Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Asking the wrong question

The Canadian Parliament yesterday turned down a motion, by 150 votes to 134, by the Liberal opposition requesting that Ottawa commit to a troop withdrawal from Afghanistan by 2009. While at first glance the request would appear sound to a majority of Canadians, further investigation shows that its genesis lies in the wrong principle. The question being asked by the Liberals — or the New Democrats, who demand an immediate withdrawal — as well as the majority of Canadians who are in favor of pulling troops from Kandahar Province is whether Canada can afford the rising cost in soldiers' lives (54 to date, along with one diplomat) and in monetary terms of what is ostensibly turning into an “open-ended” military commitment to Afghanistan.

This type of opposition to the war is reminiscent of that of the great majority of Americans who, in the 1960s and with increasing momentum in the 1970s, opposed the Vietnam War. Then, much as now in Canada, the opposition resulted from calculations that the war was being too costly.

Despite this seemingly “anti-war” opposition, it is flawed because of its fundamental lack of morality, which in turn results in the wrong question being asked. What peace activists in the US through the 1970s were asking, as are the Liberals today, is whether we can afford the cost of the war. They were not against war per se; rather, they were against how much it was costing Americans then, and Canadians today.

What is not being asked, what the opponents of the Canadian presence in Afghanistan have failed to put on the parliamentary agenda, therefore, is whether we should be there in the first place. In other words, is it moral for Canadian soldiers, initially deployed to assist in provincial reconstruction, to presently be engaged in a violent war against the Taliban and other insurgents, to be fighting alongside US and other NATO troops in the most volatile area of Afghanistan? Are we welcome there, or are we deceiving ourselves, just as the US did in Vietnam (and today in Iraq), into believing we are there as “liberators”? The paradigm — that we are there to do good, or that by being there we can do good — has very much been imposed from the top-down; in other words, the government, with the complicity of the mainstream media, has told Canadians what they should believe, and very little has happened since in terms of testing and, if need be, revisiting that assumption.

Sadly, now that the motion has been defeated, we are unlikely to hear much of this type of debate, and Canadian soldiers will continue to die, and kill (and hand over suspected Taliban prisoners to Afghan authorities without assurances that they will not be tortured, if we are to believe recent reports in the Globe and Mail), in a foreign land, for a purpose whose morality — the most important factor — has not been put into question, let alone debated on.

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