Sunday, February 17, 2008

Dogfight at the OK Corrall

It’s a mess. About 80 people were killed by a suicide bomb in Kandahar while watching a dogfight. What do we make of this?

The Taliban, nominally “The Enemy”, outlawed dog fighting, along with opium production, and there are presumably few “right thinking” western democrats who would argue against bans on opium growing or dog fighting. Nevertheless, we find ourselves on the side of normal Afghan citizens who apparently enjoy dogfights to the death. We could of course bring back bear-baiting, and gladiatorial combat, all conducted at dog fighting pits located next to the drive-throughs at the many Tim Hortons franchises that will spring up with enlightenment and the education of girls in Afghanistan, under the benign influence of NATO.

But it is a little awkward. There are of course the incomprehensible conclusions of the Manley Report:

“Canadians have carried a heavy burden in Afghanistan. The toll in Canadian lives has been grievous, and it is painfully felt. The financial cost has been significant. The course of the conflict has caused us all to question whether Canada’s involvement has been right or effective, and whether it will succeed.

The Panel’s Report and Recommendations present our best answers to those hard questions. Taken together, the Recommendations would establish a Canadian strategy that integrates military, diplomatic and development actions for a more coherent, effective engagement in Afghanistan. We have recommended that some of these actions be contingent on timely actions by other governments, and on measurable progress in Afghanistan itself. For best effect, all three components of the strategy—military, diplomatic and development—need to reinforce each other.

"The importance of Canada’s engagement in Afghanistan has earned Canadians considerable influence among the countries cooperating in Afghanistan’s progress. Helping to build a more stable, better governed Afghanistan with a growing economy is, we believe, an achievable Canadian objective. But success is not a certainty. The war in Afghanistan is complicated. The future there is dangerous and can frustrate the most confident plan or prediction.
After our three months of study, however, it is our conviction that the Recommendations in our Report—with their attached conditions—together carry a reasonable probability of success. In the circumstances now prevailing, that is the strongest assurance that can be credibly given.

“The Panel is convinced that Canadian objectives in Afghanistan are both honourable and achievable. The aim there is not to create some fanciful model of prosperous democracy. Canadian objectives are more realistic: to contribute, with others, to a better governed, stable and developing Afghanistan whose government can protect the security of the country and its people. This is why we believe that Canada should press diplomatically, at the highest level, for a comprehensive political-military strategy and for more coherent leadership of international commitments to Afghanistan, combined with the strongest possible efforts of Afghan authorities.
A premature military withdrawal from Afghanistan, whether full or partial, would imperil Canadian interests and values. It would diminish the effectiveness of Canadian aid in Afghanistan, by further constraining the ability of Canadian aid workers to move among Afghans. It could encourage insurgents. It could weaken the confidence of some Afghans living in Kandahar in their own future and in their own government, increasing their susceptibility to the Taliban insurgency. It would undermine Canada’s influence in the UN and in NATO capitals, including Washington. It could curtail Canada’s capacity (and raise questions abroad about our future willingness) to act, and persuade others to act, in enforcing peace and restoring security where peace and security are threatened. In sum, an immediate military withdrawal from Afghanistan would cause more harm than good. Even an ill-prepared partial withdrawal would risk undercutting international confidence in Canadian commitments and impose new burdens on others obliged to take our place in Kandahar.

"Canadians are not (as the Panel was reminded by an acknowledged expert in Afghan affairs) obliged to do the impossible. But to view the Canadian mission in Afghanistan as impossible is a belief the Panel does not share. Indeed, to withdraw now would make futility certain, and failure inescapable. Neither do we accept any parallel between the Afghanistan mission and the U.S.-led war in Iraq. To confuse the two is to overlook the authority of the UN, the collective decisions of NATO and the legitimacy of the Afghan government that has sought Canada’s engagement. What is evident is that the commitment to Afghanistan made by successive Canadian Governments has not yet been completed. “

Bring on the dogs!