Friday, January 18, 2008

Thomas Walkom: my least favorite Canadian

Well, well, well, what have we here?

American Defence Secretary Robert Gates may well be right when he says that Canadian and European troops in Afghanistan are not well equipped to fight a counter-insurgency campaign. But what has been lost in the controversy over his impolitic remarks is that we did not sign on to fight insurgents – there or anywhere else.

Right, you signed on to fight terrorists. Sadly, in Afghanistan and elsewhere there is little distinction, and if you want to be nice and leave "insurgents" alone that tends to open things up for terrorists. The Taliban was in essence an insurgency when it obtained power in Afghanistan, and al Qaeda continues to exist under its cross-border protection.

It was only after 2003, when the U.S. found itself troop-short and bogged down in Iraq, that Washington changed the rules of engagement for its allies. Gradually, Afghanistan became NATO's war. Washington's plan then was to gradually reduce its 20,000 troop commitment to Afghanistan and switch them over to Iraq.

Which is why, since 2006, Canadian troops have found themselves under fire in the Taliban stronghold of Kandahar.

This is so close to being a fair complaint. It's one thing for the US to say "oh, don't worry about sending troops to Iraq". It's another to say that and then add "by the way, we need you to send troops to Afghanistan because we don't have enough". Perfectly reasonable for a Canadian opposed to the Iraq war to be grumpy over that. Yet what did he say earlier?

we did not sign on to fight insurgents

The shape of the fight in Afghanistan when Canadian troops started taking enemy fire was the same then as it is today. Canada DID sign on to fight insurgents, because by the end of 2001 the Taliban had shifted from government to insurgency. Mr. Walkom doesn't say if he opposed the deployment at the time, but the use of "we" signifies that Canada as a whole was duped into its current role in Afghanistan. Sorry, no dice. If Canada had taken a position of "we won't deploy to Afghanistan because that will only be enabling the war in Iraq", I'd have disagreed, but it is principled. Canada knew what it was doing, and Walkom is being silly with this point.

If only he stopped at "silly".

It's worth remembering that we keep sending soldiers to Afghanistan not because Canada has been attacked by the Taliban, but because our friends, the Americans, feel they are at war with them.
Yet this was never our war. It was always America's. The U.S. chose to declare Afghanistan the enemy after the terrorist attacks of September 2001. Had Washington elected to avenge 9/11 by invading the country from which most of those terrorists came, Canadian troops would now be fighting in Saudi Arabia. Their call, their war, their show.

It's points like this where I wonder if I need to say anything. I've seen a fair number of talking points aimed at the war in Afghanistan, and as much as I disagree with them, few are as blatantly IGNORANT as that. The "why don't we invade Saudi Arabia" talking point was barely tolerable on 9/18/01; saying it on 1/18/08 is pathetic for someone who's published. Saudi Arabia deserved a heck of a lot more diplomatic pressure than it got, but the 9/11 attacks were planned and coordinated by al Qaeda, based in Afghanistan. What part of the Taliban/al Qaeda alliance is difficult to grasp? How can anyone who gets paid to write about world affairs not grasp the difference between the bad but legal spread of Wahabi Sunni Islam by Saudi Arabia, and the destruction of the World Trade Center by terrorists based in Afghanistan and protected by the Taliban, and why military action would be used against one and not the other?

Wait, I just found an earlier column that explains Tom's viewpoint a bit more.

Exactly why it made sense to overthrow the government of Afghanistan for an outrage perpetrated by Saudis and planned in Germany was never explained.

Really? That's what you're going with? "It was never explained"? I'm absolutely baffled by that kind of sophistry.

For a while, the ostensible aim of the war was to capture alleged terror mastermind Osama bin Laden and destroy his training camps. But after he escaped and the camps relocated to neighbouring Pakistan, that rationale was quietly dropped.

Except that it wasn't dropped at all? When the Taliban/AQ group moved its center of gravity to Pakistan, they continued to mount attacks on Afghanistan with the goal of retaking it. Going after terrorists whenever they crossed into Afghanistan was better than not going after them at all, and additionally it allowed allied forces to launch attacks into Pakistan whenever we got a not-so-subtle OK from their government.

Then we were told we were fighting in Afghanistan to destroy terrorists there before they attacked us here. But as the citizens of London and Madrid discovered, war is not so easily contained by geography.

So we should just let the Taliban retake Afghanistan? So attempting to prevent al Qaeda from having a base of operations should be dropped if they manage additional attacks?

There's no small number of different ways to debate the war on terror. A Canadian has even MORE avenues, because Canada wasn't attacked and isn't liable for the mess in Iraq. Yet Walkom decides to make statements that combine extreme ignorance, pathetic strawmen, and "lalala I'm not listening". He's so actively bad that he damages his side of the argument by proxy.

Good job, Toronto Star.