Why is no one talking about Afghanistan?

By Gauntlet Editorial Board

When the Bush administration needs to discredit opponents and dissenters, the tactics they employ are simple and effective: reduce the dialogue to absolutes, set the alternate viewpoint up as a strawman on the extreme opposite end of the issue, and attack it accordingly. Witness such brilliant assertions of reasoning as “If you’re not with us, you’re against us,” and that old-time favourite “If you don’t support the troops, then the terrorists have already won.”

Okay, maybe that last one isn’t entirely real, but the point remains. By eschewing debate for dumb absolutes, the U.S. government weakens political discourse and undermines the corny, yet very real foundations of democracy. It should scare the hell out of all of us to see Stephen Harper’s fledgling government mimicking our neighbours to the south.

Unfortunately, that’s exactly what our new leader is doing over the issue of our nearly 2,200 troops now deployed in Afghanistan. Harper has said recently that Canada’s deployment is not up for debate, under the pretense that bringing the conversation to Parliament will undermine troop morale. In a speech to the troops during his recent trip to Afghanistan, Harper argued that to “cut-and-run” is not the Canadian way. It appears the Prime Minister has been taking notes from Bush and Co.

Calling for a debate about the nature and extent of our commitment does not equal calling for immediate withdrawal, and saying that merely discussing the issue will weaken the resolve of our force is a discredit to the strength of that resolve. Given the long-term nature of a successful commitment to the troubled country, both Canadian citizens and our armed forces should be taking a long look at what we’re doing there.

The current mission wraps up in a little less than a year, but experts tend to agree it will take at least a decade for Afghanistan to stabilize enough to withdraw foreign troops. This poses a number of troubling questions for an electorate that should be paying attention.

What are we going to do in a year? Will we be able to debate the issue then? Are we committed enough to the Afghanis to stay the course? Is our military even capable of a decade-long commitment?

The answer to each of these questions and a number of others is unfortunately the same: we just don’t know. There is no doubt that Afghanistan will need help if it is ever going to stabilize. Right now Canada is leading that help, and we are in a prime position to offer more. Certainly the Afghanis deserve a better future than a resurgence of warlord control, and the current mission is a good first-step towards that future.

The current deployment is two-fold. Ostensibly, we’re there to help with reconstruction–and much to the chagrin of those clinging to the idea that Canada is all about the peacekeeping–we’re there to actively combat the insurgent forces.

If the Conservative government wants to earn and maintain support for a military commitment to Afghanistan that could last well into the 2010’s, Harper would do well to throw out the Bush rulebook and engage Canadians the way we deserve to be engaged. This issue needs to be debated in Parliament.

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