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Canada’s role in the world: A New Marshall Plan?

December 10, 2008

Is our presence in Afghanistan, with its origins linked not just to President G.W. Bush but the earlier U.S. interventions in that region, back when the “USSR” was the “target,” a unique benchmark for Canada? Or was that Rwanda? Or the former Yugoslavia?

Canada’s peacekeeping interventions have increasingly drawn controversy. The situation in Afghanistan has morphed from “peace-building” to militaristic. Is it time that Canadians “bit the bullet” on that? And does the muddled up mission point to a new kind of role for Canada in the world?

Earlier posts have referenced the growing evidence that “restoring stability” in Afghanistan and Pakistan ( the two situations are intertwined) will necessitate a dreaded Thirty Years War. Are we up for that? What is the nature of our intervention – militaristic or socio-economic?

Who has not been moved and made proud by the story of Captain Trevor Green: as he sat with a group of villagers discussing water infrastructure, a pen in hand, his gun and helmet at his side, as a sign of respect to the people with whom he met, an axe-wielding youth attacked from behind, slicing open his brain. That he lives today is a credit to his comrades, his family, his spirit, and perhaps to kismet, to fate. The question is: does peace/economic -building really work? Has anyone read Larry Krotz’s new book, The Uncertain Business of Doing Good (University of Manitoba Press) about foreign intervention in Africa?

Canadians must sort out the tension between “doing good/nation building” as manifestations of a required and noble undertaking: ensuring peace, security and economic prosperity in the world; and the opposing view, perhaps nihilistic, which posits that countries like Canada should not intervene militarily in another country.

Are Canadians up for a deconstruction of what “doing good” looks like on the ground in a war situation? Not just in Afghanistan but anywhere in the world? Not just about military intervention but economic/agricultural/and environmental interventions as well? When we export “good works” and “good” workers – teachers, doctors, agronimists – do we make things better or just muddle up existing complicated and inequitable relationships?

If it can be shown that such interventions are inextricably linked to empire building, is that sufficient reason not to act? Isn’t there an argument for a renewed Marshall Plan led by the United States, and supported by Canada and other NATO countries? I predict that President Elect Barack Obama will bring in not only a new New Deal, but a new kind of internationalism, based on Marshall Plan premises. What will Canada under either Prime Minister Harper or Ignatieff do? How many of the Canadians who vociferously opposed any thought of a “coalition government” will want to think about a new kind of internationalism?

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7 Comments leave one →
  1. lise permalink
    January 29, 2010 9:56 am

    The americans suck and they thing that they can do what ever they want and that canada it always to blame and they canada is not a good country it is american that is a bad country it always makes itself look better even though they are to blame.

  2. Jennifer Bradley permalink
    December 13, 2008 8:32 pm

    Lots of response to this post. I agree with the responder who says if we want to do good in Afghanistan, we must come to terms with legalizing the opium trade. More and more we are seen to be doing Uncle Sam’s work, even to helping with the U.S. war on drugs.

    I think the situation is too confused for our meddling, at least our military meddling. Maybe dig some wells.

  3. corsullivan permalink*
    December 12, 2008 1:50 pm

    You’ve certainly covered a lot of ground with this post, and I think you’re asking the right questions about the tensions between peace-building and “militaristic” activity, and between intervention and non-intervention. I don’t think there are any easy answers.

    However, I’m not eager to see Canada supporting any potential US-led Marshall Plan for Afghanistan. I think a much better approach would be to encourage the Afghans to come up with their own plan, and then help them implement it.

    Oh, and about Dostum – there’s no question about the man’s brutality, but he has a swashbuckling, larger-than-life quality that I find hard not to admire. Apparently there’s a story that he once “frightened a prisoner to death with his ogreish laughter”. Somehow I don’t think Walter Natynczyk could pull that off.

  4. reneethewriter permalink
    December 11, 2008 10:55 pm

    Sorry. I also meant to include this, just in, front page of the always excellent Tom Lasseter, McClatchy news,

    By Tom Lasseter | McClatchy Newspapers

    Seven years ago, hundreds of suspected Taliban and Al Qaida prisoners who’d surrendered to Gen. Abdul Rashid Dostum, a key U.S. ally, were found dead in the shipping containers they’d been confined to. Now Dostum’s forces have emptied the mass graves where the men were buried and spirited away their corpses, the only evidence of what happened. No one — not the U.S., the United Nations or NATO — has complained about what is a major violation of international law

  5. reneethewriter permalink
    December 11, 2008 10:48 pm

    Thanks for your comment d’wayne; Joe Klein, Time Magazine, appears to agree with you…,,8599,1865730,00.html
    The war in Afghanistan — the war that President-elect Barack Obama pledged to fight and win — has become an aimless absurdity. It began with a specific target. Afghanistan was where Osama bin Laden and al-Qaeda lived, harbored by the Islamic extremist Taliban government. But the enemy escaped into Pakistan, and for the past seven years, Afghanistan has been a slow bleed against an array of mostly indigenous narco-jihadi-tribal guerrilla forces that we continue to call the “Taliban.” These ragtag bands are funded by opium profits and led by assorted religious extremists and druglords, many of whom have safe havens in Pakistan.

  6. Adrian permalink
    December 11, 2008 1:36 pm

    You had to know that this was coming.

    Of course, if you are serving in Afghanistan, 2011 is still a long way off. How will Canadians respond to a direct appeal from the new President-elect on this question?

  7. d'wayne marsonis permalink
    December 10, 2008 1:19 pm

    Unless Canadians can come to terms with legalizing the trade in opium, we have no hope of doing anything good in Afghanistan.

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