Sunday, May 16, 2010

A 'Long Telegram' From a Little to the Left

Hey, how cool is this ... I have my very first guest post?!

A real world friend of mine (yeah, I know, how astonishing is that?) ... actually, a close friend who is one of my few regular blog readers, sent me a private email with his thoughts on the "Passing Me By" post, below. I suggested that he place them in the comments section, but, alas, they were a little too long - much more deserving of their own post.

Now Jimmy James and I have been good friends for many a year and I suspect he fears that I have slipped somewhat to the right in some of my thinking over the past few years. Perhaps he is right. Or not. At any rate, his comments post speaks for itself.

With no further ado, I give you ...

With all due respect to those brave men and women of the Canadian Forces who are still in-theatre and to those unfortunate souls soon to join the dead, it might be a good idea to ask why the Canadian Forces are in Afghanistan in the first place ?? How did we get sucked into an American war ?? What specific Canadian national security interest is at stake in Afghanistan ?? What was the original mission we were tasked by the Americans to undertake ?? Has the nature of the Canadian Forces mission changed since their arrival, and if so, why ?? If the mission has changed, why did the mission change ?? Are the Canadian Forces well equipped to perform their "new" mission ?? When we pull-out at the end of 2011, what will they have died for ??

Here are a few of my own answers to those most fundamental questions:

First of all, I want to go on record as saying that I totally support the brave young men and women in the Canadian Forces 110 percent!! They answer the call to duty without hesitation and (aside from the Somalia Affair), they do an outstanding world-class job wherever they go. But I do not support the specific mission Canadian troops were asked to undertake in Afghanistan beginning in February 2006, nor do I support the decision of the politicians who sent them there.

There is a very real difference between supporting, in the broadest sense, Canadian troops serving at home or abroad, and supporting this specific mission they have been called upon to undertake in Afghanistan. Wars can sometimes achieve important national objectives but, sadly, this is not the case as it relates to Canada's current role in Afghanistan. Those who may argue that if you don't support the mission, you don't really support the troops. I would respond by saying that argument is based on a false choice, most likely designed to coerce the Canadian people into supporting this specific mission.

In my opinion, the only reason Canadian troops were sent to Afghanistan by Paul Martin in February 2006 was to appease the Americans, who were very angry when PM Chrétien politely declined the American request to send Canadian Forces to Iraq in 2003. I strongly believe that Chrétien's decision was the correct decision -- why should Canadian soldiers be sent to Afghanistan to fight (and to die) in an "American" war which has little to do with Canada's national security interests ??

When Paul Martin agreed to send Canadian troops to Afghanistan in February 2006, the mission was very clearly defined as "humanitarian assistance & reconstruction," with only a minor combat role for operational security on the ground. Within weeks of their arrival, however, Canadian troops were savagely attacked by the Taliban and their supporters. As a result, the Canadian mission as it was originally conceived, was thrown into a cocked hat. Canadian troops were compelled by circumstance to shift their entire strategy to offensive military operations against the Taliban. By the Summer of 2006, the Canadian death-toll very gradually started to rise. Also, the original mission-statement called for a Canadian presence lasting two-years at the most. But once Stephen Harper was elected in January 2007, the Conservative government has decided to extend the mission beyond it's original two-year mandate.

From my perspective, there is one inescapable analogy between this war and the US war in Vietnam: brave young Canadian men and women in uniform are being sent to the other side of the world by our political leaders to serve, to fight (and to die) in the wrong war, at the wrong time, for the wrong reasons. I think it is a tragedy of epic proportions that our Canadian Armed Forces are fighting a war in Afghanistan which they can never win -- no one can "win" this kind of war. Afghanistan has a very long history of fighting and eventually defeating every foreign power that ever set foot in their country (the Mongols, the Brits, the Russians, the Americans, and now the Canadians). Not even Alexander The Great could defeat the warrior-tribes of Afghanistan -- sure, the Afghani's take a royal ass-kicking but they keep on ticking, and they never give up. NEVER...

I hope my words don't upset you -- I can assure you that is not my intent. I am simply sharing my point of view on this very important subject. Call me whatever pejorative epithet you wish to use, but I strongly feel that it's criminal for our political leaders to send our young men and women into harm's way unless they have a clearly-defined mission which is achievable, and Canada's national security interests are directly threatened. This is clearly not the case in Afghanistan. The war in Afghanistan is actually the American's fight, not ours, and the only reason Canadian troops were sent to Afghanistan in the first place was to "make-nice" with George W. Bush after we angered him by not sending our troops to Iraq in 2003. Plus, it was never supposed to be a combat mission; it was designed to be a mission of "humanitarian assistance and reconstruction."

It is a "false choice" and intellectually dishonest for others to say, "if you don't support the mission, you don't support the troops." Pshaw!! The opposite is true -- it is precisely because I DO support the Canadian Armed Forces one-hundred percent that I oppose sending them on a combat mission which has a snowball's chance in hell of succeeding, and which does not directly affect Canada's national security interests. Coalition casualties have increased dramatically over the past several years, and the Taliban are once again massing on the outskirts of the Capital of Kabul. Sounds kinda like the North Vietnamese Army as they gradually advanced toward Saigon in 1973-74. The US could not possibly win the war in Vietnam, no matter how many American soldiers they sent or how many tons of bombs they dropped. Over 58,000 US Service Personnel died in that war, and for what? Because Lyndon Johnson and the Joint Chiefs of Staff mistakenly believed that a Communist takeover in South Vietnam would threaten US national security interests all over the world. Well, in the Spring of 1975 the Communist North Vietnamese Army did take over South Vietnam, and drove the Americans out. And less that 25-years later, the US and Vietnam re-established diplomatic relations, and Vietnam is a great tourist destination for American travellers.

It is painful in the extreme for the families of those brave Canadian men and women who have paid the ultimate sacrifice in Afghanistan to even consider the possibility that their loved ones may have died in vein. But that is the case, and I hold our political leaders responsible for the four-plus years of needless Canadian deaths in Afghanistan we have born witness to. Ask yourself the fundamental questions outlined above, and then read just a few paragraphs about the history, the people, and the political culture of Afghanistan on Wikipedia. When we look back twenty years from now on Canada's mission in Afghanistan, will the Canadian people regard it as a "Just War" that was worth fighting, or as a colossal strategic blunder ?? It may change your thinking on whether this mission has been worth the sacrifice in blood and treasure or not...

Peace & Love,

Jimmy James


Pogue said...

Mr. James,

With all respect I would like to comment on your post. First, I respect your position and do not wish to attempt to challenge your beliefs. I do wish to point out that as I recall Canada, along with most other NATO countries sent troops to Afghanistan as part of their treaty commitments (see NATO article 5). Personally I'm of the belief that NATO should have been dissolved with the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe needs to pay for it's own defense instead of free loading off of others (and yes, Canada is one of the few countries in NATO that has helped carry that burden. Odd how the winning countries in WWII seem to be paying reparations, but I digress.)

I question your statement that Americans were "very angry" at Canada in 2003 - what anger there was may have been do to the incorrect, but still common belief that the 9/11 terrorists entered the US through Canada. Sadly, for the most part Americans pay no attention to our northern cousins and outside our military have very little idea how good the Canadian military is.

You answered your own question on how the Canadian mission crept into offensive combat. You went on a peace and support mission and discovered that the Taliban is not interested in either. Fortunately, the Taliban in not the entire country. "Winning" this war does not consist of conquering or pacifying Afghanistan. To be less than politically correct, the goal is (in my opinion only) to eliminate the Taliban as a major influence in international affairs. This is a cultural war that I don't expect to be over anytime soon. I do not intend to live under Sharia law, myself.

Also, as a United States citizen (we're all Americans, after all...) I do notice that "left" and "right" positions are defined differently in our countries. I believe I unintentionally traumatized Michelle when I observed her positions to be more conservative than she appears to believe. :-) So I would also observe that in the US, "I support the troops, but..." is generally a null statement, much like "It goes with out saying..." Do you know any Canadian soldiers? Have you asked them what they thought of their mission? How do you actually support them? Talk is cheap.

I admit to a local perspective, and as such, I apologize if I've misread your opinions.

Sgt P. Ryan
US Army National Guard
aka Pogue

jimmyjames902 said...

Pogue: thank you for your thoughtful comments and observations. I would respond to only two of your points.

I readily concede that I should have said the Bush Administration (rather than "the Americans") was "very angry" with the Canadian government's decision in 2003 not to join the coalition against Iraq. Canadian media had extensive coverage of the Bush Administration's anger, including Ambassador Paul Celucci's threatening remarks on CBC Radio that there would be a serious rupture in relations between Washington and Ottawa.

My "I support the troops" comment was intended as a counterpoint to those, both in Canada and in the US, who are philosophically opposed to war as a continuation of politics by other means.

Jimmy James

MMC said...

Jimmy (May I call you that? :D

I don't understand your last comment about supporting the troops. So you're saying that you are not philosophically opposed to war as a continuation of politics by other means? Assuming I'm reading that right, I'm not quite sure how that translates into "I support the troops" ...??

Pogue, I think I have recovered from my trauma, thanks. But seriously, I do we think we tend to define left and right a little differently up here (for one thing, I think our "centre" starts a little to the left of where the American "centre" is). Although I think the main different is that, for the most part, we are less extreme on the fringes of both the right and the left. Of course, that may just be wishful thinking on my part but I hope to God it's not.

And yet I don't think that really played into my "trauma". When you and Kris explained what you meant, it made perfect sense but I initially assumed you meant that you saw my own writing on Free Falling becoming more conservative over time (presumably from hanging out at Lex's), and, yeah, that did bother me.

jimmyjames902 said...

Should I be baking cookies for the 10th Mountain Division ?? Or would you prefer I volunteer at Fort Meade for encryption analysis ??

I really think this kind of question is a prevarication -- a "red herring."

Pogue said...

No sir, but you could do something as simple as write to your troops - there's a handy link at
Or bake cookies, if you like. Maryland is miserable in the summer so I wouldn't ask anyone to relocate there. :=) Nor would I expect you to support US troops when you have your own involved. (I'm assuming you're Canadian from context.)
I agree - that question is a red herring, as is the the whole I support the troops but don't support what they're doing statement. Frequently, indeed I submit in most cases that statement is a means of obscuring a persons very lack of support. Some of these "supporters" can't name a single military installation when pressed, much less a unit. Support can range from an "any soldier" letter, to giving blood, to helping the families of deployed soldiers, to helping returning wounded readjust... There's a whole range of actions right up to enlisting and doing a tour. But "supporting the troops" involves more than just saying the words.

To amplify on Michelle's comment, am I to understand you are OK with war as a political tool given the necessity, but you are not OK with this particular war? If that's the case (and I'm not trying to put words in your mouth so forgive me if I've misunderstood) I can accept and respect your position while personally disagreeing with it. But that doesn't equate to supporting the troops.

As far as the Bush administration being angry as opposed to the American people, yes, I can see that, although I expect that was more posturing than anything else. I think Canadians are much more jumpy about our opinions down here than is necessary. We make a lot of noise, but we still consider you family. We're not mortally offended if you tell us to "go to H311" once in a while.

Michelle, I'm not sure that Canada's lunatic fringes are any more moderate than ours down south, but I suspect that either there are fewer of them or your politicians have yet to join the sport of painting their opponents as fringe extremists. Moderation apparently doesn't sell enough newspapers down here.

The bad news is, and I'm sorry to have to say it, but I still think you're a lot more conservative than you think you are. :-)

MMC said...

LOL That's okay, I still like ya. And I'm still going to call myself centrist (after all, doesn't Lex almost get away with that?!) FWIW, I'm *enjoying* the discussion. Stay safe, my friend.