Monday, March 02, 2009

Can We Win in Afghanistan?

It's seems like only a few years ago (March 6, 2006) when Prime Minister Stephen Harper said this ...
A debate on whether Canadian troops should be in Afghanistan would put the troops in danger, and any attempt to pull them back would be a betrayal, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

Harper, speaking after a cabinet meeting on Tuesday, stressed that the previous Liberal government committed the troops to their Afghan mission, which has proved deadly in recent weeks, and that the Conservatives will honour the commitment.

"I'm saying that Canadians don't cut and run at the first sign of trouble," he told reporters. "That's the nature of this country, and when we send troops into the field, I expect Canadians to support those troops." He repeatedly rejected the idea of a debate and said his government will not make decisions based on opinion polls.

"I understand the frustrations," he said. "Perhaps the previous government should have had a vote on the deployment, but that was not their decision. The decision was taken and we can't change our opinion when the troops are in danger."

He did not say why a debate in Canada would put soldiers at risk in Afghanistan, but he stressed it is "a very dangerous mission. "It's not the intention of this government to question the particular commitment when our troops are in danger," he said. "Such a debate or such a lack of strength by any of the political parties in Canada will merely weaken the resolve of our troops and will even put our troops in even more danger."
At the time, the issue was all about "supporting the troops." The danger, according to Harper, was in raising the possibility that our soldiers might have died in vain. That's unacceptable to many Canadians. Unacceptable, perhaps, but is it true?

Here's what Prime Minister Stephen Harper said yesterday, according to The Canadian Press [Western forces alone can't beat Afghan insurgents: Harper].
Western forces alone can never defeat the Taliban insurgency in Afghanistan and President Barack Obama better realize that in shaping his strategy there, says Prime Minister Stephen Harper.

In an interview aired Sunday on the U.S. cable news network CNN, Harper said he's "delighted" the president is sending more troops to the country in the short term.

Many of them will be deployed in the Kandahar region, where more than 2,000 Canadian soldiers already on the ground can use the help.

But in the longer run, said Harper, it's the government in Kabul that will have to run its own country and be responsible for its own security.

"We're not going to win this war just by staying," he told interviewer Fareed Zakaria.

"Quite frankly, we are not going to ever defeat the insurgency. Afghanistan has probably had - my reading of Afghanistan history (is) it's probably had an insurgency forever of some kind."

"What has to happen in Afghanistan is we have to have an Afghan government that is capable of managing that insurgency."

Asked if the current administration of President Hamid Karzai has the legitimacy to do that, Harper replied: "There is no doubt that governance in Afghanistan has to improve, and has to improve, and has to improve, much more quickly than we've seen."

Harper has repeatedly stated he's sticking to a commitment to pull Canadian combat forces out of Afghanistan by the end of 2011, although Canada would likely maintain a more limited presence focusing on development and reconstruction.

Obama said on his recent visit to Ottawa he didn't press the prime minister to change his mind. But if the U.S. leader did ask him to stay, Harper said Sunday, he'd want to know more about the long-term goals and the ultimate end date for the mission.

"Over the long haul, if President Obama wants anybody to do more, I would ask very hard questions about what is your strategy for success and for an eventual departure."

The comments are not a radical departure from Harper's past observations but he has rarely been so blunt in assessing the situation.
It's true that right now Canada is committed to withdrawal in 2011, so, in that sense, these comments don't represent a shift in policy.

However, Harper's current "bluntness" does make some of his earlier comments look hypocritical. If he really knew his history, as he now claims, then he has known all along that foreign troops can't impose an unpopular government on the people of Afghanistan. In other words, he knew that Canadian troops would die in a hopeless cause.

And why is Harper "delighted" that more US soldiers are about to die in Afghanistan in the same hopeless cause?

Now we need to hear from Michael Ignatieff, the leader of the Liberal Party. Can he be as honest with the Canadian people as Harper was yesterday? I hope he can.

[Thanks to The Galloping Beaver and Canadian Cynic]

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