Friday, August 4, 2006

Patriotism is not blind loyalty

In an attempt to rally support for the Canadian-led NATO mission in Afghanistan, Stephen Harper chose instead to interfere in the Liberal leadership race and score political points over the fact the Grits are divided about the mission, while the Conservatives are united.

“For those who have lost their family or their colleagues, these are always terrible moments. As fellow Canadians, I know that we all share their grief,” Mr. Harper said. “But what the men and women in harm's way want and need to know in moments like this is that their government and Canadians stand behind their missions.”

Unlike many Progressives, I support the Kandahar tour of duty. I continue to support the mission. But as it drags on and more Canadians are killed -- four were yesterday -- I am beginning to wonder what the terms of reference are supposed to be, and to put it mildly my patience is running thin.

I was under the presumption that the mission was as much about deterrence and development as it was about defence -- about using swords and spears as weapons and peacekeeping tools at the same time. There should be no illusions: The old fashioned peacekeeping model that Canadians came up with to keep the Suez Canal open in 1957 simply is irrevelant in 2006. Before there is a peace to be kept, it must be made. To have tranquility, sometimes wars must be fought. Canada is not a neutral country nor should it be. Our allies are the United States, the United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, Italy -- some countries we have fought alongside for centuries, others we fought against before but now share common interests of security.

Canada didn't declare war on the Taliban -- it declared war on Canada when it chose to provide aid and comfort to Al Qaeda, who murdered 24 Canadians among thousands of others, on 9/11 after refusing to turn over Osama Bin Laden as the world community so justifiably demanded. The Taliban must be destroyed, and destroyed no matter what it takes because the honour of Canada was violated on that day of infamy.

However if Canadians were to be asked, did we go to war to create a regime potentially hostile to Israel, or to stand idly by while opium production skyrocketed, or to become an ally of three former Soviet republics (Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan) that have all turned into repressive personality cult regimes -- the answer would almost certainly be "no."

For Stephen Harper to effectively say, "Supprt our troops, ask questions later," is disingenous at best and insulting at the worst. Canada is a democracy. Citizens are supposed to ask the tough questions and engage in the issues of the day. Without dialogue, there can be no freedom. No doubt about it, this has been a tough military campaign and casualties are going to continue to mount -- we can expect perhaps an average of one killed in action every day before it's all over. So far, we've lost 23 service persons and 1 diplomat. But moving forward, we need two things from our Prime Minister.

One: He needs to stop questioning the patriotism of the Liberal Party and in fact all Canadians of all stripes or none at all who are asking what the purpose of the mission is. We support our troops even if some of us may not agree with the mission or the political decision that sent the troops there. There is no inconsistency in that.

Two: We need, once and for all, clearly stated terms of reference -- not a detailed battle plan necessarily (the enemy doesn't have to know everything, after all) but a summary of what exactly are we trying to accomplish. At the top of the list or near the top should be a statement that we're not going to be hypocrites; namely, we're not going to fight a war against marijuana grow operations in Canada while allowing the opium trade to blossom. That we're going to continue to provide aid money as well as safe conduct for non government aid agencies who distribute the aid. That as we continue to fight against the forces of evil, we're going to give people in Afghanistan a hands up and not a handout -- that we're going to help them become a self-sufficient country. And last but not least, we're not going to disarm one sets of warlords just to empower another; that we're there to disarm them all and help Afghanistan become a truly democratic and plural society.

I suspect if Afghanistan had significant resources of oil or natural gas, the tone of the debate would be entirely different. It does have some, but nowhere near enough to be a net exporter. It does have reserves of precious metals and stones; but I wonder how many Canadians would support troops and civilians dying for diamonds as is the case in so many countries in Africa, especially when Canada has vast reserves of a "girl's best friend" right here at home and a small but growing number of women are demanding their men buy diamonds which are blood and conflict free.

The bottom line is, Harper has misread Canadians, again. He got it wrong on keeping military funerals private and was forced to back down when the families of the deceased troops told him off. He's also got it wrong about "my country, right or wrong" -- and I suspect it will also be military families who will have to remind him that our troops are fighting for free speech and debate, not to stifle it.

Loyalty to Canada is not incumbent upon loyalty to whoever occupies 24 Sussex Drive. We salute one flag -- not one party.

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