With the Great Canadian Debate finally up and running, those participating in Canada's electronic democracy have a powerful new tool to help bridge the ideological divide between so-called left- and right-wingers.
One topic up for debate, in particular, is Canada's participation in Afghanistan. The question asked is simple: "must a person be in favour of the war in Afghanistan to "support our troops"?"
The topic is debated between Red Tory and Let Freedom Reign's Richard Evans.
Evans, for his part, argues that Canadians owe moral support to Canadian troops fighting in Afghanistan so long as they are participating in the mission out of their own free will, and that vehemently protesting their participation in a war they believe in only serves to demoralize them.
Red Tory, on the other hand, insists that supporting the troops and supporting the mission are two different concepts, and to this end, manages a somewhat convincing argument:
"The resolution as I understand it is essentially premised on the notion held by some that one cannot "support the troops" if one doesn't support the mission in which they are engaged, or put conversely, that one must support the mission in order to support the troops. In other words, the two concepts are inextricably conjoined for all intents and purposes, making one implicitly dependent on the other. I would argue that need not be the case by any means, and indeed that the two concepts are quite mutually independent of one another and, furthermore, that they can be maintained simultaneously with equanimity (that is to say, an absence of so-called "cognitive dissonance" that some might feel to be unavoidable with such an apparently conflicting proposition). It should be noted that in this case the mission in question is the engagement of Canadian forces in Afghanistan, but the nature of the mission itself is actually quite irrelevant and beside the point for the sake of our purposes here (it could be conquering the moon for all the difference it makes) and therefore its relative merits wont be addressed in my argument."He's also right when he forecasts that Afghanistan (the actual topic of debate) won't be addressed in his argument, or at least will barely be addressed.
But Red Tory is right when he suggests that one can support soldiers without necessarily supporting their mission. One suggests personal support for them, and a desire to see them come home safely. The other believes that the mission itself is right. Support of the troops without support of the mission recognizes that the soldiers participating in the mission are merely following their duty, and that their personal consent and support is not even necessary.
So, when Red Tory insists that one can support troops without supporting the mission they're participating in, he's right in the most basic way.
But unfortunately, the real world never seems to be basic. Living in the real world comes with all sorts of unfortunate layers of complexity, where most important issues never really become black-and-white issues, but more cliched shades of grey.
So of course, Red Tory is right when he insists that the concepts of supporting the troops and supporting the mission aren't inextricably linked. He's just wrong when he suggests that one can support the troops in Afghanistan without supporting their mission.
In fact, Red Tory's argument really has little or nothing to say about Afghanistan, aside from noting that the debate topic is Afghanistan. What he really wants to talk about is Iraq:
"I would draw your attention to thousands of immediate and extended families who belong to organizations such as Military Families Speak Out. Whether you agree or disagree with the rationale of these people who strongly oppose the war (in Iraq for the most part in the case of MFSO), their passionate and heartfelt support for the troops is beyond doubt. To me, this is pretty much QED for this whole argument. It's quite evident from this example alone that one can be deeply opposed to the mission, and yet still be tremendously supportive of the troops themselves."So, it seems, Red Tory's argument is that because the families of military personell serving in Iraq support their family members without supporting their mission, then objectors to Canada's involvement in Afghanistan can do the same.
At it's simplest level, this seems true. Then comes another one of those unfortunate layers of complexity, washing that simplicity away.
The fact is that the families of Canadian soldiers have been supportive of the war in Afghanistan. Consider the case of Jim Davis, father of Corporal Paul Davis, one of Canada's Afghanistan casualties. Mr Davis is perhaps the worst nightmare of Liberal partisans who want to politicize the war in Afghanistan: he's a Liberal supporter who disagrees with Dion's take on Afghanistan.
When addressed by Davis, Dion turned immediately to partisan politics and, predictably, to Iraq. "It's only the prime minister who made it an issue, who said if you don't support the mission my way you don't support the troops," Dion insisted. "This is what President Bush did in the United States about Iraq, that same approach, and this is wrong."
Davis later remarked Dion is "the right man to be prime minister," but promised to continue to pressure him to change his stance on Afghanistan.
This is similar to how the Vandoos have become the Quebec peace movement's worst nightmare, forcing groups like Guerre a la Guerre to claim they support the troops even as they rally in opposition to them. In the end, the claim that they are supporting the troops falls flat.
But more from Red Tory:
"Another example in this regard is the case of Corporal Pat Tillman, who was killed under mysterious circumstances while serving in Afghanistan. It’s well known that Tillman was "totally against Bush" and was highly critical of the Iraq war, reportedly saying, "You know, this war is so fucking illegal." According to his mother Mary Tillman, a friend of Pat's even arranged for him a meeting with Noam Chomsky, an outspoken critic of the war, to take place after his return from Afghanistan - a meeting prevented by his death. Unless one is prepared to suggest that Tillman didn't support his fellow servicemen serving in Iraq, then it must be accepted that his support of the troops was quite independent of his opposition to the mission there."Once again, Red Tory doesn't really want to talk about Afghanistan. He wants to talk about Iraq, to the point where he's willing to cite the words of an American criticizing the Iraq war -- a different conflict, being fought under a different situation and under different pretences -- while he just happens to serve in Afghanistan, even if he never really mentions Afghanistan. Anything to try to merge the two wars.
Ironically, it is the opposition of so many American servicemen and women to the war in Iraq that allows American objectors to support the troops without supporting the mission. Yet in Canada, this opposition simply doesn't exist amongst those who would be fighthing this war. To date one, single, solitary individual (Francisco Juarez) has refused deployment to Afghanistan.
For the record, Juarez was fined $500 and discharged -- a far cry from the jail time faced by Americans who refuse to report for duty.
In his most peculiar example of sophistry, Red Tory cites the comments made by Bob Taylor:
"let me use the example of Bob Taylor, a Canadian Forces veteran of WWII, who according to a CBC news report on war dissenters in New Brunswick said he completely supports the troops. However, as a former soldier, he said he believes that Canada's proudest moments are when troops work with the United Nations to keep peace, not fight battles under a military group like NATO. "We're fighting for the wrong master," Taylor said as soldiers were being sent from Canadian Forces Base Gagetown. "We're fighting for NATO. We should be under the United Nations completely." "Perhaps it escaped Red Tory's attention that Taylor's comments are remarkably void of any commentary on the mission itself, but merely constitute a criticism of how the mission is being handled. Which, although not necessarily opposition to the mission itself is actually a valid way to criticize the mission without criticizing those who believe in it.
Yet the most illustrative point of Red Tory's argument is its overwhelming reliance on Iraq. The unjustified war in Iraq is, without a doubt, the issue that has poisoned the public opinion environment against the justified war in Afghanistan. So while trying to equate Afghanistan with Iraq as closely as possible is sophistic at best and dishonest at worst, at least it's a wise and reliable tactic.
It really does seem that Canada's peace movement believes they can misrepresent, patronize and dissemble their way to victory. Those who support the war understand that there is really only one victory, and that is when Canadian troops are able to leave a stable Afghanistan, with the ability to govern itself according to the will of its people, behind them.
On this note, one has to note that, on some perverse level, opposition to the mission does seem to hope for the mission to fail, and sometimes even expresses a lack of faith in the troops' ability to successfully achieve their mission goals.
That isn't supporting the troops. In fact, it's the exact opposite.
In the case of Afghanistan (again, the actual topic of debate), supporting the troops really does entail supporting the mission they so passionately believe in. To do otherwise is to suggest that someone else is a better judge of what causes they should be allowed to risk their lives for.
Supporting the troops necessitiates respecting their right to support the mission. Thus, on a key philosophical point, support for the troops must entail support of this mission.