Should we stay, or should we go now?

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On the heels of the Manley report released Mon., Jan. 21, many Canadians have begun to debate what the future of Canada's involvement in the war in Afghanistan ought to be. The report--which recommends pulling out by Feb. 2009 if NATO cannot commit an additional 1,000 troops to the Canadian occupied region of southern Afghanistan--has angered many families of Canadian soldiers killed in action. The common sentiment among the bereaved is that their family members will have died in vain if Canada gives up on its 6-year-old mission.

Instead, families would have Canadians remain involved in a war Canada has no vested interest in winning, merely as a means of justifying the deaths of their loved ones. It seems rather ridiculous to keep sending more troops to their deaths and more wasted tax dollars just so that the families of the 77 dead Canadian soldiers can feel a sense of justification. Of the 77 fatalities, 69 occurred since 2006, indicating an obvious growing trend of Canadians dying in Afghanistan.

If anything is being trivialized in the conflict, it certainly isn't the lives of fallen Canadian soldiers. Countless Afghani civilians have been killed in the conflict and that number will continue to pile up as the war goes on. So why are the deaths of 77 Canadians more relevant? Rather than go into accusations of the obvious bigotry in making the claim a Canadian life is somehow more valuable than that of a non-Canadian, I'll move on.

Some favour remaining in Afghanistan for political reasons. How would we be thought of internationally if we stopped getting involved in conflicts? On the international stage, the perception is Canada withdrawing from the U.S.-led occupation would result in a massive backlash.

In 1957, Lester B. Pearson introduced the idea of peacekeeping forces to resolve the Suez Crisis for which he won the Nobel Peace Prize. Nobody stopped to question how Canadians would be looked upon on the international stage, because that would have been absurd. It's rather disconcerting that something so noble as keeping peace can be perverted into something undesirable.

As a result of Pearson's legacy, the Canadian master narrative has held Canada as a peacekeeping nation that uses its military forces to uphold peace around the world. The reality of Canada's role in peacekeeping missions is that as time goes by, Canadians are less and less involved in keeping the peace, but rather become either ineffective like in Rwanda, or merely used as pawns in an American occupation. The government of Canada has a very obvious responsibility to uphold and it isn't to the international community to support another war, but to its own citizens.

Granted, Canada's role in Afghanistan is vaguely mandated to train and help organize an Afghani military that can maintain order on its own, but it's not as though Canadian soldiers can merely ignore the bullets flying by their heads in a combat zone. The fact remains that Canadian troops are functioning in a combat role when they ought to be working in a peacekeeping role.

Prime Minister Stephen Harper hasn't said whether or not he intends to adopt the recommendations of the Manley report yet, but it has given him an excellent opportunity to stall for time on the issue until the NATO summit in Apr. The Liberals are generally in favour of sticking around and the left side of the Canadian political spectrum is unsurprisingly against it. With the NDP and Greens calling for withdrawal and the Conservatives firm on their stance of remaining in Afghanistan, the balance of power ultimately falls to the party that got Canada into the mess in the first place, the Liberals.