Elegy for Afghanistan

At first light, the Leopards from “C” Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadian) fire on a building containing an arms cache and material for the manufacture of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs).  The Combat Team from Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadians) “C” Squadron is giving armoured support to the American forces and is preventing the insurgents from escaping from the village of Mushan toward the East.  (CF photo / Master Corporal Jonathan Johansen, JTF-Afg)

At first light, Leopards from “C” Squadron, Lord Strathcona’s Horse (Royal Canadian) fire on a building containing an arms cache and material for the manufacture of Improvised Explosive Devices (IEDs). “C” Squadron is giving armoured support to American forces and is preventing insurgents from escaping from the village of Mushan toward the East. (CF photo / Master Corporal Jonathan Johansen, JTF-Afg)

When the history of the Afghan war is written, future historians will look back on this time and wonder how the world’s richest and most powerful democracies had such a difficult time countering what is at heart one of the human race’s most unappealing and weak ideologies.

The answer may well be that we saw fit to kill its adherents and drive them from the field, but made few attempts to win converts to our own cause and ideology—both at home and abroad.  Indeed the failure of NATO governments to make any concerted effort at generating popular support will be rightly seen as an epic blunder; a treasonous double-cross of the men we have sent to fight.

Now it appears that our sympathy and efforts there have peaked, and from this point forward they will decline.  Reporting from Afghanistan, Michael Yon paints a bleak but insightful picture of the country’s unpleasant situation.  I have abridged it significantly, but please read the whole thing:

We are losing popular support. Confidence in the Afghan and coalition governments is plummeting. Loss of human terrain is evident. Conditions are building for an avalanche. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal, the military commander in Afghanistan, and Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates are aware of the rumbling, and so today we are bound by rules of engagement that appear insensible.

…Enemies are strengthening. Attacks are dramatically increasing in frequency and efficacy. We are being out-governed by tribes and historical social structures. These structures are – and will be for the foreseeable future – the most powerful influence upon and within the political terrain. “Democracy” does not grow on land where most people don’t vote. The most remarkable item I saw during the Aug. 20 elections was the machine-gun ambush we walked into.

The coalition is weakening. While the U.S. has gotten serious, the organism called NATO is a jellyfish for which the United States is both sea and prevailing wind. The disappointing effort from many partners is best exemplified by the partners who are pushing hardest: The British are fine examples.

The British landed in Helmand province after someone apparently vouched that Helmand would be safe, and they believed it. Helmand is today the most dangerous province in Afghanistan.

…Germans had deployed to one of the safest areas in Afghanistan yet today they are staggered by Taliban punches. Berlin is brittle and apt to quit. Smart money says the Germans crumble from any significant role by 2011.

Canadians will quit in 2011. Canadian soldiers have earned respect, but their NATO-partner government has empowered our enemies by quitting at a crucial moment. This likely will be remembered consciously and subconsciously in future dealings with Ottawa.

Other fine partners, such as the Dutch, who have fought well, plan to downsize right when we need them most. The Dutch need to stay in this fight and increase their efforts. We need them.

The key partner in redirecting Afghanistan should be the Afghan government. Yet Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s corrupt narcocracy is widely disrespected by Afghans and increasingly combative with the coalition. We are pouring support into a government that we don’t want, and many Afghans resent.

…In this unprecedented moment, dozens of the world’s most notable nations have focused on helping one land, yet Western sympathies for Afghanistan already have peaked.

While an Afghan avalanche is poised, our thoughts are growing cold. This is it. Either we will begin to show progress by the end of 2010 or, piece by piece, the coalition will cleave off and drift away, meaning 2011 will begin the end to significant involvement in Afghanistan.

— Yon, Michael.  “The Greatest Afghan War.”  01 October 2009.  [Emphasis mine]

Canadians of course live in a bubble of their own making, a fantasy world where no action or inaction on our part can cause any loss of esteem or respect for the nation elsewhere in the world.  Our national mythology says we ascended into heaven with St. Lester in 1956, and have since been seated at the right hand of the UN, sifting the wheat from the tares.

In reality—outside the bubble of Canadian public opinion—our allies will remember this as the time we insisted on helping, but ducked out before the contest was decided.  Not a proud moment in our history.

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4 Responses
  1. Alan says:

    Funny how I expect the party in Loyal Opposition, the one that began the Afghan mission, will somehow be blamed for Harper’s lack of leadership.

    • Chris Taylor says:

      I don’t see how, to be honest. Chrétien and Martin could be credibly blamed for chronic defence underfunding (and Harper would be guilty of that, too).

      But for a guy that wants Canada to stand tall on the world stage, the PM doesn’t seem to want to commit any real dollars or political capital to that effort. And it is not like the opposition would have had the gumption to shoot him down had he attempted it back in 2006 or 2007.

  2. Alan says:

    Harper has been in charge for four years, has not advocated for or provided for sufficient funding for the right resources. I had a beer with fourth year RMC soon-to-be-grads after our first vintage baseball tourney for charity on campus last May and I got quite heart sick when I realized the tank operator I bought beer for was not what Parliament had in mind when making decisions. Of all the things I am embarrassed over Harper for it is this – rather than actually standing for what they allege they stand for, the Tories are happy to use the military as a symbol or a front.

    • Chris Taylor says:

      The Tories’ defence policy and funding (or lack thereof) has been the great disappointment of this government for me, too. Between the two parties it appears the choice is starvation or neglect.