Thursday, October 5, 2006

Senate: Government has lied to Canadians about Afghanistan

The Senate Defence Committee, overwhelmingly dominated by Liberals, pulled no punches today, saying that Canada is still screwing it up when it comes to homeland security; and moreover, both the Liberals and Conservative leadership have lied to the Canadian people about what it is we're actually doing in Afghanistan. (The report is here.)

This is the latest in a series of stinging reports from the Senators, who tend to be much more hawkish than the House of Commons and even most Canadians. But their advice is often pointed, backed by research, and ought to be heeded. Last year, they said we were way behind on border security measures despite the billions we've spent since 9/11; and they asked among other things why the expansion of border crossings at Detroit-Windsor and Fort Erie-Buffalo continues to be pushed back over and over again.

This year, their main focus was the Afghanistan mission. The bottom line is that we haven't been given the straight goods, and there are still no clearly defined terms of reference; just a vague promise we'll be there until 2009. I've said several times here that I support the mission, but I'm just about fed up with the lack of clarity as well. We may not be hemmorhaging troops and diplomats as rapidly as the Americans are in both Iraq and Afghanistan, but the losses are piling up and it is disconcerting for a country conditioned to believe we are either neutral or only peacekeepers. We can't very well keep the peace is there is no peace to keep. We have to make the peace, and to get to at least a stalemate we have to fight a war. It took six years for World War II to be fought on two fronts. We've been in one front for five and we've barely moved more than a couple hundred kilometres, if that. Not very impressive.

From the very beginning, we should have had what Jean Charest has demanded for years: A rapid reaction force of between 10 and 15,000 from all three services, with the very best equipment, the best training, and always ready to move on 48 hours notice. We should also be making sure the reserves are ready to respond to any disaster, natural or civil. We're just going by the seat of the pants.

The Senate is also recommending immediately doubling foreign aid, bring us to the magic 0.7% of GDP; shutting down CFB Goose Bay (saying it's a white elephant); a Coast Guard with reliable vessels (including speeds starting at 25 knots -- many of the current fleet has a maximum speed of 16); improving the training of the Canadian Rangers (the mostly Aboriginal military unit which patrols the north) and asserting once and for all our jurisdiction over the Northwest Passage and the Beaufort Sea east of the West 141th Meridian.

I am troubled by the recommendation we join the Ballistic Missle Defence program, or Star Wars. It's an unreliable technology and only encourages the arms race, not deters it. Far better would be for Canada to get some long range, non-nuclear missiles which would only be used as a defensive weapon, never a first strike as Dubya believes all weapons should be. Less expensive and we'd be asserting our sovereignty.

It does say, however, we should increase the annual budget of the military to $35 billion per year by 2012. This may ruffle a lot of feathers, but as the United States becomes increasily less trustworthy as a dependable ally and even trading partner, we need to protect our turf. We can't have a strong Canada without a strong military, and this will be true even after sanity returns to the States and a more responsible leadership comes to the Pentagon. As long as projects go to open tender and public spending is accounted for, and we also fix the health and education systems for a generation, I would support such an increase.

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