A quick thought on this “Day of Honour”

9 May

Reading the Globe and Mail this morning – yes I still get it delivered – I found myself contemplated a full-page ad for Lockheed Martin.

LM, in case you missed it, is one of the world’s biggest arms manufacturers.

“Today we join all Canadians in the recognition of the strength and courage of our Canadian Armed Forces and the families of the fallen who sacrificed so much in the pursuit of peace and stability in Afghansitan,” the message reads.

Is that what the campaign was about, in the end? At some point it was about regime change. Then it had something to do with eliminating the Taliban and Al-Qaeda. Then it was about securing Kandahar in general.

It was in “pursuit” – which is a fine way to say, “well, that didn’t really work.”

Hardly as noble as the purpose of the Second World War; or for the muddled peacekeeping period.

There was a notion for a time of nation building, that at the end of all of NATO’s efforts in Afghanistan, a new, thriving nation would exist. It’s fair to say that’s not the case. Afghanistan is a mess. For much of its history its been a mess. There was something of a golden age in the 60s and 70s, before the Soviet intervention began a 30-plus year period of chaos, full of foreign meddling, but even that was far from a dream period.

We are left asking – what was the point? Was the Taliban removed from power? Yes. That’s a good thing. Was Al-Qaeda fundamentally altered in its behaviour? Sort of. Its power structure was radically altered but extremists of their ilk continue to exist the world over. They’ve mostly been displaced.

Are Afghans better off now than they were in 2001? Sort of. As it stands, women aren’t faced with draonian laws. But there are plenty of examples where women’s rights are a joke.

So why did 158 Canadians lose their lives? We live in a world where working for what’s right is never easy. Canada’s motivation was mostly virtuous. The execution of that virtue is debatable, but the spirit was there.

***

Back to that original statement, the “peace and stability in Afghanistan” angle. I’ve not been there, I’m only going off reports, but is Afghanistan more peaceful than it was before Operation Enduring Freedom? It doesn’t sound like. Is it more stable? Well, there’s a national government but there are still plenty of ethnic divisions. There’s certainly more infrastructure than there was – but how long will it stay in good repair? How long until corruption destroys all the good work?

You can’t assess decisions by their results – you can only assess them by their process. The original move to join the US-lead invasion by the Chretien government was the right one. I agreed with it at the time. I agree with it now. It’s what came after that I always questioned. It’s awfully hard to argue that guns could deliver peace – and make no mistake about it, that was the approach here.

Maybe there was no choice. Security had to be established. The only way to do that was to use the finest fighting forces available; that wasn’t really a choice, given all the weapons the Taliban and Al-Qaeda were hoarding. It was either the repression of everyone by extremists or having those same extremists take pot shots at NATO soldiers.

What an ugly choice.

***

Is the nation further along? Again, look at that pairing. I suppose it is. But the cost was heavy. Maybe we should talking about how hard this all is, and remember our dead for that.

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