John Manley is a bright guy. He was a cabinet workhorse during the Chretien era. He effectively handled his many portfolios with not a hint of either incompetence or corruption. He was the 'go-to' guy for ‘Le Petit Gar de Shawinigan’ no question about it. And he did his job.
About the only criticism some Grits could make of Manley’s ministerial performance was that for some – including myself - he strove to be a little too cozy with the Americans. This became more troublesome for those same prescient Grits upon Steve Harper’s pal George W. Bush taking office in 2001. It was clear to these doubters, even in those early days before 9/11, that this was a singularly stupid President who was likely to cause a lot of trouble. Therefore, keep him at arm’s length. Chretien with his magical political nose for discerning trouble realized this and so regarded the new President with wariness.
So Manley - who was described as ‘gifted’ by a person I know who knew him as a youth – had a successful run as an MP and Grit Minister. Thus it was logical that Harper would go to this gifted and successful Grit - who was somewhat to the right of his party and had a soft spot in his heart for the U.S. - to try to take the heat off the Government in Canada’s Afghanistan quagmire. He named Manley Chairman of a committee to report back to the government about what to do in Afghanistan.
The fact that Afghanistan is a quagmire for Canada is no understatement. We have now lost 78 young Canadians in the fight. Considering the size of our force there, Canadians have been dying there at a higher rate than Americans in Iraq. And the taxpayers are shelling out gazillions for the war effort.
Manley’s fellow committee members were ex-broadcaster and New York diplomat and the pride of Wadena, Saskatchewan Pamela Wallin, ex-diplomat and ex-Mulroney apparatchik Derek Burney, ex-Mandarin and now corporate honcho Paul Tellier, and ex-Mulroney minister and present corporate lightweight, Jake Epp. It should be noted that none of them had any experience in Defence issues.
The report was released last week. And so now that the dust has settled in the wake of its release, let's consider its basic message:
1. That Canada had a responsibility to be in Afghanistan to help its struggling government and its people.
2. That Canada needed military help from other allied countries in the Kandahar Region where its troops were fighting as it was doing too much of the heavy lifting.
3. That help should be in the form of a 1000 troop strong new battle group to serve in the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in the Kandahar region, together with more helicopters and unmanned surveillance aircraft.
4. If the ISAF did not meet these demands, Canada should seriously consider getting out of the conflict.
First of all, that Canada should have a responsibility to prop up a narco-state is a novel idea. Consider that 52% of the Afghanistan’s GNP comes from the drug trade. The country supplies 95% of the world’s supply of brain addling opium from the growing of poppies, its only cash crop. And our troops together with the troops of other countries involved in the ISAF have to look the other way as they continue to risk their lives. For a narco-state!
Manley’s answer to this sorry situation was simply: “Opium profits flow to the Taliban, to criminal elements and to corrupt government officials. . . . Coherent counter-narcotics strategies need to be adopted by all relevant agencies.” One can imagine that the glib, bland, buzzword, nonsense quality of that last statement driving some bureaucrats to the very brink of orgasmic pleasure.
And 1000 extra personnel, some helicopters and drones. The ISAF has 35,000 or so personnel in the whole country. The Russians had, at the height of their occupation in the eighties upwards of 200,000 and couldn’t control the outcome giving power to the Taliban. What the hell are another 1000 going to do in Kandahar, in the south, where just across the border from Pakistan the insurgent forces are being replenished every day.
Interestingly, Stephane Dion recently wisely commented that that it should be along the border with Pakistan that NATO and the UN should be focusing on to act to prevent this cross-border traffic of mayhem. He was roundly laughed at by much of the jingoistic press and Harper Conservatives for making the suggestion.
The government and others urge Canadians to not allow the 78 young Canadians who have died in Afghanistan to have died in vain. Therefore, support our troops, they say. One never hears, “Support our policy.” We hear “Support our troops.”
When this government and their friends says, “Support our troops,” they really mean, “Support our policy.” The policy of sacrificing lives in Afghanistan to prop up a narco-state ridden by corruption, is a stupid one. To continue that policy when your forces are so sadly carrying most of the sacrificial burden compounds the stupidity. To do so in the knowledge that the manpower commitment of your allies is so weak that there is no chance of any strategic success even in the distant future is insane.
Canadians can support our troops alright. They can support them by demanding they come home from that godforsaken country at once.