Saturday, February 17, 2007

fated to remain in Afghanistan with Bush, unless we speak up

U.S. move means Canada stuck in Afghanistan
We have no excuse after Bush commits more troops to war

Feb 17, 2007 / TheTorontoSun / Thomas Walkom

George W. Bush has breathed new life into the Afghan war. With his decision to send 3,500 more U.S. troops to that country, he has also made it more difficult for Canada to get out.

This is the real significance of the U.S. president's speech on Thursday. Bush also forgot to mention Canada when going through a list of nations contributing troops to the conflict. But that's irrelevant.

What's important is that the Americans are turning their attention back to Afghanistan.

That wasn't the original plan. A little over a year ago, U.S. commanders spoke of drawing down their troop strength there from what was then about 21,000 soldiers.

The idea at that time was that America would hand off Afghanistan to allies like Canada in order to focus on Iraq. To that end, the U.S. put the bulk of its troops in Afghanistan under NATO command.

But that was before the last congressional elections, when Bush still thought he had a free hand in Iraq. It was also when he thought he could still pacify that chaotic country.

Now, with Democrats controlling the U.S. Congress, Republican Bush is no longer free to do whatever he wants. What's also become clear is that he cannot succeed in Iraq.

All political leaders seek legacies. So far, that of George W. Bush does not look stellar. He risks being remembered as the first U.S. president to lose a war he deliberately started.

For a man who styles himself a wartime president, this must be difficult to bear. How could someone who revels in the title of commander-in-chief leave office without winning at least one war, somewhere?

For a while, it looked like Iran would provide that war. Hence, Washington backed Israel's invasion of Lebanon last summer, in the hope that Tel Aviv could neutralize Iran's Hezbollah allies there.

The Israelis botched that task, but Bush remained fixated on Iran. He tried the old weapons of mass destruction gambit, arguing that Iran's attempts to develop nuclear capability made it a world threat.

In the end, not even the Europeans bought that story.

Then, Washington accused Iran of targeting U.S. troops in Iraq. That culminated in a bizarre but unconvincing show-and-tell in Baghdad this week, where anonymous U.S. officials attempted to prove, from serial numbers on bomb fragments, that Iran was evil.

That didn't go anywhere either. Even Americans were skeptical.

Bush's remarkable U-turn on North Korea can be also explained in terms of his desire to clear the decks before embarking on another war. After years of insisting that America wouldn't bribe North Korea to give up its nuclear weaponry, the U.S. president this week suddenly decided to do just that.

The North Korean turnaround offended some of the president's more conservative partisans. They missed the point. By neutralizing North Korea, Bush ensured that he could better focus American military attention elsewhere.

But where? Was Bush really serious about taking on Iran? Or could he find a war somewhere else that was easier.

His speech on Thursday suggests the latter. Bush, it seems, has rediscovered Afghanistan. His Democratic opponents routinely hector him for not putting enough troops into that country. Now, he is taking their advice.

Conventional wisdom suggests that this is good news for the Canadian and other NATO forces already fighting there. The theory goes that if America finally puts all of its muscle into Afghanistan, the Taliban insurgents will surely be defeated.

In fact, this may not be true. The old Soviet Union adhered to the same theory when it invaded Afghanistan in force in 1979 to bolster a client government which – like that of current President Hamid Karzai – was trying to modernize the country, battle obscurantist insurgents and improve the lot of women. History will show that the Soviets lost.

History also suggests that an American public sick of having their soldiers killed in one far-off foreign country will not necessarily welcome more military deaths in another.

But all of this is for the future. The story now is that the Americans are coming.

Before Bush's speech, even the hawks in Canada had a plausible excuse for withdrawing from Afghanistan. As a Senate committee report put it this week, if other allies aren't willing to ante up more troops, why should Canadians continue to die there?

Now, our biggest ally has stepped up. So, we have no excuse.

Unless Canadians are prepared to rethink the whole rationale of this war, we are fated to remain.