Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Do Canadians care about Afstan any more?

Does the Conservative government? David Bercuson raises the prospect of...
Canada's second forgotten war
Losing interest in Afghanistan will hurt us in the eyes of Washington and Europe. Most of all, it will hurt our soldiers

Director of the Centre for Military and Strategic Studies at the University of Calgary

Afghanistan is rapidly becoming Canada's second "forgotten" war.

Korea was the first. Although nearly 27,000 Canadians served in the Korean theatre from the fall of 1950 until the end of the war in the summer of 1953 (most of them ground forces) and 516 were killed in action or died on active service, Canadians lost interest in the Korean War less than a year after it began when truce talks started in the late fall of 1951. The fighting continued and, ironically, more Canadians were killed while those talks dragged on than had been killed before they started. But at home, all was apathy.

The war in Afghanistan is starting to go the same way...

The war in Afghanistan has been slipping from the immediate attention of Canadians.

The process is partly a result of deliberate government policy and partly a coming together of other non-related circumstances. Decisions were made in Ottawa last spring - even after the passage of the parliamentary motion extending the Kandahar mission to February of 2011 - to play down the military aspects of the mission and place the civil reconstruction tasks more at the centre of government policy.

That decision reflected the growing apathy of many Canadians toward Afghanistan and the continued strong opposition of the mission in Quebec. It was obvious from late winter that election speculation was growing in the capital and that attention to the war - to the fighting - was dialled back in direct proportion to the growing proximity of a national vote. War doesn't play well in Quebec...

In the Canadian election, Afghanistan was a forgotten topic even when the Prime Minister suddenly announced during the campaign that, instead of re-evaluating the Kandahar mission before 2011, as the parliamentary vote had called for [see Update below], Canada would get out, period [more on PM Harper and Afstan here].

That was the ultimate wet blanket thrown over the Afghan war. Suddenly, there seemed nothing to report on; the war was going to end for Canada no matter what happened. It was time to move on to other things.

But the war isn't ending for Canada or anyone else involved in it.

Four more rotations of Canadian troops will go to Kandahar province between now and February of 2011, from 5,000 to 8,000 soldiers...

Forgetting the war in Afghanistan is going to hurt Canada in many ways - in the eyes of Washington at the very time Ottawa needs to get close to the Obama administration, and in the eyes of European leaders if they are swayed by Mr. Obama to get more involved (after all, he isn't George Bush).

But most of all, it will hurt our troops.

It is true that Canada has a thoroughly professional military that goes where it is sent and gives the best account of itself no matter the political circumstances. But it is also true that soldiers who go into harm's way want to believe that what they are doing means something to the folks back home. When they are fighting a forgotten war, it's hard to feel that.

Just ask those veterans who served in Korea. They'll tell you.
Meanwhile, this ruthlessly downbeat CBC news video does what it can to stimulate (negative) interest (via Spotlight on Military News and International Affairs).

Update: Mr Bercuson is being a bit economical with the truth about the 2011 Commons' resolution; it stated: is the opinion of this House that, consistent with this mandate, this extension of Canada's military presence in Afghanistan is approved by this House expressly on the condition that:
the government of Canada notify NATO that Canada will end its presence in Kandahar as of July 2011, and, as of that date, the redeployment of Canadian Forces troops out of Kandahar and their replacement by Afghan forces start as soon as possible, so that it will have been completed by December 2011;..

H/t to Norman Spector

Also, a call Canada is in no position to answer now, nor after 2011 it would seem:
Britain to NATO members: help more in Afghanistan


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