Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Stop the Double Talk on Afghanistan

Government needs to make up its mind on Afghanistan, then tell the Canadian people

If one were to believe the election-time and immediate post-election talk of the governing Conservative party, Canada will be withdrawing troops from Afghanistan.

If one were to believe the party, not even the election of the pro-Afghan war Barack Obama as American president won't change that.

Yet in the immediate wake of a conference between the defense ministers of NATO countries engaged in Afghanistan, Peter MacKay seems to be humming a distinctly different tune on the conflict.

"There are many ways in which we can make contributions beyond 2011," MacKay recently mused. "What we've said is the current combat mission, the current configuration, will end in 2011. That's a firm date, confirmed by Parliament and respectful of Parliament."

Which would actually be the right decision. With Canadian aid agencies expected to remain active in Afghanistan after 2011, a Canadian military presence is Afghanistan to ensure their safety and security is nothing more than the responsible thing to do -- and nothing less would be acceptable.

But Canadians have a right now what these "many ways in which [Canada] can make contributions" are.

MacKay is also looking toward other initiatives as alternatives to the combat mission in Khandahar. "After 2011, I suspect, and I don't want to speculate, there's always going to be a call for Canada to participate where we're needed, when we're needed," MacKay suggested. "We've never shied away from that. We've always stepped up."

Which is all well and good -- but Canadians also have a right to know what other missions the government is considering. Whether it involves an aggressive peacemaking/peacekeeping mission such as that required in Darfur or more Chretien-era "mission diplomacy", Canadians have the right to know.

Under normal circumstances, there would be very little cause for concern. Under most circumstances the Canadian government has chosen its foreign engagements very responsibly -- the lack of an intervention during the Rwandan genocide being a particular exception.

With the government seemingly wavering on the Afghanistan mission -- wavering between an irresponsible disengagement and a responsible reengagement -- many Canadians may be forgiven for suspecting that there is more afoot than simply double talk on the Afghan war -- and they have the right to know what that is.

Peter MacKay and the government needs to come clean.

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