Sunday, October 13, 2013

Making The Swamp Bigger

When Canada went to war in Afghanistan twelve years ago, self congratulation was in the air -- and journalism did not serve the country well. Jeffrey Simpson wrote in yesterday's Globe and Mail:

The early coverage was largely ahistorical, gung-ho, a big group hug for the Canadians – a travesty of journalism, really. What Canadians needed then was a clear-eyed analysis of the country and its history, an understanding of its regional antagonisms, an appreciation of the daunting, even impossible task Canada and its government – to say nothing of the entire North Atlantic Treaty Organization – had signed up for in that forbidding, post-medieval place.

The Chretien government began the mission. But it was the Harper government which used it to rebrand Canada as a warrior nation. Moreover, the mission allowed the asthmatic Stephen Harper to play Douglas MacArthur. And, when the truth contradicted MacArthur, it was the truth which surrendered.

The Globe's Graeme Smith revealed the Afghan prisoner whitewash:

Canada’s government lied about many aspects of the detainee affair, insisting that Ottawa didn’t know what was happening or that Afghan authorities were examining all allegations of misconduct – despite memos from Canadian officials on the ground saying that wasn’t so.

In his book, The Dog's Are Eating Them Now, Smith recounts the story of the Canadian mission to Afghanistan. Simpson writes:

How the West, including Canadians, unintentionally made things worse is a textbook case of cross-cultural misunderstanding and hubris. The West will tell itself heroic stories, then forget about Afghanistan.

Our soldiers did what they were asked to do. They made the swamp bigger. But the people who put them there have not been held to account.


The Mound of Sound said...

Our soldiers were betrayed by incompetent political and military leadership. Our "mission" to Afghanistan arose out of a fanciful interpretation of Article 5 of the NATO charter. America was never attacked by Afghanistan or the Taliban and certainly wasn't under attack by anyone when it invoked the charter. Still everybody was traumatized by 9/11 and so off we went to defend Kabul.

By all accounts, Hillier conned Martin into approving the Kandahar gig. That was an enormous failure of political and military leadership plainly designed to placate the Americans for our refusal to join their war on Iraq. Still it was only for a specific term of years.

If memory serves I think we were initially supposed to be out in 2009, giving the Americans enough time to sweep in and out of Iraq and get back to Afghanistan.

We were goin' to war, by Jeez. No more of that limp-wristed peace keepin' for our army. We were going to go out, hunt people down, and bring the marvels of Western firepower down on their backward heads.

Harper reared up on his lily-white hind legs to proclaim we would never "cut and run" but would stay until the Taliban were wiped out and Afghanistan was saved for democracy. That is where he set the bar by which our war would be assessed a victory or a failure. Wars are always waged to achieve political objectives. Harper set them. We know how that turned out.

Time and again Canadian generals bragged that we had the Talibs crushed, out of business for good. Those were empty boasts by people who were waging a much different war than the war being fought - and won - by the Taliban. Our war was time limited. Theirs is perpetual. They win simply by surviving until we leave the field in failure. That result rests on the shoulders of our pathetic military leadership.

At the end of the day we (the West) did nothing more than babysit an unresolved civil war and enable the renaissance of Afghanistan's opium industry.

The Americans, we thought, had learned from Vietnam what became known as the "Powell Doctrine". You don't go to war unless you know what you want to achieve, are willing to commit the resources needed to prevail, and have a clear and effective exit strategy.

Bush/Cheney scrapped all that and so did our own political and military leadership. We have paid dearly for our stupidity in lives and broken bodies and treasure. Yet not one person has been called to account.

Owen Gray said...

Powell was a junior officer in Vietnam, Mound, and he learned the lessons of that war. Bush and Cheney worked very hard to stay out of the rice patties -- and they succeeded.

Some people argue that Canada had obligations under NATO. But, as you note, this war had nothing to do with the North Atlantic Alliance.

The West -- including Powell -- bought into the Bush Doctrine and junked the Powell Doctrine.

There were lots of fools in high places.

thwap said...

So, does Jeffrey Simpson apologize anywhere for his own role in the debacle.

Oh, and MoS; I too have heard that Hillier talked Paul Martin into taking Kandahar. Now though, Hillier weasels out by saying that the final decisions were with the politicians.

Owen Gray said...

Officially, it's true that the final decisions rest with the politicians, thwap.

But that fact in no way relieves Hillier of responsibility for his role in the tragedy.

He talked tough then but sounds meek now.