All sarcasm aside, what is the real reason Canadian troops are fighting and dying in Afghanistan?
This is an important question because, regardless of what Defence Minister Peter MacKay foxily pretends, it is extremely unlikely that Canadian forces will depart the Afghan war zone after the entirely fictitious withdrawal date set for 2011.
Because they don’t like “liberals,” even in the White House, the government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper may have some fun threatening to pull out of Afghanistan after 2011. But if his Conservatives manage to hang onto power, in the end they will revert to instinct and say, “Ready, Aye, Ready,” to the American president, even if he’s one they don’t particularly approve of.
Moreover, if the Canadian government were to change, we shouldn’t expect much different from a Liberal ministry led by Michael Ignatieff, or for that matter from a coalition. On this issue, indeed, even Jack Layton might surprise us if by some fluke he were to become prime minister.
Canadian troops are in Afghanistan to stay, as are U.S. soldiers and a motley collection of troopers from other NATO countries. Just as changing the American president did not alter this reality, neither will changing the Canadian prime minister or any other NATO head of government.
Since it is impossible to defeat an insurgency of this nature without murdering pretty well every man, woman and child in Afghanistan, and possibly all of the East, our soldiers are likely to be there for a long time.
So what gives?
First of all, we can be confident that none of the reasons we have been given to date for our role in the occupation of Afghanistan hold up under even cursory scrutiny.
For example, the West’s soldiers are not in Afghanistan to get revenge for the 911 attacks, to hunt down Osama bin Laden, to protect Western cities from future terrorist attacks or any of the other related folderol peddled on this general theme.
Indeed, by any common-sense measure, our continued presence in a Muslim land – drinking beer, as our troops were on Christmas Day 2008, and for that matter celebrating Christmas with presents for the children of our local retainers – makes terrorism in Western cities considerably more likely, not less so.
Moreover, if revenge was our goal, surely by now, well over a million pounds of high explosive later, we should have achieved it!
Hunt down Sheik Osama? No less an authority than departing U.S. President George Bush says that one’s not really the objective any more, if it ever was.
No, 911 may have presented a neat excuse, but it does not explain our presence in Afghanistan now.
Likewise, our soldiers are not dying to halt the drug trade. On the contrary, the Taliban had all but done that! The resurgence of the opiates trade came after the U.S. toppled the Taliban government. Indeed, all the signs point to the fact that the shaky government of President Hamid Karzai, which we are keeping in power with Canadian blood, profits enormously from the illicit drug trade. Karzai’s own brother Ahmed Wali Karzai is widely reported to be a leading drug exporter!
Most of the heroin injected into the veins of the pathetic and dangerous denizens of East Vancouver, where Prime Minister Harper’s government is enthusiastically dismantling safe-injection sites, originates in the poppy fields of Afghanistan. The efforts of Canadian soldiers indirectly make its importation into Canada much more likely.
Furthermore, Canadian soldiers are not dying to bring democracy to Afghanistan – where we are propping up a government that has virtually no popular support. Bogus Afghan elections, no matter frequently they are held, will not change that.
Nor are we fighting for the rights of Afghan women – at an official level in Canada and elsewhere in the West, no one gives a damn about Afghan women, who in some ways are worse off now than they were under the Taliban.
Nor are we fighting for religious freedom – as the treatment by the Afghan government of Christian converts, happily tolerated by our Christian soldiery, amply proves.
If you believe any of these fairy tales, you are naïve at best.
So, what is the real reason we continue to fight in Afghanistan?
One key to solving this riddle can be found by examining who is involved in this effort. For this is not merely plucky little Canada eagerly serving as coat-holder to the American bully. In addition to the United States, all the major European powers are here in one form or another.
These include countries that hesitated to support, or scorned outright, the idiotic American attack on Iraq, those that traditionally (like Canada) have avoided military adventures other than peacekeeping, and those whose leaders looked down their noses at the unsophisticated George Bush and his cynical neocon handlers.
The other key to understanding why we are in Afghanistan is as simple as looking at a map. Afghanistan has always been a strategic crossroads. That is why it has been invaded so many times – and why, presumably, the unhappy Afghans have become such fierce resistors of invaders. Nothing has changed.
On the other hand, notwithstanding its vast petroleum reserves, Iraq is not as strategically important a piece of real estate – unless you happen to be Israeli, the tail that wags the American foreign policy dog, that is. Hence the lack of enthusiasm for the Iraq invasion among European states and, for that matter, Canada under former prime minister Jean Chrétien.
The Pakistani-born British author Tariq Ali sums the Afghan situation up in a neat phrase: “Afghanistan has become a central theatre for uniting, and extending, the West’s power, its political grip on the world order.” This, in a nutshell, is why the Europeans and Canada are aboard.
Afghanistan is strategically located. In the chess game of global power, it can be used by the traditional powers of Europe and North America to checkmate Russian, Indian and especially Chinese ambitions.
This is the real reason that NATO “must” succeed in Afghanistan, as we are so frequently advised by the tame North American media, in the face of the manifest opposition of the people of that benighted country. This is the real reason that Western powers that agree on little else are willing to work together to secure Afghanistan.
If the price of that success is more dead Canadian soldiers, more heroin on Canadian streets or for that matter terrorist attacks on Canadian civilians, then, as far as our leaders are concerned, so be it.
Power on our planet is moving east. If you doubt that, just ask where your helper is located the next time you phone a call centre to buy a computer or get technical product assistance. It should not surprise us that the great powers of the West – even those with social democratic governments – are prepared to make military as well as diplomatic moves to resist this inexorable historical shift. Nor should it surprise us if the rising powers of the East challenge us in a new “Great Game” in Afghanistan.
A strong case can be made that our occupation of Afghanistan for these purposes is unnecessary, or even unwise. But, given the history of Mankind, it would be unlikely if it were not to continue.
We should understand this. Canadians may agree or disagree on whether our troops should be caught in what is sure to be a bloody and protracted Afghan quagmire. Nevertheless, we can all see why our government – regardless of who is at its head – might want them there.
But our government owes us an honest explanation. They should cut the crap and tell us the real reasons for their actions – and the real risks!