Friday, October 31, 2014

Afghanistan - Thoughts from the Past


This was my thinking a couple of years ago on the Afghan Challenge, now the west is leaving one wonders what will fill the vacuum. We may be there training (CANADA), but really, how much confidence can we have in the new military. To call the new order in Afghanistan "fledgling" would be optimistic. We have to do better, better than intervening and leaving the job half done, only to have it become undone as it has in Iraq. Please read and judge for yourself whether what was offered here was better than what is happening now.   

Modified Letter to Government.

In my observations of events around Afghanistan and Iraq there has been one single deficiency in the overall approach, that deficiency being a desire to rush to conclusion. While it seems obvious to me, and many others who comment regularly on Afghanistan, that moving a country from a medieval or feudal circumstance to a modern secular state requires thorough planning which contemplates actions spread over decades as opposed to years – the appropriate mission statement “by 2050 the seeds of a modern secular state will have taken root.” To try and plan action around the threats of the United States election cycles is most certainly going to result in painful outcomes rather than in pain for gain; and painful outcomes have been the case in Iraq to a large extent and now a similar possible reality is looming with Afghanistan.

By developing a culture of extended participation within the ranks NATO, other non military participants and the respective supporting electorates of NATO members, the situation may reach a management horizon which is tenable. The forces of oppression resisting progress in Afghanistan believe that if they provide chronic resistance the west will go the way of Russia. The west’s resolve must be demonstrated at every turn, and the message of extended western presence until the country has reached a clearly communicated and predetermined desired state must be loud and clear.

The inclination to simply “add water and stir” resulting in order is sorely evident in what has evolved in Afghanistan to date. Overwhelming military force and underwhelming attention to the long term reality and cultural realities on the ground have contributed to a resurgent Taliban. If there is a single strategic correction to be made, it would be to seek a sustained burn rather than a flash in the pan. We’ve attempted overwhelming force and are approaching a decade of effort now, had we accepted that we were going to be in Afghanistan for a decade at the start, we would very likely be in a better place now. A smaller, well fortified military presence will effect the change we want over time. Expending real military resources, public development resources and public opinion – Afghan and western - in massive quantities for the quick fix is foolhardy. We know it is foolhardy because the breath of very recent experience has shown it to be foolhardy.                 

It is time now to realize that we have to shape a society there that meets the criteria of a member of the world community, over time – time equals decades. A military presence which can secure itself and be sustained there indefinitely is required. A well fortified presence which signals extended presence – presence until objectives are met regardless of time frame. The Taliban say we have the watches and they have the  time and the define victory by our leaving, as long as we are there they have yet to win.

There are many competing factions in Afghanistan, that when absent a common foe would surely seek a dominate position. Among them will be those that threaten to take the country down the path of regression and yet others who would seek a more progressive route should the right incentives and deterrents be put in place. Rather than being preoccupied with functional governance in totality now, it might be better to move the country forward through the direction of “hard” power  for now, with functioning government in totality as an end goal. This strategy melds more effectively with the fractured nature of the Afghanistan’s societal landscape.   
The present circumstance holds a gross asymmetry of power in favour of NATO, yet the Taliban seem, by many accounts, to be gathering influence. Rather than attempting to confront this reality head on, there may be means to be more effective with a passive stance. If the west were to retreat to secure positions and only emerge to effect changes in the balance of power as competing factions from within Afganistan seek control, the bulk of the struggle would take place with NATO troops to the side. The strategy of passive support promises that over time NATO can shape the country by gradually supporting persons sympatric to NATO’s values of secularism and democracy. This sort of effort was demonstrated successful in Iraq with support being given to the Kurds, a functional society emerged there prior to the last invasion and remains a functional region of the country to this day.   

I am extremely proud of Canada’s role in Afghanistan supporting a people whose existence is so merger it is painful to contemplate. We have a choice now, to leave the country in the hands of the violent with subsistence as the only life modality or to take the long view that ensures a meaningful future for Afghanistan and a future for us.  We have to make peace, it is the paradox of peace that at times it must be fought for or earned  over time. If we waver now, the violence we seek to end there may visit us here, a fate I want to nullify out of consideration for my children and grandchildren.  

Letter to Government


The dialog in the press of late around the Afghanistan mission is concerning. The tepid nature of leaders and prominent persons related to the mission is generating a sense of looming failure and emboldening the opponents to the mission. Even Mr. Rasmussen, while speaking on CNN, used rhetoric which was somewhat muted and included the statement “we may have underestimated the mission”. Senator Kenny was on CTV musing about another “Vietnam” and an ardent supporter of the mission and a past Canadian General stated “we can’t stay past 2011”. In the absence of a clear definition of victory and the persistence of tepid or defeatist dialog, the mission is failing not in the provision of security, but in the minds of generals and politicians.

We need clear leadership, strong leadership and bipartisan support. We need to set aside the weak kneed adherence to political correctness and tell the Canadian public that while we have paid dearly with 130 Canadian lives, that Canada is winning the battles in terms of military metrics and in the betterment of Afghan lives. There needs to be amplification in rhetoric stating the consequences of failure, consequences to NATO’s relevance and world political stability. Presently the message is weak or virtually nonexistent, once again opening the door to dissenters.

It is incumbent on leadership now to be clear both here in Canada and on the international stage. There seems to be a propensity presently by many to distance themselves from the mission, as the Afghan circumstance becomes politically risky. Post WW2 history is littered with examples of arrested military enterprise at the leave of meek leadership, with devastating consequence. We need to ensure at this critical juncture that attention is given to Afghanistan and that all the related ramifications of success or failure are communicated with clarity. A more amplified message may generate an environment to allow the kind of leadership to emerge that forms public opinion as opposed to bending to it.   

Thank you for your leadership as Minister of National Defense and matters related to the Afghan mission, your support for the mission has been evident; it is my sincere hope this letter lends support to your efforts.    

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