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Will the U.S. recognize Canada’s sacrifice in Afghanistan?

January 9, 2009

Last year, when Canada reached one of its saddest landmarks – 100 of our military personnel killed in Afghanistan, little coverage of this appeared in the world media, certainly not in the the United States: no special presser from the White House, with the current President or at least one of his top spokespeople, at the podium,  no Foggybottom stateroom appeal, asking for the world and all U.S. citizens to formally recognize Canada’s contribution to the engagement, the “situation” (the war) in Afghanistan.

As the narratives of Gaza interweave, inevitably, with Afghanistan, to dominate 2009’s earliest news cycle, this issue of a public, high-level and formal recognition of Canada’s sacrifice seems increasingly important – a reminder of what it costs us as a nation when we intervene in a “situation.”

Will President Elect Barck Obama (PEBO), soon to be POTUS, in his first weeks on the job, hold a news conference, or a radio address to his people, and spell out exactly what the United States’ plan is for Afghanistan and in that moment, will the new President, take the time to give special mention to Canada’s war dead?

Will a head of state outside of Canada pay homage to the likes of Captain Trevor Green? The only mention that comes close, in the dying days of the last year, were a Dutch and British General, who commented with gratitude on “the Canadians dying over there.”

Will a POTUS moment on Canada and Afghanistan spur our own elected government leaders, charged with the moral weight of sending Canadians citizens into another country to “do good” and risk death, to initiate a sustained dialogue with Canadians in a meaningful well organized way? John Ralston Saul’s latest book serves up some insight into why this might not happen.

Since the 100 benchmark, we’ve yet to hear our Foreign Affairs minister enunciate with any kind of precision or shared informed analysis our purpose and his views on how we as a country will act in face of the expected U.S. troop surge. Minister Cannon seems content to reiterate that we will leave in 2011. Even with a new popular President urging a significant troop surge?

Katrina Vanden Heuvel, of The Nation, this week sets out the case for PEBO not to send Afghanistan more troops but in fact to do what Canada is doing, or attempting to do: nation-build: “what is required in order to pursue peace in the region is better delivery of targeted aid and reconstruction that improves the daily lives of the Afghanistan people.” So what would that look like, exactly, for Canada, post 2011?

On the one hand, a possible huge surge in troops, that U.S. intel sources indicate is already happening, and on the other, Canada involved in “nation-building”? What will that mean on the ground for Canadian personnel?

Ms. Vanden Heuvel commits this year to blogging regularly on the issue of Afghanistan as “part of a campaign to stop the escalation.”  This is becoming an increasing focus of many in the U.S.:  to stop a troop surge in Afghanistan. Will PEBO listen? What will Canada do?

4 Comments leave one →
  1. reneethewriter permalink
    January 10, 2009 6:00 pm

    Dear Tim and Cor,

    Thank you for your detailed comments – much appreciated.

    Interesting…Vancouver’s CKNW (radio) reporting today that PEBO will be visiting Canada as his first out of states presidential trip…R

  2. corsullivan permalink*
    January 10, 2009 2:28 pm

    Yes, it’s certainly frustrating that Canada’s efforts in Afghanistan don’t seem to be attracting a lot of recognition or appreciation from our allies. I’ve always thought that the opportunity to raise Canada’s international profile was one of the more positive aspects of the mission, but in practice it doesn’t seem to be working out terribly well. Perhaps Canadians simply need to do a better job of telling the world about what we’ve been doing in Kandahar Province. There have been some wonderful, heroic stories that I’m sure would catch the attention of Americans and Europeans if they could be communicated properly.

    The “surge” in Afghanistan will inevitably give the Americans more control over how the overall mission is conducted. Much more than at present, Canadian troops will be operating within a context largely defined by the Americans. We’re going to have to take a hard look at America’s plans and decide whether we think they’re sensible and likely to succeed. If so, we can probably continue to participate fully at least until 2011, or even increase our contribution. If our generals and politicians have serious doubts, however, we shouldn’t hesitate to scale things back.

  3. Tim Gallagher permalink
    January 10, 2009 1:40 pm

    Interesting article; the Obama administration will likely more or less pull out of Iraq – I’m sure there will be advisors left behind – and increase their presence in Afghanistan. In the end, an agreement between the Taliban and the NATO forces is the only way to end this conflict. The increasing deficits in the west will contribute to a lessening of military adventures.


  1. President Obama visits Canada: what will he ask us of Afghanistan? « Canada’s World

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