Guns, bombs and tanks won't bring civilization

The most agonizing and controversial issue in Canadian politics these days is the combat mission of our troops in Afghanistan. The division in public opinion on this subject was reflected, in stark terms, in Jamie Swifts' column "The war against peacekeeping" (Feb. 15) and in letters in the Feb. 16 Whig-Standard from "print warriors."


One letter attacked critics of the current mission as being part of "a culture of treehugging and peacekeeping." The second writer appeared to regret the withdrawal of American troops from Vietnam during the Vietnam War era because they left "before the job was done." He wrote that the goal of the Taliban "is to kill all the infidels and make North America an Islamic state by the year 2050." The third print warrior rejected any idea of negotiating with the Taliban, who, he assures us, will demand our support for "humane executions of women who violate religious law."

The issue raised by Swift in his column is the issue facing Parliament in the coming weeks: should Canadian forces continue their active combat role in southern Afghanistan and continue in the traditional role of troops in war - to seek out and destroy the enemy - or should we focus on traditional peacebuilding and peacekeeping roles, helping Afghans to live peacefully with one another and improve the underlying economic and social infrastructure of their society?

After reading the three letters, I re-read the Swift piece, and while I found most of his observations relevant and perceptive, I believe the following paragraph from his column is at the heart of the matter.

"Afghanistan is a country that has been invaded and occupied by foreign armies as far back as anyone can recall. It's run by warlords, drug dealers and regional power barons who care little or nothing about women's rights and rule their territories with or without the consent of the central government, whose power doesn't extend far beyond the capital. Afghanistan's drug-dependent economy supplies most of the world's opium."

Canada has its own history of tribal fiefdoms and rivalries. Today, 141 years after Canada was declared a nation, we have hundreds of aboriginal First Nations living separately and apart from the larger community and insisting that, whatever the constitution says, they are not Canadians. Add to our aboriginal communities a substantial minority of the residents of Quebec who refuse to salute the Canadian flag, or do so with very strong reservations, and you have to wonder whether Canada, too, may be a "failed state."

But I remain optimistic about Canada. After a century and a half of working together within the framework of a constitution and common laws, we are a world away from the history and traditions of Afghanistan.

Our print warriors appear to be under the delusion that secular, Western, democratic values can be forcefully introduced, in a few years, in Afghanistan. Given the history, culture and religious traditions of that country, I must conclude, to put it plainly, that our print warriors are dreaming in colour.

Why are we in Afghanistan? What about Iraq, Iran, Syria, Darfur, Ghana, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia and other "failed states?" Swift's answer to that question was that "by mimicking U.S. counter-insurgency tactics, we are not only alienating Afghan populations. We are also playing into U.S. geopolitical strategy that has nothing to do with assisting Afghanistan."

Do we really think we can deliver civilization to failed states with tanks, guns and cluster bombs? There is an enormous amount of good work being done in the Third World by nongovernmental organizations. Their representatives do not arrive in villages in tanks, clad in body armour and carrying guns. If we have a mission to help countries improve their economies, build schools and hospitals, and achieve the kind of objectives that our print warriors are so keen on, surely these are the kind of troops that are required.

Von:, 22.02.2008

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