9/11 anniversary underscores importance of Afghanistan mission
Yesterday, foreign affairs minister Peter MacKay met with Afghanistan’s ambassador to Canada, Omar Samad.
The topic of their conversation was probably unsurprising: 9/11, and it’s continuing implications for the war in Afghanistan.
"Let's not forget that on 9/11, terrorism came to our shores on this continent," MacKay announced. "We have to be vigilant and very responsible in continuing to play a role [in Afghanistan]."
MacKay is absolutely correct to speak about responsibility in regards to Canada’s contributions to Afghanistan.
In 2005, Canada was joined by other nations in agreeing international organizations shared a collective duty to oppressed and endangered peoples – a Responsibility to Protect.
Chief among the creators of this doctrine is former foreign affairs minister Lloyd Axworthy. Although Axworthy’s support for the Afghanistan mission has always been luke warm at best (he supports the rebuilding of Afghanistan, but opposes fighting the Taliban), Axworthy has recognized that Afghanistan stands, along with Rwanda, East Timor, Darfur and countless other examples, as a historical failure of the international community to intervene in situations that demand intervention.
While it is clearly too late to prevent tragedies in Rwanda and East Timor, it isn’t too late to stem the tide of oppression in Afghanistan. Naturally, however, this is merely a foreign affairs bonus. The war in Afghanistan today remains what it always has been – an effort to stem the threat posed by terrorism.
"[Afghanistan] fell into the hands of international terrorists, drug dealers, warlords and al-Qaida," says Samad. "Do we want Afghanistan to revert and once again become a failed state and become a threat not only to its own people, but to the region and to the world at large?"
Certainly not. This 9/11 anniversary should serve as an opportunity to remember that 9/11 could have been prevented if we had moved on our responsibility to protect – to protect Afghans, protect our allies and protect ourselves – before it was too late.
Most important is this: if the leaders of the western world, including Canada, had sooner recognized the threat posed not only by terrorists (it’s only fair to keep in mind that the hunt for Osama Bin Laden began under Bill Clinton, no matter how many dishonest Republicans insist otherwise), but also by the countries that harbour them, 9/11 likely never would have happened.
Although it is also only fair to admit that the overall effect on history likely never would have changed. NATO would still be in Afghanistan in order to prevent terrorist plots from originating in that country (although a key component of the pretext for war in Iraq would have been absent).
Occasionally having to fight in our defence is the price we pay for enjoying the safety and privilege that our society affords us. Giving other societies (like Afghanistan) the opportunity to embrace them (or, admittedly, choose not to) is a responsibility we owe to the rest of the world.
As Canadians continue to debate the divisive Afghanistan question, and continue to define the Afghanistan mission, this is something that must not be forgotten.