Sunday, June 10, 2007

The end in Afghanistan

Its time to bring our forces home. Afghanistan is no longer even remotely winnable and will only serve to waste the lives of our soldiers. I support our troops and I don't think support the troops by leaving them in an un-winnable situation to be needlessly killed and maimed. So I want them home.

I have not always had this position, of course. Six months ago I was a pariah, I felt, in my own party at the time. I supported the war in Afghanistan, because I honestly thought that Canadian troops could make a real difference. We did things differently, I thought, and this would be to our benefit.

In the past 6 months, it has become clear, however, that we are not doing what we do best and are now in circumstances that prevent us - or nearly anyone else - from being able to win:

1. We are no longer do reconstruction and helping the Afghan people. $9 of every $10 we spend over there are on combat, not on reconstruction. Even then, we are alienating our allies in the Afghan police, refusing to help them, forcing untrained recruits to take the brunt of the fighting.

2. Pakistan is now making peace in the tribal regions, allowing those fighters to be "freed up" to fight against us. Without the cooperation of Pakistan (who created the Taliban in the first place), we are merely assuming the position that was assumed by the Russians and British before us.

3. We are now complicit in the torture and disappearance of detainees, despite the best efforts of our troops on the ground to prevent it. To Afghan eyes, this makes us occupiers, not helpers.

4. The war is no longer about helping the Afghans, or finding Osama bin Laden. We are making the classic mistakes the Russians made 20 years ago - sending in tanks to fight insurgents (unless you buy that the tanks are there for another reasons). Politically, things like "Red Friday's" have morphed from being non-partisan events to show the soldiers we support them, to Nuremberg-style rallies that unflinchingly support the Conservative government's policy. I now make it a point to NOT wear red on Friday for this very reason.

5. We are playing into the hands of the Taliban. "We can't have reconstruction without security and we can't have security without the kind of combat we are doing" say the Conservative Party apologists and war cheer leaders. But if the Taliban wanted to stop reconstruction and wanted to make the Canadians troops appear to be the heavy-handed bad guys, they have succeeded. They can use car bombs and other IED to cause us to focus our money and effort on combat, rather than what we had intended - Provincial Reconstruction. and since we spend 90% of our money in Afghanistan on combat, its working. So long as schools don't get built, so long as civilians get shot, so long as we are complicit in the torture of detainees, the Taliban strategy is working. And Stephen Harper, Gordon O'connor and Gen. Hillier want us to continue and do it more.

None of this should be construed as saying anything against our troops. They are doing their job well, as best they can, in the circumstances they find themselves. They are acting with courage and determination and every one of them should be personally thanked. But that they do what they do well does not mean they should be doing it in Afghanistan. This is no longer a peacekeeping, peacemaking operation. Our troops are probably in violation of the Geneva Conventions and complicit in war crimes, not because of their actions, but because of the policy of this government and the previous government.

Our troops are now in an impossible situation - fighting a war they cannot win, being forced into illegal, criminal acts by policy rather than action and are supporting a government that is more and more appearing only marginally better than the Taliban. I am at a loss to understand how keeping our soldiers in this situation to be killed and maimed, or deciding to make it worse by expanding the time commitment and role, is in any way "supporting the troops".

And now a word of warning:

First person who says I don't support our troops, or somehow support the Taliban because of this get a punch in the fucking throat. Or worse if I ever meet them in the real work.

My brother is a 16 year vet of the Canadian Forces. He is a Warrant Officer who trains a good many of the troops from the reserves that are going over. The CF is looking at him to go over now too, despite meaning they will have no one to do the armored and infantry training he does. My brother is married with a little boy.

If I am going to lose my brother, if my nephew is to lose his father, if my kids are to lose their uncle in service to Canada, then it is up to us and our government that he will not die or be horribly wounded in vain. It is up to them, and us, to ensure that when we ask our troops to go somewhere and conduct operations that may require them to give their lives, that we do so for good reasons, to help those that want and can be helped and do not place our forces into situations where they could become war criminals.

The Afghanistan mission is not that mission. It is a quagmire that will chew up our soldiers, for no other reason than to look tough in a 'war on terror'. Sorry, but that is not worth the life of my brother, or any other Canadian citizen.

I cannot support this mission, as it exists right now.

Bring the troops home.

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At 2:27 PM, Blogger JimBobby said...

Whooee! I always figger it takes a big man to admit he was wrong. Polyticians is mostly puny-weakling-bullies so they never ever admit they were wrong. I been against the fiasco from day one and I welcome you over to the sensible side, Mike.

Yer 5 reasons are rational. There's another reason, too. We are propping up and enabling a warlord-ruled narco-state. Karzai's regime ain't worth fightin' for an' it sure as hell ain't worth dyin' for. Never was.


At 3:40 PM, Blogger Real_PHV_Mentarch said...

Glad that you have seen the light.


At 9:32 PM, Blogger leftdog said...

You are an asset to the progressive political community. You always were.

At 11:15 AM, Blogger Andrew said...

And what of the Afghanis that we will abandon if we pull out? Do you think that they can deal with this situation better than we can? You left out any assessment of the void we would leave, and the consequences of a pull-out (except in terms of Canadian lives saved) in your analysis.

At 12:30 PM, Blogger Mike said...


So we should leave our troops there to die in an unwinnable cause? I have wrestled with this for some time now and trust me it wasn't an easy decision. What would happen if Canada pulled out? They are already losing face to the Afghan people, they have already abandoned the bulk of the fighting to poorly trained Afghan police and they already don't do reconstruction.

I'm not sure what would change, and I have yet to hear anything constructive out of government on what to do about the mission that is failing, other than the hackneyed "stay the course" more of the same.

I also think we need a serious debate in this country as to what we should use our armed forces for, if anything, beyond actually defending our country. Right now we appear to be trying to be all things to all people. And while we spend billions fighting ot look tough in Afghanistan, the territorial integrity of Canada is violated daily in the Arctic, by our supposed friends.

Something is very wrong with that.

At 1:01 PM, Blogger Nastyboy said...

mike, why do you hate freedom?;-)

At 3:22 PM, Blogger Mike said...


All part of my nefarious atheist-islamic plot. Don't worry, we like you, you'll be ok.


At 4:08 PM, Blogger Art Hornbie said...

Gee, I coulda sworn I plopped a comment in here hard on the heels of JimBobbie ... guess not.

Anywho, strong post. "Bring the troops home."

At 11:38 AM, Blogger That guy said...

I'm afraid you're right about all of this, Mike. We cannot save the world by sheer willpower as the neocons out there would have us believe.

At 11:13 AM, Blogger KevinG said...

"...from being able to win."

What does "win" mean?

At 12:31 PM, Blogger Mike said...


Normally that means accomplishing the stated goal. I think in this case it was to stabilize Afghanistan and bring some semblance of order.

Or maybe it was to overthrow the Taliban and capture Osama, if I remember 2002 correctly.

Or perhaps it is something else.

I think you see the problem, don't you? Its not really clear what the goal is and what the tests are to know those goals are accomplished. Otherwise our troops are fighting and dying for no really discernable goal and no way to know when we are done anyway...entirely open ended.

There was another war like that that raged when I was a kid. Ironically we seem to be fighting this one just like that one was fought, and that one was lost by the US.

At any rate, I would still say that we cannot accomplish either of the two goals above given the current circumstances.

OT: I have been trying to post a comment over at your site for days and it keeps telling me I'm posting too fast. Could explain why your last three posts have no comments.

At 3:13 AM, Blogger KevinG said...


Do you have a reference for the 9 out of 10 spent on combat stat?

The lack of universal agreement on the mission can also be used to support the view that it is 'working'. I could, for example, argue that objective is to assist the state in moving towards implementing and sustaining democratic institutions while improving the human rights records. In this case, the mission is proceeding well in difficult circumstance.

If, as you suggest, 90% of our effort is now spent on combat and that humanitarian and reconstruction efforts are at a standstill I would be very concerned. However, my response would be to rebalance not to withdraw.

OT: Thanks for the heads up re site comments. I think I've got that fixed.

At 11:52 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm sure if we torture some more people they'll come over to our side. After all everybody loves to be tortured.

At 11:35 PM, Blogger ALW said...

I'm sympathetic to your position Mike and I certainly wouldn't accuse you of not supporting the troops, but I share Andrew's concern: will this make things better for Afghanis? Is there nothing we can change in our approach in Afghanistan that would lead to success?

Many times throughout history armies have faced overwhelming odds and yet ultimately won victories. I do not think that the odds are so grave yet that we can abandon a country that we have made committments to.

At 6:39 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I commend you for the frank and copious thought you've put into reaching this conclusion. I'm disturbed at the direction the country's been going in recent years. It's subtle enough that many, perhaps most, people haven't picked up on it, but it's sea change.

My dad was in the RCN for 20 years. In all that time, he never landed anywhere, not even Leningrad, where he was not greeted, if not as an ally, then at least as a friend. Canadians in those days were not hated, were not unwelcome, were not being shot at, blown up, vilified. In those days, we worked with our friends to hold a line, and we followed a code of ethics that kept us out of the kind of imperial adventuring that led to the Suez Crisis and Vietnam. In recent years, we've strayed from those ethics.

With regard to the term “peacekeeping”, we have to be careful to be clear on the use of that word because if we let it become a hollow joke, a euphemism for invasion, then we will lose this very important concept. Peacekeeping is about being mutually invited, as a neutral, by belligerents to place a human barrier between them, making it effectively impossible for them to fight. This is done under the aegis of the United Nations, not NATO; and when either one side or the other withdraws its support and says “go home”, you pack up and go home (as we did when when Nasser sent us home from the Sinai; his reward was the walloping Egypt got in the Six Day War). What we're doing in Afghanistan is not peacekeeping, and it never was. Anyplace you have to wade ashore, guns a-blazing, you are not keeping peace. We were not invited there by anyone (other than the Pentagon); we're clearly being told to “go home,” and yet we remain. We invaded a sovereign nation because the United States was not going to stoop to giving some Third World country due process and present evidence for arrest and indictment, and I was shocked at the time that we would countenance this. But as a nation, we did. Our troops went in to get Osama. Then it was to give the Afghanis democracy, rebuild the country. Now it's about keeping out a regime we don't like, as if it were our country to decide what is and is not a suitable government. Fighting for pride. Fighting for the sake of not giving up. None of this is peacekeeping. No matter how you slice it, no matter how high you nail your intentions on the post, it's still an invasion that kills people, disrupts lives, and spoils a land, and of course we're going to be resented for that. This is different from what we've been doing for the last 50 years. The purposes to which our forces are deployed now are very different, very much darker, than the ones to which my father was deployed.

Thank heavens we came to our senses before we joined in Iraq. But now we need to be honest. We are doing no good. We are doing great harm. Afghanistan must be whatever the Afghanis will make of it, good or bad. It's not our place to hold a land down and force feed it Westernization. If they choose that, even if they have to struggle for it, it must be up to them. If they choose something else, it's not for us to object. It's their country, their society, their nation, their land. Not ours. Our troops must come home: to our country, our society, our nation, our land... where they belong.

At 2:07 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do so many of you insist on leaving the poor people of Afghanistan in the dust. Im pretty sure if we were the people of Afghanistan alot of you would be saying something different. We all sit here on our computers complaing about our troops when clearly they are saving and rebuilding lives. In order to do that they need to take away the powers that have taken away those live in the first place.

And if we let these terrorist forces grow then what? Do you really think that they would stop at the middle east? Now they are hungry for power. Its just like world war 2. First hitler made his armies grow, and attacked many places. Noone did anything. And when hitler decided to attack all the others, it was to late.

Thank god for Britain, or we would all be nazi's right now. This may sound a bit out there, but if we let the terrorist organazations grow, they might come after us, and then well be kicking ourselves for not stopping them.

At 8:14 AM, Blogger Mike said...

Well nice of you to stop by kab, even 7 months late...

1st, get your head out of your ass... no one is "complaining about the troops" jackass. Indeed, it is partly because of the troops I changed from a supporter to an opponent of the mission. They are doing the job they have been asked to the best oth their ability. Unfortunately, they are being asked to do a mission they cannot do given their numbers and equipment. Indeed, 500 000 well equipped Soviet troops couldn't do it, but I digress.

2nd, clearly you did not read my post, becasue you have failed to address any of the arguments I made. That tells me you are an unthinking Harperbot. At least guys like alw, keving and Andrew were trying to counter what I said, not dropping by to spout idiotic rhetoric.

3rd. Afghanistan is not WWII, its more like Vietnam, if you want to use historical analogies. But if you want it to be WWII, don't you think that Canada ought to have more than 2500 troops over there doing nothing more than driving around fighting the Taleban, only to give up the ground a few days later to them and having good soldiers die in the process (oops theres the Viet Nam analogy again!). Shouldn't we be rationing, scrimping for materials and forgoing tax cuts?

You are full of shit. Our presence in Afghanistan and our complicity in the torture and killing of innocent civilians is creating terrorist and not just in Afghanistan - remember the London bombers.

I don't want our troops to die in a useless quagmire. Clearly you do. I support the troops, so I want them out so they don't die needlessly.


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