Monday, March 12, 2007

jack on afghanistan

Doing right in Afghanistan
March 12, 2007 Ottawa Sun JORDAN MICHAEL SMITH

In a speech at the University of Quebec at Montreal in late January, NDP Leader Jack Layton talked about the war in Afghanistan.

Layton said the Conservatives have “abandoned Canada’s traditional multilateral and peace-oriented approach in favour of the aggressive unilateralism of George Bush.” And: “Mr. Harper, just like George Bush on Iraq, keeps saying that this war can be won, and that it is going well. It is not going well.”

Now, overlook the illogic in the first statement — that Canada is abandoning multilateralism by acting in leading NATO in Afghanistan while the NDP would be acting multilaterally by deserting NATO in Afghanistan.

The question is, why did Layton mention George Bush twice within minutes? On Feb. 27, a NATO representative and a UN representative testified on Parliament Hill about the need for Canada to stay in Afghanistan.

Does anyone believe that, if he gave the speech now instead of in January, Layton would refer to it as NATO’s war, or the UN’s war? No, Layton needs to link Afghanistan with Bush.

Bush’s fault

Part of this is just anti-Americanism. This is what forms the NDP’s call for an “independent” foreign policy, wherein doing something different than America is good, regardless of its actual benefits to Canada.

But to a larger extent, Layton is exploiting a misconception within part of the Canadian public. Canadians see Afghanistan through the prism of Iraq. And since Bush screwed up one, the thinking goes, he’ll screw up the other.

Much of this is Bush’s fault. He is a terrible president and his image matches his performance. It is only natural that Canadians see one botched, unnecessary war and conflate it with another war we’re in.

But Afghanistan and Iraq are different wars. We are in Afghanistan for one reason: To prevent another 9/11, and to capture or kill those who executed 9/11.

We are succeeding in the first task and having mixed results in the second. The best way to prevent al-Qaida types from setting up another base in Afghanistan is to rebuild it with a government other than the Taliban. This is a much more difficult job than killing and chasing terrorists, and we are not doing so well at it.

But it is folly to conclude that difficulty means defeat. WWI, WWII and the Cold War involved periods in which we were losing, or appeared to be losing. In those cases, we re-examined our tactics, adjusted and emerged victorious.

This is what we must do in Afghanistan — adjust. Most analysts believe NATO has been relying on too much force. But the way to adjust is not to abandon the effort.

In Afghanistan, Canada is acting multilaterally. After 9/11, NATO, for the first time, invoked Section V of its charter; the clause declared that an attack on one member is an attack on all.

Canada had to go in. That’s what an alliance is. Unless one advocates pulling out of NATO, which the NDP isn’t brave enough (or stupid enough) to do.

Unlike in Iraq, in Afghanistan, we are fighting with the support of the people. Regional experts like Ahmed Rashid confirm this. A world public opinion poll found that 82% of Afghans believed the military overthrow of the Taliban was a good thing.

Afghanistan is different than Iraq. This war is both just and necessary. Some things are true even if George Bush says so.