7 August, 2009 — Strategic Culture Foundation
When I suggested to my esteemed editor a column on Canada’s involvement in Afghanistan I was reminded of the axiom be careful what you ask for. I quickly learned that one could easily do a fair sized book on the subject!
As a boy brought up in a British style home I read English stuff like G.A. Henty s “With Cliva in India”. Afghanistan was a murky place full of fierce Pathans, now called Pushtins which the courageous British had to tame. (It s amazing how many peoples the British seemed to have the need to tame back in those days). It was reading “Caravans” by James A. Mitchener that piqued my curiosity as he described real people, different nations within the nation, with a distinct culture, or perhaps I should say cultures of their own. I also learned that for some strange reason they didn’t t appreciate the cultural offerings of the British, or anyone else for that matter, going back to and including Alexander the Great! You might conquer Afghanistan but it never stayed conquered.
Why is Canada’s military there under the auspices of NATO considering that her role in foreign affairs has traditionally been as a peacekeeper not a peace maker? The better question, I think, is why is NATO involved and, indeed, why is there a NATO 20 years after the wall came down? In a nutshell, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization came into being in 1949 to prevent aggression from the USSR. In 1955 under Soviet influence the Warsaw Pact came into being and until 1991, when the latter was dissolved, they glared at one another. Why, when the Warsaw Pact was dissolved, didn’t t NATO quietly fold its tent as well?
The answer is that given a role instead of death, organizations feel a strong need to stay in existence. Example: before 1955 the March Of Dimes was a large organization dedicated to wiping out polio. That year polio was cured yet the March of Dimes became, without missing a step, the leading non profit organization for pregnancy and baby health . When the Soviet Union died, the Warsaw Pact lost its raison d`etre while NATO saw a role as a long desired independent military force the UN could use. Events proved them right.
Canada, a Charter member, was less interested in confronting the USSR than it was helping to moderate potential rivalries between the United States, the United Kingdom, and, until De Gaulle took her out of NATO, France and later West Germany. It was this policy of temporizing amongst friends that enabled Lester Pearson, External Affairs Minister and later Prime Minister, to mediate the Suez Crisis in 1956 for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. With this success and its peacekeeping work in Cyprus, Canada was seen as a referee rather than a player; as a peacekeeper rather than a peace maker.
The change came with wars after the breakup of Yugoslavia when Canadian CF 18 jets were directly involved. This move was highly controversial at home and became more so when ground troops became involved. We had, so to speak, lost our virginity and were not so sure we thought it a good idea. As with loss of virginity, it was too late.
With Yugoslavia and then Afghanistan we were in for a penny, in for a pound. Starting in 2001 we got more involved in Afghanistan, each step made justified by the one previous and by 2006 were in big time. By February 2009 the body bag count brought demands that we get out and, typically, Conservative Prime Minister Harper asked former Liberal Cabinet Minister John Manley to study the matter and make recommendations. Manley s report was eerily like what we had heard from President Johnson during the Viet Nam War; add more troops, improve equipment, a greater emphasis on diplomacy and reconstruction shifting gradually from combat to training Afghan security forces ending with, as you might have guessed, an immediate military withdrawal from Viet Nam, oops, sorry, Afghanistan would cause more harm than good.
54% of Canadians oppose being in Afghanistan. Weren’t we there to help the US get Osama bin Laden, to end violence, to advance women’s rights and help win the war against drugs? Well, bin Laden still mocks Uncle Sam, violence increases, women’s rights depend upon how much of the country has been recovered by the Taliban, and the Drug business booms.
Why the immense drug problem?
It is said that using drug money to finance weapons started during the Soviet intervention when the CIA used drug profits to supply weapons to the rebels. According to History Professor Alfred McCoy, an American whose specialty is narcotics in Asia, in 1995 the former CIA director of the Afghan operation [against the Soviets] Charles Cogan admitted that the CIA had indeed sacrificed the drug war to fight the Cold War. The history of narcotics in Afghanistan since then has been a dreary one having reached this interesting proposed solution. According to The Guardian’s Jon Boone United Nations officials in Afghanistan are attempting to create a flood of drugs in the country intended to destroy the value of opium and force poppy farmers to switch to legal crops such as wheat.
Well, in the words of Scotland’s Robert Burns the best-laid schemes of mice and men gang aft agley. Here is what the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime stated recently: opium has become less important to the Afghan economy due to a decrease in cultivation, production and prices. However, opium finances the Taliban war economy and is a major source of revenue for criminal groups and terrorists.
My home is Vancouver, the North American gateway for Asian drugs, and I can tell you that while supply might not always bring demand (a man of God in a house of ill-repute, for example) demand unfailingly creates supply. The Taliban needs money big time thus creating a demand met by supplying heroin to the hometowns of Canadian and American soldiers. A not so delicious irony! As long as the insurrection continues the Taliban will need money which the drug industry will provide.
Canadians know that and, based on their own experience ask, why the hell do we put our troops in harm’s way to fight a war that can never be won?