Lawrence Martin's review of Murray Brewster's book, The Savage War, illustrates yet again Von Clausewitz's observation that war is "policy by other means." Canada got into Afghanistan because the Martin government wanted to appease the United States for not being stupid enough to invade Iraq.
For the Harper Conservatives, the war offered a splendid opportunity to establish its brand as "the party of patriotism." The war was fought for domestic consumption, not to advance the cause of world peace:
In other words, if the Harper Conservatives knew the history of Afghanistan, they hadn’t learned much from it. Their political heart was set on military glory. “The Liberals had medicare and the CPP,” an insider tells Mr. Brewster. “We chose the military.” For Prime Minister Stephen Harper, it was “ideological,” another insider says. It was damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead. There’d be no cutting and running.
And when the war began to go badly, the government began to sell the war as a humanitarian mission. The problem was that Canada was not delivering what Afghans wanted -- "things such as schools, polio vaccinations, women’s rights, toys for boys and girls." Instead, Brewster writes,
When you drilled down into the numbers, you saw that almost everything we were doing for them was tailored to our tastes.” Issues such as education and health care were “easily understandable to people back home and, most important, politically sellable to a public that had already turned away from the war in droves.
None of this is surprising. Harper's foreign policy has always been about harvesting votes at home, not making a contribution to the international community. For Stephen Harper, the Afghan War was all politics all the time.
As for patriotism, the history of Canada's involvement in Afghanistan has once again proved that Samuel Johnson was right: Patriotism is the last refuge of not just one scoundrel, but many.