It is a tribute to the Prime Minister's political savvy that before the election of the fall of 2008 he managed to diffuse the contentious issue of our involvement in the Afghanistan imbroglio.
Were it not for passage of a House of Commons motion 18 months ago palatable to the Liberals who supported it; our troops would be out and home instead of still waging an obviously increasingly un-winnable conflict on the other side of the planet.
It took a former Liberal Deputy Minister, John Manley and his panel of distinguished Canadians, to seal that bitter deal...and mind you the promises of additional troops and support from other NATO partners have long since evaporated. Because it was never an issue in the election of October 2008, Canadians were excluded from any debate of substance into our ongoing participation. The casualties continue to mount and the support for the military has not waned; but as for the war itself that is a whole other matter.
Canada is a relatively small partner on the Afghan horizon, but unlike most NATO nations, a willing participant and thus crucial to the Obama Administration and its top foreign policy priority to stabilize the warring country. Even though the fraud factor in last week's national elections in Afghanistan grows and escalates and may eventually plunge it from political limbo to full blown crisis; pressure from the United States and from within NATO to extend our commitment beyond February 2011 will continue to mount. It could be difficult to resist being further dragged into what observers and critics south of the border have recently suggested may become Obama's Vietnam.
On the surface there are parallels, including plans which have resulted in the commitment of nearly 20,000 additional troops to Afghanistan since Mr. Obama took office. To digress: All at same time that a matching draw-down of troops out of Iraq seems to have heralded evermore increasing insurgent violence there. As the world's only remaining superpower, the United States can ill afford to lose face by losing an unconventional war of improvised bombs and sporadic gun fights. Three for the count: Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan. Ironically; that America is the world's sole superpower may be a direct result of the Soviets' own disastrous experience on the very same battlefields over the issue of Taliban violence less than a generation ago. Back then mounting troop commitments, growing casualties, drained resources: Essentially the business of war; hastened the bankruptcy and eventual collapse of the Soviet Union.
There is a certain irony to the whispers, rumours and growing evidence that Afghanistan has drained Canada's military and pushed its most important resource: The humans of our army, navy and air force; to the verge of collapse. He has since bitten his tongue over an ill-advised comment which embarrassed the Government. But, there was an element of truth from a professional who should know when the Chief of Military Land-Staff, Lieutenant-General Andrew Leslie, told a House of Commons committee that the army would need a one year respite after Afghanistan just to get caught-up. (See: "FRAMING ONE'S MEA CULPA" - July 27/09)
A memo obtained by "The Toronto Star" says we may need to out-source non combat military work precisely in Afghanistan as elsewhere to relieve pressure on the military because of commitments over the next 12 months. From Canada's perspective at least the Afghan conflict may fade into the background as the military gears-up for a couple of priority missions closer to home: The Winter Olympic Games in British-Columbia in February and the "Summit of G-8 Leaders" in Huntsville, Ontario next June. The "Star" says that the documents it's obtained indicate that 32,000 military personnel..."about half the entire Canadian Forces - will be in training or set to deploy on missions to Kandahar (Afghanistan), guarding the 2010 Olympics and protecting world leaders in Muskoka."
Regardless of commitments made by the United-States, and pressures from elsewhere, it could be that exhaustion may be our ticket out of Afghanistan. If that is to be the case: It can't happen soon enough and hopefully before the bank is broken too.