Saturday, April 04, 2009

Canada in Afghanistan: Mixed Messages

"This is antithetical to our mission in Afghanistan," Harper said in an interview with CBC News... "Making progress on human rights for women is a significant component of the international engagement in Afghanistan. It's a significant change we want to see from the bad old days of the Taliban," he said.

The Canadian government has been making these sorts of statements since we first committed soldiers to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. It makes sense, at first blush: even the pacifists have difficulty arguing that improving the lives of young girls isn't a worthy cause. However, returning to this simple message too often runs the risk of pushing the primary purpose of the mission -- that is, the destruction of al-Qaeda's safe havens in the region, and the regime that tacitly supported them -- out of the public discourse. And while this may be of little consequence initially -- in terms of public support -- should the simple, secondary (or even tertiary) purpose ever noticeably diverge from that primary purpose, serious problems can arise.

And that's what Harper was dealing with today: a relatively small change in Afghan politics gave rise to existential questions about our mission in that country. Don't misunderstand me: I support the notion of fundamental human rights, and I think the details that I've read about this new law violate some of them; however, Afghanistan is hardly the only country to enact such laws, and it isn't close to being the worst.

Add to this the clear indication of how Harper's interview might have gone, had his government stayed on the AQ-busting message:
"It is probably more likely that al-Qaeda would be able to launch a serious terrorist attack in Europe than in the United States because of proximity," Obama said. "This is not an American mission, this is a NATO mission. This is an international mission."

Now, Obama's message may not have brought the promises of extra soldiers that he'd hoped for, but he needn't worry about the cries from human-rights groups (or worse still, from grieving families who feel misled) derailing him. Nor need he fear his statements haunting him later: he's correct, and will be seen as consistent as he continues to push his administration's new strategy for the region.

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