The role of Canada's military, part two: On Afghanistan
Nov 10, 2010

The role of Canada's military, part two: On Afghanistan

Part One is here

The Harper government has just announced it is seriously considering a proposal for continuing a military engagement in Afghanistan after this summer. Few details are yet known but it appears to consist of some 1000 people engaged in a non-combat troop training role in Kabul for no longer than 2014. This proposal will be considered from several different angles; however, it is my contention that it deserves support from progressives.

It should be established at the onset that my entire rational for the continued role has consideration for the well being of the Afghan people as its central goal. I support it as an exercise in liberal interventionism for humanitarian reasons.  Consideration for benefits to Canada is a distinctly secondary goal, partially because of the difficulties in making a clear case that it will create a definitive, measurable benefit and partially because as a humanist the suffering of the Afghan people is so great in comparison to that of Canadians in this conflict that my empathize lie with the former. Nonetheless, since it is Canada who is paying the costs which will be legitimate although hopefully not in lives given the the noncombatant role, we must take care to establish that the policy is one that will indeed do good in the world.

I have written previously of the war holistically for the US and their allies, and how the two options of a deescalation or maintaining the status quo are both very poor for the Afghan people thus necessitating staying in Afghanistan with a considerable a change of direction. In this post, the focus is considerably narrowed because Canada must work within the framework of the war as it exists and try to do good within this framework. Part of that is acknowledging that a US backed administration much like the Karzai government is likely to exist for some time. Right or wrong though the war may be, right or wrong through many specific policies, strategies, tactics and actions may be, we must accept this reality and fight to create the best Afghanistan regardless and indeed to influence changing the reality to one that is better for Afghans.

Two of the ways I have identified previously as needed in a change of direction approach are directly related to the proposed Canadian mission of troop training. Namely, I advocated for an increased focus on nation building as well as decreasing the reliance in warlord militias for security. As the saying goes, one cannot have development without security and one cannot have security without development. There is far too little development outside of Kabul because the security simply doesn't exist to support it. By providing increased security training, this will empower the Afghan administration to increase their own security without reliance on either the warlords or the west. The increased security will allow for increased development from governments, from NGOs, and from Afghans who can engage in the economy more securely.

For those who support the deescalate option for the west in general, it is going to be through developing the governments capacity to provide its own security that the reins can be handed over to them as they partially are now in Iraq.  Granted Canada can simply leave and the war will go on without us, but this can be also seen as taking action which will help our allies leave quicker and leave Afghanistan a more secure place.

Additionally, I would like Canada to do a few other things (while acknowledging that a combat role is simply politically impossible). Firstly, the training mission should be coupled with development aid. An ideal mission would see Canadian trained Afghan troops providing security for NGOs and other to engage in actual development outside of Kabul. One of the largest problems in the war has been that so much of the development and work by many nations in the missions are all essentially in Kabul. As Canada would join precisely these ranks, it must try hard to push its influence and benefits into the rest of Afghanistan.

Secondly, Canada should take a more active diplomatic role advocating for strategies and goals in Afghanistan more along the lines I have detailed previously. For much of the war, Canada has taken a stance of active deference to the largely failed policies of the US both in Canada's combat role and in the diplomatic circles. Canada's role will obviously be greatly reduced, and with that its influence, however a loud, dissident voice advocating for what is best could still do good. I doubt this is a remotely feasible political reality, sadly.

There are two major arguments against continuing that I find compelling, but not sufficiently so. The first is that by doing so it de facto accepts the failed direction of the US and their allies in Afghanistan. This is undoubtably true, however I would suggest that doing nothing for the claimed reason of not wanting to pay the costs is also doing this.  We should act in what small ways we can to slightly alter the direction and where we can't do this, we can still do good within this direction. Yet, if the world always simply goes unquestionably along with US policies, there is no force in opposition and noninvolvement may well be the loudest message possible for a country like Canada. But we would have to say this is the reason we are not involving ourselves, if this were indeed a goal.

Secondly, there may well be better uses of troops, money and possibly even lives elsewhere. Under the liberal interventionist framework, action is explicitly Canadian charity for Afghan benefit. Perhaps the alternative engagement I suggested of the Congo would be a better use. Perhaps the money spent entirely on development aid would be superior. Or on aid to Haiti. Such an analysis to find the best use or charity should happen, despite it being undoubtably difficult. That said we should not defer actions altogether because we have not yet ascertained the best cause. Afghanistan is surely a morally worthy cause in and of itself, and for other options that are good as well I hope we can do our best to support those as well.

Continuing in a noncombat training role in Canada will have costs and Canada had certainly already paid dearly in Afghanistan. However, Canada has the legitimate capacity make a positive difference in the lives of Afghans and to move the war towards a peaceful conclusion. We have a moral obligation in this case to participate.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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