I happened to watch a CBC interview last night with Chris Alexander. In case any of you don’t know who he is, he was Canada’s first ambassador to Afghanistan appointed after the fall of the Taliban government. Alexander took the job in August 2003 at the tender age of 35 and held it until October 2005. Doing the math, I presume he was born around 1968 (I’m not exactly sure of the date as he has not been around long enough to have his vital statistics posted on Wikipedia).
In any event, 1968 is the same year that Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated, that Pierre Trudeau became Prime Minister, that Lyndon Johnson stepped down as President, and that Richard Nixon was elected President. The Viet Nam war which began in 1959 - a full 9 years before Alexander was born - was in full throttle in 1968 and would continue for another seven years until 1975. The American administration was up to its neck in the war as it blindly embraced the now-debunked domino theory as the basis of its policy of containment against the spread of communism. The American people finally turned against the war prompting Congress to stop direct U.S. military involvement by August 1973. By the time the war was over in 1975 – former Ambassador Alexander was 7 at the time - it is estimated that between three and four million Vietnamese had perished in the conflict, as well as 1.5 to 2 million Laotians and Cambodians and almost 60,000 Americans.
I was reminded of Viet Nam as I watched the Alexander interview. I also reflected on David Halberstam’s outstanding chronicle of the war and the mistakes that led to it and prolonged it - The Best and the Brightest. Halberstam painted a picture of how bold, intelligent, and youthful men of brilliant academic achievement and with careers marked by success after success could be so blinded to the real world that they could lead their great nation and together with several others into an tragic international catastrophe causing the deaths of millions, and in the end to have accomplished nothing.
Surely, ex-Ambassador Alexander is one of our best and brightest. Consider this: he has a BA in history and politics from McGill, and an MA in philosophy, politics and economics from Balliol College at Oxford. In 2005 he was chosen as a Young Global Leader by the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland. He joined the Canadian foreign service back in 1991 and has done two three-year stints at the Canadian Embassy in Moscow, one as Second Secretary and another as Minister Counsellor. Back in Ottawa he was Deputy Director in the foreign affairs department responsible for bilateral relations with Russia, as well as an Assistant to the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs. After his time was up as Ambassador he became Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Afghanistan, a post he held from December 2005 to May 2009. Yes, Alexander is one of Canada's best and brightest.
Like the young men Halberstam wrote about in his book, on his war in Afghanistan Alexander is a hawk. He wants more international troops on the ground and he wants to attack militant targets in Pakistan. He believes that even though the situation is getting more unstable the problems are not insurmountable and that more troops are part of the solution. He believes that NATO troops should be present everywhere that the enemy wants to be present and that progress must be made on the military front or development goals will continue to slip. As Halberstam described bright older figures seeking the counsel of the bright young men that he wrote about, so do bright older figures like Richard Holbrooke U.S. Special envoy to the region and Kai Eide the top UN official in Afghanistan regularly seek Alexander’s advice. Alexander also believes that although there was voter fraud in the recent election, it did not affect the result.
Sound familiar? It does to me. It is the Best and the Brightest all over again. After 8 years of war and the sacrifice of lives and treasure, the show must go on. The historian does not mention history. He does not mention our sacrifice. He does not mention the defeats of the forces of the British Empire. He does not mention the Russian nightmare. Like the best and the brightest of Halberstam’s world, Alexander believes that all we have to do is more and just let he and his brainy pals do the planning.
One further thing about Alexander. While he served as Deputy Special Representative of the UN Secretary General in Afghanistan, he was responsible for political affairs, including international support for political outreach, elections, disarmament, governance, regional cooperation, the rule of law and police reform as well as cooperation with the International Security Force. In fact, on Alexander's watch the political situation has deteriorated, international support is feeble, disarmament but a pipe dream, governance is corrupt and invisible, regional cooperation a concept known only to the war lords, and the rule of law and police reform being reflected by the heroin crop and torture. Alas, this Canadian wunderkind’s report card is not impressive.
Alexander has just announced his candidacy for the Conservative nomination for the riding of Ajax-Pickering for the next federal election.