There are those who would argue Canada’s presence in Afghanistan puts us on the side of the angels, fighting the good fight for a people living under the crushing Taliban regime. Women there are refused the right to an education, to making a living, to free speech and expression, and they are refused this under pain of death. Recent stories tell of women working for community assistance agencies, filling positions of murdered predecessors, for whom barricaded live-work spaces must be built so they need not die to do their job.
Some would argue that regardless of the morally-debased reasons for Canada being there, we are there now; the past is moot, and leaving that country in the hands of brutal warlords would condemn millions to harsh, constrictive, and perilous lives.
To these arguments there are no easy answers. Perhaps there is no answer at all except the bitter truth that no nation can dictate another’s freedom or salvation. Canada’s military presence in Afghanistan incites further justification for hostility and provides motivation for Taliban and al Qaeda recruitment.
When a nation invades another nation, however altruistic their cause, it is issuing an ultimatum: Act in accordance with our traditions of right and wrong, or suffer the consequences. But anyone with an understanding of human nature knows ultimatums often elicit a determination to do the opposite. Unfortunately, it would seem history is itself an ongoing ultimatum; Ignore me, says history, and repeat your miseries.
WWI broke out, not because of any shots in Sarajevo or conflicting national treaties, but because Britain, France, Russia, and later America, were nervous about Germany opening the Berlin-Baghdad Railway (the Orient Express) to transport oil from Persia. The Treaty of Versailles led indirectly to WWII because the extreme restrictions placed on Germany, intended to secure the victors free rein on the resources on the region, led to the national frustrations that vaulted Hitler to power. In other words, the causes underpinning the first war led inevitability to the second. That cause was oil.
History is a shampoo we don’t wash out: Lather, ignore, repeat.
Nothing can be solved militarily that will not, in some new form, beget further violence. Nothing can be solved with guns that could not have been previously solved with foresight and resourceful intelligence. On the other hand, it does no good to simply say, “Well, I guess America shouldn’t have funded bin Laden to take on the Soviets by proxy in Afghanistan. Or engineered putting Saddam on his throne in the first place. Or supplied them with money, weapons, training and military intelligence.” Or invaded Persia for oil as the first act of WWI.
What is important is what we do now. If Canada’s armed forces left tomorrow, would more people die than if they remained? Certainly a monstrous regime would take root. However, the Taliban would no longer have us to motivate new recruits. Canada could still send medicine and food, millions, billions of dollars in direct aid. We could buy all the opium being grown, taking the warlords out of the picture, and support the farmers until they can attempt other crops. Afghanistan’s opium industry is worth an estimated $3 billion a year. However, turned into heroin and sold around the world, it’s worth some $600 billion. It would mean 200-fold return of “anti-terror investment.” Governmentally supplying all the Western junkies would dissipate the criminal underworld and plant the seeds of a national drugs rehabilitation revolution, which would ultimately impoverish the warlords, and the Taliban who are oppressing and killing women and minorities.
In the short term we would be failing Afghanistan. We failed them miserably a long time ago. In the long term we may yet help the Afghan people win their own salvation. It’s time, however, the west stop treating the world’s problems as a boardroom exercise in which winning (in our own best interests) and victory are the only options. The reality is, sometimes you lose. It’s in losing, however, you learn lessons to make a better future. It’s time we rinsed out a bit of history and started fresh.