of Canada had authorized some robust ‘peacemaking’ missions (e.g. in the Balkans) and had allowed the defence budget to rise, albeit inconsistently, in the 1990s, Canada remained a determinedly ‘peaceable kingdom.’ Combat operations and casualties in the Balkans were kept well out of the public eye – virtually state secrets, too dangerous to be shared with Canadian voters.

Early in 2002 Prime Minister Chrétien committed Canadians - with great fanfare – to combat operations in Afghanistan. When Canadians were killed in a friendly fire incident the fanfare became a crescendo – setting an ambivalent ‘tone’ for subsequent operations: a mix of confusion, pride, sorrow, doubt and anti-Americanism. Many Canadian politicians and ‘opinion leaders’ continue to work to obscure what Canada is doing in Afghanistan and, especially, why Canada is in Afghanistan because they are convinced that they can use Canadians’ ambivalence and, after 40 years, their ingrained infatuation with ‘traditional’ UN peacekeeping for their own partisan political advantage. Most Canadian politicians, of all stripes, and many of their allies in the media and academe are, as Liberal defence critic Denis Coderre said, using the military – including individual Canadian casualties – as ‘props’ for their own purposes. In essence they continue to mislead Canadians.

The Ruxted Group affirms: The war in Afghanistan has at least the same moral integrity as traditional UN peacekeeping yet there is a growing call from Canadians for our nation to abandon the Afghan people to their fate.

Canadians need to note that:

• The NATO led (but composed of both NATO and non NATO members) International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) exists at the explicit request of the United Nations and of the democratically elected Afghan government. Those, and there are many, who claim that Canada’s mission in Afghanistan is, somehow, not a UN mission are either ignorant or dishonest.

• ISAF seeks to maintain security so that the international community can help Afghanistan with the crucial task of rebuilding that poor, war ravaged nation. Those, and there are many, who argue that the UN and NATO/ISAF are ‘tools’ of American oil companies are either ignorant or dishonest.

• Without ISAF there would be bloodier and more widespread civil war. Those, and there are many, who advocate a defined end (immediate or in February 2009) to Canadian combat operations want to condemn the Afghan people to further bloodshed, even as aid and development will stall; those ‘peace advocates’ are either ignorant or dishonest.

• Do we want to be a “have” nation that abandons a “have not” people? The Ruxted Group has commented on the fact – and it is a fact – that we are a ‘most favoured nation’ and that we pressed the UN to make ‘Responsibility to Protect’ part of its doctrine. Afghanistan has been abandoned before; that’s one of the reasons we are fighting there now. A popular maxim holds that insanity equals doing the same thing again and again and expecting a different result. That’s what abandoning Afghanistan again would be: insanity. Those, and there are many, who advocate that Canada withdraw into its 1970 ‘vision’ of poor, weak, timorous isolationism are either ignorant or dishonest.

Many of the same ignorant or dishonest people who want us to ‘cut and run’ from Afghanistan want us to jump into Darfur. Ruxted asserts that if the price in Afghanistan is too high for the Canadian public, then the potential cost of Sudan is likely higher. Sudan is a ‘tougher nut’ than Afghanistan in part because: the Sudanese Government is working in a quasi-genocide mode and is determined to prevent any outside interference in its affairs; Chinese influence makes effective UN action impossible and creates added political and military risks; fractured rebel alliances are constantly shifting – making the political base for UN operations even more difficult; and there is no sensible long term solution because the water/arable land base is inadequate. If the price in Afghanistan is too high for the Canadian public, then the potential cost of any operation (especially those involving an element which stands to benefit from prolonged destabilization) is also too high. If the price in Afghanistan is too high then it is time for Canadians to ‘fess up’ and admit that they don’t care about world peace and the plight of the poorest of the poor; it’s time for Canadians to say “I’m all right, Jack!” and retreat into self satisfied, greedy isolationism.

For too long, successive Canadian governments used UN peacekeeping as an easy, low cost and low risk way to help Canadians feel good about themselves in world affairs. Their efforts were broadly supported by the media and academe – peacekeeping in baby blue UN berets, a generation of schoolchildren were taught, made us ‘nice’ – nicer than our well armed American neighbours. Traditional UN peacekeeping changed into more complex, dangerous UN mandated peacemaking missions and, most recently into a combined peacemaking and national reconstruction mission in Afghanistan. Logically, Canadians should feel even better about themselves for being one of the few responsible, sophisticated, capable nations able to take on these new, dangerous missions. They are not. Many, too many Canadians have bought into the wholly fallacious argument that the UN mandated ISAF mission in Afghanistan is some nefarious plot engineered by US Vice President Dick Cheney for his own purposes. It is not.

There is a nothing but massive hypocrisy, rooted in ignorance and dishonesty, in wanting to help only when we don’t have to worry about the costs. The price of "feeling good" is far higher in human costs in the conflict zone and lost opportunities for Canada than the costs of assuming our responsibilities in the 21st century community of nations. But, The Ruxted Group remains optimistic; there have been flickerings of reason here and there: editorially, in the Toronto Star and politically in the Commons defence committee. We are not so bold as to declare victory and leave this issue but we are impressed that some doubters see some light. Perhaps Canadians, at large, will, slowly but surely, decide to side with right over convenience.

1. That America was going to ‘normalize’ relations with China was not a secret to the foreign affairs Mandarins in Ottawa. The so-called ‘Warsaw talks’ had been restarted (at Nixon’s insistence) in early 1969. (See: MacMillan, Nixon in China, Toronto, 2006, p. 161.) The implications of that change were enormous for Canada and Canada had to be nimble, in policy terms, and get its oar in early.


The Ruxted Group on : Thomas Walkom: Enemy Dupe

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Thomas Walkom: Enemy Dupe On the same day The Ruxted Group commented on the combination of ignorance and dishonesty which characterizes so much of the anti-military, anti-leadership role for Canada attitude the Toronto Star published a prime example in


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Matt Sanchez on :

Will Canada except the grown up message or does geographic isolation and the American fortress insulate Canada from these types of missions?

Canada is a military capable nation? Really?

E.R. Campbell on :

Mr. Sanchez: From what 'types of missions' is Canada 'insulated?' What is the 'grown up message?'

Canada's military is highly capable, sub-unit by sub-unit. It's major 'capability' deficiency is that it has only about half the combat forces (warships, regiments and battalions and air force squadrons) it needs. It is a question of good quality but no quantity.

Shawn Carroll on :

Mr Sanchez

You're a "reservist", which means part-time soldier or "weekend warrior" in Canadian parlane. I can forgive your ignorance on the Canadian military.

But you claim to be a journalist, and in that case, your ignorance cannot be forgiven.

Go back to your school, and politely tell our profs that they did you wrong -- then kick them between the legs.

Stupidity can be forgiven -- ignorance can't.

Shawn Carroll on :

I shouldn't have commented in the manner I did earlier. So apologies to Mr. Sanchez.

Now you are in Iraq, and what is your job? Grunt, clerk, cook... or journalist?

I have worked with Marines (MPs) in the former yugo, trained with Marine reserves and US Army regulars in Alaska, Alberta, and California. I hold a good opinion of them.

However, you haven't trained with Canadian soldiers, as seen by your comments about them.

So if you're a journalist, at least try and get the facts straight.

Why don't you go to afghaniland and accompany Cdn troops (the Quebec Van Doos are presently there) -- you may be in for a surprise. Or would it shatter your "world" view?

FIGHT on :

Matt Sanchez insults Canadian military.

Murtagh R. on :

I completely agree with Campbell there. It's not that we don't have an effective military might it's that we spend our tax money in areas which our population needs. (Healthcare etc.) Unlike the US where they spend billions of dollars on their military even when they are not at war. What does that tell you?

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