Sunday, April 13, 2008

A Backward Way to Prosecute a War

Benchmarks needed before a withdrawal date set, not after

Canada's role in Afghanistan is important.

It's important to our country's national security -- preventing a regime known for harboring terrorists from returning to power. It's important to internationalism -- proving that organizations like NATO can still work. It's important to the Afghan people -- bring them an opportunity to truly embrace the freedoms offered by a democratic government.

As such, Canada's role in the Afghanistan war is worth doing. But anything worth doing is worth doing right.

During his current visit to Afghanistan, Foreign Affairs Minister Maxime Bernier stressed the importance of setting benchmarks for what we expect Canadian troops serving in Afghanistan to accomplish before the mission can be considered to be a success.

"We have to go back in Canada and will have a discussion about the future of our mission, so we will have to set benchmarks on the training of the ANA, the training of the ANP," Bernier said. "It was important to have a meeting with the general and other officials to understand pretty well what is the challenges that we face concerning the training of the national army and the national police."

And he's right. It is important to understand the challenges Canada faces in Afghanistan and also to understand how we will meet them.

But that was even more important before the establishment of a withdrawal date, not after.

What seems to be at play in this situation is a fundamental misunderstanding of how a country can be successful in a mission like Afghanistan.

Leaving Afghanistan before Canada's mission there is accomplished is a recipe for disaster. The Taliban returning to Afghanistan would certainly not be the passive-aggressive Taliban of pre-2001, content to merely harbor terrorists like Osama Bin Laden within its borders. Upon reclaiming power in Kabul, the Taliban could be expected to become even more aggressive, likely supporting terrorism much more directly than before.

But accomplishing the mission means meeting the goals. So one clearly can't set a withdrawl date before one fully understands what these goals are, and what needs to be done in order to accomplish them.

In, frankly, going too far to accommodate Liberal inconsistency Maxime Bernier and the Conservative party have succeeded in making Barack Obama's Iraq dilemma our own Afghanistan dilemma.

In order to meet the artificial goal of Canadian withdrawal by 2011, we run the very real risk of not meeting the goals that will make peaceful withdrawal possible in the first place.

In particular, Afghanistan remains 20,000 soldiers short of the target of 80,000 troops by 2011.

That's an awfully big gap to have to close.

The successes in Afghanistan -- whether opponents to the war want to acknowledge them or not -- to date remind us that the war in Afghanistan can be won. But setting timetables for withdrawal that will make it more difficult to achieve our goals isn't doing anyone -- the troops who actually have to worry about achieving those goals -- any favours.

If Maxime Bernier and the Conservatives really wanted to make it possible for Canada to withdraw from Afghanistan by 2011 they would have decided what the goals would be before setting that date.

To do otherwise -- as they have -- is a backward way to prosecute a war.

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