Kevin Brooker, For The Calgary Herald
Published: Monday, March 13, 2006
So, we're finally getting around to "debating" our mission in Afghanistan. Gee whiz. It's only about 41/2 years too late.
One would have thought the exercise more appropriate to the period -- shamefully brief as it was -- before Canada joined the vengeful rush to do something, anything, in the wake of 9/11. But there was precious little public weighing of the options.
Instead, we marched into a sovereign country we knew and still know little about, forever tainting whatever reputation we had for fair play on the international stage by displaying an automatic readiness to fall in with an angry, torch-toting lynch mob.
At the time, October 2001, I remember thinking that I'd never seen so much blood lust in my countrymen. People actually seemed to believe that it was a good idea to storm into Afghanistan and "clean out the terrorists." And how did we know that those terrorists would be there? The same way we knew who perpetrated the 9/11 crimes in the first place: those famously unimpeachable agents of U.S. intelligence told us so.
There was, apparently, no time for independent determination of fact in the matter of Afghanistan's culpability, no time for tedious diplomatic back-and-forth or a search for peaceful solutions. A massive crime that might well have taken years to figure out was deemed solved by Sept. 13. Osama did it, now let's go kick some ass.
Not everyone was on board, though. Astute observers had asked the all-important question: Cui bono? Who benefits? While Islam entered a dark night, George W. Bush's failing presidency resurged. Doubters reminded us the members of Bush's cabinet were drawn exclusively from four realms: oil, military, pharmaceutical and diplomacy.
If you were to express those in stock market terms immediately after 9/11, all four gained, while all other stocks declined.
The optics alone were bad enough. And when "we" installed Hamid Karzai as Afghan president -- himself a consultant for Unocal who had been lobbying to build a contentious trans-Afghan pipeline -- they didn't get much better. By 2002, the opium trade, which had been largely stamped out by the Taliban, was back in full flower. I guess that also happened on our watch.
Saying all this, I must nevertheless confess I know terribly little about what is really happening in Afghanistan. In that regard, I am like most Canadians, which is why any debate about our role there is hobbled from the very outset.
Not that it would stop certain apparatchiks from weighing in with seeming authority. To me, there is nothing more disturbing than watching U.S. and Canadian pundits, often ex-military guys, gas on about the situation on the ground in places such as Afghanistan as if they just got back from there yesterday, which they almost certainly did not.
Their main source of in-country intelligence is most likely the New York Times.
I have a friend who actually went to Afghanistan in January of 2002 as part of a humanitarian mission. It wasn't, he suggested, any easier to figure out what was going on by being there. Afghanistan was then, as it is now, a confusing and dangerous place.
My friend tells of visiting the Khyber Pass, where, at one end of the ragtag settlement, there was a glass-walled mini-mall where merchants displayed blocks of hashish and other drugs. At the far end, similar kiosks retailed weapons of every make and model imaginable. You could hear a constant pop-pop as customers walked behind the stores to test-drive the guns.
Drugs, guns, warlords, ancient blood feuds: to me, it seems hopelessly naive that any sort of external force can enter a tangled mess like that and somehow straighten it out to a westerner's liking.
And yet many of us believe that's what is happening.
Bring those soldiers and guns home. Only then could we reasonably debate about what must or even might be done.
Kevin Brooker is a Calgary writer.